Delitzsch, Franz°

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DELITZSCH, FRANZ ° (Julius ; 1813–1890), German Protestant theologian, Bible and Judaica scholar. Inspired by Julius *Fuerst to devote himself to the study of Judaism, he was appointed professor of theology at the university of his native Leipzig in 1844. Later he taught at Rostock (1846), Erlangen (1850), and again in Leipzig (1867). Though Delitzsch was a devoted Christian and the most significant figure of the Lutheran "Mission to the Jews," believing in the supremacy of the New Testament over the Old, he maintained an extraordinary understanding of, and affection for, Judaism. Well versed in Hebrew and in Semitic languages, as well as in the Talmud and in medieval Jewish literature, Delitzsch was in close touch with the leading Jewish scholars of his time. As a devout Christian, he proselytized among the Jews, wrote several pamphlets for that purpose, and made a new translation of the New Testament into Hebrew (1877, 190112; supposedly with the assistance of A.H. Weiss). In 1863 he founded the missionary magazine, Saat auf Hoffnung ("Seed on Hope"), which appeared regularly until 1935. In 1880 he established in Leipzig the Institutum Judaicum (renamed the "Delitzschianum" after his death), for the training of missionary workers among Jews, an institute which is still in existence in Muenster (Germany), but has been transformed into a purely scholarly institution. In 1884/85, a controversy erupted between Delitzsch and A. Berliner, who deplored the proselytizing spirit of his Protestant colleague's work. Delitzsch harshly silenced his criticism, asserting Christianity's theological superiority and accusing him of ingratitude with respect to his political solidarity with German Jewry. In general, his theological attitude towards Judaism implied strong traditional anti-Jewish elements, including his definition of Judaism as an obsolete stage of revelation, his verdict on "Jewish legalism," and his polemic against scholars like A. Geiger, whose criticism of Christianity appeared to him as an expression of presumptuous Jewish anti-Christianism. Despite his own ambivalent views on contemporary Judaism (Christentum und jüdische Presse, 1882), Delitzsch fought vehemently against defamations of the Talmud by antisemitic writers, especially against *Rohling's libelous pamphlet Der Talmudjude (1871). Delitzsch's first book, Zur Geschichte der juedischen Poesie vom Abschluss der Heiligen Schriften des Alten Bundes bis auf die neueste Zeit (1836), was the first comprehensive study of the history of Hebrew poetry and a serious attempt to deal with this subject with the accepted tools of literary criticism. In his Bible commentaries, the most important of which are those on Psalms (1859, 18945), on Isaiah (1866–18894), and on Ecclesiastes (1875), his approach was based upon philological analysis. He meticulously adhered to the masoretic text and, on principle, avoided critical emendations. He mitigated his traditional attitude only in his later writings, in which he accepted some of the tenets of the "source theory" of modern Bible criticism. To this subject he devoted his Complutensische Varianten zum alttestamentischen Texte (1878). Delitzsch assisted Seligmann *Baer in his edition of the Hebrew Bible, based upon the masoretic text. Delitzsch edited both Moses Ḥayyim *Luzzatto's Migdal Oz (1857) and the Karaite Aaron b. Elijah's Eẓ Ḥayyim (1841, with the assistance of M. *Steinschneider). He also wrote Juedisches Handwerkerleben zur Zeit Jesu ("Jewish Artisans in the Time of Jesus," 1868, 18792) and Juedisch-arabische Poesien aus vor-mohammedanischer Zeit ("Pre-Islamic Jewish Poetry," 1874). His theological works and New Testament studies include Die biblisch-prophetische Theologie (1845); System der biblischen Psychologie (1855, 18612); Commentar zum Briefe an die Hebraeer (1857); Jesus und Hillel (also in Hebrew; 1866, 18753); System der christlichen Apologetik (1869). One of his missionary writings, Ernste Fragen an die Gebildeten juedischer Religion ("Serious Questions to the Educated Members of the Jewish Faith," 1888), which attempted to downplay the importance of Christology and the dogma of the Trinity in order to make it easier for Jews to convert to Christianity, also appeared in Hebrew under the title Ha'amek She'elah (19122). The obituaries published in Jewish journals after his death reflect the ambivalence toward Delitzsch's work: scholars like D. Kaufmann expressed their deep admiration for his scholarly achievements but did not hide their resentment over not being accepted as academic equals and his denigration of contemporary Jewish identity.


P.P. Levertoff, Delitzsch-Bibliographie (1913); A.M. Stengel, Divrei Emet ve-Ahavah… le-Yom Hulledet… Professor Franz Delitzsch (1884); A. Koehler, Realencyclopedie fuer protestantische Theologie und Kirche, 4 (1898), 565; Kaufmann, Schriften, 1 (1908), 290; E. Delitzsch, Franz Delitzsch als Freund Israels (1910); H.J. Kraus, Geschichte der historisch-kritischen Erforschung des Alten Testaments (1956), 210–21; ndb, 3 (1957), 581–2. add. bibliography: A.T. Levenson, in: jqr, 92, 383-420; S. Wagner, Franz Delitzsch. Leben und Werk (1978); C. Wiese, Challenging Colonial Discourse. Jewish Studies and Protestant Theology in Wilhelmine Germany (2005), 122–36, 150–58.

[Mordechai Breuer /

Christian Wiese (2nd ed.)]