What happened was that once Levinsohn sent his sheets to the printer and word got out what was contained within them the rabbis became upset. The printer then refused to print it. So Levinsohn, in his letter to some of the rabbis opposed to the book, told them that the aforementioned government official had asked him those questions, and this was his responses. The person didn't exist, but his name was very similar to the actual minister of education, so the opposition was withdrawn. These facts arise from a letter printed 36 years after his death, where he explains to a friend what had happened.
I think it's reasonable to note that it was not, evidently, the content of the answers per se which were opposed, but the very format in which they were discussed together. After all, once it was "known" that the questions were posed by the government, if the answers were totally objectionable then how could opposition to it be withdrawn? I think the problem was a book of this style was not appreciated, much the way contemporary books raising questions and giving answers in accordance with classical and traditional sources may well be opposed. Perhaps you will agree with me once you read the questions (at the end).
Interestingly, when it was reprinted in 1859 I noticed that it included an interesting footnote that was not present in the first edition (1839). It says page 579, but it's really 179. Here it is:
and by comparison, here is the same passage, without the footnote, in 1839:
As you can see, the footnote attempts to refute nascent biblical criticism, specifically the idea that Ezra really wrote the Torah, not Moshe. It should be noted that nothing had changed in Western European bible scholarship between 1839 and 1859 in the sense that in 1839 it was accepted that Moses wrote the Torah, but not in 1859. On the contrary. So my guess is that what had changed in those 20 years is what Jews in Eastern Europe had been, or could have been, reading.
Levinsohn provides four objections to the suggestion that the Torah is the work of Ezra. They are
1) The Samaritan Torah is in essence the same as ours, except for some minor differences, including many that are clearly intentional changes. The Samaritans arrived on the scene some 200 years before Ezra, and there was great mutual hatred between them and the Jews, and especially between them and Ezra.
2) How could Ezra have fooled the remnants of the Kohanim and Levi'im, who were the elders and sages of the generation? Even after the building of the Second Temple there were many elders among them who remembered the First Temple. They knew the Torah and its commandments, and were raised on it. Furthermore, Chagai, Zechariah and Malachai, Daniel, Chanania, Mishal, Azariah, Nechemia, Mordechai and Zerubavel were around, and these knew Yirmiyahu, Yechezkel and Baruch.
3) All the books of the Early and Later Prophets, and the Hagiographa, are intimately tied to one another, and all are connected with the Torah of Moshe, and its commandments and narratives. Those who argue that Ezra wrote the Torah implicitly must claim that these books and Psalms, and Proverbs, all were written by Ezra. It is also known that every prophet and writer and poet has a distinct writing style, and all differ greatly in terms of clarity, strengths, etc. So how could Ezra have written so much literature in so many styles?
4) Isn't the books of Ezra and most of Chronicles, which were written by Ezra, written in a different style from the Torah and the Prophets? Not only that, Ezra's writings are inferior in quality.
All these responses are sufficient to shut the mouths of these allegedly wise men who sow doubt amongst people, says Levinsohn.
Here is a vintage postcard (?) of Levinsohn who, incidentally, considered his greatest works to be his works against the blood libel (Efes Damim) and against Alexander McCaul's Old Paths, the 19th century's most successful and widely disseminated missionary attack on Judaism (Zerubavel):
Here are the questions which the book is supposed to answer - and, incidentally, after the 1858 edition the subsequent editions do not even give the questions:
1) What are the fundamentals of the faith of the religion of Moses according to the Talmudic rabbis and their counterparts among the rabbis who followed them?
2) Is it true that the Jews possess books that are earlier in time than the Torah? If this is the case, why didn't Moses or another prophet mention them?
3) With which form of script was the Torah written?
4) Are they other books apart from the Bible, but from the same period?
5) Is it true that the commandments in the Torah, according to the view of the Talmudic rabbis, lack any rational explanation? If so, what about the fact that the Torah itself gives reasons for many mitzvos?
6) Is it true that the Talmudic and later rabbis considered the commandments in the Torah regarding behavior between people, to apply only concerning Jews, but not people of other religions? Is it permitted for a Jew to to do any bad thing to a non-Jews, particularly against Christians whom they harbor a great hatred toward; that it is even a mitzvah to wrong them?
7) What is the Talmud like? What's it about? What can it be compared to? Which time and place and in what language is it?
8) Which books are considered "the Talmud"? Do you have other books considered to be as important? If so, who wrote them and what are they about?
9) Are there wise things in the Talmud? Because rumor has it that it is filled with disgusting things and baseless, irrational stories?
10) How did the sages of the Talmud permit themselves to add and subtract from the commandments of the Torah, to the extent that today the rule of the Torah appears different from what is inside it, although the Torah says one may not add or subtract from it? And many of these things are built upon explanations of the verses which go against the plain meaning of the text and the rules of the Hebrew language? And an amazing thing - the sages did not enact leniencies, only stringencies?
11) Are there any remnants today of the Jewish sects which were around during the Second Temple period? What are the Karaites? When did they begin?
12) Is it true that today there are Jews of the sect of the Pharisees of the Second Temple period?
13) What are these millions of laws and fences which you are concerned with all your days?
14) Who enacted millions of baseless customs, and is there not a spirit of idolatry in them? What is the Pesach Seder like, with all its practices, about which Jews were at times suspected of consuming the blood of Christians on that night?
15) Is it true that in the Jewish books there are passages against the Christian religion in general, against its savior and apostles, which generate great hatred against us [Christians] and against the relgion in general, and our Messiah in particular? This is alleged by many Jews who converted, and by certain Christian writers.
16) Is it true that according to the Talmud and related rabbinic literature to learn foreign languages, or secular wisdom, or mathematics, of farming and the like? This is what many Jewish scholars who converted allege in their books. Similarly, such is alleged by born Christians who have mastered the Talmud and rabbinic literature - specifically the Italian priest Chiarini, who tried to translate the Talmud into French in order to prove to everyone that the Talmud is that cause of every aforementioned bad habit of the Jews. Furthermore, we see that today's Karaites, who did not accept the Talmud, are very honest men, for they pursue the Torah of Moses alone, a Torah of truth which is in their mouth, the source of which is the living God, master of the universe. Apparently this priest admired them very much. We see that they are multilingual, whereas the greatest rabbis do not even know the vernacular of their country, and certainly no foreign language, and a fortiori secular knowledge they do not know, and all the more so the masses of Jews. For it is prohibited according to Talmudic law? Is it true that you don't have any thinkers or farmers? If one were to teach them languages or some sort of wisdom, is it true that in your view they are heretics and excluded from the grouping of the Jews?
17) Who established the prayers of the Jews? What are they like?
18) Who established the melodies for prayers which seem to have no order and whomever hears them believes they hear wailing? Why are there many small minyanim? Isn't it better to pray together in one synagogue? Do you not conduct yourself frivolously in the synagogue?
19) Is it true that your prayers contain content against believers of other faiths?
20) What is the Zohar? Who wrote it? What is Kabbalah, both theoretical and practical? Who originated it? When?
21) What is the "Shechina"? What are Kelipos and Satanim? What are the 'secrets,
the kavvanot and the kabbalistic names?
22) Is it true that the Zohar and the Kabbalists consider the Torah of Moses to be entirely allegorical, both in its commandments and in its narratives?
23) Is it true that the Zohar contains material opposed to the religion of the Talmud? And that it took some of its principles from other religions? That it's holier in your eyes and more accepted than the Talmud, for it is believed that its teachings come from Elijah the Prophet, angels and God Himself? It is alleged that it contains much that is far stranger than things in the Talmud, and practices that are bizarre to God and man?
24) Is it true what I heard from one rabbi, a great Kabbalist, famed among the Jews, who derived from the Kabbalah the Christian belief in the Trinity, which can be found in the Zohar and other Kabbalistic books?
25) Are they secular books of learning among the Jews? Who wrote them? When? What do the masses think of them and their authors? After all, without a doubt the masses must consider them to be opposed by the Talmudists and the rabbis?
26) Do the Jews have schools of secular learning?
27) Is it true that the faith of Shabbetai Zvi still exists today?
28) Is it true that the Shabbatian faith is premised on the Zohar and Kabbalah?
29) Are there good takkanot which Jews established for the benefit of their poor, their sick and their poor students? Are there today schools for those in need?
30) What about the Chassidim of this country? Who established them and when? Which cities are they found? Do they have separatist synagogues?
31) How many sects are they divided into today?
32) Are there still new sects being established among the Jews these days?
33) Is there yet hope that the Jews will be able to repair many of their ills? How?
34) What is the Messiah which they hope and pray for? Who is the Messiah, son of Joseph, who will be killed? If it is true that they hope to rule the world when their Messiah comes? Is it true that because of the belief in the Messiah the Jews do not labor for the good of the country which they live in? Is it not for this reason that many monarchs will not give them citizenship?
35) How can Jews become closer to the Christians, if the Jews distance themselves from them every way possible? If it is prohibited, as I wrote, according to the Talmud to learn any language or secular subject, or even manners? And all the customs which Jews learn from their babyhood, even good ones, aren't their instances where they ought to accept good customs and manners of the nations?
You can see that these "questions" are designed to elicit the answers, i.e., the discussions in the book. For example, what kind of questions are the 2nd and 4th one? Clearly they are meant to generate a discussion about the books mentioned in the Torah and other Prophets, which we do not possess, as well as the Apocrypha.
Lest one thinks from the content of these questions that Levinsohn's book is a gigantic attack on rabbinic Judaism, it is nothing of the sort. It is a defense of it. The antisemitism and so forth was highly plausible in the mouth of a Russian official, and Levinsohn's points were that the answer to questions of the "Aren't the Jews just awful?" sort is no, to the contrary. Is it true that the Jews are forbidden to learn languages? No, on the contrary, etc.