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AUGUSTI, FRIEDRICH ALBRECHT (originally Joshua ben Abraham Herschel):

German author; born at Frankfort-on-the-Oder in 1691; died at Eschberge May 13, 1782. He received the usual Jewish education of that time. According to a biography, printed anonymously during his lifetime and probably inspired by him, he left home very young in the company of a meshullaḥ, or collector of alms for the poor of Palestine of the name of Yekutiel, intending to accompany him to the Holy Land. While on the way Augusti was taken captive by Tatar robbers and sold as a slave in Turkey. He was ransomed and set free at Smyrna by a wealthy Jew from Podolia, and went to Poland, spending several years in Pintzov, which is now in the government of Kielçe, in Russian Poland. Here the Jews and Socinians lived on terms of intimate friendship, and through them young Augusti became acquainted with secular knowledge, especially Latin, an uncommon accomplishment for a Jew in Poland at that time. He visited Cracow and Prague, and, returning to Frankfort, started from there on a journey to Italy. While living in Sondershausen in 1720, he was maltreated by a gang of robbers that broke into the house in which he resided, and was found apparently lifeless on the following morning. He recovered, however, and during his convalescence became acquainted with a clergyman of that place, who succeeded in converting him to Christianity. With much pomp and ceremony Augusti was baptized on Christmas day, 1723, in the presence of the duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and other notables, and soon after began to study theology at the Seminary of Gotha. In 1727 he went to Jena and afterward to Leipsic. He was appointed assistant professor at the Gymnasium of Gotha in 1729, and in 1734 became minister of the parish of Eschberge, in which position he remained until his death. The famous theologian Johann Christian Wilhelm Augusti was his grandson.

Augusti published several works in Latin and German, of which "Das Geheimniss des Sambathian" (The Mystery of the Sambathian), the fabulous river mentioned in Talmudic literature, which casts stones during six days of the week and rests on Saturday, is probably the most curious. His work on the Karaites, mentioned by Fürst in his "Geschichte des Karäerthums," vol. iii. 66, 67, of which the full title is "Gründliche Nachrichten von den Karaiten, Ihre Glaubens-Lehren, Sitten und Kirchen-Gebräuche" (Erfurt, 1752), is full of inaccuracies and extravagant statements. Baumgarten, in his "Nachrichten von MerkwürdigenBüchern," vol. i. 341-351, exposes many of these, and justly refuses to believe Augusti's claim that his sources were rare manuscripts which, after he had used them, were partly burned and partly stolen, and of which no duplicates remained. The best proof of his negligence or ignorance of the subject is that he wholly ignores the (Dod Mordecai), the full description of the Karaites and Karaism which was written by the Karaite Mordecai ben Nissim, at the end of the seventeenth century for Prof. Jacob Trigland of Leyden, and published with a Latin translation with Trigland's "De Karæis" by Johann Christian Wolf in 1714. Augusti also confuses Judah ben Tabbai, who lived at least a century before the common era, with Judah ha-Nasi, who flourished about three hundred years later.

The "Life of Augusti," by an anonymous author, published in 1751 by Weber, is also reviewed and severely criticized by Baumgarten in the volume cited above (pp. 337-340). The Christian critic displays sufficient familiarity with Jewish affairs and customs to disprove the biographer's claim that Augusti, before his conversion, was a rabbi at Sondershausen, and proves that in reality he was a school-master and possibly a slaughterer of animals or "shoḥet." Several other biographies of Augusti were written, mostly for missionary purposes, one translated into English by Macintosh, London, 1867.

Bibliography:
  • Delitzsch, in Saat auf Hoffnung, 1866;
  • McClintock and Strong, Cyc. Supplement.
G. P. Wi.
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