RENAN, JOSEPH ERNEST (commonly known as Ernest Renan):

French Semitic scholar and thinker; born at Tréguier Feb. 23, 1823; died at Paris Oct. 2, 1892. Destined for the priesthood, he felt in 1842, after the study of German philosophy and Semitic philology, that he was no longer able to continue his training for that office. His "Histoire Générale des Langues Sémitiques," published in 1855, founded his reputation as an Orientalist, and especially attracted attention by his view that the Semitic peoples have a natural bent toward monotheism. A voyage to Syria (1861), undertaken for scientific purposes, prepared the way for his "Vie de Jésus" (1863), in which, almost for the first time, a purely historical treatment was applied to the subject. This led to his suspension and final rejection from his professorship of Hebrew in the Collège de France, in which he was succeeded by S. Munk.

Renan's "Vie de Jésus" was the first volume of a history of Christianity down to the time of Marcus Aurelius, which occupied his attention up to 1878. He had in the meantime been restored (1870) by the republic to his Hebrew professorship, and he devoted himself for the rest of his life to a history of the people of Israel in five volumes, the last two, published posthumously, bringing it down to the common era and thus connecting it with his other series. In his history he adopted Ewald's views of the sources of the Pentateuch, and regarded the Prophets somewhat as sublime socialists. In addition, Renan published translations of Job (1859), Canticles (1860), and Ecclesiastes (1882). His "Mission de Phénicie" (1874) is a valuable contribution to the history of Phenician civilization; and he was practically the founder of the "Corpus Inscriptionum Semiticarum," for which he edited the first volume, on Phenician inscriptions. Further, he edited the sections on the French rabbis contributed to the "Histoire Littéraire de la France" (vols. xxviii., xxxi.) by A. Neubauer, and made use of the latter's Talmudic knowledge both in his "Vie de Jésus" and in the subsequent volumes of his history, being the first savant to do so. In 1883 Renan delivered in Paris two discourses, on "Le Judaïsme Comme Race et Comme Religion" and "Le Judaïsme et le Christianisme" respectively; he contributed also to the "Revue des Etudes Juives."

  • J. Jacobs, in Academy, Oct. 5, 1892;
  • M. Darmsteter, Life of Ernest Renan, London, 1896;
  • Lévy, La Synagogue et M. Renan (a reply to the Vie de Jésus), Lunéville, 1863.
T. J.
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