Steinthal, Hermann Heymann

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STEINTHAL, HERMANN HEYMANN (1823–1899), German philologist and philosopher. He studied in Berlin and Paris (where he spent three years in the study of Chinese language and literature), was appointed lecturer in philology and mythology at Berlin University in 1850 and in 1855 associate professor of general philology. In 1872 he was appointed to the chair of biblical studies and philosophy of religion at the Hochschule fuer die Wissenschaft des Judentums. Steinthal and his brother-in-law, Moritz *Lazarus, founded the science of racial psychology (Voelkerpsychologie) and the Zeitschrift fuer Voelkerpsychologie und Sprachwissenschaft (from 1860). Having studied under Wilhelm von Humboldt, he edited the latter's Sprachwissenschaftliche Werke (1884) and wrote extensively in this field, e.g., Die Sprachwissenschaft Wilhelm von Humboldts und die Hegelsche Philosophie (1848), Die Klassifikation der Sprachen (1850), Der Ursprung der Sprache im Zusammenhang mit den letzten Fragen alles Wissens (1851), Die Entwicklung der Schrift (1852), Geschichte der Sprachwissenschaft bei den Griechen und Roemern (1863), Abriss der Sprachwissenschaft (1871–78), Gesammelte kleine Schriften (1880), and Allgemeine Ethik (1885). Steinthal also retained a lifelong interest in, and devotion to, Judaism and Jewish life. Serving as a director of the *Deutsch-Israelitischer Gemeindebund he frequently lectured and wrote newspaper articles in his capacity as a Jewish spokesman. His essays Zu Bibel und Religions-philosophie (1890, 1895) reflect his ethical and aesthetic (rather than higher critical) approach to the Bible. In his collection of essays and addresses, Ueber Juden und Judentum (1906), he showed his pride in his Jewish roots. Steinthal polemicized against Bruno *Bauer and others who showed Christian prejudice in their treatment of Judaism and he defended both Jews and Judaism against antisemitic attacks. He saw in prophetism the distinguishing mark of ancient Israel, setting it apart from other peoples, even as for him both Germanism and Judaism were inspirations for moral action.


T. Achelis, Heymann Steinthal (Ger., 1898); Baumgardt, in: ylbi, 2 (1957), 205ff.; W. Bumann, Die Sprachtheorie Heymann Steinthals (1965).

[Jakob J. Petuchowski]