Wilhelm Gesenius

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Wilhelm Gesenius.

Heinrich Friedrich Wilhelm Gesenius (3 February 1786 – 23 October 1842) was a German orientalist, Lutheran, and Biblical critic.[1] He is credited, among other things, with the reconstructed pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton, “Yahweh”.[2]


He was born at Nordhausen. In 1803 he became a student of philosophy and theology at the University of Helmstedt, where Heinrich Henke was his most influential teacher; but the latter part of his university course was taken at Göttingen, where Johann Gottfried Eichhorn and Thomas Christian Tychsen were then at the height of their popularity. In 1806, shortly after graduation, he became Repetent and Privatdozent at Göttingen; and, as he was later proud to say, had August Neander for his first pupil in Hebrew language. 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 over thirty years. The only interruptions occurred in 1813–1814, occasioned by the German War of Liberation (War of the Sixth Coalition), 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 the Netherlands in connection with his Phoenician studies. He 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, C. P. W. Gramberg, A. G. Hoffmann, Hermann Hupfeld, Emil Rödiger, J. F. Tuch, Johann Karl Wilhelm Vatke and Theodor Benfey.

In 1827, after declining an invitation to take Eichhorn's place at Göttingen, Gesenius was made a Consistorialrat; 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.

Gesenius died at Halle and is buried near the university. According to tradition, theology students in Halle put stones on his grave as a token of respect every year before their examinations.[3]

Gesenius takes much of the credit for having freed Semitic philology from the trammels of theological and religious prepossession, and for inaugurating the strictly scientific (and comparative) method which has since been so fruitful. As an exegete he exercised a powerful influence on theological investigation. He may also be considered as a founder of Phoenician studies.[4]


  • Versuch über die maltesische Sprache (1810).
  • Hebräisches Lesebuch (1814).
  • De Pentateuchi Samaritani origine, indole et auctoriate (1815).
  • Geschichte der hebräischen Sprache und Schrift (1815).
  • Hebräisch-deutsches Handwörterbuch, 2 vols. (1810–12). English translation by Leo (1825-1828).
    • Hebräisches und chaldäisches Handwörterbuch über das Alte Testament (1815; 16th ed. 1915). After the tenth edition chaldäisches was changed into aramäisches. Various editions of this work have been translated into English by Gibbs (1824, 1827, 1832), Robinson (1836, 1854), and Tregelles (1859).
  • Hebräische Grammatik (1813, 29th ed. 1929 by Gotthelf Bergsträsser [incomplete]). English translation by Arthur Cowley (2nd ed. 1910).
  • Ausführliches grammatisch-kritisches Lehrgebäude der hebräischen Sprache mit Vergleichung der verwandten Dialekte (1817).
  • De Samaritanorum theologia ex fontibus ineditis commentatio (1822).
  • Paläographische Studien über Phönizische und Punische Schrift (1835).
  • Scripturae linguaeque phoeniciae monumenta quotquot supersunt edita et inedita (1837).
  • Programma. Commentatio de Samaritanorum theologia (1824).
  • Carmina samaritana e Codicibus Londinensibus et Gothanis (1824).
  • Programma. De inscriptione phoenicio-graeca in Cyrenaica (1825).
  • Genesis, Hebraice ad optima exemplaria accuratissime expressa (1828).
  • Der Prophet Jesaia, 3 vols. (1820–21, 2nd ed. 1829).
  • Liber Job ad optima exemplaria accuratissime expressus (1829).
  • Thesaurus philologicus criticus linguae Hebraeae et Chaldaeae veteris testamenti, 3 vols. (started in 1829, completed posthumously by Emil Rödiger in 1858). Contains references to talmudic works and Jewish Bible commentators such as Rashi, Abraham ibn Ezra, David Kimhi.
  • Disputatio de inscriptione punico-libyca (1835).
  • De Bar Alio et Bar Bahlulo, 2 vols. (1834–39).
  • Über die Himjaritische Sprache und Schrift (1841).

Gesenius also contributed extensively to Ersch and Gruber's Encyclopädie, and enriched the German translation of Johann Ludwig Burckhardt's Travels in Syria and the Holy Land with valuable geographical notes. For many years he also edited the Halle Allgemeine Litteraturzeitung. A sketch of his life was published by Rudolf Haym in 1843 (Gesenius: eine Erinnerung für seine Freunde), and another by Hermann Gesenius, Wilhelm Gesenius, ein Erinnerungsblatt an den hundertjährigen Geburtstag am 3. Februar 1886, in 1886.[5][6][7]


  1. ^ Today in History - lutheranhistory.org. Retrieved 18 August 2015.
  2. ^ A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament with an appendix containing the Biblical Aramaic, written by Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver and Charles Augustus Briggs, based on the Hebrew lexicon of Wilhelm Gesenius as translated by Edward Robinson, Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1906, s. 218.
  3. ^ Yaacov Shavit (16 April 2010). וגם גזניוס ברוך יהיה [And also Gesenius shall be blessed]. Haaretz (in Hebrew). Retrieved 31 August 2014. 
  4. ^ "Wilhelm Gesenius", in Je m'appelle Byblos, Jean-Pierre Thiollet, H & D, 2005, p. 253.
  5. ^ Fulcran Vigouroux (1912), Dictionnaire de la Bible, 3, pp. 215–218 
  6. ^ Wilhelm Bacher (1906), "DICTIONARIES, HEBREW", in Isidore Singer; et al., Jewish Encyclopedia, 4, pp. 579–585 
  7. ^ Irene Garbell (2007), "GESENIUS, HEINRICH FRIEDRICH WILHELM", Encyclopaedia Judaica, 7 (2nd ed.), p. 562 


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