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Reuchlin, Johann (1455–1522)

  1. Franz Posset

Published Online: 25 NOV 2011

DOI: 10.1002/9780470670606.wbecc1165

The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization

How to Cite

Posset, F. 2011. Reuchlin, Johann (1455–1522). The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 25 NOV 2011


German. Born in Pforzheim, to the business manager of the local Dominican friary (Graecized family name, Capnion). He studied at Freiburg (1470), Paris (1473), and Basle (1474–1477). In Paris he learned Greek. In Basle he received his master's degree and published the reworked Latin dictionary Vocabularius breviloquus. From 1479 to 1482 he studied law in Orléans, Poitiers, and Tübingen. He got married, but soon became a widower. During his journeys to Italy in 1482 and 1490 he became acquainted with the Platonic Academy at Florence. He was admired for his polyglot expertise (Latin, Greek, Hebrew). He began to investigate the original Hebrew name of God (Tetragrammaton). In 1492 he represented his territorial lord at the imperial court in Linz, Austria, where Emperor Frederic III made him a nobleman. In 1494 he published On the Wonder-Working Word, which demonstrates his capacities as a biblical humanist and lay theologian. From 1496 to 1499 he worked for the prince in Heidelberg; there he joined the humanist sodality around Johannes von Dalberg, bishop of Worms. Reuchlin wrote two successful Latin comedies, Sergius and Henno. In 1498 he traveled a third time to Italy (Rome and Venice). After his return he was appointed to the high court of the Swabian League (1502–1512). During pestilence he fled to the monastery at Denkendorf, where he wrote a small manual on preaching. With his epoch-making textbook on the Rudiments of Hebrew (1506), containing both lexicon and grammar, he provided an introduction to the study of Hebrew. In 1512 he published a literal translation of the Seven Penitential Psalms from Hebrew into Latin. Martin Luther used this book for his studies on the psalms and for his exposition of the Seven Penitential Psalms in German in 1517. In the same year Reuchlin published The Art of the Cabala, dedicated to Pope Leo X. In 1518 he wrote on the Hebrew language, its orthography and accents, including an appendix on music notes. From 1510 he was involved in quarrels concerning the destruction of Jewish books. On this issue he wrote a confidential expert opinion for the emperor in which he declared that the Jewish faith is none of the Christians' business, as he defended the preservation of Jewish books including the Talmud. Against Johann Pfefferkorn's Hand Mirror of 1511 he published his Eye Mirror in support of Hebrew studies with Hebrew books. He was widely supported by the humanists of Europe. Late in life he became professor of Greek and Hebrew at Ingolstadt (1520–1521) and Tübingen (1521–1522). Throughout the early Lutheran Reformation, he remained faithful to the Catholic Church while his grandnephew Philip Melanchthon joined Luther's movement. Reuchlin died in Stuttgart, and is buried at St. Leonhard church.


  • Reuchlin, Johann (1455–1522);
  • epoch-making textbook, on rudiments of hebrew;
  • literal translation of the seven penitential psalms;
  • the art of the cabala, dedicated to pope leo X