SPENCER, JOHN ° (1630–1693), English theologian and Hebraist. Spencer was master of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, from 1667 onward and in 1677 became dean of Ely. He published a Dissertatio de Urim et Thummim (1669), a kind of prologue to his more famous work, De legibus Hebraeorum Ritualibus et earum Rationibus (1685), which laid the foundations of the science of comparative religion. In this work Spencer maintained that many Jewish laws and customs could be linked with those of other Semitic peoples, producing examples from sacrificial rites, the Temple and its appurtenances, and the institution of the scapegoat.
In the second work (2 vols., 1727), which only appeared years after his death, he expanded his thesis to include rabbinic institutions (e.g., tefillin), basing much of his speculation on *Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed. A third edition of the work, also in two volumes, was published at Tuebingen in 1732. Some of Spencer's writings appeared in Blasio Ugolino's Thesaurus Antiquitatum Sacrarum (Venice, 1744–69).
C.M. Pfaff, in: J. Spencer, De Legibus … (Tuebingen, 1732); W.R. Smith, Religion of the Semites (1956), v–xi; J. Guttmann, in: Festschrift … D. Simonsen (1923), 258–76. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: odnb online.