1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Eichhorn, Johann Gottfried

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EICHHORN, JOHANN GOTTFRIED (1752-1827), German theologian, was born at Dörrenzimmern, in the principality of Hohenlohe-Oehringen, on the 16th of October 1752. He was educated at the state school in Weikersheim, where his father was superintendent, at the gymnasium at Heilbronn and at the university of Göttingen (1770-1774), studying under J. D. Michaelis. In 1774 he received the rectorship of the gymnasium at Ohrdruf, in the duchy of Gotha, and in the following year was made professor of Oriental languages at Jena. On the death of Michaelis in 1788 he was elected professor ordinarius at Göttingen, where he lectured not only on Oriental languages and on the exegesis of the Old and New Testaments, but also on political history. His health was shattered in 1825, but he continued his lectures until attacked by fever on the 14th of June 1827. He died on the 27th of that month. Eichhorn has been called “the founder of modern Old Testament criticism.” He first properly recognized its scope and problems, and began many of its most important discussions. “My greatest trouble,” he says in the preface to the second edition of his Einleitung, “I had to bestow on a hitherto unworked field — on the investigation of the inner nature of the Old Testament with the help of the Higher Criticism (not a new name to any humanist).” His investigations led him to the conclusion that “most of the writings of the Hebrews have passed through several hands.” He took for granted that all the so-called supernatural facts relating to the Old and New Testaments were explicable on natural principles. He sought to judge them from the standpoint of the ancient world, and to account for them by the superstitious beliefs which were then generally in vogue. He did not perceive in the biblical books any religious ideas of much importance for modern times; they interested him merely historically and for the light they cast upon antiquity. He regarded many books of the Old Testament as spurious, questioned the genuineness of 2 Peter and Jude, denied the Pauline authorship of Timothy and Titus, and suggested that the canonical gospels were based upon various translations and editions of a primary Aramaic gospel. He did not appreciate as sufficiently as David Strauss and the Tübingen critics the difficulties which a natural theory has to surmount, nor did he support his conclusions by such elaborate discussions as they deemed necessary.

His principal works were — Geschichte des Ostindischen Handels vor Mohammed (Gotha, 1775); Allgemeine Bibliothek der biblischen Literatur (10 vols., Leipzig, 1787-1801); Einleitung in das Alte Testament (3 vols., Leipzig, 1780-1783); Einleitung in das Neue Testament (1804-1812); Einleitung in die apokryphischen Bücher des Alten Testaments (Gött., 1795); Commentarius in apocalypsin Joannis (2 vols., Gött., 1791); Die Hebr. Propheten (3 vols., Gött., 1816-1819); Allgemeine Geschichte der Cultur und Literatur des neuern Europa (2 vols., Gött., 1706-1799); Literärgeschichte (1st vol., Gött., 1799, 2nd ed. 1813, 2nd vol. 1814); Geschichte der Literatur von ihrem Anfange bis auf die neuesten Zeiten (5 vols., Gött., 1805-1812); Übersicht der Französischen Revolution (2 vols., Gött., 1797); Weltgeschichte (3rd ed., 5 vols., Gött., 1819-1820); Geschichte der drei letzten Jahrhunderte (3rd ed., 6 vols., Hanover, 1817-1818); Urgeschichte des erlauchten Hauses der Welten (Hanover, 1817).

See R. W. Mackay, The Tübingen School and its Antecedents (1863), pp. 103 ff.; Otto Pfleiderer, Development of Theology (1890), p. 209; T. K. Cheyne, Founders of Old Testament Criticism (1893), pp. 13 ff.