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Julius Wellhausen (May 17, 1844 - January 7, 1918), was a Germanmarker biblical scholar and orientalist, noted particularly for his contribution to scholarly understanding of the origin of the Pentateuch/Torah (the first five books of the Bible).

Born at Hamelinmarker in the Kingdom of Hanover, the son of a Protestant pastor, he studied theology at the University of Göttingenmarker under Georg Heinrich August Ewald and became Privatdozent for Old Testament history there in 1870. In 1872 he was appointed professor ordinarius of theology at the University of Greifswaldmarker. He resigned from the faculty in 1882 for reasons of conscience, stating in his letter of resignation:He became professor extraordinarius of oriental languages in the faculty of philology at Hallemarker, was elected professor ordinarius at Marburg in 1885, and was transferred to Göttingen in 1892 where he stayed until his death.

He is best known for his Prolegomena zur Geschichte Israels (Prologue to the History of Israel), a detailed synthesis of existing views on the origins of the first five books of the Old Testament: Wellhausen's contribution was to place the development of these books into a historical and social context. The resulting argument, called the documentary hypothesis, remained the dominant model among biblical scholars until later in the 20th century.

Prolegomena zur Geschichte Israels and documentary hypothesis

Wellhausen was famous for his critical investigations into Old Testament history and the composition of the Hexateuch. He is perhaps best known for his Prolegomena zur Geschichte Israels of 1883 (first published 1878 as Geschichte Israels), in which he advanced a definitive formulation of the Documentary hypothesis, arguing that the Torah or Pentateuch had its origins in a redaction of four originally independent texts dating from several centuries after the time of Moses, their traditional author. Wellhausen's hypothesis remained the dominant model for Pentateuchal studies until the last quarter of the 20th century, when it began to be challenged by scholars who saw more and more hands at work in the Torah, ascribing them to periods even later than Wellhausen had proposed.

Wellhausen's uncompromisingly secular approach to the bible and the detailed cogency of his re-creation of early Israelite history (one which dismissed such fundamental Jewish beliefs as their status as God's "chosen people," and even the originally monotheistic nature of ancient Israelite religion) led to accusations from conservative Jews, and even Christians, that he was motivated not by the dispassionate search for truth but by a desire to destroy the Jewish religion. This accusation was frequently cast in terms of "anti-Semitism," but, whatever the truth of these accusations, insinuations of a causative connection between Wellhausen's endeavour and the events that transpired in Germany in the decades after his death are problematic at most.

Other works

The best known of his works are:

  • De gentibus et familiis Judaeis (Göttingen, 1870)
  • Der Text der Bücher Samuelis untersucht (Göttingen, 1871)
  • Die Phariseer und Sadducäer (Greifswald, 1874)
  • Prolegomena zur Geschichte Israels (Berlin, 1882; Eng. trans., 1885; 5th German edition, 1899; first published in 1878 as Geschichte Israels, English translation Prolegomena to the History of Ancient Israel, Forgotten Books, 2008, ISBN 978-1606202050. Also available on Project Gutenberg [27031])
  • Muhammed in Medina (Berlin, 1882)
  • Die Composition des Hexateuchs und der historischen Bücher des Alten Testaments (1876/77, 3rd ed. 1899)
  • Israelitische und jüdische Geschichte (1894, 4th ed. 1901)
  • Reste arabischen Heidentums (1897)
  • Das arabische Reich und sein Sturz (1902)
  • Skizzen und Vorarbeiten (1884-1899)
  • new and revised editions of Friedrich Bleek's Einleitung in das Alte Testament (4-6, 1878-1893).


In 1906 appeared Die christliche Religion, mit Einschluss der israelitisch-jüdischen Religion, in collaboration with A Jülicher, Adolf Harnack and others. He also did useful and interesting, but less influential, work as a New Testament commentator. He published Das Evangelium Marci, übersetzt und erklärt in 1903. Das Evangelium Matthäi and Das Evangelium Lucae in 1904 and Einleitung in die drei ersten Evangelien in 1905.

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