Beringer, Johann Barthowmaeusadam

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Beringer, Johann Barthowmaeusadam

also known as Johann Barthel Adam Behringer

(b. Würzburg, Germany, ca. 1667; d. Würzburg, 11 April 1738),1

medicine, natural history.

There is a signal lack of information regarding Beringer’s life and career. His father was Johann Ludwig Beringer, professor at the University of Würzbnrg and senior physician and dean of the Faculty of Medicine there from 1669 to 1671. In 1693 Beringer passed the final examination (periculum)for the doctorate in medicine and on 14 December 1694 was named professor quartus seu extraordinarius at the University of Würzburg—where he remained, as far as is known, for his entire career. Appointed keeper in 1695, Beringer reordered and enlarged the botanical gardens of the university and the Julian Hospital.2 In 1700 he was elevated to the rank of professor ordinarius and dean of the Faculty of Medicine; adviser and chief physician to the prince-bishop of Würzburg, Christoph Franz von Hutten; and chief physician to the Julian Hospital (1700/1701–1728). He frequently lectured at the university on reform in education, and succeeded in introducing a program for the education (at public expense) of poor but gifted students from various orphan asylums. Inmedicine Beringer was particularly concerned with the malpractices of wandering physicians.

Typical of the curious and learned men of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Beringer was caught up in virtuoso endeavor. Occasionally his natural history lectures turned to the petrifactions found in the Würzburg Muschelkalk, from which e collected fossil shells for his cabinet. It was this interest that led to his involvement in the famous Würzburg Lügensteine hoax. Stones of shell lime carved in a great variety of forms were bidden about Mount Eibelstadt by two of Beringer’s colleagues—J. Ignatz Roderick (an ex-Jesuit and professor of geography, algebra, and analysis at the university) and Johann Georg von Eckhart (privy councillor and librarian to the court and the university)—with the assistance of three young boys.3 The stones were subsequently uncovered by Beringer and placed in his cabinet. The hoaxers soon realized the enormity of their actions, but in spite of their best efforts to dissuade him, Beringer published a preliminary report on the stones in 1726: Lithographiae Wirceburgensis… Specimen primum… The fraud, however, was soon discovered. Roderick and Eckhart were taken to court by Beringer for the “saving of his honor,” and were duly punished.4

Despite this partially successful attempt to discredit him, Beringer remained on the staff of the university, where he was occupied with teaching and research until his death in 1738. He was survived by two sons, Georg Philipp (who matriculated under the direction of his father in 1701, with the dissertation Thesis dephthisi) and Johannes Ludwig Anton (a student of metaphysics).


1. Beringer’s dates, especially that of his birth, are open to conjecture. His death is assigned both to 1738 and, without month, to 1740.

2. A catalog of the gardens, issued in 1722, contained a list of 423 species of plants arranged according to Tournefort’s system.

3. The three youths, employed by Beringer for field work, were Christian Zänger (age seventeen) and two brothers, Niklaus and Valentin Hehn (age eighteen and fourteen, respectively). Of the three only Zänger was involved in the hoax, being in the employ of Roderick and von Eckhart as well as of Beringer.

4. The judicial process was in three steps: first, the hearing at the Würzburg Cathedral Chapter on 13 April 1726: second and third, the municipal trials of 15 April and 11 June 1726. The transcripts are in the Staatsarchiv, Würzburg, and appear in a complete English translation in Jahn and Woolf, Lying Stones, pp. 125–141.


I. Original Works. Beringer’s writings include the following: Connubium Galenico-Hippocraticum, sive Idaeainstituionum medicinae rationalium… (Würzburg 1708);Tractatus de consvervanda corporis humanisonitate…(Würzburg, 1710); Dissertatio prima de peste in genere et lueepidemica modo grassante in specie… (Nuremberg, 1714); Plantarum quarundam exoticarum perennium in hortomedico Herbipolensi…(Würzburg, 1722), written with Laurentius Anton Dercum—it is uncertain whether this catalog was actually published or Was presented to the university in MS; Lithographiae Wirceburgensis… Specimenprimum… (Würzburg; 1726; 2nd ed., Frankfurt-Leipzig, 1767), trans. by M. E. Jahn and Daniel J. Woolf in The Lying Stones of Dr. Beringer… (Berkeley-Los Angeles, 1963); and Gründlich und richtigste Untersuchung derenkissinger Heyl- und Gesundheits-Brunnen… (Würzhurg, 1738).

The 2nd ed. of the Lithographiae Wirceburgensis consisted of original sheets with a new title page. The sheets undoubtedly came from copies of the original ed. recalled from booksellers and the press by Beringer but not destroyed. The reissue of the work as a literary curiosity is often attributed to one of Beringer’s sons.

A partial list of dissertations directed by Beringer is in Sticker, p. 487.

II. Secondary Literature. It would be impossible to cite more than a handful of the articles written about Beringer and the Würzburg Lügensteine. The following contain the correct story of the hoax and, in most cases, a bibliography of secondary sources: M. E. Jahn, “Dr. Beringer and the Würzburg ‘Lügenstcioe:” in Journal of the Society for the Bibliography of Natural History, 4, no. 2(Jan, 1963), 138–146, and “A Further Note on Dr. Johann Bartholomew Adam Beringer.” ibid., no. 3 (Nov. 1963).160–161: Heinrich Kirchner, “Die würzburger Lügensteineim Lichte neuer archivalischer Funde,’ in Zeitschrift der Deutschen geologischen Gesellschaft, 87 , no. 9 (Nov. 1935), 607–615; P. X. Leschevin. “Notice sur I’ouvrage singulierintitulé: Lithographia Wirceburgensis, et sur la mystification qui y a donne liéu,” in Magasin encyclopédique, 6 (Nov. 1808), 116–128; August Padtberg, “Die Geschichte einer vielberufenen paläontologischen Fälschung,” in Stimmender Zeit, 104 (1923), 32–48; and Georg Sticker. Entwicklungsgeschichte der Medizmischen Fakultät an der Alma Mater Julia,” in Max Bruchner, ed., Festschrift zum 350 Jährigen bestehen der Universität… (Würzburg, 1932), pp. 483–487.

The trial transcripts excerpted in Kirchner’s article and included in full in Jahn and Woolf (pp. 125–141) exist in MS in the Staatsarchiv, Würzburg.

Melvin E. Jahn