Semitic Lanrnsses



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851 RELIGIOUS ENCYCLOPEDIA Semitic Lanrnsses

shape; but of this primitive race we can say no more than that it goes back to a remote antiquity,

since of one of its daughters, the Baby­s. The Orig  lonian people, there are traces in the

inal Home. fourth millennium s.c. The attempt

has been made to determine the habitat of the Semites, before they broke up into separate na­tions, from their traditions, and from the vocabulary of the primitive tongue made out by a comparison of the existing dialects; but no trustworthy result has been reached. The oldest accounts say nothing definite. Gen. xi. 2, for example, contains the state­ment that the whole body of the descendants of Noah journeyed " eastward " (so miklcedhem is to be rendered), that is, toward the Tigris Euphrates region; but the starting point is not given, nor is there here anything of a separate Semitic people. Again, in the same chapter, the assembled human race is said to have been scattered from the city Babel, without, however, any indication of the points to which the descendants of Noah's three sons severally went. At most, a dim feeling may be discerned here that the Semites had once lived to­gether in the Tigris Euphrates valley; but this might be referred to the fact that the Hebrews be­lieved that they themselves had come from that region to Cars n. No other Semitic people has, so far as is known, any ancient tradition on this point. The evidence from the primitive Semitic vocabu­lary is equally vague. Its terms for land, moun­tains, rivers, seas, metals, grains, fruits, and ani­mals, do not fix any particular spot in western Asia as the locality where such terms must have orig­inated. Certain similarities between the Egyptian and Semitic languages have suggested the theory that the Semitic Hamitic community, out of which came later the Semitic and Egyptian peoples, once dwelt in Africa near the Mediterranean shore, and split into sections, one remaining in Africa, the other passing into Asia; but the arguments for this view are not convincing (some scholars, it may be added, place the home of the primitive Semitic Hamitic people in Arabia, q.v.). It is necessary, therefore, to regard as not established the hypotheses which make the mountains of Armenia, or the lower Tigris­Euphrates valley, or the Arabian Desert, or Africa the cradle of the Semitic race, and to leave the ques­tion at present unsolved. The choice is between Arabia and Africa, the preponderance of present opinion being doubtful.

The Semitic territory was enclosed by that of Indo Europeans on the east and the west, and Egypt on the south. In ancient times, however, the lan 

guage was little affected by foreign in­3. Foreign fluence, except at one point. Accord 

Influence. ing to the view now held by most

Assyriologists, the Babylonian Assy­rians, conquering the non Semitic Sumerians, who preceded them as occupants of the Tigris Eu­phrates valley, in adopting the civilization of the conquered, adopted a number of their words. Hebrew made a few loans in early times from the Egyptian, and at a later period, possibly from the Indian, and then from the Persian, Greek, and Latin; and the ecclesiastical Aramaic was naturally greatly affected by Greek and Latin.



The loanwords are easily recognized, except those which come from the Sumerian.

All the Semitic nationalities, except the Arabian, and the Geez (Ethiopia), died out before the second century of the Christian era. The Babylonians and Assyrians disappeared as a political force in the sixth century s.c., and their language survived only a few centuries. The Phenicians lingered in Asia till the time of the Antonines, and their

q. Disap  language in Africa (Carthage) till

pearance toward the fifth century of the Chris 

of Semitic tian era (mentioned by Augustine and

Languages. Jerome). The Syrian Arameans lost their independence in the eighth cen­tury B.c., but continued to exist, and their dialect revived in the second century A.D. as a Christian language; and the Jewish Aramaic continued for some centuries (up to the eleventh century A.D.) to be the spoken and literary tongue of the Palestinian and Babylonian Jews. The Jewish people, broken up by the Romans in the first and second centuries A.D., and scattered over the world, have carried Hebrew with them as a learned, artificial tongue. The South Arabians (Minmans, Sabmans, and per­haps others), once a flourishing community, lingered till the Mohammedan conquest in the seventh cen­tury of the Christian era, and were then absorbed in the general Arabian mass. The North Arabians did not appear as a nation till the seventh century A.D., and their language is now widely spoken. Geez proper died out about the sixth century A.D., remaining, however, as the ecclesiastical and learned language; and the nationality is still in existence.

III. Divisions: The various Semitic dialects

closely resemble one another, there being, for ex­

ample, between no two of them such .dissimilarity

as exists between Greek and Latin; but. the family

is divided into two well defined groups and several

sub groups, the difference between the two main

groups, in vocabulary and forms, being considerably

greater than that between any two

:. .Grouping. members of the same group or sub­

group. The relations of the dialects

may be seen from the following table, which is de­

signed to include all Semitic forrwof speech that

can lay claim to linguistic individua~l except a

few modern jargons mentioned below.



I. NORTH SEMrrrc.

1. Eastern.

a. Babylonian.

b. Assyrian.

2. Northern.

Aramaic.

a. East Aramaic.

a. Syriac (Dialect of Edesea).

p. Mandean.

Y. Nabata=an.

b. West Aramaic.

a. Samaritan.

p. Jewish Aramaic

(Daniel, Esra,

Targums, Talmud).

Y. Palmyrene.

a. Egyptian Aramaic.



3. Western.

a Phenician.

Old Phenician.

Late Phenician (Punic).

b. Hebrew.

c. Moabitish and other Canaanitieh dialect,.

II. SOUTH Smanc.

1. Northern.

Arabic.

2. Southern.

a. Babasan, or Himya. ritic; Minejan. Mahri. Ha)Nli (Ehldli).

b. Gees, or Ethiopic. a. Old Gees. R. TigrB. Y. TigriEa. a. Amharic. i. Iiarari.




8emitio Languages THE NEW SCHAFF HERZOG 3'52

From the cuneiform tablets discovered in 1887 at Tell el Amarna (see AMARNA TABLETS) in Egypt, near Thebes, it appears that c. 1400 B.c. Baby­lonian was the official language in Canaan and the language of intercourse between the

s. Use of kings of Babylonia and Egypt. The

Those Babylonians had before that time over­Tongues. run and occupied Canaan and im­pressed their culture on the land, so that, though Egypt then held Canaan, the Egyptian governors of the cities (among them the governor of Jerusalem) wrote to the Egyptian royal govern­ment in Babylonian, and Egyptian youth at court studied Babylonian.

Of these dialects, the following are now spoken: (1) Aramaic, by the Nestorian and Jacobite Chris­tians in Upper Mesopotamia, near Mosul, thence eastward to the western shore of Lake Urmi, and northward in the Kurdish Mountains (N61deke, Grammatik der neusyrischen Sprache, Leipsie, 1868); and by the remnant of the Mandeans in Lower Meso­potamia (Noldeke, Manddische Grammatik, Halle, 1874). West Aramaic is now spoken only in three small villages near Damascus. (2) Arabic is the only Semitic dialect that has now any real life. It is spoken in various sub dialects by the Bedouin of the Arabian Desert; in Egypt, and, as ecclesiastical language, in Turkey; in the Magreb (north coast of Africa); in Syria; in Malta, where the vernacular is a strange mixture, with Arabic as its basis, but with many Italian and other words; on the coast of Malabar (the Mapuli jargon). The Mozarabic, a Spanish Arabic jargon formerly spoken in the south of Spain, became extinct in the last century. (3) Geez: the four dialects, Tigre, Tigriiia, Amharic, Ha­rari, are still spoken in Abyssinia. (4) Hebrew at a comparatively early date began to be displaced by Aramaic, which became the common language of intercourse in the greater part of western Asia and so the vernacular of the Jews. The earliest notice of the use of Aramaic by Jews is found in the Ara­maic papyri discovered in the island of Elephantine in the Nile opposite Assuan. Here as early as the sixth century B.c. dwelt a Jewish community pos­sessing a temple and carrying on a regular Jewish worship; their commercial and other documents are all written in Aramaic. This language gradually took the place of Hebrew in Palestine, and main­tained itself till some time after the Mohammedan conquest, when the Jews gradually adopted Arabic. In general the Jews speak the language of the people among whom they dwell, keeping up, however, to a greater or less extent, the knowledge of the old tongue. Hebrew is now studied by the Jews as a sacred language, and by a few of them, chiefly the older orthodox bodies in Germany, Austria, and Russia, is to some extent written and spoken. This spoken language contains a large admixture of mod­ern European terms. The literary Hebrew of to­day occupies about the same position among the Jews as Latin among us. The so called " Yiddish " (that is, German Jewish) is a Rhineland German speech, with admixture of Hebrew and Slavic words, now spoken by Jews in Russia, Austria, America, and elsewhere in the diaspora [and printed by them in the Jewish character].



Of languages which have been strongly affected by Semitic tongues may be mentioned the Iranian Huzvaresh or Pahlavi (the language of the Bunde­hesh), which is greatly Aramaized; the Iranian Persian, whose vocabulary is largely Arabic, and even its syntax appears to have been somewhat Semitized; the Indian Hindustani, which, developed under Moslem influence, also contains a large num­ber of Arabic words; and the Turkish, especially the literary and learned language of Constantinople, which in like manner, and for the same reason, has a large infusion of Arabic.

IV. Characteristics: These may be divided into formal (grammar), material (vocabulary), and sty­listic (rhetoric and thought). The Semitic phonetic system has a marked individuality. It is probable that the original Semitic alphabet was nearly iden­tical with that of the classical Arabic, containing

six gutturals (Alef, Ha, Ha, Ha, Ayin, i. Grammar; Gayin), five uvulars (Iiaf, Ta, Z, a, Sad,

Phonetics. ]?ad), two palatals (Kaf, Gam), two

linguo dentals (Ta, Dal), two labials (Pa, Ba), six liquids (Ra, Ya, Lam, Waw, and the nasals Win, Nun), three sibilants (Sin, Sin, .Zayin), and perhaps six spirants (Kaf, dam, Ta, Dal, Pa, Ba). No existing dialect has all these letters, but there are traces of most of them in all. Thus, com­parison of Assyrian and Arabic mal :s it probable that the former contained all these h sounds (ha, ha, ha), though only one of them (ha) is now found in it. From Septuagint transliterations it appears that Hebrew possessed Gayin, as well as Ayin; the South Semitic group shows all the uvulars, and the Hebrew all the spirants. It may be, however, that the parent Semitic speech had fewer uvulars and spirants, and that the Southern group developed the former, and the Northern the latter. It is doubt­ful whether Hebrew Samek and Sin represent two different sounds. It is likely, also, that not all the sounds above mentioned are original, i.e., some of them may be merely modifications of earlier and simpler sounds; but here the concern is only with the consonantal material possessed by the primi­tive Semitic tongue, and not with the material out of which its alphabet may have been formed. The Semitic alphabet is thus seen to be characterized by fulness of guttural, uvular, and spirant con­sonants. In the several dialects the movement has been toward a diminution of the number of gut­turals and uvulars, namely, by changing these into similar letters pronounced farther forward in the mouth. Assyrian, Galilean Jewish, Aramaic, and Mandean threw off the most of the gutturals; mod­ern Arabic has diminished the number of its uvulars, and Geez the number of its uvulars and gutturals. This is a tendency, observable in all languages, to bring the consonants forward in the mouth and thus facilitate their pronunciation. The vowel material of the primitive Semitic was simple, consisting, prob­ably, of the three vowels, a, i, u, with the corre­sponding long A, s, u. These have been variously modified in the different dialects. Assyrian has €; Aramaic, e, o; Hebrew, a, 6, e, 6, 8; modern Arabic, g, e, s (aw), 6; Geez, 6, 4~, o.

Morphologically, the Semitic languages belong to the class called inflecting, standing in this respect






363 RELIGIOUS ENCYCLOPEDIA Semitic Languages

alongside of the Indo European. Their most marked peculiarity is their triliteralism; most stems con­sist of three consonants, on which, by z. Morphol  prefixes, atfixes, infixes, and internal

ogy and vowel changes, all derived forms are

Syntax. made. The noun has gender (mascu­

line and feminine), number and case.

The verb has gender, number and person, but prop­

erly no distinction of tense (in the sense of time),

instead of which there are two forms which denote

respectively completedness and ingressiveness of

action. The notions of reflection, intensity, causa­

tion, are expressed by derived verbal stems made

by prefixes and infixes. The Semitic syntax is

marked by great simplicity of articulation. The

different clauses of the sentence are, for the most

part, connected by the most general word " and "; ,'

there is little or no inversion and transposition for

rhetorical effect; and there are no elaborate periods.

The structure is commonly and properly described

as monumental or lapidary. The most striking

special peculiarity of the syntax is the phonetic

abridgment of the noun (the construct state; [in

Hebrew, where one word is limited by another, not

the limiting but the limited word is changed in form

to the " construct state," so that the Indo European

genitive relation is in a manner reversed]) to show

that it is defined by the following word or clause.

The absence of compounds (except in proper names)

is another marked feature an illustration of the

isolating character of the thought. The whole

conception of the sentence is detached, isolated,

and picturesque. Of these general Semitic character­

istics the Hebrew and Assyrian, which first pro­

duced literatures, show the most, and the Aramaic

and Arabic, whose literary life began late, the

least.


The Semitic word material differs greatly accord­ing to the periods and the circumstances of the va­rious peoples. The pre Christian literary remains are very scanty. From the Israelites

3. Vocabu  there have come down only a few pro­lary and phetical discourses, historical books,

Style. sacred hymns, and ethical works, to­gether with several law books, no secu­lar productions except the Song of Songs; from the Babylonians and the Assyrians, somewhat more­royal and commercial inscriptions, geographical, as­tronomical, grammatical, and religious works, and fragments of epic and other poems; from the Phe­nicians, a few short inscriptions; and from the others, nothing. The Hebrew vocabulary is full in terms relating to religious feelings and acts, scanty in philosophical and artistic terms and in names of things pertaining to common life; the Assyrian has more of the last, but is almost equally rich in the first. In later times, however, the Aramaic (classical and Jewish), and the Arabic under Greek influence, cre­ated larger vocabularies, and developed some power of philosophical expression. The Hebrew vocabu­lary is now being enlarged in this direction by the Jews. From the nature of the national culture, these languages, though their vocabularies are sometimes (the Arabic especially) very large, do not satisfy the needs of western life. They multiply words for objects and acts which we do not care to particular­X. 23

ize, and.are deficient in terms for those which we wish to express with ,precision. The above de­scription of the vocabulary and syntax will serve to characterize the style and thought of the Semitic tongues. The highest artistic shape they have not, either in prose or in poetry. They do not readily lend themselves to philosophy proper or to art. But in the simple expression of emotion, and the con­densation of practical wisdom into household words, they are not surpassed by the most highly devel­oped Indo European languages: in these respects the Bible has an acknowledged preeminence.

V. Literary Products: It will be sufficient here to mention briefly the general characteristics of the literature of the Semitic languages. Of the different forms of poetry the Semites have produced little more than the lyric, as in the Old Testament Psalms, the Syrian hymns, and the Arabian Kasidas. The old Babylonian inscriptions contain two cosmolog­ical poems of great interest, and the Gilgamesh (formerly written Izdubar) cycle of stories has an epic tone; but this cycle has not a definite literary unity like the Iliad, and it is uncertain how much of all the early poetical material is derived from a non Semitic (that is, Sumerian) source; the rhythmic form is in part Semitic. The Semites have never produced a native drama. Neither the Book of Job nor the Song of Songs is a drama; the former is a colloquy of five men who make long argumen­tative speeches, and the question is summed up in a group of discourses by Yahweh; the latter is a collection of loosely connected wedding songs, with­out plot or movement. The drama of the late poet Ezekiel has been regarded as an imitation of Greek models. The subjective character of the Semitic poetic thought is obvious: actions or phenomena in outward nature or in human life are generally de­scribed not for their own sake, but as a part of the feeling of the writer. As poetry it takes high rank. The Hebrew lyrics are sonorous and rhythmical; the Arabian are ingenious and lively; the Syrian, however, are tame. The metrical form of Hebrew poetry (see HEBREW LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE, III.), and to some extent of Babylonian, is parallel­ism of members, and the rhythmic progression is by stress of voice, not by length and number of syl­lables a member is defined as having two, three, or four beats; the Arabic, however, has a well defined system of feet characterized by number and length of syllables. Rime appears first in Syriac Christian hymns, and is feebly represented in Arabic. The historical writing of the Semites has never attained a scientific or artistic form. It is either baldly an­nalistic (as parts of the Old Testament Book of Kings, the Assyrian royal inscriptions, and the Ara­bic histories), or, when it attempts more connected presentation of the facts, it is subjective and prag­matic, arranging the historical facts so as to point a moral or support a theory. In one department, prophetic discourse, the Semitic literature is un­rivaled; there is nothing in any other family of lan­guages like the prophetic oratory of the Old Tes­tament, or the declamation of the Koran. In other departments, as fiction and philosophy, the Semites have never been original, but always imitators (Thousand and One Nights, the Arabian philosophy;






smitio L&ng1Wsg*@ THE NEW SCHAFF HERZOG 854

the Persian Arabic is, of course, not to be consid­ered here).

VL Relation to Other Families of Languages: So far as present knowledge goes, it is doubtful whether the Semitic family is genetically connected with any other in the world except the Egyptian and Cushite groups. Various unsuccessful attempts have been made to show a relationship between it and the Indo European. The case is different with the Egyptian, between whose stock of sounds, per­sonal pronouns, numerals, and verbal forms, and the Semitic there is a remarkable resemblance; but the great differences between the two families in other respects make great caution necessary in comparing them. There is a similar resemblance between the structure of the Semitic verb and that of the Cush­ite group of languages (the Galls, Saho, and others, near Abyssinia), but nothing definite. At most, an original Semitic Hamitic family may be conjectured out of which these two have grown; but in that case their separation took place so long ago, their paths since that time have been so different, and the traces of kinship have been so far obliterated, that little can be got from a comparison between them, except in the way of reconstructing the his­tory of the original family. One main obstacle in the comparison of Semitic words with others is the triliteralism of stems of the former; and it has therefore been attempted to reduce these to bi­literals, but hitherto with indifferent success. It need not be denied that this problem may hereafter be solved, and comparisons instituted between Semitic and other families that may be of service



to all. C. H. Toy.

BIBISOGRAPHY: General works are: F:. Littrb, Comment dans deem situations hiatonques Us s6miUs entrhrent en com­pitition avec In Aryens pour fh4pimonnie du monde, Paris, 1879; F. Delitsach, Wo lap das Paradies t Leipsic,1881; F. Hommel, Die Semiten and ihre Bedeutunp far die Kul­turpeschichte. den Menxhheit, Leipsio, 1881; idem, Die semitischen Vblker and Sprachen, ib. 1881; F. Lenor­mant, Lee Oripines de Mist. d'apras la Bible et lee tradi­tions des peuples orientaux, 2 vols., Paris, 188082, Eng. trawl. of vol. i., Beginnings of Hist., New York, 1882; T.. N81deke, Sketches from Eastern History (" Some Char acterietics of the Semitic Race "), New York, 1892; G. A. Barton, Sketch of Semitic Origins, New York, 1902; and the publications of the Congress of Arts and Sciences (St. Louis Exposition), vol. iii., Boston, 1906.

On the science of language consult: H Steinthal, Charakteriatik den hauptaachlichaten Typen des Sprach­baues. Berlin, 1860• F. Max MOller, Science of Language, New York, 1865; W. D. Whitney, 'Lanfluape and the Sci­ence of Language, New York, 1873; F. W. Farrar, Fam­ilies of Speech, London, 1870; A. Hovelacque, La Lin• puistique, Paris, 1878; A. H. Sayce, introduction to the Science of Language, London, 1880; J. Byrne, Principles of the Structure of Language, London, 1885; H. Paul, Principles of the Mist. of Language, London, 1891.



On Semitic comparative grammar, lexicography, and Isnguage•hietory consult: T. Benfey, Ueber das Verhal6­nwe den dgyptiwhen Sprache sum semitischen Sprochatamm, Leipsie, 1844; E. Renan, Hist. pl'n&ale et systlme com­part des lanpues sdmitiques, Paris, 1863; F. Miller, In­dogermanisch and semitisch, Vienna, 1870; F. W. N. Phi­lippi, Statue construct. im Htbraiachen, Weimar, 1871; E. Schrader, in ZDMG, xxvii. 3 (1873); A. Koch, Der semitische Infinitiv, Stuttgart, 1874; W. Wright, Com­parative Grammar of the Semitic Languages, London and New York 1890 T. N81deke, in Encyclopddia Britannica, xai. 641 8W; idem, Beitrape sw asmitisehen Spnochrois­senachaft, Strasburg, 1904• item, Ne88 Beitrdpe sun semi­tischen Sprachwissenrchafl, ib.19m: H. Ewald. Abhandlunp fiber die peschichtliche Polge den semitischen Sprachen, G8t 

tingen, 1871; C. Abel, Sprachmiasenxhafiliche Abhand­lunpen, Leipsio, 1884; A. H. Huisings, Analogy in the Semitic Language#, Baltimore, 1891; J. Birth, Die Nomi­naldildunp in den semitisrhen Sprachen, Leipeie,1894; idem, Sprachwissenachaftlichs Untersuchunpen, ib. 1907; O. E. Lindberg, Verpleichende Grommatik den semitixhsn Spra­chen. Gothenburg, 1897 sqq.,,,A Glossary of Aramaic In­scriptions: a comprehensive Collection for the Study of Com­parative Semitic Philology, Cambridge, 1898; H. Zimmem, Verpleichende Grammatik den semitiachen Sprachen, Berlin, 1898; E. Kbnig, Hebrdisch and Semitisch. Prolegomena and Grundlinien einer Geaehichte den semitischen Sprachen, Ber­lin, 1901; idem, Hebrdischee and aramaisches WBrterbuch sum Alien Testament wit Einschaltunp and Analyse aller ashwererksnnbarenFormen. DeutunaderEipennamensowie den maseoretischen Randbemerkunpen and einem deulsch­hebraischen Wortrepister, Leipsic, 1901 10; G. Dalman, Grammatik des jadischen palaatinischen Aramdisch, Leip­sic, 1905; W. Gesenius, Hebraiaches and aramaisches Handworterbuch, 14th ed. by F. Buhl and H. Zimmern, Leipsie, 1905; H. L. Strack, Grammatik des biblisch­aramaischen, Leipsie, 1905; F. Brown, S. R. Driver, C. A. Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon of the O. T., Boston, etc., 1906; C. Brookelmann, Grurudrias den verpleichenden Grammatik den semitMchen Sprarhen; part I., Berlin and New York, 1908; idem, Semitische Sprnchwisaenschaft, Leipsie, 1910; L. Belleli, An Independent Examination of as Assuan and Elephantine Aramaic Papyn with eleven Plates and taro Appendices on sundry Items, London, 1909; Beitrdpe sun christlich arabischen Literaturpeschichts, Leipsic, 1909; M. van Berchem, Arabieche Inschriften, ib. 1909; idem, Materiaua poursun Corpus inscriptionum Arubicarum, Paris, 1910; J. P. Alone. Short Manual (with Vocabulary) of the Amharic Language, London, 1910; E. H. Armbruster, Initia Amharica. An Introduction to spoken Amharic, ib. 1910; H. Bauer, Die Tempora im SemitiaeAen, Leipaic, 1910; C. Besold, Verbalsufxforrnen ale Alterakriterien babylonisch aesyriecher Inschriften, Hei­delberg, 1910; Fabre d'Olivet, La Lanpue h6braique resti­tuts, d le vhritable sense des mots hAbreuat ritabli d prouvi, Paris, 1910; J. B. Chabot. Les Lanpuea ei lee liturntures aramdennas, ib..1910.

SEMLER, semrler or aemrler, JOHANN SALOMO: Pioneer in Biblical criticism; b. at Saalfeld (6B m. s.w. of Leipsic) Dec. 18, 1725; d. at Halle Mar. 4, 1791. His father was archdeacon at Saalfeld, and introduced the son to the circles of Pietism (q.v.) in early youth. But young Semler, already a wide reader and possessed of a phenomenal memory, soon felt a profound disinclination toward all manner of Pietism, only by degrees; however, becoming con­scious of his fundamental objection to this move­ment. At the University of Halle, which he visited in 1743, he was especially drawn toward Siegmund Jakob Baumgarten (q.v.), whose erudition ap­pealed to him, and there took his master's degree in 1750. In the same year he became an unsalaried professor in the gymnasium at Coburg, where he gave instruction in the elements of Arabic, and was also editor of the Coburg Staata  and GeZehrtenzeit­ung. The year 1751 brought him the call of a pro­fessorship in history and Latin poetry at Altdorf. But in 1752, at the instance of Baumgarten, he was called to Halle as professor of theology, where there opened up for him a field of labor suitable to his talents. After Baumgarten's death (1757), he grew more free and spontaneous, and a few years later he was one of the most celebrated theologians of Germany.

Semler's critical investigation was directed first of sill to the Scriptures. What he undertook was unheard of in German theology, yet there was no doubt of his right to make Scripture the object of scientific research. , His Biblical investigations




RELIGIOUS ENCYCLOPEDIA Ht

were concerned with the transmission and the nature of the text. He soon came to believe in various revisions of the New Testament text, strove after more certain standards for fixing the value of particular manuscripts, and discerned the importance of patristic citations. This new at­titude respecting the text involved the germinating principles for a new valuation of the canon. To this problem was devoted his Abhandlung von der freien Untersuehung des Kanon8, nebst Antwort au

.f die tilbingische Vertheidigung der Apokalypsis (4 parts, Halle, 1771 76). He came to recognize the fact that the canon of the Old Testament, like that of the New, underwent a historical development and grew up by degrees, and hence may not pass for " inspired " in the traditional sense and has not, therefore, the " authority " heretofore ascribed to it. This principle of the liberty of Christians to deal with the canon, involved the further task of gaining a criterion for gaging the value of the par­ticular constituents of such a collection, offering as such the test of the presence in the books of the spirit of Christ. This led him to recognize in the Old Testament and the New two stages of religion, the Jewish national, and the universal religion of Christianity, and this showed the way to a wholly new explanation of Scripture. He established the point that the doctrine of Jesus and the apostles contains Jewish conceptions of only synchronous value. The problem of scientific exegesis is to de­termine what belongs to these " local " and " tem­poral " elements. So early as 1760, he gave expres­sion to these maxims, and applied the same in De dtemoniacis, quorum in evangeliis fat mentio (Halls, 1760). Semler further developed the idea of utili­zing Talmud and Apocrypha in exegesis.

With Semler there began a new epoch in ecclesi­astical history. His historical labors exhibit him both as editor (TertuWani opera, 6 vols., Halle, 1769 76; Apparatus ad libros aymbolicos ecclesim Lutherana, 1775), and as critic (Commentarii his­torica de antiquo Christianorum statu, 2 vols., 1771­1772; Versuch eines fruchtbaren Auszugea der Kirchengeachichte des N. T., 3 vole., 1773 78). His guiding principles include constant return to the sources, the importation of purely natural factors in the history of the Church, employment of psy­chology to aid in the understanding of history, and recognition that development has taken place in the history of the Church. This new mode of sur­vey showed its most pronounced reaction in the sphere of ecclesiastical dogma. One of Semler's most important theses was his distinction between theology and religion. By means of this distinction he created free course for his criticism and thereby liberated scientific research from the theological odium, his purpose being to grapple with the Chris­tian faith itself. Another main idea of Semler's is that in all ages there has been a diversity of theo­logical and religious views, and that this discrepancy exists of right. Consequently all doctrinal schemes are mere attempts to comprehend the truth, with the results that the practise of appraising the dog­ma of one's own church in distinction from that of other ecclesiastical fellowships was no longer to be upheld, the basis for a propaganda among adher 



ents of an alien confession vanished away, and even

the gap between Christianity and non Christian

religions became lessened by coordination of all

into the divine cosmic, plan. The task of defining

the value and effective scope of the theology recog­

nized by the Church, and the relation of this ecclesi­

astical doctrine to the asserted freedom of the in­

dividual, Semler sought to resolve by distinguishing

public religion i.e, Christian regulations in the

way of external ordinances from private religion,

i.e., the particular Christian's religious convictions.

Semler excited great surprise among his contem­

poraries by his attitude toward the practical life of

the Church. When the agitation over the " Wolfen­

biittel Fragments " (q.v.) reached its height, Sem­

ler undertook to controvert the " Fragmentists "

with keen polemics. Semler's attitude in various

disputes was the necessary result of the fundamental

thoughts of his theology. Yet he was no construc­

tor, nor did he clearly define for himself the conse­

quences of his own formal postulations. Indeed, he

himself often, fell far short of exercising the objec­

tivity that he demanded abstractly; and his direct

interest was much more pronounced than he per­

sonally admitted. He was far more accessible to

conservative sentiments than could be expected,

especially in his labors as critic. Similarly, the very

heaviness of his style is due to his continual strug­

gling with new material and to his inability to wait

for publication until he had completely mastered

the subject matter. His real merit lay in assisting

to pilot theology into a new phase of development

by importing into theology the historical mode of

contemplation. In its final decade, Semler's liter­

ary activity shows a change in his interests, as he

busied himself with natural sciences, alchemy, mys­

tical theosophy, and freemasonry (Unpartheaiache

Sammlung zur Geschichte der Rosenkreuzer, 4 parts,

Leipsic, 1786,88). At the same time he did not

abandon theology (Letztes Glaubensbekenntnis,1792).

CARL MIRBT.




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