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Wette, de, Wilhelm Martin Leberecht°


WETTE, DE, WILHELM MARTIN LEBERECHT ° (1780–1849), German biblical scholar and theologian; born at Ulla, near Weimar, and died in Basle. De Wette came from a family of Protestant clerics of Dutch origin. He was appointed privatdocent in theology at the University of Jena in 1805. From 1807 to 1810 he was professor of biblical exegesis at Heidelberg. At *Schleiermacher's suggestion he was invited to join the newly established faculty of theology in Berlin, but his liberal views caused his dismissal in 1819. He returned to Weimar and stayed there until he was offered the post of professor of ethics and theology at Basle in 1822. This marked the beginning of the second phase of his scholarly activity, during which he became more and more conservative in his views, thereby arousing the antagonism of the rationalists, to whom he had himself previously belonged.

In his lifetime, de Wette was one of the most renowned theologians and religious scholars. In Bible criticism, his main contributions are to be found in his early writings – his dissertation on Deuteronomy, written in Latin (Dissertatio criticoexegetica, qua Deuteronomium a prioribus Pentateuchi libris diversum …, 1805) and his book Beitraege zur Einleitung in das Alte Testament (2 vols., 1806–07). As against the "fragments" hypothesis prevailing at the time, he maintained the unity of the Book of Deuteronomy and pointed out its unique qualities, both in form and contents. It was he who linked Deuteronomy to the reform introduced by *Josiahii Kings 22–23), concluding that the book had been composed in that period. He also asserted that the Former Prophets were edited by the Deuteronomistic school, and deprecated the historical reliability of the books of Chronicles. These conclusions eventually became cornerstones of modern biblical scholarship and established de Wette as one of the great biblical scholars of the 19th century. Another noteworthy work of de Wette in the field of biblical criticism was his Commentar ueber die Psalmen (1811, 18364) which betrays J.G. Herder's influence, stressing as it does the aesthetic aspect of the text. This was also the first attempt to classify the Psalms on the basis of literary genres, a method subsequently developed by Hermann *Gunkel. De Wette's German translation of the Bible (1809–11), including the Apocrypha, is distinguished by its strict adherence to the original, sometimes to the extent of sacrificing the fluency of the translations.


E. Staehelin, Dewettiana, Forschungen und Texte zu W.M.L. de Wettes Leben und Werk (1956); H.J. Kraus, Geschichte der historisch-kritischen Erforschung des Alten Testaments (1956), 160–79; R. Smend, W.M.L. de Wettes Arbeit am Alten und am Neuen Testament (1958).

[Menahem Haran]

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