Roger, I find you address here a relevant point: To foster the dialogue with YEC, and also to counter attacks against Revelation coming from some atheists, it may be useful to stress that the attack against the Old Testament originates in some philosophers of Enlightenment and led to the demolition of Judaism in Germany.
In this respect the case of Voltaire is particularly significant because he combines destruction of the Jewish religion with racism against the Jewish people. I briefly outline his role in the following:
The way Voltaire demolishes Judaism and his explanations about the religious origin of “the hatred of the Jews for other nations” clearly reveal Spinoza’s influence. So he declared: “if one can appraise the character of a people through the prayers it addresses to God, one can ascertain that the Jews were a carnal and sanguinary people.” Voltaire then presented a number of quotations from the Psalms, unfairly selected and out of context, and concluded: “It can be seen that if God had heard all the prayers of his people, only Jews would have remained on earth, since they detested all the other nations, they were detested; and asking God incessantly to exterminate all those they loathed, they seemed to implore the ruin of the whole earth.”[Essai sur les mœurs, Tome I, Introduction]. Theodor Fristsch used Voltaire’s analysis and authority to argue that “the Jews’ fanatical hatred of others even passes into their prayers”, and their God “is a spirit of treachery and malice”.
Voltaire also shares the belief that life after death was not an issue in Jewish religion and culture: “You ask, what was the philosophy of the Jews? The answer will be a very short one—they had none. Their legislator himself does not anywhere speak expressly of the immortality of the soul, nor of the rewards of another life.”[Dictionnaire philosophique, Juifs, Section I]. “It is always a matter of the greatest certainty that the system of a future life, of an immortal soul, has no place in this book [the Pentateuch]. It is sure that almost all the other nations around the Jews […] acknowledged the immortality of the soul, while the Jews had not even examined this issue.”
But Voltaire’s obsession with the hatred of the Jews clearly shows that he regarded them as radically different from the rest of humanity. His vivid descriptions of hatred as the historical constant and the very national identity of the Jews, provided an arsenal for anti-Semitic agitation:
“You will only find in the Jews an ignorant and barbarous people, who for a long time have joined the most sordid avarice to the most detestable superstition and to the most invincible hatred of all peoples which tolerate and enrich them. Still, we ought not to burn them.” [Dictionnaire philosophique, Juifs, Section I]
“It is since Mahomet that they actually ceased building a body of people. Simply following the historical path of the little Jewish nation, one sees that it could not have another end. […] It dares to display an irreconcilable hatred toward all nations, and revolts against all masters; always superstitious, always greedy for the well-being enjoyed by others, always barbarous - cringing in misfortune and insolent in prosperity.” [Essai sur les mœurs, Tome I, Introduction]
“You are struck about the hatred and the contempt all nations have shown for the Jews: it is the inevitable result of their laws; it was necessary that either they subjugate all, or that they were crushed. They were commanded to abhor the other nations.” [Essai sur les mœurs, Tome III, Chapitre CIII]
In the last years of his life Voltaire combines his demolition of the Jewish religion with his racist metaphysics, coming to the following conclusion:
“They are, all of them, born with raging fanaticism in their hearts, just as the Bretons and the Germans are born with blond hair. I would not be in the least bit surprised if these people would not some day become deadly to the human race.” [Lettres de Memmius a Ciceron, Lettre deuxième].
“I know that there are some Jews in the English colonies. These marranos go wherever there is money to be made…But whether these circumcised Jews who sell old clothes claim that they are of the tribe of Naphtali or Issachar is not of the slightest importance. They are, simply, the biggest scoundrels who have ever sullied the face of the globe.” [Lettre à M. Le Chevalier de Lisle, 15 décembre 1773].
“You seem to me to be the maddest of the lot. The Kaffirs, the Hottentots, and the Negroes of Guinea are much more reasonable and more honest people than your ancestors, the Jews. You have surpassed all nations in impertinent fables in bad conduct and in barbarism. You deserve to be punished, for this is your destiny.” [Il faut prendre un parti, ou le principe d’action. Diatribe].
In the words of Arthur Hertzberg: “This is racist anti-Semitism. Such opinions helped open the door to the horrors of our century.” Indeed Voltaire’s diatribes show an amazing structural similarity to the attacks of the German “völkisch” activist Theodor Fritsch (“leader of the German anti-Semites”), who quoted many of them in the Manual of the Jewish Question.