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Hans Jonas


Hans Jonas (May 10, 1903–February 5, 1993), philosopher. Jonas studied with Martin Heidegger and Rudolf Bultmann in Marburg. Adhering to Zionist convictions since his youth, he left Nazi Germany in 1933 for Jerusalem, where he was a lecturer at the Hebrew University before World War II. During the war he served in the British Army (in the *Jewish Brigade Group) in the Middle East, taught in Palestine, and was a lieutenant in the Israeli Army 1948–49. In 1949 he went to McGill University in Montreal, in 1950 to Carleton College, Ottawa, and from 1951 was professor of philosophy at the New School for Social Research in New York.

Jonas' original work was on philosophy and religion in late antiquity and early Christianity, writing on Augustin und das paulinische Freiheitsproblem (1930), and Gnosis und spaetantiker Geist (2 vols., 1934–54; partial Eng. tr., The Gnostic Religion, 1958). His revolutionary study on Gnosticism initiated the movement to understand religions by demythologizing them and revealing their existential meaning. The Nazi's abandonment of all that is human as well as the confrontation with Heidegger's affinity to Nazism inspired Jonas to set forth a counterphilosophy to modern nihilism. He wrote on phenomenology and existentialism (Zwischen Nichts und Ewigkeit, 1963) and on philosophical biology (The Phenomenon of Life, 1966), offering an anti-dualistic understanding of organic life that interprets human existence as part of a nature that is meaningful in itself. In his The Imperative of Responsibility (1984), Jonas explored the ethical consequences of his speculative ontology for a world dominated by the dangers inherent in science and technology, especially genetic engineering, suggesting strategies of human self-limitation and respect for the integrity of life. In his essay The Concept of God after Auschwitz (1987), Jonas radically transformed the question of theodicy into the question of the justification of man and rejected the notion of God's power in history; stimulated by ideas of Lurianic Kabbalah, he employed a speculative myth to unfold a process of theogony and cosmology in which God, in the course of evolution, withdraws completely back into Himself, relinquishes His omnipotence, and makes the world subject to human responsibility.


T. Schieder, Weltabenteuer Gottes: Die Gottesfrage bei Hans Jonas (1998); D.J. Levy, Hans Jonas: The Integrity of Thinking (2003); C. Wiese, Hans Jonas. Zusammen Philosoph und Jude (2003); C. Wiese & E. Jacobson (eds.), Weiterwohnlichkeit der Welt. Zur Aktualitaet von Hans Jonas (2003); W.E. Müller (ed.), Von der Gnosisforschung zur Verantwortungsethik (2003).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.