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The phrase "Man will believe anything, as long as it's not in the Bible" is attributed to Napoleon on many sites but there are no further details (date, context,etc.) available, nor a trace of primary sources.

Some examples: AZ Quotes, Quote Fancy, Love Expands.

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It's difficult to prove a negative, especially when the purported quote is a translation with no reference to the original. But signs point to no.

I tried searching for a possible French original and found nothing, but there are so many possible ways this could have been said that the only word that is very likely to be present is “Bible” (spelled the same in French). Most of Napoleon's writings are available in searchable form online (but not all of them, and it's possible that he could have said it and not written it). I search for occurrences of “Bible” in Napoleon's writings on Gallica (this includes books written by others that include large amounts of quoted text), and searched for "Bible" throughout all the documents (which have some overlap) and found nothing remotely like this sentence. The OCR quality is mostly good, but a few are bad, so I could have missed something.

Of particular interest is the Dictionnaire Napoléon, ou Recueil alphabétique des opinions et jugements de l'empereur Napoléon Ier (“Napoleon dictionary, being an alphabetical collection of the opinions and judgements of the emperor Napoleon I”), which jumps from Bessières to Bichat (no bible) and from Crevier to cuirassiers (no croire or croyance or other word from the same family, and I can't think of a word with another root that would be plausibly translated by “believe”).

Searching in English, it's notable that on Google Books, there are no occurrences of "will believe anything as long as" "bible" before 2000. The earliest hit is an article published by the Creation Research Society which presents the exact quote as a “famous quip”, without attribution. “Bible Counseling” by Mallet et al. 2003 is the earliest book I can find that attributes the quote to Napoleon. Like all of its successors, it doesn't provide any specific reference.

(Note: Google Books links may or may not work for you due to Google's restrictions. Repeating the search should work, but some results may be region-restricted.)

In conclusion, this seems to have been made up and passed around by English-speaking Protestant apologists.

(I have to say, though: I can understand making up a quote like this, but why on earth attribute it to Napoleon?)

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    In the same Dictionnaire there's a speech of Napoleon on Catholicism (under that word) which is better known and contradicts the basic idea of the quote in question (as far as what Napoleon said, at least around 1800). You might want to quote the last few sentence from that.
    – Fizz
    Sep 23 at 23:15
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    @Martín-BlasPérezPinilla: whoever made that attribution was probably only aware of the anti-Protestant inclinations of Napoleon, bur rather ignorant how much he (said he) found Catholicism useful.
    – Fizz
    Sep 24 at 7:13
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    So not Napoleon - does it revert to the all-unknown quote Internet default of Einstein, then? Sep 24 at 17:07
  • @PoloHoleSet I think this one's the Buddha. Sep 25 at 3:24
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To a bit more history here, there's a 1998 book Soaring and Settling by Rita Gross, which has a different take/version (p. 43):

I am just as frustrated that many Caucasian Buddhists, reasonably sophisticated in their assessments of certain elements of Christian tradition that are woefully out of date, will believe anything as long as it is said by a Tibetan lama.

I suspect it's this passage or something similar that was the basis of the post-2000 broader but similar pronouncements.

Regarding Napoleon, he generally found Catholicism useful, but Protestantism not so much. So it's quite unlikely he would have said something that simplistic about the Bible. On the other hand, Napoleon was/is more often demonized or derided in Protestant circles, which is a more plausible reason why the quote might have been attributed to him in such circles.

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  • What does "finds X useful" mean for a religion? He thought catholics were easier to manipulate for him? Sep 25 at 0:11
  • @PaŭloEbermann: yeah, pretty much that... although he wasn't always successful as the royalists were also staunch Catholics.
    – Fizz
    Sep 25 at 6:17
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    To me the quote sounds more like it's deriding atheism/non-belief than (any kind of) religion. This interpretation would fit the sociopolitical context after the French revolution, with its important humanist, anti-religious undercurrents, much better, too (remember that Napoléon was a staunch opponent of the Republic). Sep 25 at 8:58
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    Napoleon's quote is the opposite of of the quote about Buddhists. The Napoleon quote says they'll believe things that are not in the religious text.
    – Barmar
    Sep 25 at 14:23
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    I don't really see the connection here. "X will believe anything as long as Y" is a pretty broad formula ("snowclone", I guess), and this seems like a generic example, connected only by the general topic of religion. The most prominent feature of the quote in the question is that it is anything not from a particular source. If you'd found a quote with the exact same wording but without the "not" (i.e. "... as long as it is in the Bible") that would be interesting; although it would still leave a mystery of who first inserted the "not".
    – IMSoP
    Sep 27 at 8:01
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There have been similar phrases uttered by many different people. Very often, it is said by religious leaders attacking atheism, especially by creationists attacking Darwinism.

Attribution to Napoleon goes back a long way. Here's a book from 1883. Note that the anecdote is uncited, and told by an anti-Darwinist. Very probably apocryphal.

It is related of Napoleon that one day his friend Duroc was reciting to him a marvelous story. Duroc was a skeptic, indeed more than that - an avowed unbeliever. As he ended the improbable tale Napoleon answered "Some men can believe anything but the Bible."

Here's an earlier example,from 1868, attributing the remark to Napoleon speaking of Duroc, without context, and without a cite.

The earliest example I've been able to find of the phrase itself is in a medical journal dated July 1852. No attribution to Napoleon.

It is an old observation that complete scepticism in religion is often allied with extraordinary credulity in other matters; and we have a remarkable verification of this in the present time, in the authors of 'Man's Nature and Development' of one of whom it has been not unaptly or untruly remarked, that "she will believe anything that is not in the Bible."

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  • Nice find. I suspected that such a claim would be older, but finding the right wording to search for... By the way, the publication is one of the many names that en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… had over time.
    – Fizz
    Sep 28 at 1:45
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Napoleon born: 1769

First known attestation: 1716

Conclusion: NO! (Not the first at least.)

It's that easy to prove this negative. But in its place we only find the allegation that it was really Charles II who said it, referring to Isaac Vossius:

This Learned Divine, said he, is a very strange Man: He believes every thing but the Bible.

(Alternative link to the quote)

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    Good find. Note that per the question's wording, this doesn't mean Napoleon didn't also say it at some point -- in fact if it was a well-known witticism there's a chance later people would quote it. Sep 28 at 2:57
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    Also note, even the attribution to Charles II is doubtful, coming more than 30 years after his death.
    – Pete
    Sep 28 at 15:54
  • @Pete: Also, Wikipedia makes no mention that Vossius was ever at Charles II's court, while the story (by Joseph Addison) claims Vossius was there frequently, entertaining Charles in conversations...
    – Fizz
    Sep 29 at 11:28

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