Paul Kraus (Arabist)

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Eliezer Paul Kraus (or Krause, December 11, 1904 – October 10 or 12th, 1944) was a Jewish Arabist, born in Prague. In the late 1930s he moved to Cairo, where in 1944 he committed suicide; there is no evidence that he was politically assassinated.[1]

Academic Studies and Work[edit]

Paul Kraus was born in Prague.[2] Kraus was educated in Prague, Berlin (where he met his first wife, Bettina, and received his doctorate in 1929) and Paris.

Kraus was known for his fluency in many oriental languages, including Hebrew, Aramaic, Amharic (Ethiopian), Accadian, Greek, Latin and Persian.

In 1925, as a young Zionist, he went to Palestine, living at first on a Kibbutz, but a year later moving to Jerusalem and beginning studies at the newly opened Hebrew University. During this year he was briefly married and divorced. By the end of 1926 he had left Jerusalem and begun a research trip through Lebanon and Turkey, ending in Germany to continue his studies in Berlin.

In 1933, with the Nazis coming to power in Germany and many Jews losing their jobs, Kraus left Berlin for Paris, where he was able to continue his studies under the French Orientalist Louis Massignon. He stayed for three years.

In 1935 he first published a French translation of Abu Bakr al-Razi's Philosophic Life,[3] following it in 1936 with a thesis on the work and importance of Geber Abu Mussa (or Jābir ibn Hayyān) to the science of chemistry. The thesis advanced the possibility that no such person as Geber had ever existed, or that even if he had, the original book might have been written by a group of students, a decade after he died.[4]

In 1936, he was offered positions at three universities: The Holy Muslim University of India, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the University of Cairo. He took up the Cairo offer, moving there in 1937. He worked there at the University of Cairo, teaching Textual Criticism and Semitic Languages,[5] as well as at the French Archeological Institute of Cairo.

In 1938 Kraus discovered the Al-Farabi manuscript (the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle and the Commentary on the Laws) in an Istanbul library, and notified his future brother-in-law, Leo Strauss, about it. The two were excited about the prospects of translating, publishing and researching the manuscript. An Al-Farabi conference was called for 1939 in Istanbul, but was canceled due to the outbreak of the Second World War.

According to his Czech biography, in a 1939 trip to Jerusalem, he later regretted turning down the position, since he discovered that the academic scene was completely changed, bustling with the top researchers of the field, and nothing to be compared with the time he had first been there in 1926.

In 1941, he married Bettina Strauss, the sister of Professor Leo Strauss. The two had been acquainted since the late 1920s and had traveled together to Turkey, Lebanon, Palestine and Egypt for research. Bettina died during the birth of their daughter, Jenny Ann, in 1942.[6]

In 1943, after his second wife's death, he traveled to Jerusalem with his daughter, where he married Dorothee Metlitzki, herself a noted academic and a founder of the Hebrew University.

At that time he was invited to a public debate held at the Hebrew University, where he set out his theory of the coherency of the Old Testament as a series of lyrics, perhaps as an oral tradition, which, he proposed, explained many inconsistencies and repeated parts in the texts. His behavior at the debate was described as "eccentric". His theories were ridiculed, many of his contemporaries shunned him, and it seems he had suffered a nervous breakdown.

After the debate in Jerusalem, he returned to Cairo alone, his new wife remaining in a Jerusalem hospital with a serious illness. The political situation in Cairo began to deteriorate. Kraus's superiors at the University of Cairo were fired, and an air of anti-science along with growing anti-Semitism was felt there. It was clear that there was no future for him in Cairo, but Jerusalem had closed its doors to him as well. Rooms in his apartment were rented to two Lebanese students, Albert Hourani and his brother Cecil - both later to become prominent scholars. They noticed that upon his return from Jerusalem he appeared manic-depressive. Apparently Kraus was accused of stealing funds that were intended for library purchases.

Kraus committed suicide several months later during 1944. L. His daughter Jenny was adopted by Professor Strauss at the age of four. Kraus's papers, which had been stored in the French Institute in Cairo and apparently plundered by other scholars, were finally brought to the United States by his daughter who donated them to the Special Collections Library of the University of Chicago.

Selected publications[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Irwin, Robert (2000). "The Jewish Discovery of Islam: Studies in Honor of Bernard Lewis by Martin Kramer". Middle Eastern Studies. 36 (3): 244–247. JSTOR 4284101. 
  2. ^ "Selected Treatises by Jabir ibn Hayyan". World Digital Library. Retrieved 28 February 2013. 
  3. ^ "Raziana I," Orientalia 4 (1935): 300-334.
  4. ^ Geber according to Kraus at the History of Science and Technology in Islam website
  5. ^ Encounters and Reflections By Seth Benardete and Ronna Burger, University of Chicago Press 2002, ISBN 0-226-04278-2, ISBN 978-0-226-04278-7
  6. ^

External links[edit]