Prof. Paul Mendes-Flohr: “Gnostic Anxieties of Weimar Jewish Intellectuals”

The publication in 1921 by the reptuable Lutheran liberal theologian and church historian Adolf von Harnack of a sympathetic portrayal of Marcion, the second century Christian heretic who sought to sever the Gospel of Christ from the Old Testament (cf. Marcion: das Evangelium von fremden Gott (Leipzig: J.C. Hinrichs, 1921) alarmed Jewish intllectuals as an ominous turn in German letters to a neo-Gnosticism. It was less the anti-Judaic implications of Marcion’s opposition of the good God of love proclaimed by Christ to the wrathful God of Creation of the Hebrews that disturbed Harnack’s Jewish contemporaries. Rather they saw in Harnack’s veiled endorsement of Marcion’s rejection of the biblical faith in the „goodness“ of Creation a repudiation of the ontological warrant of hope for this-worldly redemption and a just social order. Yet, at the same time, Gnostic doctrines regarding a fallen world also made a haunting existential claim on Jewish sensibilities. In exploring this tension, I will solicit a diverse cast of German-Jewish religious thinkers and writers: inter alios, Alexander Altmann, Ernst Bloch, Martin Buber, Hans Jonas, Franz Rosenzweig, and Gershom Scholem.