VATKE, WILHELM ° (1806–1882), German theologian and biblical scholar. Vatke taught biblical studies at the University of Berlin from 1830. His scholarly work was profoundly affected by G.W.F. *Hegel, whom Vatke considered as a "philosophical messiah." He published only a few books and of these the most important was the first, Die biblische Theologie wissenschaftlich dargestellt (vol. 1, pt. 1 only, 1835), a critical description of the biblical religion. This was the first attempt to approach the Bible from the viewpoint of historical evolution based on the philosophy of Hegel. Thus, he was the first to argue that the priestly sections in the Pentateuch originated in the final phase of biblical history, i.e., the Babylonian exile. The scholar E. Reuss of Strasbourg reached a similar conclusion the previous year, but did not publish his theory until 1881 (in his Die Geschichte der heiligen Schriften des Allen Testaments). Vatke's book was also overlooked for about 30 years, and it was not until the 1860s, with the publication of the works of K.H. *Graf and A. *Kuenen, that it was recognized. Vatke divided the history of biblical religion and cult into three main phases; the primitive phase, which is reflected in the books of Former Prophets and the earliest layers of the Pentateuch; the phase of moral consciousness, as expressed in the prophetic writings and in Deuteronomy; and the institutionalized-ritual phase, as reflected in the priestly sections of the Pentateuch. This conception became widely accepted toward the end of the 19th century, and was especially developed by J. *Wellhausen, and through his work became axiomatic in biblical studies for a long time. Wellhausen himself admitted that he was indebted to Vatke for "the most and the best" of his own work.
H. Benecke, W. Vatke in seinem Leben und seinen Schriften (1883); T.K. Cheyne, Founders of Old Testament Criticism (1893), 131–42; R.C. Dentan, Preface to Old Testament Theology (1950), 16–18, 27; H.J. Kraus, Geschichte der historisch-kritischen Erforschung des Allen Testaments (1956), 178–82; L. Perlitt, Vatke und Wellhausen (1965).