Johann Ernst Gerhard the Elder (1621-1668) is not a household name. Like most scholars (present reader excluded) his work aged rapidly and was of limited interest to the next generation – and of none to the following. Gerhard’s life and work as an orientalist are nonetheless instructive. At the end of the seventeenth century the Duke of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg purchased the Gerhardina collection, incorporating the library and manuscript nachlass, of Gerhard’s father, the prominent Lutheran theologian Johann Gerhard (1582-1637), as well as Johann Ernst Gerhard’s papers. This massive collection includes Johann Ernst Gerhard’s library, heavily annotated dissertations and disputations, lecture notes, travel diaries, and his extensive correspondence. All these allow us an unusually close look at a seventeenth-century scholar at work as well as shedding light on the intellectual and social contexts within which his scholarship evolved. In a sense Johann Ernst Gerhard is an ideal “minor thinker” – typical enough of his day to be instructive, yet intelligent enough to be interesting. The aim of this project is to produce a biography, which, using this rich collection, will attempt to reconstruct and understand the life and work of this forgotten orientalist. In the meantime, I would like to use this blog not so much to post “preliminary findings” as to occasionally upload and discuss single sources, which may be of interest to those concerned with early modern scholarship and to all who have a weakness for occasional Neo-Latin gossip from the seventeenth-century Republic of Letters.

(Jena, the morning hours of 7 August 1639)

Johann Ernst Gerhard was fifteen when his father, the famous Jena theologian Johann Gerhard died. The expectations from the young orphan were high from the start. It was taken for granted that he should follow in the footsteps of his illustrious father – not an unusual expectation in most walks of life in the seventeenth century. The earliest (public) disputation defended by Gerhard, then seventeen years old, was presided over and, in all likelihood, composed by Johann Michael Dilherr (1604-1669), who since 1631 had been a professor at Jena’s lower faculty. In 1640 Dilherr was appointed extraordinary professor of theology and in 1642 moved to Nuremberg, where he pursued a successful ecclesiastical career. This disputation was debated in the morning hours of 7 August 1639. It is devoted to a philological explication of the famous lines in Job xix.25-7 “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me.” –Job’s words taken to prophecy Christ. Gerhard’s copy of the printed disputation abounds in the young man’s comments and additions to his master’s text. Gerhard also noted on the title page the names of the opponents, against whose objections he was expected to demonstrate his erudition and dialectical prowess; among them were Georg Moebius and Salomon Glassius – Gerhard was presenting his first disputation in illustrious company. Preserved among his papers is also a prefatory poem in ten Alcaic stanzas which he composed recited in the auditorium before the disputation commenced. In an elegant piece of self-fashioning the nervous seventeen-year-old prodigy stands mortified and asks God and his professor (in elegant Latin) to guide him through the formidable task of successfully wading through a disputation:

Horresco! Quis me! quis mihi quod loquor?
Quis me coegit scandere pulpita
augusta sanctamque hanc cathedram.
Quis mihi tam temeraria suasit?

Horresco, seu fors intueor sacros
Antistites, aut sicubi nobilem
Pubis DEO Musisque sacrae
intueor stupidus coronam.

Horresco, lucem hanc ferre nequit meae
Caligo mentis: quid loquor aut ago?
Quid quaeso dignum tot Politis
auribus his potero sonare?

Hem quot misello spicula telaque
Parata cerno? quis clypeum dabit?
Quis muniet nudum? en dehisco!
en pudor, en rubor os colorat!

Quaeram Patronos. Optume Maxime [corr: qui mihi copias]
mittant rogati subsidiarias.
Non infrequens, vicisse victos
subsidio sociae cohortis.

Quaeram Patronos, Maxime Optume
Mundi dynasta, Te prece supplice
imploro per CHRISTUM praecantem
respice propitius bonusque.

Tu plectra linguae dirige & aridas
perfunde mentes lumine gratiae
Tu Spiritus fulgore nostras
discute propitius tenebras.

DILHERRE nostri fax columenque decus
caput Lycei, dogmatis entheo
defensor acris & gemma
Salaidae pretiosa terrae.

Securre inermi protege metuae
umbone doctrinae & mea dirige
effata & adversae cohortis
ferricrepas acies retunde

Firmatus ergo praesidio tuo
firmatus ipso praesidio DEI
depono terrorem. JEHOVA
auspice, nil geritur sinistre.