Wilhelm Martin Leberecht De Wette
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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

Wilhelm Martin Leberecht de Wette was born was born on the 12th of January 1780 in Ulla (now part of the municipality of Nohra), Thuringia, where his father was a pastor. As a boy, he was sent to the gymnasium at the nearby city of Weimar. Here he was much influenced by Johann Gottfried von Herder, who frequently examined at the school. In 1799, de Wette entered the University of Jena to study theology, his principal teachers being J. J. Griesbach and H. E. G. Paulus. By the time he submitted his dissertation in September 1804, 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. He became a Privatdozent at Jena after completing his doctorate degree. [1]

In 1807, de Wette became a professor of theology at Heidelberg, where he came under the influence of Jakob Friedrich Fries (1773-1843), whose hiring he helped arrange (as well as that of Paulus). 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 August Friedrich Ferdinand von 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 also banishing him from the Prussian kingdom.[1]

De Wette retired to Weimar, where he occupied his leisure in the preparation of his edition of Martin Luther and in writing the romance Theodor oder die Weihe des Zweiflers (1822), in which he describes the education of an evangelical pastor. He began preaching, at which he proved to be very popular. In 1822, he accepted the chair of theology in the University of Basel, which had been reorganized four years before. Though his appointment had been strongly opposed by the orthodox party, De Wette soon won for himself great influence both in the university and among the people generally. He was admitted a citizen and became rector of the university, which owed to him much of its recovered strength, particularly in the theological faculty.[1]

Marriages and family

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.[]


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]


De Wette died in Basel on 16 June 1849.[1]

Selected works

His most important works are:[1]

  • Beiträge zur Einleitung in das Alte Testament (Contributions to the Introduction of the Old Testament. 2 vols, 1806-1807).
  • Kommentar über die Psalmen (Commentary on the Psalms. 1811), which has passed through several editions.
  • Lehrbuch der hebräisch-jüdischen Archäologie (Textbook of Hebrew-Jewish Archaeology. 1814).
  • Über Religion und Theologie (On Religion and Theology. 1815); a work showing its author's general theological positions.
  • Lehrbuch der christlichen Dogmatik (Textbook of Christian Dogmatics. 1813-1816).
  • Lehrbuch der historisch-kritischen Einleitung in die Bibel (Textbook of the Historical-Critical Introduction to the Bible. 1817).
  • Christliche Sittenlehre (Christian Moral Teaching. 1819-1821).
  • Einleitung in das Neue Testament (Introduction to the New Testament. 1826).
  • Religion, ihr Wesen, ihre Erscheinungsform, und ihr Einfluss auf das Leben (Religion, its nature, its appearance, and its influence on life. 1827).
  • Das Wesen des christlichen Glaubens (The Essence of the Christian Faith. 1846).
  • Kurzgefasstes exegetisches Handbuch zum Neuen Testament (Concise Exegetical Handbook on the New Testament. 1836-1848).

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

Selected works online

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

From Google Books:


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Chisholm 1911, p. 138.
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "De Wette, Wilhelm Martin Leberecht". Encyclopædia Britannica. 8 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 138.

Further reading

  • 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
  • John W. Rogerson, W.M.L. de Wette, Founder of Modern Biblical Criticism. An Intellectual Biography, Sheffield Academic Press, 1992.
  • John W. Rogerson, Old Testament Criticism, pages 28-49. Wipf and Stock 2010. ISBN 978-1608997336
  • Smend, Rudolf, Wilhelm Martin Leberecht de Wettes Arbeit am Alten und am Neuen Testament (Wilhelm Martin Leberecht de Wette's Work on the Old and New Testament), Basel: Helbing & Lichtenhahn, 1958
  • Van Seters, John, The Edited Bible: the Curious History of the "Editor" in Biblical Criticism, pages 205-215. Eisenbrauns, 2006. ISBN 978-1-57506-112-2

External links

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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