1902 Encyclopedia > Heinrich Georg August von Ewald

Heinrich Georg August von Ewald
Orientalist, biblicist and theologian
(1803-75)




HEINRICH GEORG AUGUST VON EWALD, (1803-1875), Orientalist, biblicist, and theologian, was born, November 16, 1803, at Gottiugen, where his father followed the occupation of a linen-weaver. After receiving the usual preliminary training, he entered the university of his native town in 1820; and there, with Eichhorn as teacher, he at once began to devote himself specially to the study of Hebrew and its cognates. At the close of his academical career in 1823 he was appointed to a mastership in the gymnasium at Wolfenbüttel; but soon afterwards (in the spring of 1824) he was, at the instance of Eichhorn, recalled to Gottingen as repetent, or theological tutor, and in 1827 (the year of Eichhorn's death) he became professor extra-ordinarius in philosophy, and lecturer in Old Testament exegesis. In 1831 he was promoted to the position of professor ordinarius in philosophy ; and in 1835 he entered the faculty of theology, taking the chair of Oriental languages. Two years later occurred the first important episode in his studious life, which until then had been uninterrupted in its even tenor except by journeys in 1826, 1829, and 1836 to Berlin, Paris, and Italy, for the purpose of consulting rare and important oriental manuscripts. In 1837, on the 18th November, along with six of his colleagues (Dahlmann the historian, Weber the electrician, Gervinus the critic, the brothers Grimm, and W. E. Albrecht) he signed a formal protest against the arbitrary proceeding of King Ernst August (duke of Cumberland) in abolishing the liberal constitution of 1833, which had been granted to the Hanoverians by his predecessor William IV. This bold action of the seven professors made them very popular and famous in the country; but it led to their speedy expulsion from the university (14th December). Early in 1838 Ewald received a call to Tubingen, and there for upwards of ten years he held a chair as professor ordinarius, first in philosophy and afterwards, from 1841, in theology. To this period belong some of his most important works, and also the commence-ment of his bitter feud with F. C. Baur and the Tubingen critical school. In 1848, "the great shipwreck-year in Germany," as he has called it, he was invited back to Gottingen on honourable terms,—the liberal constitution having been restored. He gladly accepted the invitation, for though well treated in Wiirtemberg (he had been en-nobled by the king in 1841), he had never learned to re-gard his sojourn there as anything else than a period of exile. In 1862-63 he took an active part in a movement for reform within the Hanoverian church, and he was a member of the synod which passed the new constitution. He had an important share also in the formation of the Protestantenverein, or Protestant association, in September 1863. But the chief crisis in his life arose out of the great political events of 1866. His loyalty to King George (son of Ernst August) would not permit him to take the oath of allegiance to the victorious king of Prussia, and in consequence of his refusal to do so he was ultimately placed on the retired list, though with the full amount of his salary as pension. Perhaps even this degree ">f severity might have been held by the Prussian authorities to be unneces-sary, had Ewald been less exasperating in his language. The violent tone of some of his printed manifestoes about this time, especially of his Lob des Kónigs u. des Volkes, led to his being deprived of the venia legendi (1868), and also to a criminal process, which, however, resulted in his acquittal (May 1869). Then, and on two subsequent occa-sions, he was returned by the city of Hanover as a member of the North German and German parliaments. In June 1874 he was found guilty of a libel on Prince Bismarck, whom he had compared to Frederick II. and Napoleon III. —-to the former in " his unrighteous war with Austria and his ruination of religion and morality," to the latter in his way of " picking out the best time possible for robbery and plunder." For this offence he was sentenced to undergo three weeks' imprisonment. He died in his 72d year, of heart-disease, May 4, 1875.

From the above brief sketch it will be seen that, even apart from his contributions to philological and biblical science, Ewald was no common man. In the whole course of his public life he displayed in a very high degree many noble characteristics,—perfect simolicity and sincerity, in-tensest moral earnestness, sturdiest independence, absolute fearlessness. It would be difficult to say whether the intel- lectual or the emotional side of his nature was most highly developed. He loved with peculiar intensity, loved free- dom and truth in every domain, in politics as well as in- science and in religion; and just because he loved them with all his great might, he could not help hating all that he believed to be opposed to them. It was impossible for him to be a mere critic ; no reader can understand Ewald's posi- tion who allows himself to forget that his whole being was possessed with a passionately devoted faith. It was natural that such a man should be frequently engaged in contro- versy, and equally natural that in these circumstances the " defects of his qualities " should often become painfully apparent. It cannot be denied that in his manner of speak- ing about his opponents he often overstepped the limits of charity and even of justice. The peculiar character of his intellect, which was rather intuitive than inductive, made him neither a very fair nor a very effective controversialist. No one equalled him in the power of comprehending in a single survey a vast circle of complicated facts, and almost instinctively divining their scientific unity; but the results, attained in this way presented themselves to his mind with such intuitive conviction that he was impatient of all ob- jection, and little able to do justice to scholars of a different mental habit. Yet in controversy he probably received injustice more often than he inflicted it; even his extremest views have generally been found to contain much that is true and valuable; and the great Arabist Fleischer is almost the only scholar who gained a conspicuous victory over him on an unambiguous philological issue. As a teacher he had a remarkable power of kindling enthusiasm ; and he sent out many distinguished pupils, among whom may be mentioned Hitzig, Schrader, Noldeke, Diestel, and Dillmann. His disciples have not been all of one school, any more than were those of Socrates; but many eminent moderns who are apparently farthest removed from his influence are only developing some of the fruitful ideas which in the exuberance of his wealth he was wont to fling out by handfuls.





Of no writings more truly than of his could it be said that they are the reservoirs into which, without any waste, the entire energy of a life has been stored. For more than half a century his pen was never idle; from 1823 onwards hardly a year passed which was not marked by the appear-ance of some highly important contribution to the sciences he loved. By the publication of his Hebrew Grammar he inaugurated a new era in biblical philology. All subsequent works in that department have been avowedly based on his. It has already been superseded in parts, especially in its accidence; but the syntax still remains unexcelled for the sagacity with which dry rules are made intelligible and interesting by continued reference to the fundamental laws of language and thought. But even when his Lehrbuch shall have become entirely antiquated, to him will always belong the honour of having been, as Hitzig has called him, " the second founder of the science of Hebrew language." As an exegete and biblical critic no less than as a grammarian he has left his abiding mark. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that the publication of his Geschichte des Volkes Israel was epoch-making in that branch of research, as much as was the work of Niebuhr in relation to the history of Borne. In its final form, the result of thirty years' labour, it is a noble monument to the genius of its author. No one can fail to be struck with the profundity of insight and patience of research which it displays. While in every line it bears the marks of Ewald's intense individuality, it is at the same time a highly characteristic product of the age, and even decade, in which it first appeared. If it is obviously the outcome of immense learning on the part of its author, it is no less manifestly the result of the speculations and researches of many laborious predecessors in all departments of history, theology, and philosophy. Especially is it indebted to the so-called. " destructive " criticism. The Reformation had destroyed that mediaeval conception of the Bible which took no account of literary history or doctrinal development at all; and subsequent researches, especially since those of Astruc, had made it abundantly clear that the conditions under which the Old Testament books had come into being were much more complicated than had been at one time supposed. Criticism, however, could not possibly rest satisfied with these purely negative results. If for a time it seemed as if the sacred literature had been reduced to a mere chaos of fragments, which men might well despair of ever being able to reduce to harmony and order, the historical sense had been developing no less remarkably than the spirit of criticism. Taught by some of the more modern schools of philosophy, men had been learning to take larger, and therefore juster, views of the principles that underlie all national histories and the general history of the human race. It was impossible that such a phenomenon as the Jewish people and their litera-ture should be permanently set aside as wholly incom-prehensible. The world was only waiting for a bold and vigorous constructive genius like that of Ewald to bring together the scattered fragments, and construe them into an intelligible unity; to show, for example, that, if the Psalter could no longer be regarded as the record of the spiritual experience of the individual to whom it had been tradi-tionally ascribed, it became all the more precious when known to embody all the highest aspirations and purest joys and noblest sorrows of many centuries of national life; and that if the legislation of the Pentateuch was not indeed, as had once been supposed, the work of a few quiet months, it gained in interest and instructiveness when known to be the slow growth of many busy generations. Taking up the idea of a divine education of the human race, which Lessing and Herder had made so familiar to the modern mind, and firmly believing that to each of the leading nations of antiquity a special task had been pro-videntially assigned, Ewald felt no difficulty about Israel's place in universal history, or about the problem which that primitive and highly endowed race had been called upon to solve. The history of Israel, according to him, is simply the history of the manner in which the one true religion really and truly came into the possession of mankind. Other nations, indeed, had attempted the highest problems in religion; but Israel alone had, in the providence of God, succeeded, for Israel alone had been inspired. Such is the supreme meaning of that national history which began with the exodus and culminated (at the same time virtually terminating) in the appearing of Christ, the supremely perfect revelation or self-manifestation of God. The historical interval that separated these two events is treated as naturally dividing itself into three great periods, —those of Moses and the theocracy, of David and the monarchy, of Ezra and the hagiocracy. The periods are externally indicated by the successive names by which the chosen people were called—Hebrews, Israelites, Jews. The events prior to the exodus are relegated by Ewald to a preliminary chapter of primitive history; and the events of the apostolic and post-apostolic age are treated as a kind of appendix. The entire construction of the history is based, as has already been said, on a critical examination and chronological arrangement of the available documents. So far as the results of criticism are still uncertain with regard to the age and authorship of any of these, Ewald's conclusions must of course be regarded as unsatisfactory; and it cannot be denied that later investigations have shown that in many important points his firm faith that finality had been attained was illusory. These admissions, however, hardly affect the permanent value of his work. It will continue to be a storehouse of learning for all sub-sequent investigators in the field of sacred history, and it will be increasingly recognized as a work of rare genius. It would be impossible to praise too highly the con-scientiousness with which the minutest features of the history have been carefully scanned; the marvellous power of combination which, at even the most unlikely points, can draw the most graphic illustrations from contemporary prophets and poets; the vividness with which, not only the politics, but also the religion, the arts, the literature, the domestic life, of each sucesssive period are depicted; the loving enthusiasm of the student who believes that those only are the enemies of the Bible who fail to investi-gate it, or who fail to investigate it thoroughly.





In his work on biblical theology, he can hardly be said to have been so successful as in some of his earlier efforts. Though a suggestive and therefore a useful book, its con-clusions are vitiated in many cases by a glaring departure from the inductive method, the interpretations being often speculative rather than biblical, and unduly dominated by a preconceived metaphysico-religious system of the universe.

Subjoined is a list of the more important of his works:—Die Com-position der Genesis kritisch untersucht (1823) [an acute and able at-tempt to account for the use of the two names of God without recourse to the document-hypothesis; he was not himself, however, perma-nently convinced by it] ; De metris carminum Arabicorum (1825) ; Das Hohelied Salomo's übersetzt u. erklärt (1826; 3rd ed. 1866) ; Kritische Grammatik der hebr. Sprache (1827) [this afterwards became the Ausführliches Lehrbuch der hebr. Sprache (8th ed. 1870); and it was followed by the Hebr. Sprachlehre für Anfänger (4th ed. 1874)]; Heber einige altere Sanskritmetra (1827); Liier Vakedii de Mesopotamia? expugnalm historia (1827); Commentarius in Apocalypsin Johannis (1828); Abhandlungen zur biblischen u. orientalisclien Literatur (1832); Grammatica critica Ungute Arabicx (1831-33); Die poetischen Bücher des alten Bundes (1835-37, 3rd ed. 1866-67); Die Propheten des alten Bundes (1840-41, 2nd ed., 1867-68); Geschichte des Volkes Israel (1843-59, 3rd ed. 1864-68); Alterthümer Israels (1848); Die drei ersten Evangelien übersetzt u. erklärt (1850) ; Ueber das äthiopische Buch Henoch (1854); Die Sendschreiben des Apostels Paulus übersetzt u. erklärt (1857); Die Johanneischen Schriften übersetzt u. erklärt (1861-62); Ueber das vierte Esrabuch (1863); Sieben Sendschreiben des neuen Blindes (1870); Das Sendschreiben an die Hebräer u. Jakobos' Rundschreiben (1870); Die Lehre der Bibel von Gott, oder Theologie des alten u. neuen Bundes (1871-75). The Jahrbücher der biblischen Wissen-schaft (1849-65) were edited, and for the most part written, by him. He was the chief promoter of the Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Mor-genlandes, begun in 1837; and he frequently contributed on various subjects to the Gotting, gelehrte Anzeigen. He was also the author of many pamphlets of an occasional character.

The following have been translated into English:—-Hebrew Grammar, by Nicholson (from 2nd German edition), Lond. 1836; In- troductory Hebrew Grammar (from 3rd German edition), Lond. 1870; History of Israel, 5 vols, (corresponding to vols, i.-iv. of the German), by Russell Martineau and J. Estlin Carpenter, Lond. 1867- 7 i; Antiquities of Israel, by H. S. Solly, Lond. 1876 ; Commentary on the Prophets of the Old Testament, by J. Frederick Smith, 2 vols., Lond. 1876-77 ; Isaiah the Prophet, chaps, i.-xxxiii, by O. Glover, Lond. 1869 ; Life of Jesus Christ, also by O. Glover, Lond. 1865. (J. S. BL.)




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