Forgotten Ways of Knowing: The Kabbalah, Language, and Science in the Seventeenth Century

  • Allison P. Coudert
Part of the Archives Internationales d’Histoire des Idées / International Archives of the History of Ideas book series (ARCH, volume 124)


The focus of this article is the thought of two relatively forgotten men, Francis Mercury van Helmont (1614–1698) and Christian Knorr von Rosenroth (1636–1689), two of the foremost Christian Kabbalists of the seventeenth century.1 If mentioned at all, these two are usually placed in the ranks of mystics and occultists: van Helmont is remembered as the prototype for Matthew Arnold’s scholar gipsy and von Rosenroth for his lovely poem “Morgenglanz der Ewigkeit,” which appears in anthologies of German poetry to this day. I would like to present them in a different light, however, and integrate them into the mainstream of seventeenth-century science and philosophy. Living at the height of the scientific revolution, their work provides a good example of the complexity of the scientific and philosophical thought of the age. Modern approaches to science eliminate areas of knowledge which were considered scientific at the time they wrote and about which they were acknowledged experts, for example, prophecy, philology, alchemy, magic, and the Kabbalah. Discussions of the scientific revolution which ignore these areas and describe developments in the terms of a triumph of the mechanical philosophy over magic and occultism invariably place van Helmont and von Rosenroth on the losing side, but in doing so they misrepresent what science was and how it developed.2


Seventeenth Century Scientific Revolution Real Character Hebrew Letter Infinitesimal Calculus 
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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1991

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  • Allison P. Coudert

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