Muenster, Sebastian°

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MUENSTER, SEBASTIAN ° (Monsterus ; 1488–1552), German *Hebraist and reformer. Born in Ingelheim, Muenster entered the Franciscan order in 1505. Turning to the study of Hebrew, he became a pupil of Conrad *Pellicanus from about 1510, first in Rouffach, and then in Pforzheim and Basle. He converted to Protestantism in the 1520s, and was a professor of Hebrew at the University of Heidelberg from 1524 to 1528. During this time he found his true master in the Jewish Hebraist Elijah *Levita, whose major grammatical works he translated and edited beginning in 1525. In 1528, Muenster was appointed professor of Hebrew at the University of Basle, a position he held until his death from the plague. Muenster was a prolific author and translator. He contributed significantly to almost every aspect of Hebrew and Jewish studies, and next to Johann *Reuchlin, he was the outstanding Christian Hebraist of the 16th century. Muenster reissued Reuchlin's De rudimentis Hebraicis and published about 40 works, including Epitome Hebraicae grammaticae (1520); Institutiones Grammaticae in Hebraeam Linguam (Basle, 1524); Chaldaica Grammatica (Basle, 1527), the first Aramaic grammar by a Christian, based on the Arukh of *Nathan b. Jehiel of Rome; a list of the 613 Commandments (Basle, 1533) culled from the Sefer Mitzvot Katan of *Isaac b. Joseph of Corbeil; translations of *Josippon, and of works by David *Kimḥi and E. Levita; and a grammar of rabbinic Hebrew (Basle, 1542). His outstanding Hebraica Biblia (2 vols, Basle, 1534–35), which is provided with an original Latin text independent of the Vulgate, represents the first Protestant translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew into Latin. Like Paulus *Fagius, Muenster translated into Hebrew the Apocryphal Book of Tobit (Basle, 1542), which later reappeared in the London Polyglot Bible (1654–57).

He also published several missionary works directed toward the Jews, most notably Vikuach (1539), a dispute between a Christian and a Jew, and a Hebrew version (with annotations) of the Gospel of St. Matthew ("Torat ha-Mashi'aḥ,"Basle, 1537). This work, dedicated to Henry viii of England, was the first Hebrew translation of any portion of the New Testament. Muenster's use of Jewish polemical literature, as in the preparation of his Hebrew edition of Matthew, as well as his publications in the field of rabbinic thought, provoked many accusations of Judaization against him, by Martin *Luther, Guillaume *Postel, and others.

Muenster was also a mathematician, cosmographer, and cartographer. His Cosmographia (1544), the earliest German description of the world, appeared in many editions, and was translated into several European languages. He also annotated the Latin version of Abraham b. Ḥiyya's astronomical and geographical work, Ẓurat ha-Areẓ (Basle, 1546).


J. Perles, Beitraege zur Geschichte der hebraeischen und aramaeischen Studien, (1884), 20–44, 154ff.; F. Secret, Les Kabbalistes Chrétiens de la Renaissance (1964), 141, 144f.; idem, in: Bibliothèque d'Humanisme et Renaissance, 22 (1960), 377–80; Baron, Social2, 13 (1969), 233–4, 432; E.I.J. Rosenthal, in: I. Epstein (ed.), Essays… J.H. Hertz (1943), 350–69. add. bibliography: L. Geiger, Das Studium der hebräischen Sprache in Deutschland (1870), 74ff.; K.H. Burmeister, Sebastian Münster… (1969); J. Friedman, in: Archivfuer Reformationsgeschichte, 70 (1979), 238–59; J. Friedman, The Most Ancient Testimony… (1983).

[Godfrey Edmond Silverman /

Aya Elyada (2nd ed.)]