Reuchlin, Johann

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Reuchlin, Johann

Johann Reuchlin (yō´hän roikh´lən), 1455–1522, German humanist and lawyer, a scholar of Greek and Hebrew, b. Baden. He taught jurisprudence at Tübingen. In 1492 he began the study of Hebrew, and his Rudimenta Hebraica (1506) was the first Hebrew grammar written by a Christian. His reputation as a scholar had already been established by the translations from the Greek that he made at Heidelberg. When Johann Pfefferkorn, a Jew who had converted to Christianity, advocated destruction of all Hebrew books, Emperor Maximilian requested Reuchlin's opinion in the matter. Reuchlin suggested that only those Hebrew books which calumniated Christianity should be suppressed and that the Jews should be required to furnish books for the universities, with two chairs of Hebrew learning to be set up in every university in Germany. His decision brought forth a storm of opposition from bigots and obscurantists, which Reuchlin met by his Augenspiegel [mirror of the eye] (1511). In this work he attacked Pfefferkorn and drew a distinction between classical works in Hebrew and anti-Christian polemics. A violent controversy developed between the humanists supporting Reuchlin and the clericals and powers of the Inquisition supporting Pfefferkorn. From the struggle emerged the famous defense of Reuchlin, Episculae obscurorum virorum [letters of obscure men] by Crotus Rubianus and Ulrich von Hutten. Reuchlin, himself, remained a Roman Catholic. In 1521 the Curia suppressed his writings against Pfefferkorn.

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