New Heavens and a New Earth: The Jewish Reception of Copernican Thought

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9780199754793: New Heavens and a New Earth: The Jewish Reception of Copernican Thought

In this ground-breaking study of the Jewish reception of the Copernican revolution, Jeremy Brown examines four hundred years of Jewish writings on the Copernican model. Brown shows the ways in which Jews ignored, rejected, or accepted the Copernican model, and the theological and societal underpinnings of their choices.

Throughout New Heavens and a New Earth are deft historical studies of such colorful figures as Joseph Delmedigo, the first Jewish Copernican and a student of Galileo's; Tuviah Cohen, who called Copernicus the "Son of Satan;" Zelig Slonimski, author of a collection of essays on Halley's Comet; and contemporary Jewish thinkers who use Einstein's Theory of Relativity to argue that the Earth does not actually revolve around the sun. Brown also provides insightful comparisons of concurrent Jewish and Christian writings on Copernicus, demonstrating that the Jewish reception of Copernicus was largely dependent on local factors and responses.

The book concludes with the important lessons to be learned from the history of the Jewish reception of Copernican thought, and shows how religions make room for new scientific descriptions of reality while upholding their most cherished beliefs.

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About the Author:

Jeremy Brown is associate professor of emergency medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington DC. He has written for Discover Magazine, and his op-ed pieces have appeared in The New York Times and The Washington Post.


"Jeremy Brown has written a deeply researched and insightful account of a fascinating chapter in the often-fraught encounter between religion and science: the impact of the Copernican revolution on Jewish thinkers from its first appearance to today. This is an enthralling work, a wonderful addition to scholarship on a subject that continues to engage us today." --Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, author of The Great Partnership: God, Science and the Search for Meaning

"This fascinating volume offers both a definitive history of the Jewish encounter with Copernican thought and a carefully-nuanced analysis of how religion and science interact. A model study." --Jonathan D. Sarna, Braun Professor of American Jewish History, Brandeis University and Chief Historian, National Museum of American Jewish History, Philadelphia, PA

"New Heavens and a New Earth presents a fascinating study of a major subject of early modern and modern Jewish intellectual history. Jeremy Brown has written a comprehensive, intelligent, well researched, and well-written survey of the long history of Jewish responses to Copernicus. His masterful treatment of the subject is clearly the best written to date, revising, correcting, and significantly enlarging all previous accounts. Brown's work is a major contribution not only to the history of Jewish thought on cosmology and science but is also important in providing scholars a comparative lens through which to consider Jewish responses with those already well-known within the Christian world and beyond." --David B. Ruderman, Joseph Meyerhoff Professor of Modern Jewish History, University of Pennsylvania

"Reams have been written about the gradual acceptance of Copernicus's sun-centered system, but this book blazes a new trail: the Jewish reception of heliocentric cosmology. A moving earth challenged the tenets of the Jewish faith, and, as in Catholic and Protestant circles, it took centuries to shake off a strictly literal reading of the Torah. Brown's volume now makes it easy to examine the similarities and differences of these faith traditions on a critical scientific hinge point." --Owen Gingerich, Professor Emeritus of Astronomy and History of Science, Harvard University

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