- Reuchlin, Johannes
- (1455-1522)Hebraist whose biblical studies aided the ReformationJohannes Reuchlin was born at Pforzheim, Baden, Germany, on February 22, 1455. He studied at Freiburg, Paris, and Basel, where he also taught Greek and Latin. He then studied law at Orléans, and received a licentiate of law at Poitiers in 1481.Reuchlin's trips to Italy in 1482 and 1490 strengthened his ties to scholars of the humanism movement, while his 1498 visit with Italian Jewish scholars improved his mastery of Hebrew. Following his first trip, he became an important legal and political force in the court of Count Eberhard of Würtemburg. He later became counsel to the elector at Heidelberg.In Stuttgart, as imperial judge of the Swabian Confederation (1502-12), he became involved in a bitter controversy with the semiliterate Johannes Pfefferkorn (1469-c.1521). A Jewish convert to Catholicism who had published an anti-Semitic work, Pfefferkorn in 1509 had appealed to the Holy Roman Emperor to have all Jewish books burned. Reuchlin had been active in introducing Hebrew to Germany, publishing a lexicon and grammar in 1506. Though he knew that the Dominican Order (which ran the Inquisition) was behind Pfefferkorn, Reuchlin stepped into the fray. Consulted by the emperor, he defended Jewish literature in general and argued that only a few books should be destroyed, and then only after judicial proceedings found them to be directly against the Christian faith. When he was summoned to appear before the Inquisition, Reuchlin appealed directly to the pope, who established a special commission to examine the charges leveled against him. The commission found him not guilty (1514). However, the decision was reversed a few years later, during the intense ideological struggles of the Reformation, and Reuchlin was ordered to keep silent. Reuchlin finished his outstanding career as professor at Ingolstadt (1520-21) and Tübingen (1521-22).Reuchlin's primary contribution to the Reformation was his biblical studies, most specifically his efforts to make the Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible more generally available. For example, in 1512 he published a Hebrew text of the Psalms with an accompanying Latin translation.He also developed an interest in the Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical system later associated with the Hassidic movement. During his last years, he wrote extensively on the subject, developing a Christianized version usually written as "Cabala." While few others shared his interest at the time, his writings became important in later centuries as Christian Cabala found an audience among Western esotericists.Reuchlin died at Liebenzell on June 30, 1522. His great-nephew Philip Melancthon became Martin Luther's chief intellectual supporter.See also Bible.Further reading:■ Johannes Reuchlin, Recommendation Whether to Confiscate, Destroy and Burn All Jewish Books: A Classic Treatise against Anti-Semitism, Studies in Judaism and Christianity (New York: Paulist Pres, 2000)■ Erika Rummel, The Case against Johann Reuchlin: Social and Religious Controversy in Sixteenth-Century Germany (Toronto: university of Toronto Press, 2002)■ Lewis Spitz, "Reuchlin's Philosophy: Pythagoras and Cabala for Christ," Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte 47 (1956): 1-20.
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.