Johannes Alberti

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Alberti as professor at Leiden University

Johannes Alberti (March 6, 1698 in Assen – 13 August 1762, Leiden), was a Dutch theologian.

Early life[edit]

Alberti was the son of a corn miller. Due to the distance between his parental house and the school, he could hardly visit the latter. It also appears as if his parents have at first neglected the education of their child. Luckily the miller's apprentice, Jan Mulder, found some pleasure in teaching the boy to read. The pupil made good progress, and soon the teacher took his student with him to the church. To his amazement, he noticed that the boy kept his eye steady on the pulpit. When after his return home, his mother asked him if he had remembered anything that was said, he stood upon a wooden crate in the living room, read the text of the preach, and declamated parts of it with such simplicity that his mother had tears in her eyes. From this moment on, the parents had the hope that their child could aim for something higher than the work of his parents. And he didn't disappoint them: after having outclassed his fellow students at the Latin school, he was sent to the University of Franeker in 1718, where he was immersed in Antiquity by Lambertus Bos and Campegius Vitringa. The latter also gave him a thorough knowledge of theology, so that, when he had finished his studies in Franeker after six years, he was known as someone of excellent capacities, promising a lot for science and homeland.


On 26 January 1721, he was confirmed as minister in Hoogwoud; here, following the examples of Elsner, Raphelius, his teacher Bos and some other theologians, he collected from heathen texts passages and sayings that were similar to those used in the Greek language New Testament to defend the style of the Evangelists and Apostles against those who considered their style as poor and full of Hebrew sayings. The results of this careful research were published by Alberti in 1725 in his Letterkundige Aanteekeningen op de gewijde Schriften des Nieuwen Verbonds. This work didn't have a running explanation, but highlights some aspects of the holy books, when compared with other Greek writers, explaining where needed the language used in the Old Testament and indicating the best reading according to Alberti, without ignoring the explanations of other theologians. Although it was lauded by many, the notes were mocked in the Acta Eruditorum, a critical journal published in Latin in Leipzig, and the young scientist was accused of plagiarism. Alberti replied to this in 1727 with a new publication, Kritische Proeve (Critical Essay), where he justified his earlier work extensively in the preamble, and where he showed an extraordinary knowledge with Greek dictionaries and grammars. This thorough knowledge, developed in a work of only some 100 pages, showed the independent writer to be a staunch defender of the Biblical truth, and silenced his enemies. Shortly thereafter he made a Proeve van Kritische aanmerkingen nopens Hesychius, followed by numerous literary remarks to enlighten some passages in the New Testament of Philo Judaeus: these two works are not published separately but presented in foreign journals.

Because Alberti dedicated himself to all skills needed and useful for a valuable minister and servant of the word God, his fame as a preacher spread far and wide, and he was relocated from Hoogwoud to Krommenie in 1726 and to Haarlem in 1728. During his stay there, he planned on making a new version of the dictionary of Hesychius of Alexandria; to make this work as complete as possible, he searched relentlessly and collected new sources everywhere. Among the papers presented to him for this reason by the Hamburg professor Johann Albert Fabricius, was an old unpublished Greek dictionary on the New Testament. Comparing this with another he found later in the library of the University of Leiden and with a very old manuscript, offered to him by his friend the scientist Tiberius Hemsterhuis, Alberti succeeded in enriching the Greek language with a new Greek dictionary on the New Testament, coupled with a very extensive list of all ancient Greek authors who were mentioned in the Lexicon of Photios I of Constantinople.

After having returned in 1740 from a long trip to the neighbouring countries, Alberti was offered the position of professor of theology at the University of Leiden, which he accepted on 5 October with a speech on the combination of Theology and Judgment. From the moment he became professor, he tried to promote a free and discerning explanation of the Bible with his students. This had as consequence that he got involved in the unpleasantries and persecution of one of his most proficient students, Antony van der Os, a teacher from Zwolle. The opponents of this teacher not only accused him of having received his unjust feelings from Alberti, who hid behind the screens and kept maliciously silent, but also openly declared that because of Alberti's teachings, the pure Reformed theology at the University of Leuden would be corrupted. The softhearted, calm Alberti, who had stated in one of his earliest books that only a bad understanding of the books of the Bible could lead to disputes in the church, was careful and intelligent enough not to be bothered by the attacks of his enemies, even though he was well aware that the attacks were aimed especially against him: therefor, his unpublished academic lessons were openly attacked in an anonymous publication, Examen van het onderwerp van tolerantie, om de leer, in de Dordrechtsche Synode, ten jare 1619, vastgesteld, met de veroordeelde leer der Remonstranten te vereenigen, door een genootschap van voorstanders der Nederlandsche formulieren van eenigheid, in which Alberti was presented with the name Euruodius ("Wide gatekeeper"). Alberti responded with disdain the ill-thought language of his unrestrained but learned enemies, but with warmth he and his teachings were defended by his colleague Albert Schultens.

During his professorship in Leiden, Alberti once was the rector, a position he withdrew from on 8 February 1749 with a speech on Over het Nut der poëzy voor de Godgeleerden (On the use of Poetry in Theology), which was translated to Low German by Nozeman and put in verse by Pieter Merkman.

Meanwhile Alberti continued his beloved literary exercises and published in Leiden in 1746 the first part of Hesychius' dictionary. The scientists were not disappointed at the publication, because the book confirmed the great fame of Alberti. He was already far advanced with the second part, when in 1749 he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. The baths of Aachen and Spa which he visited to find relief, suppressed the disease, but during three years he was unable to continue his work, and Alberti recovered very slowly. One annoying problem remained from his disease though, a partial paralysis of his hands, so that he could barely lift the pages of his books and found it very hard to write. Nevertheless, he continued to work at his beloved writings. Another ten years passed like this, and but for a few letters he had finished the complete alphabet of Hesychius, when he succumbed to the scarlet fever. The second part of Hesychius appeared in Leyden in 1762 due to the care of Ruhnkenius. Alberti had no children with his wife, a daughter of Mr. Philips van Ravestein, a man of much faceted knowledge.

For almost twenty two years, Alberti had been a jewel of the University of Leiden, and not minor were his contributions, through his lessons, towards a more accurate theology based on knowledge of the language. Everyone who has looked at his many writings has to admire the versatility of his knowledge. An excellent theologian and one of the best scholars of Biblical hermeneutics of his time, he also was filled with the spirit of the Greek literature and with the very basics of it. Furthermore, he was no stranger to the literature and poetry of the Netherlands, and succeeded in using this knowledge for his main studies. In his works many traces of comparative linguistics can be found, positive witnesses of his studies of the Dutch language; he even wasn't bad at the lyre. He also was proficient in Nordic History and Literature. Coupled with all this achievements as a scientist, he had the most adorable virtues. Suffice it to point to the grateful adoration he has towards his teacher Lambertus Bos in many of his writings; to the humility which is apparent in his works; to his universally recognised decency and his helpfulness towards other scientists, which meant that all manuscripts he owned were available to al linguists. As evidence for this can be given the following example. When the Frisian scientist Gijsbert Koen worked on a publication of Gregory of Corinth, it was through Alberti that he received an important manuscript of his literary work from Basel; and hardly had he heard that Johannes Pierson, the rector of Leeuwarden, was working on an edition of Moeris Atticista, or he sent, without invitation, his own manuscript version of a very accurate comparison with the Leiden manuscript, previously owned by Gerhard Johann Vossius.


This article incorporates text translated from the article "Johannes Alberti" in the Biographisch woordenboek der Nederlanden, a publication now in the public domain.