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Wilhelm Martin Leberecht de Wette

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Subject: Biblical criticism, Friedrich Bleek, Samuel Heinrich Fröhlich, Eberhard Schrader, Johann Severin Vater
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Wilhelm Martin Leberecht de Wette

W.M.L. de Wette
Wilhelm Martin Leberecht de Wette (12 January 1780 – 16 June 1849), was a German theologian and biblical scholar.


  • Life and Education 1
  • Studies 2
  • Marriages and family 3
  • Selected works 4
  • Selected works online 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7

Life and Education

He was born at Ulla, near Weimar, where his father was pastor. He was sent to the gymnasium at Weimar, then at the height of its literary fame. Here he was much influenced by Johann Gottfried von Herder, who frequently examined at the school. In 1799 he entered on his theological studies at Jena, his principal teachers being J. J. Griesbach and H. E. G. Paulus; from the latter he derived his tendency to free critical inquiry. In addition, by the time he submitted his dissertation in 1804 (September), he was in regular contact at Jena with Jakob Friedrich Fries and Karl David Ilgen, who perhaps led him to his contact with Johann Severin Vater, a scholar whose work he both admired and, in some respects, duplicated independently. Both in methods and in results, however, he occupied an almost solitary position among German theologians.[1]

Having taken his doctor's degree, he became Privatdozent at Jena; in 1807 professor of theology at Heidelberg, where he came under the influence of J. F. Fries (1773-1843), whose hiring he helped arrange (as well as that of Paulus); and in 1810 was transferred to a similar chair in the newly founded Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin, where he became friendly with Friedrich Schleiermacher. He was, however, dismissed from Berlin in 1819 on account of his having written a letter of consolation to the mother of Karl Ludwig Sand, the murderer of Kotzebue. A petition in his favour presented by the senate of the university was unsuccessful, and a decree was issued not only depriving him of the chair, but banishing him from the Prussian kingdom.[1]

He retired to Weimar, where he occupied his leisure in the preparation of his edition of

  • Howard, Thomas Albert, :Religion and the Rise of Historicism W.M.L. De Wette, Jacob Burckhardt, and the Theological Origins of Nineteenth-Century Historical Consciousness, Cambridge University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-521-65022-4
  • De Wette @ Jewish
  • De wette @ The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia[1]

Further reading

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  • Dr. Martin Luthers Briefe, Sendschreiben und Bedenken: vollständig aus den verschiedenen Ausgaben seiner Werke und Briefe, aus andern Büchern und noch unbenutzten Handschriften gesammelt, kritish und historisch bearbeitet, 5 vols., Berlin: Georg reimer, vol. 6, ed. by Johann Karl Seidemann - German (Fraktur) and Latin. Reviewed here (July 1845),
  • , 1825Erster Theilvol. 1,
  • , 1826Zwenter Theilvol. 2,
  • , 1827Dritter Theilvol. 3,
  • , 1827Vierter Theilvol. 4,
  • , 1828Fünfter Theilvol. 5,
  • , 1856Sechster Theilvol. 6,
  • Lehrbuch der historisch-kritischen Einleitung in die Bibel Alten und Neuen Testamentes, Erster Theil, Berlin: Georg Reimer, 1852
  • Commentar über die Psalmen nebst beigefügter Übersetzung, fünfte auflage, herausgegeben von Dr. Gustav Baur, Professor der Theologie an der Universität Giessen, Akademische Verlagshandlung, Heidelberg, 1811, 1856, which passed through several editions, and was long regarded as of high authority.
  • An Historico-Critical Introduction to the Canonical Books of the New Testament, Frederick Frothingham, tr., Boston: Crosby, Nichols and Company, 1858
  • Lehrbuch der hebräisch-jüdischen Archäologie nebst einem Grundrisse der hebräisch-jüdischen Geschichte, 4th edition, Leipzig: F.C.W. Vogel, 1864

From Google Books:

Volumes 1-6 of Luther's Briefe, Sendschreiben, und Bedenken, i.e. Letters, Open Letters, and considerations, ed. by De Wette-Seidemann

Selected works online

De Wette also edited Luther's works (5 vols., 1825–1828).[1]

  • Beiträge zur Einleitung in das Alte Testament (2 vols, 1806–1807)
  • Kommentar über die Psalmen (1811), which has passed through several editions
  • Lehrbuch der hebräisch-jüdischen Archäologie (1814)
  • Über Religion und Theologie (1815); a work of great importance as showing its author's general theological position
  • Lehrbuch der christlichen Dogmatik (1813-1816)
  • Lehrbuch der historisch-kritischen Einleitung in die Bibel (1817)
  • Christliche Sittenlehre (1819–1821)
  • Einleitung in das Neue Testament (1826)
  • Religion, ihr Wesen, ihre Erscheinungsform, und ihr Einfluss auf das Leben (1827)
  • Das Wesen des christlichen Glaubens (1846)
  • Kurzgefasstes exegetisches Handbuch zum Neuen Testament (1836–1848).

His most important of his works are:[1]

Selected works

De Wette married three times, first with Eberhardine Boye, then Henriette, née Frisch, widowed Beck, the mother of Charles Beck, and the third time in 1833 Sophie, née Streckeisen, widow of the Berne pastor Abraham Rudolf von May.

Marriages and family

De Wette has been described by Julius Wellhausen as "the epoch-making opener of the historical criticism of the Pentateuch." He prepared the way for the Supplement-theory. But he also made valuable contributions to other branches of theology. He had, moreover, considerable poetic faculty, and wrote a drama in three acts, entitled Die Entsagung (Berlin, 1823). He had an intelligent interest in art, and studied ecclesiastical music and architecture. As a Biblical critic he is sometimes classed with the destructive school, but, as Otto Pfleiderer says (Development of Theology), he "occupied as free a position as the Rationalists with regard to the literal authority of the creeds of the church, but that he sought to give their due value to the religious feelings, which the Rationalists had not done, and, with a more unfettered mind towards history, to maintain the connection of the present life of the church with the past." His works are marked by exegetical skill, unusual power of condensation and uniform fairness. Accordingly they possess value which is little affected by the progress of criticism.[1]



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