Collection ID: 0002 | Metadata type: TEI | TEI XML | Data

Ms. Codex 1187 Le livre des trois imposteurs


Le livre des trois imposteurs

Other related names

Call number

Ms. Codex 1187
(Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania, Rare Book & Manuscript Library)

Alternate identifiers


The University of Pennsylvania Libraries


French, with associated materials in Latin (f. 36r-37r, f. 38v-39v) and in German (f. 37v-38v, f. 39v)


Written in France or Germany after 1733.
after 1733
France or Germany


This clandestine manuscript circulated widely at the beginning of the 18th century under the alternate titles Traité des trois imposteurs and l'Esprit de Spinoza. The text was one of the most notorious treatises that attacked the traditional foundations of organized religion and of revelation. The treatise targets all three Abrahamic religions and accuses their founding prophets (Moses, Jesus, and Mohammad) of manipulating popular ignorance to obtain political power. The treatise exhibits a number of deist, pantheist, and atheist traits: it seeks to arrive at the understanding of God solely through reason and not through received tradition or sacred texts; the work argues that God is an infinite being that encompasses all existing corporeal and incorporeal substances; and it is critical of all alleged prophecies and supernatural phenomena, which, according to the text, are signs of ignorance of natural laws. This French version is based loosely on an earlier Latin manuscript De tribus impostoribus that circulated in the sixteenth century. The direct reference to René Descartes (f. 26r) and indirect allusions to the works of Thomas Hobbes, Gabriel Naudé, François La Mothe Le Vayer, and Baruch Spinoza point to the fact that this text did not come into existence until the end of the seventeenth century or the beginning of the eighteenth century. The authorship of the work is also widely disputed: some scholars have argued that it was composed by a disciple of Spinoza, others have claimed that it was a work of a radical Huguenot exile, still others suggest it was composed by a libertin erudit or by a disabused Catholic. This version of the text is divided into six chapters: I.De Dieu, II.Des raisons qui ont parlé les hommes à ses figures un Etre Supreme ou un Dieu, III.De ce que signifie le mot de religion, comment et pourquoi il s'en est glisse un si grand nombre dans le monde, IV.De verités evidentes, V.De l'ame, VI.Des esprits. This copy contains two inscriptions on f. 1v: the first references Jac. Frider. Reimannus [Jacob Friedrich Reimmann]; the second argues that this treatise was written by the secretary of Frederik II against Pope Gregory IX and references Voltaire's L'abregé de l'histoire universelle. A list of 73 references to authors who have discussed this treatise (f. 2r-3r) and a table of contents (f. 3v-4v) precede the text. Several responses to the treatise are included after the main text. The first piece following the treatise is a response to a critique composed by Bernard de la Monnoye. There is also a brief reaction by Maturin Veyssière de La Croze, royal librarian in Berlin, who claims to have seen a copy of this manuscript in 1706 in Frankfurt. Following La Croze's comments, there are several excerpts from various authors who have mentioned this work. The authors cited are Pietro Pomponazzi, Christian Kortholt, and J.F. Reimmann; two critical articles from the theological periodical Unschuldige Nachrichten from 1733 are also included.



44 leaves : 197 x 167 (180 x 150) mm. bound to 203 x 170 mm


Modern foliation in pencil, lower right recto.




Contemporary calf (Zacour-Hirsch), upper cover detached; gilt spine and title Livre des trois imposteurs.


  • Written in 26-34 long lines.
  • Provenance

    Subjects topical



    Table of contents


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    Section: Reponse a? la dissertation de Mr. de la Monnoye sur le traite? de tribus impostoribus a? la Haye chez Henry Scheurler, f. 29r

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    Section: Jugement de feu de Mr. Maturin Veisfier La Croze conseiller, bibliothequaire du roi de Prusse et membre de l'Academie Royale a? Berlin sur ce traite? de tribus impostoribus, f. 35v

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