1902 Encyclopedia > Friedrich Bleek

Friedrich Bleek
German biblical scholar
(1793-1859)




FRIEDRICH BLEEK, one of the greatest Biblical scholars that Germany has produced in modern times, was born on the 4th July 1793, at Ahrensbök, in Holstein, a village near Lübeck. While attending the elementary school there, he gave evidence of such ability that his father sent him, after he had acquired some knowledge of Latin and Greek, in his sixteenth year, to the gymnasium at Lübeck, where he spent three years, and there imbibed so great a love for the languages of antiquity, that he abandoned the idea of a Segal career, which he had once entertained, and resolved to devote himself to the study of theology. After spending some time at the University of Kiel, he repaired to Berlin, and there, from 1814 to 1817, enjoyed the instructions of De Wette, Neander, and Schleiermacher. The teaching of these distinguished men, especially of the last named, exercised a decisive influence upon the whole of his after life. So highly were his merits appreciated by his pro-fessors—Schleiermacher was accustomed to say of Bleek that he possessed a special charisma for the science of " Introduction "—that in 1818, after he had passed the necessary examinations for entering the church, he was recalled to Berlin to occupy the position of Repetent or tutor in theology, a temporary post which the theological faculty had obtained for him, with a view of retaining his services in connection with that department of the university. In this position, besides discharging his duties in the theo-logical seminary, he published, in Schleiermacher's and Lücke's Journal (1819, 1820, 1822), two dissertations, one on the " Origin and Composition of the Sibylline Oracles," and another on the " Authorship and Design of the Book of DanieL" These articles attracted much attention, and were distinguished by those qualities of solid learning thorough investigation, and candour of judgment, which characterized all the productions of his pen. Bleek's merits as a rising scholar were recognized by the minister of public instruction, who continued his stipend as Repetent for a third year, and promised further advancement in due time. But the attitude of the political authority underwent a change. The excitement caused in academic circles by the dismissal of De Wette from his professorship in 1819, in consequence of certain injudicious expressions in the letter of sympathy which he had written to the mother of Sands, the murderer of Kotzebue, had not died out, and the odium and punishment which fell upon De Wette were shared in a greater or less degree by his friends. Bleek, who had been a favourite pupil of the banished professor, incurred the suspicion of the Government as one who was believed to hold extreme democratic opinions. Not only was his stipend as Repetent discontinued, but his nomina-tion to the office of extraordinary professor, which had already been signed by the minister Altenstein, was with-held for two years. The mystery at last was cleared up. Bleek had been confounded with another individual of a similar name, one Baueleven Blech. Tardy justice was at length done, and in 1823 Bleek received the appoint-ment to which his merits so well entitled him.

During the six years that Bleek remained at Berlin he twice declined a call to the office of ordinary professor of theology, once to Greifswald and once to Königsberg. In 1829, however, he was induced, on the death of Lücke, to accept his chair in the recently-founded university of Bonn, and entered upon his duties there in the summer of the same year. For the space of thirty years he laboured with ever increasing success, attracting students to his lectures, not by any attractions of manner nor by the enunciation of novel or bizarre opinions on theological subjects, but by the soundness and thoroughness of his investigations, the remarkable impartiality of his critical judgments, and the exceeding clearness of his method of presentation. In 1843 he was raised to the office of consistorial councillor, and was selected by the university to hold the office of rector, a distinction which has not since been conferred upon any theologian of the Reformed Church. After a long and honoured academic life he died suddenly of apoplexy on the 27th February 1859, having been able to lecture to his students as usual on the previous day.





Bleek's works belong entirely to the departments of Biblical criticism and exegesis. His great merits as a critic and exegete consist, as has been already observed, in the thoroughness of his investigations, and especially in the candour of his judgment The latter quality, indeed, he possessed in so remarkable a degree, that, as a recent writer has remarked, it has become " proverbial." His views, indeed, on questions of Old Testament criticism would be regarded in this country as those of the " advanced" school; for on all the disputed points concerning the unity and authorship of the books of the Old Covenant he was led to form conclusions opposed to received opinions. But with respect to the New Testament, his position was highly conservative. His defence of the genuineness and authenticity of the gospel of St John is still regarded as the ablest that has yet appeared; and although, on some minor points, his views did not altogether coincide with those of the traditional school, his critical labours on the New Testament must nevertheless be regarded as among the most important contributions to the maintenance of orthodox opinions that the present century has produced. Bleek's works were published partly during his lifetime, and partly after his death. His greatest work, his com-mentary on the epistle to the Hebrews (Brief an die Hebräer erläutert durch Einleitung, Uebersetzung, und fortlaufenden Commentar) appeared in three parts, in 1828, 1836, and. 1840 respectively. Of it De Wette said that " It was so distinguished for comprehensive learning and thorough untiring industry, for so pure and transparent a love of truth and so profound a theological feeling, that it was entitled to one of the foremost, if not the very foremost, place among the exegetical works of our time;" and Delitzsch adds that " every one acquainted with the subject will endorse the judgment." This work was abridged by Bleek for his college lectures, and was published in that condensed form after his death by Pfarrer Windrath in 1868. In 1846 he published his contributions to the criticism of the gospels (Beiträge zur Evangelien Kritik, pt. L), which contained his defence of St John's gospel, and which arose out of a review of Ebrard's Wissenschaftliche Kritik der Evangelischen Geschichte.

After his death were published—(1), his Introduction to the Old Testament (Einleitung in das Alte Testament), 3d edition, by his pupil Prof. Kamphausen, 1869, English translation, by Venables (from 2d edition), 1869 ; (2), his Introduction to the New Testa,- ment, 3d edition, Mangold, 1875, English translation, by Urwick, 1869, 1870 ; (3), his Exposition of the first three Gospels, by Holtz- mann, 1862 ; (i), his Lectures on the Apocalypse, English transla- tion, 1875. Besides these there has also appeared a small volume containing Lectures on Oolossians, Philemon, and Ephesians, Berlin, 1865. Bleek also contributed many articles to the Studien und Kritiken. For further information as to Bleek's life and writings the reader is referred to Kamphausen's article in the Darmstadt Allgemeine Kirchen-zeitung, 1859, TSo. 20; to the same writer's article in Herzog's Real-Encyklopcedie, vol. xix.; and to Lichten- stein's Histoire des Idles Religieuses en AUemagne, vol. iii.; and to Diestel's Geschichte des Alten Testamentes, 1869. (F. C.)







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