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Irenism and Natural Philosophy in Rudolfine Prague: The Case of David Gans

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 September 2008

Noah J. Efron
The Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas, Tel Aviv University


David Gans (1541–1613), a German Jew who was educated in Poland and spent his adulthood in Prague, produced over his lifetime a large and unprecedented corpus of Hebrew introductions to various liberal disciplines, chiefly astronomy. Gans believed that the disciplines he described might help to mediate between Christians and Jews, by serving as a shared subject of study. He considered these subjects to be uniquely apt for shared study because they took them to be theologically neutral.

Gans's hopes went unfulfilled, and most of his books remained unpublished and ignored. Still, his own firm belief in the plausibility of his project implies that it was not a foregone conclusion near the start of the seventeenth century that astronomy and other liberal disciplines would find no purchase among Central European Jews. It also suggests that the mutual alienation between intellectuals of different confessions that has been emphasized by some historians might have been less pronounced than is often imagined. Further, Gans's belief that these disciplines could encourage interdenominational discourse and respect, and his intimation that such beliefs were shared by Kepler and Brahé, suggest the intriguing possibility that natural philosophy was valued by at least some of its early modern practitioners as an irenic undertaking.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1997

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