Bertholet, Alfred

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BERTHOLET, ALFRED (18681951), Swiss Protestant theologian, scholar in Old Testament and comparative religion. Bertholet was born in Basel, where he got his primary and secondary school education and enrolled at the university in order to study Protestant theology. He continued his studies at the universities of Strassburg and Berlin. His principal lecturers were Carl von Orelli, Bernhard Duhm, and Adolf von Harnack. After two years as minister to the German-Dutch parish in Leghorn he returned to Basel; there he obtained his doctorate in 1895 and became an assistant professor in 1896; from 1905 he occupied the chair of Old Testament, and extended his studies to the history of religions. After spending some years in Tübingen (1913) and Göttingen (19141928) he became professor at the University of Berlin, where he went into retirement in 1936, although he lectured until 1939. From 1945 until his death he was visiting professor of the history of religions at his home university in Basel. He died in the hospital of Münsterlingen, Switzerland.

Bertholet was appointed doctor honoris causa of the universities of Strassburg and Lausanne and of the Faculté Libre de Théologie Protestante de Paris. He was a fellow of the academy of Göttingen and an honorary member of the American Society of Biblical Literature and Exegesis. He organized and was secretary general of the international congress for the history of religions held in Basel in 1904. In 1938 he was the first historian of religions to be elected a fellow of the Prussian Learned Society (Preussische Akademie der Wissenschaften). With Gerardus van der Leeuw and C. Jouco Bleeker, he was one of the initiators of the Amsterdam congress for the history of religions in 1950.

The works of Bertholet, all written in German, include both Old Testament studies and investigations in the field of comparative religion. Among his contributions to the study of the Old Testament are commentaries and a history of the civilization of biblical Israel. His Old Testament thesis Die Stellung der Israeliten und Juden zu den Fremden (1896) was concerned with the relations of the Israelites and Jews to foreign peoples. His numerous writings on the subject of "foreign" religions, chiefly published in the series "Sammlung gemeinverstandlicher Vorträge und Schriften aus dem Gebiet der Theologie und Religionsgeschichte" (Tübingen), are concerned with themes of religious phenomenology and especially with the relationship of dynamism to personalism. These works prove Bertholet to be one of the founders of the phenomenology of religion. Bertholet was also active in stimulating the work of other scholars, and in editing many well-known works in the history of religions.


Further details of Bertholet's life and work can be found in the Festschrift Alfred Bertholet zum 80. Geburtstag gewidmet (Tübingen, 1950), edited by Walter Baumgartner and others. This volume, which includes a useful bibliography compiled by Verena Tamann-Bertholet, should be supplemented by Leonhard Rost's "Alfred Bertholet, in Memorium," Theologische Literaturzeitung 77 (1952): 114118.

GÜnter Lanczkowski (1987)