Michaelis, John David

, a celebrated biblical critic, and professor of divinity and the oriental languages, was born at Halle, in Lower Saxony, in 1717. His first education was private, but in 1729 he was sent to the public school of the orphan-house, where he studied diviniiy and philosophy, and at the same time he occasionally attended the lectures of his father, who was professor of divinity and the oriental languages. During the latter part of his time at school, he acquired a great facility in speaking Latin, and in thinking systematically, from the practice of disputation, in which one of the masters frequently exercised him. In 1733, he entered into the university of Halle, where he applied himself to the study of mathematics, metaphysics, theology, and the oriental languages. He also prepared himself for pulpit services, and preached with great approbation at Halle and other places. In 1739 he took a degree in philosophy, and soon after was appointed assistant lecturer under his father, having shewn how well qualified he was for that situation, by publishing a small treatise “De Antiquitate Punctorum Vocalium.” In 1741 he left his own country with a view of visiting England, and passing through Holland, became acquainted with the celebrated Schultens, from whom he received many marks of the most friendly attention. Upon his arrival in England, he engaged to officiate for the German, chaplain to the court, who was at that time in an infirm state of health, and continued to preach at the palace-chapel nearly a year and a half. During this period he visited the university of Oxford, greatly increased his knowledge of the oriental languages, and formed an intimacy with some of the first literary characters of that age, particularly with Dr. Lowth, afterwards bishop of London, on some of whose lectures “De Sacra Poesi Hebraeorum” he attended. Upon his return to Halle, he resumed his labours as assistant to his father, and delivered lectures on the historical books of the Old Testament, the Syriac and Chaldee | languages, and also upon natural history, and the Roman classics; but seeing no prospect of a fixed establishment, he left Halle in 1745, and went to Gottingen, in the capacity of private tutor. In the following year he was made professor extraordinary of philosophy in the university of Gottingen, and, in 1750, professor in ordinary in the same faculty. In 1751 he was appointed secretary to the newly instituted Royal Society of Gottingen, of which he afterwards became director, and about the same time was made aulic counsellor by the court of Hanover. During 1750, he gained the prize in the Royal Academy of Berlin, by a memoir “On the Influence of Opinions on Language, and Language on Opinions.” While the seven years’ war lasted, Michaelis met with but little interruption in his studies, being exempted,in common with the other professors, from military employment; and when the new regulations introduced by the French in 1760, deprived them of that privilege, by the command of marshal Broglio it was particularly extended to M. Michaelis. Soon after this, he obtained from Paris, by means of the marquis de Lostange, the manuscript of Abulfeda’s geography, from, which he afterwards edited his account of the Egyptians; and by the influence of the same nobleman, he was chosen correspondent of the “Academy of Inscriptions at Paris,” in 1764, and elected one of the eight foreign members of that institution. In 1760, the professor gave great offence to the orthodox clergy, by publishing his “Compendium of dogmatic Theology,” consisting of doctrinal lectures which he had delivered by special licence from the government. Shortly after this, Michaelis shewed his zeal for the interests of science and literature, by the part which he took in the project of sending a mission of learned men into Egypt and Arabia, for the purpose of obtaining such information concerning the actual state of those countries, as might serve to throw light on geography, natural history, philology, and biblical learning. He first conceived the idea of such a mission, which he communicated by letter to the privy counsellor Bernstorf, who laid it before his sovereign Frederic V. king of Denmark. That sovereign was so well satisfied of the benefits which might result from the undertaking, that he determined to support theexpence of it, and he even committed to Michaelis the management of the design, together with the nomination of proper travellers, and the care of drawing up their instructions. Upow | the death of Gesner in 1761, Michaelis succeeded in the office of librarian to the Royal Society, which he held about a year, and was then nominated to the place of director, with the salary for life of the post, which he then resigned. Two years afterwards he was invited by the king of Prussia to remove to Berlin, but his attachment to Gottingen led him to decline the advantages which were held out to him as resulting from the change. In 1766 he was visited at Gottingen by sir John Pringle, whom he had known in England, and Dr. Franklin. With the first he afterwards corresponded on the subject of the leprosy, spoken of in the books of Moses, and on that of Daniel’s prophecy of the seventy weeks. The latter subject was disscussed in the letters which passed between them during 1771, and was particularly examined by the professor. This correspondence was printed by sir John Pringle in 1773, under the title of “Joan. Dav. Michaelis de Epistolse, &c. LXX. Hebdomadibus Danielis, ad D. Joan. Pringle, Baronettum; primo privatim missse, nunc vero utriusque consensu publice editae.” In 1770, some differences having arisen between Michaelis and his colleagues in the Royal Society, he resigned his directorship. In 1775 his well-established reputation had so far removed the prejudices which had formerly been conceived against him in Sweden, that the count Hbpkin, who some years before had prohibited the use of his writings at Upsal, now prevailed upon the king to confer upon him the order of the polar star. He was accordingly decorated with the ensignia of that order, on which occasion he chose as a motto to his arms, “libera veritas.” In 1782 his health began to decline, which he never completely recovered; in 1786 he was raised to the rank of privy counsellor of justice by the court of Hanover; in the following year the academy of inscriptions at Paris elected him a foreign member of that body; and in 178S he received his last literary honour by being elected a member of the Royal Society of London. He continued his exertions almost to the very close of life, and a few weeks before his death, he shewed a friend several sheets in ms. of annotations which he had lately written on the New Testament. He died on the 22d of August, 1791, in the seventy- fifth year of his age. He was a man of very extensive and profound erudition, as well as of extraordinary talents, which were not less brilliant than solid, as is evident from the honours which were paid to | his merits, and the testimony of his acquaintance and contemporaries. His application and industry were unwearied, and his perseverance in such pursuits as he conceived would prove useful to the world, terminated only with the declension of his powers. His writings are distinguished not only by various and solid learning, but by a profusion of ideas, extent of knowledge, brilliancy of expression, and a frequent vein of pleasantry. In the latter part of his life he was regarded not only as a literary character, but as a man of business, and was employed in affairs of considerable importance by the courts of England, Denmark, and Prussia. His works are very numerous, and chiefly upon the subjects of divinity and oriental languages. A part of them are written in Latin, but by far the greater number in German. Of the Conner class there are these 1. “Commentatio de Battologia, ad Matth. vi. 7.Bremen, 1753, 4to. 2. “Paralipomena contra Polygamiam,” ibid. 1758, 4to. 3. “Syntagma commentationum,” Goett. 1759 1767, 4to. 4. “Curse in versionem Syriacam Actuurn Apostolorum,” Goett, 1755, 4to. 5. “Compendium Theologize dogmatics?,” ib. 1760, 8 vo. 6. “Commentationes resize soc. Scientiarum Goettingerrsis, per annos 1758 1762,Bremen, 1775, 4to. 7. “Vol. II. Ejusdem, 1769.” 8. “Spicilegium Geographies Hebrseorum exterae, post Bochartum,” Goett. 1769 1780, 2 torn. 4to. 9. “Grammatica Chaldaica,” ib. 1771, 8vo. 10. “Supplementa ad Lexicon Hebraicum,1784 1792, 6 torn. 4to. 11. “Grammatica Syriaca,” Halae, 1784, 4to. The following are in German: 12. “Hebrew Grammar,Halle, 1778, 8vo.13. “Elements of Hebrew accentuation,” ib. 1741, 8vo. 14. “Treatise on the Law of Marriage, according to Moses,” Goett. 1768, 4to. 15. “Paraphrase and Remarks on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Titus, Timothy, and Philemon,Bremen, 1769, 4to. 16. “Introduction to the Holy Scriptures of the New Testament,Bremen, 1750, 8vo. 17. “Prophetical plan of the preacher Solomon,” ib. 1762, 8vo.18. “Thoughts on the Doctrine of Scripture concerning Sin,” Hamb. 1752, 8vo. 19. “Plan of typical Divinity,” Brem. 1763, 8vo. 20. “Criticism of the means employed to understand the Hebrew language.” 21. “Critical Lectures on the principal Psalms which treat of Christ,” Frankf. 1759, 8vo. 22. “Explanation of the Epistle to the Hebrews,” Frankf. 1784, 2 vols. 4to, 2$. | Questions proposed to a society of learned Men, who went to Arabia by order of the king of Denmark,” ib. 1762, 8vo. 24. “Introduction to the New Testament,’ 7 a second edition, Goett. 1788, 2 vols. 4to. 25.” Miscellaneous Writings,“two parts, Frankf. 1766 8, 8vo. 26.” Programma concerning the seventy-two translators,“Goett. 1767, 8vo. 27.” Dissertation on the Syriac language, and its use,“Goett. 1768, 8vo. 28.” Strictures concerning the Protestant Universities in Germany,“Frankf. 1775, 8vo. 29.” Translation of the Old Testament,“Goett. 1769 83, 13 parts. 30.” Fundamental Interpretation of the Mosaic Law,“Frankf. 1770-5, 6 parts, with additions, 8vo. 31.” Of the Seventy Weeks of Daniel,“Goett. 1772, 8vo. 32.” Arabic Grammar and Chrestomathy,“ib. 1781, 8vo. 33.” Oriental and exegetical Library,“Frankf. 1771—89, 24 parts, and two supplements, 8vo. 34.” New Oriental and exegetical Library,“Goett. 1786 91, 9 parts. 35.” Of the Taste of the Arabians in their Writings,“ib. 1781, 8vo. 36.” Dissertation on the Syriac Language and its uses, together with a Chrestomathy,“ib. 1786, 8vo. 37.” On the Duty of Men to speak Truth,“Kiel, 1773, 8vo. 38.” Commentary on the Maccabees,“Frankfort, 1777, 4to. 39.” History of Horses, and of the breeding of Horses in Palestine,“&c. ib. 1776, 8vo. 40.” Thoughts on the doctrine of Scripture concerning Sin and Satisfaction,“Bremen, 1779, 8vo. 41.” Illustration of the History of the Burial and Resurrection of Christ,“Halle, 1783, 8vo. 42.” Supplement, or the fifth Fragment of Lessing’s Collections,“Halle, 1785, 8vo. 43.” German Dogmatic Divinity,“Goett. 1784, 8vo. 44.” Introduction to the Writings of the Old Testament,“Hamb. 1787, 1st vol. 1st part, 4to: 45.” Translation of the Old Testament, without remarks,“Goett. 1789, 2 vols. 4to. 46.” Translation of the New Testament,“ib. 1790, 2 vols. 4to 47.” Remarks for the unlearned, relative to his translation of the New Testament,“ib. 1790 92, 4 parts, 4to. 48.” Additions to the third edition of the Introduction to the New Testament,“ibid. 1789, 4to. 49.Ethics," a posthumous work, published by C. F. Steudlin, Goett. 1792, 2 parts, 8vo.

Of those with which the English scholar has been brought acquainted, one of the principal is the “Introduction to the New Testament,” translated into English from the first edition, and published in 1761, in a quarto volume. | In 1788, the fourth edition was published in two volumes quarto. The object of this work, which is purely critical and historical, is to explain the Greek Testament, with the same impartiality, and the same unbiassed love of truth, with which a critic in profane literature would examine the writings of Homer, Virgil, &c. The first volume contains an examination of the authenticity, inspiration, and language of the New Testament. The second volume contains a particular introduction to each individual book of the New Testament. An English translation of it has been published by the rev. Herbert Marsh, in six volumes, royal 8vo. To this we may add another very important translation of his “Mosaisches Recht,” or “Commentaries on the Laws of Moses,” by Alexander Smith, D. D. minister of the Chapel of Garioch, Aberdeenshire, 1814, 4 vols. 8vo. This, says the learned translator, has always been esteemed the chef d* cewvre of Michaelis, but although a work of very great importance, demands the application of somewhat of that precautionary chastening, which Dr. Marsh has so judiciously applied in the “Introduction to the New Testament.” From Dr. Smith, also, the public have reason to expect a memoir of the life and writings of Michaelis, more ample than has yet appeared in this country. 1


Rees’s Cyclopædia, abridged from a German account translated in Dr. Aikin’s General Biography. See also Gent. Ma?. 1792, p. 222, and Dr. Smith’s preface to the “Commentaries of the Laws of Moses.