Christian Hebraist and Orientalist; born at Nordhausen Feb. 3, 1786; died Oct. 23, 1842. At first devoting his attention to classical studies, he became a teacher at Heiligenstadt in 1809, but in the following year was appointed assistant professor of theology at Halle, where he remained active till his death. There he exercised remarkable influence on the study of the Hebrew language and on the exegesis of the Old Testament, which he helped to place on a purely philological foundation. Besides publishing various works on Semitic languages (e.g., "Versuch über die Maltesische Sprache," 1810, on Maltese; "Paläographische Studien über Phönizische und Punische Schrift," 1835; and "Scripturæ Linguæque Phœniciæ Monumenta," 1837, on Punic and Phenician), he devoted himself to Hebrew grammar and lexicography. His first lexicographical work was a "Handwörterbuch" in two volumes, 1810-12; a shorter edition appeared in 1814, which became the standard Hebrew dictionary, not alone for Germany, but also for the English-speaking world—the English editions by Robinson, Tregelles, and the Oxford improved edition by Briggs, Brown, and Driver being the main sources of Hebrew lexicography. (See Jew. Encyc. iv. 583b.) His greatest work in this direction, however, was the "Thesaurus Philologico-Criticus Linguæ Hebraicæ et Chaldaicæ Veteris Testamenti," which was completed by E. Rödiger in 1858. This is, in a measure, both concordance and dictionary, giving references to all the passages in which occurs each form discussed. His "Hebräische Grammatik" appeared first in 1813, and ever since has been a standard work on the subject, no less than twenty-seven editions having appeared in Germany, as well as translations in most European languages. Gesenius kept for the most part to the lines laid down by the Hebrew grammarians of the Middle Ages, the Ḳimḥis and their followers, but in the successive editions made ever greater use of comparative Semitic philology. As a supplement to these works, Gesenius issued in 1815 his "Geschichte der Hebräischen Sprache und Schrift," and this still remains the only available sketch of the history of the study of the Hebrew language. His chief contribution to Biblical exegesis was his translation of and commentary on Isaiah (1820), treated entirely from a philological standpoint; in this he occasionally used the Hebrew commentaries of Ibn Ezra and Rashi.

  • Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, s.v.;
  • Cheyne, Founders of Old Testament Criticism, pp. 53-65.
E. C. J.
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