Geddes, Alexander

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Catholic Biblical scholar pioneering in the literary criticism of the Pentateuch, known especially for his "fragment hypothesis"; b. Ruthven, Banffshire, Scotland, Sept. 14, 1737; d. London, Feb. 26, 1802. He received his higher education at the Scots' College in Paris, where he also attended lectures at the Sorbonne. Having become proficient in Hebrew, he took a deep interest in the Tübingen school of Biblical criticism. After ordination in 1764, he carried out parochial duties in Scotland until 1779, when his liberal views, expressed with uncompromising frankness and imprudence, brought him into difficulties with his bishop. Helped by his munificent patron, Lord Petre, he established himself in London, where he devoted the rest of his life to Biblical and literary studies. In the preface to his English translation of the Hexateuch (1792), Geddes propounded such extreme views on the origin of the Pentateuch that Protestants as well as Catholics were shocked. He denied that the mission of Moses was divine, held that not all of Scripture was inspired, and, in general, showed strongly rationalistic tendencies. For his views he was suspended from exercising his priestly functions. Of a brilliant but erratic character, Geddes was one of the first scholars in England to recognize the inadequacy of the traditional notions about the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, but he went to excess in his ardor for the new theories. Always claiming to be a Catholic, though of his own strange variety, he received the Last Rites and died in the Church. Among his better-known works are: The Holy Bible Faithfully Translated from the Corrected Texts of the Original (2 v., containing the Pentateuch and the historical books; London 179297); Critical Remarks on the Hebrew Scriptures (London 1800); A Modest Apology for the Roman Catholics of Great Britain (London 1800); A New Translation of the Psalms from the Original Hebrew (posthumously edited by J. Disney and C. Butler; London 1807).

Bibliography: A Literary and Biographical History or Bibliographical Dictionary of the English Catholics from 1534 to the Present Time 2:410415. j. good, Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Alexander Geddes (London 1803). t. k. cheyne, Founders of Old Testament Criticism (London 1893) 312.

[k. o'sullivan]