Julius Wellhausen (17 May 1844 – 7 January 1918), was a German biblical scholar and orientalist. In the course of his career, he moved from Old Testament research through Islamic studies to New Testament scholarship. Wellhausen contributed to the composition history of the Pentateuch/Torah and the formative period of Islam. For the former, he is credited with being one of the originators of the documentary hypothesis.
Wellhausen was born at Hameln in the Kingdom of Hanover, the son of a Protestant pastor. He later studied theology at the University of Göttingen under Georg Heinrich August Ewald and became privatdozent for Old Testament history there in 1870. In 1872 he was appointed professor ordinarius of theology at the University of Greifswald. However, he resigned from the faculty in 1882 for reasons of conscience, stating in his letter of resignation:
I became a theologian because the scientific treatment of the Bible interested me; only gradually did I come to understand that a professor of theology also has the practical task of preparing the students for service in the Protestant Church, and that I am not adequate to this practical task, but that instead despite all caution on my own part I make my hearers unfit for their office. Since then my theological professorship has been weighing heavily on my conscience.
He became professor extraordinarius of oriental languages in the faculty of philology at Halle, was elected professor ordinarius at Marburg in 1885, and was transferred to Göttingen in 1892 where he stayed until his death.
Among theologians and biblical scholars, he is best known for his book, Prolegomena zur Geschichte Israels (Prolegomena to the History of Israel). After a detailed synthesis of existing views on the origins of the first five books of the Old Testament, Wellhausen's contribution was to place the development of these books into a historical and social context. The resulting argument, called the documentary hypothesis, remains the dominant model among biblical scholars. In the realm of Arabic studies, Wellhausen's greatest achievement remains The Arab Kingdom And Its Fall.
Prolegomena zur Geschichte Israels and documentary hypothesis
Wellhausen was famous for his critical investigations into Old Testament history and the composition of the Hexateuch. He is perhaps best known for his Prolegomena zur Geschichte Israels of 1883 (first published 1878 as Geschichte Israels), in which he advanced a definitive formulation of the documentary hypothesis, arguing that the Torah (or Pentateuch) had its origins in a redaction of four originally independent texts dating from several centuries after the time of Moses, their traditional author.
Wellhausen's hypothesis remained the dominant model for Pentateuchal studies until the last quarter of the 20th century, when it began to be challenged by other Biblical scholars who saw more and more hands at work in the Torah, ascribing them to periods even later than Wellhausen had proposed.
A select list of his works are as follows:
- De gentibus et familiis Judaeis (Göttingen, 1870)
- Der Text der Bücher Samuelis untersucht (Göttingen, 1871)
- Die Phariseer und Sadducäer, a classic treatise upon this subject (Greifswald, 1874)
- Prolegomena zur Geschichte Israels (Berlin, 1882; 3rd ed., 1886; Eng. trans., Edinburgh, 1883, 1891; 5th German edition, 1899; first published in 1878 as Geschichte Israels; English translation Prolegomena to the History of Ancient Israel, Forgotten Books, 2008, ISBN 978-1-60620-205-0. Also available on Project Gutenberg )
- Muhammed in Medina, a translation of Al-Waqidi (Berlin, 1882)
- Die Composition des Hexateuchs und der historischen Bücher des Alten Testaments (1876/77, 3rd ed. 1899)
- Israelitische und jüdische Geschichte (1894, 4th ed. 1901)
- Reste arabischen Heidentums (1897)
- Das arabische Reich und sein Sturz, in its time the standard modern account of Umayyad history (1902), English translation The Arab Kingdom and its Fall (1927)
- Skizzen und Vorarbeiten (1884–1899)
- Medina vor dem Islam (1889)
- New and revised editions of Friedrich Bleek's Einleitung in das Alte Testament (4–6, 1878–1893).
- Die kleinen Propheten, a critical brochure (1902)
- “The Book of Psalms” in Sacred Books of the Old Testament (Leipzig, 1895; Eng. trans., 1898)
In 1906 appeared Die christliche Religion, mit Einschluss der israelitisch-jüdischen Religion, in collaboration with A Jülicher, Adolf Harnack and others. He also produced less influential work as a New Testament commentator, publishing Das Evangelium Marci, übersetzt und erklärt in 1903, Das Evangelium Matthäi and Das Evangelium Lucae in 1904, and Einleitung in die drei ersten Evangelien in 1905.