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Jean Astruc

Jean Astruc

Jean Astruc (Saint-Sauves-d'Auvergne, France, 19 March 1684 – Paris, 5 May 1766) was a professor of medicine at Montpellier and Paris, who wrote the first great treatise on syphilis and venereal diseases, and also, with a small anonymously published book, played a fundamental part in the origins of critical textual analysis of works of scripture. Astruc was the first to try to demonstrate — using the techniques of textual analysis that were commonplace in studying the secular classics — the theory that Genesis was composed based on several sources or manuscript traditions, an approach that is called the documentary hypothesis.


  • Life 1
  • See also 2
  • References 3
  • Sources 4
  • Further reading 5
  • External links 6


The son of a Brussels, safely beyond the reach of French authorities. This safeguard was required due to the forcible "re-Catholicization" of Astruc's Languedoc homeland in the frame of the Counter-Reformation, when the Protestant "Camisards" were being deported or sent to the galleys, was a very recent memory. In Astruc's own times the writers of the Encyclopédie were working under great pressure and in secret, for the Catholic Church did not offer a tolerant atmosphere for biblical criticism. This was somewhat ironic, for Astruc saw himself as fundamentally a supporter of orthodoxy; his unorthodoxy lay not in denying Mosaic authorship of Genesis, but in his defence of it. In the previous century scholars such as Thomas Hobbes and Baruch Spinoza had drawn up long lists of inconsistencies and contradictions and anachronisms in the Torah, and used these to argue that Moses could not have been the author of the entire five books. Astruc was outraged by this "sickness of the last century", and determined to use modern 18th century scholarship to refute that of the 17th. Using methods already well established in the study of the Classics for sifting and assessing differing manuscripts, he drew up parallel columns and assigned verses to each of them according to what he had noted as the defining features of the text of Genesis: whether a verse used the term "YHWH" (Yahweh) or the term "Elohim" (God) referring to God, and whether it had a doublet (another telling of the same incident, as for example the two accounts of the creation of man, and the two accounts of Sarah being taken by a foreign king). Astruc found four documents in Genesis, which he arranged in four columns, declaring that this was how Moses had originally written his book, in the image of the four Gospels of the New Testament, and that a later writer had combined them into a single work, creating the repetitions and inconsistencies which Hobbes, Spinoza and others had noted.[2]

Astruc's work was taken up by a succession of German scholars, the intellectual climate in Germany then being more conducive to scholarly freedom, and in their hands formed the foundation of modern critical exegesis of the Old and New Testaments.

See also


  1. ^ Rogerson, John W. (2007). "Astruc, Jean". In McKim, Donald K. Dictionary of major biblical interpreters (2nd ed.). Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic.  
  2. ^ Gordon Wenham, "Exploring the Old Testament: Volume 1: The Pentateuch" (2003), p.62-63


  • J. Doe, "Jean Astruc (1694–1766): a biography and bibliography," Journal of the History of Medicine vol. 15, (1960) pp. 184–97
  • Conjectures sur les mémoires originaux dont il paroit que Moyse s'est servi pour composer le livre de la Genèse, Bruxelles (1753)
  • Jean Astruc, Conjectures sur la Genèse, 2003. critical edition with introduction and notes by Pierre Gibert.

Further reading

  • Huard, Pierre (1970). "Astruc, Jean.".  

External links

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