1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Gesenius, Heinrich Friedrich Wilhelm
GESENIUS, HEINRICH FRIEDRICH WILHELM (1786-1842), German orientalist and biblical critic, was born at Nordhausen, Hanover, on the 3rd of February 1786. In 1803 he became a student of philosophy and theology at the university of Helmstadt, where Heinrich Henke (1752-1809) was his most influential teacher; but the latter part of his university course was taken at Gottingen, where J.·G. Eichhorn and T. C. Tychsen (1758-1834) were then at the height of their popularity. In 1806, shortly after graduation, he became Repetent and Privatdozent in that university; and, as he was fond of afterwards relating, had Neander for his first pupil in Hebrew. In 1810 he became professor extraordinarius in theology, and in 1811 ordinarius, at the university of Halle, where, in spite of many offers of high preferment elsewhere, he spent the rest of his life. He taught with great regularity for upward of thirty years, the only interruptions being that of 1813-1814 (occasioned by the War of Liberation, during which the university was closed) and those occasioned by two prolonged literary tours, first in 1820 to Paris, London and Oxford with his colleague Johann Karl Thilo (1794–1853) for the examination of rare oriental manuscripts, and in 1835 to England and Holland in connexion with his Phoenician studies. He soon became the most popular teacher of Hebrew and of Old Testament introduction and exegesis in Germany, during his later years his lectures were attended by nearly five hundred students. Among his pupils the most eminent were Peter von Bohlen (1796–1840), A. G. Hoffmann (1769–1864), Hermann Hupfeld, Emil Rodiger (1801–1874), J. F. Tuch (1806–1867), W. Vatke (1806–1882) and Theodor Benfey (1809–1881). In 1827, after declining an invitation to take Eichhorn's place at Göttingen, Gesenius was made a Consistorialrath; but, apart from the violent attacks to which he, along with his friend and colleague Julius Wegscheider, was in 1830 subjected by E. W. Hengstenberg and his party in the Evangelische Kirchenzeitung, on account of his rationalism, his life was uneventful. He died at Halle on the 23rd of October 1842. To Gesenius belongs in a large measure the credit of having freed Semitic philology from the trammels of theological and religious prepossession, and of inaugurating the strictly scientific (and comparative) method which has since been so fruitful. As an exegete he exercised a powerful, and on the whole a beneficial, influence on theological investigation.