1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Wetstein, Johann Jakob

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WETSTEIN (also Wettstein), JOHANN JAKOB (1693-1754), New Testament critic, was born at Basel on the 5th of March 1693. Among his tutors in theology was Samuel Werenfels (1657-1740), an influential anticipatory of modern scientific exegesis. While still a student he began to direct his attention to the special pursuit of his life—the text of the Greek New Testament. A relative, Johann Wetstein, who was the university librarian, gave him permission to examine and collate the principal MSS. of the New Testament in the library, and he copied the various readings which they contained into his copy of Gerard of Maestricht's edition of the Greek text. In 1713 in his public examination he defended a dissertation entitled De variis Novi Testamenti lectionibus, and sought to show that variety of readings did not detract from the authority of the Bible. Wetstein paid great attention also to Aramaic and Talmudic Hebrew. In the spring of 1714 he undertook a learned tour, which led him to Paris and England, the great object of his inquiry everywhere being manuscripts of the New Testament. In 1716 he made the acquaintance of Richard Bentley at Cambridge, who took great interest in his work. The great scholar induced him to return to Paris to collate carefully the Codex Ephraems, Bentley having then in view a critical edition of the New Testament. In July 1717 Wetstein returned to take the office of a curate at large (diaconus communis) at Basel, a post which he held for three years, at the expiration of which he exchanged it to become his father's colleague and successor in the parish of St Leonard's. At the same time he pursued his favourite study, and gave private lectures on New Testament exegesis. It was then that he decided to prepare a critical edition of the Greek New Testament. He had in the meantime broken with Bentley, whose famous Proposals appeared in 1720. His earlier teachers, however, J. C. Iselin and J. L. Frey, who were engaged upon work similar to his own, became so unfriendly towards him that after a time he was forbidden any further use of the manuscripts in the library. Then a rumour got abroad that his projected text would take the Socinian side in the case of such passages as 1 Timothy iii. 16; and in other ways (e.g. by regarding Jesus's temptation as a subjective experience, by explaining some of the miracles in a natural way) he gave occasion for the suspicion of heresy. At length in 1729 the charge of projecting an edition of the Greek Testament savouring of Arian and Socinian views was formally laid against him. The end of the long and unedifying trial was his dismissal, on the 13th of May 1730, from his office of curate of St Leonard's. He then removed from Basel to Amsterdam, where a relative, Johann Heinrich Wetstein, had an important printing and publishing business, from whose office excellent editions of the classics were issued, and also Gerard of Maestricht's edition of the Greek Testament. Wetstein had begun to print in this office an edition of the Greek Testament, which was suddenly stopped for some unknown reason. As soon as he reached Amsterdam he published anonymously the Prolegomena ad Novi Testamenti Graeci editionem, which he had proposed should accompany his Greek Testament, and which was republished by him, with additions, as part of his great work, 1751. The next year (1731) the Remonstrants offered him the chair of philosophy in their college at Amsterdam, vacated by the illness of Jean le Clerc, on condition that he should clear himself of the suspicion of heresy. He thereupon returned to Basel, and procured a reversal (March 22, 1732) of the previous decision, and readmission to all his clerical offices. But, on his becoming a candidate for the Hebrew chair at Basel, his orthodox opponents procured his defeat and his retirement to Amsterdam. At length, after much painful contention, he was allowed to instruct the Remonstrant students in philosophy and Hebrew on certain somewhat humiliating conditions. For the rest of his life he continued professor in the Remonstrant college, declining in 1745 the Greek chair at Basel. In 1746 he once more visited England, and collated Syriac MSS. for his great work. At last this appeared in 1751–1752, in two folio volumes, under the title Novum Testamentum Graecum editionis receptae cum lectionibus varianlibus codicum MSS., &c. He did not venture to put new readings in the body of his page, but consigned those of them which he recommended to a place between the textus receptus and the full list of various readings. Beneath the latter he gave a commentary, consisting principally of a mass of valuable illustrations and parallels drawn from classical and rabbinical literature, which has formed a storehouse for all later commentators. In his Prolegomena he gave an admirable methodical account of the MSS., the versions and the readings of the fathers, as well as the troubled story of the difficulties with which he had had to contend in the prosecution of the work of his life. He was the first to designate unaal manuscripts by Roman capitals, and cursive manuscripts by Arabic figures. He did not long survive the completion of this work. He died at Amsterdam on the 23rd of March 1754.

Wetstein’s New Testament has never been republished entire. The London printer, William Bowyer, published, in 1763, a text in which he introduced the readings recommended by Wetstein; J. G. Semler republished the Prolegomena and appendix (1764); A. Lotze commenced a new edition of the work, but the Prolegomena only appeared (Rotterdam, 1831), and this "castigated." It is generally allowed that Wetstein rendered invaluable service to textual criticism by his collection of various readings and his methodical account of the MSS. and other sources, and that his work was rendered less valuable through his prejudice against the Latin version and the principle of grouping MSS. in families which had been recommended by Richard Bentley and J. A. Bengel.

See Wetstein’s account of his labours and trials in his Nov. Test. i.; articles in C. F, Illgen's Ztschr, für histor Theol. by C R. Hagenbach (1839), by L. J. Van Rhyn in 1843 and again by Heinrich Bottger in 1870; S. P. Tregelles, Account of the Printed Text of the New Testament; F. H. A. Scrivener's Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament; W. Gass, Protestantische Dogmatik, vol. iii.; the art. in Herzog's Realencyklopadie and in the Allgemeine deutsche Biographie.