I am an intellectual and cultural historian of modern Europe. My specialism lies in the history of the humanities in Germany from 1770 to 1920, especially classical, biblical, and oriental studies. Thus far, my work has centered on representations of ancient Judaism in the 19th century. More recently, this research has extended to the longer history of philology. These inquiries contribute, more broadly, to historiography, history of ideas, history of knowledge, German studies, Jewish studies, and religious studies.
Since 2019, I have been a Postdoctoral Fellow of the Research Foundation–Flanders (FWO). Before coming to Ghent, I was a Marie Curie Fellow at the University of Cambridge and Queens' College (2017–19) and, prior, a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Göttingen (2016–17). In 2016, I obtained my Dr. phil., with highest distinction, from Göttingen, where I was also a Fulbright Scholar. During doctoral studies, I held research fellowships at the University of Chicago, Leibniz Institute of European History (Mainz), and Max Weber Centre for Advanced Studies (Erfurt). This followed an MDiv at Princeton Theological Seminary.
My work appears in premier journals of history, religion, and culture, such as History & Theory, Critical Inquiry, Central European History, and Harvard Theological Review. My first monograph, on the historiography of ancient Israel in the German Empire, was published by Mohr Siebeck in 2018. Some titles and abstracts representative of my recent research are featured below. (For a full listing, see my page on Humanities Commons: link via Personal Website in the right sidebar.)
In addition to the FWO, I have secured funding from the European Commission (Horizon2020), Fulbright Program, German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), American Schools of Oriental Research, and U4 University Network.
Kaiser, Christ, and Canaan: The Religion of Israel in Protestant Germany, 1871–1918. Forschungen zum Alten Testament I/122. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2018.
This monograph investigates to what extent, in an age of allegedly disinterested ‘historical science,’ the very enterprise of reconstructing ancient Israel was shaped by liberal Protestant theology. The book scrutinizes what biblical scholars, philologists, and historians of religion considered ‘religion’ and ‘history’ to be, how they sought to access past religious life, and why they undertook their inquiries in the manner they did. To do so, it focuses on two key representatives of two different approaches: Julius Wellhausen, with a source criticism orientated towards the history of nations, and Hermann Gunkel, with a comparative procedure aimed at the world behind the literature. This inquiry reveals, on the one hand, a “Protestantization of the past,” where an interior, moral conception of religion defined the essence of ancient Israel, as embodied by its prophets, and, on the other, a conception of history as a meaningful, unified process held together by a metaphysical force—a teleology of the human past that converged in the present to serve as the basis for a progressive future. It further argues that despite highly technical labor putatively neutral and non-theological in nature and despite dramatic shifts in specific methods of historical analysis, such an understanding of religion and history remained fundamentally the same in the story told by dominant historians of ancient Israel.
‘a smart book’ – Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft
‘A German translation of this extraordinary first book is a serious desideratum’ – Theologische Literaturzeitung
‘May the author of this book enrich and delight the scholarly world with more works on the history of science’ – Orientalistische Literaturzeitung
“The Philological Apparatus: Science, Text, and Nation in the Nineteenth Century.” Critical Inquiry, forthcoming 2021 (47/1).
Philology haunts the humanities, through both its defendants and its detractors. This article examines the construction of philology as the premier science of the long nineteenth century in Europe. It aims to bring the history of philology up to date by taking it seriously as a science and giving it the kind of treatment that has dominated history of science for the last generation: to reveal how practices, instruments, and cooperation create illusions of timeless knowledge. This historical inquiry therefore asks how one modality of text-interpretation could morph into an integrated complex of knowledge-production, which ostensibly explained the whole human world. Ultimately, it advances a central argument: philology operated as a relational system, one that concealed diversity and disunity, projected unity and stability, and seemed to rise above the material conditions of its own making. The essay scrutinizes the composition of philology as a heterogeneous ensemble, the functioning of philology comparable to other sciences, whether human or natural, and the historical contingency in the consolidation of philology.
“How Nineteenth-Century German Classicists Wrote the Jews out of Ancient History.” History & Theory 58/2 (2019): 210–32.
This essay considers why Jewish antiquity largely fell outside the purview of ancient historians in the Germanies for over half a century, between 1820 and 1880, and examines the nature of those portraits that did, in fact, arise. To do so, it interrogates discussions of Jewish antiquity in this half-century against the background of those political and national values that were consolidating across the German states. Ultimately, the article claims that ancient Jewish history did not provide a compelling model for the dominant (Protestant) German scholars of the age, which then prompted the decline of antique Judaism as a field of interest. This investigation into the political and national dimensions of ancient history both supplements previous lines of inquiry and complicates accounts that assign too much explanatory power to a regnant anti-Judaism or anti-Semitism in the period and place. First, the analysis considers why so little attention was granted to Jewish history by ancient historians in the first place, as opposed to its relative prominence before ca. 1820. Second, the essay examines representations of ancient Judaism as fashioned by those historians who did consider the subject in this period. Surveying works composed not only for the upper echelons of scholarship but also for adolescents, women, and the laity, it scrutinizes a series of arguments advanced and assumptions embedded in universal histories, histories of the ancient world, textbooks of history, and histories dedicated to either Greece or Rome. Finally, the article asserts the Jewish past did not conform to the values of cultural ascendancy, political autonomy, national identity, and religious liberty increasingly hal- lowed across the Germanies of the nineteenth century, on the one hand, and inscribed into the very enterprise of historiography, on the other. The perceived national and political failures of ancient Jews—alongside the ethnic or religious ones discerned by others—thus made antique Judaism an unattractive object of study in this period.
“Is Kant among the Prophets? Hebrew Prophecy and German Historical Thought, 1880–1920.” Central European History, forthcoming 2021 (54/1).
This article examines the interpretation of Hebrew prophecy by German Protestant scholars in the era of 1880–1920. Though overlooked by commentators, these scholars exalted the prophets for more than ethical monotheism: namely, for their historical understanding. It argues, first, that Old Testament interpreters valued the prophets since they presented God as the guiding force behind human history and, second, that these theologians cum philologians saw the prophetic conception of history as anticipating their own understanding of God in the world. The inquiry bases this argument on a reading of numerous exegetes, both leading lights and forgotten figures. Moreover, it traces this interpretative tendency across a range of sources, including specialist studies, theological monthlies, critical and literary journals, popular works, public speeches, and pedagogical literature. Rather than leave the prophets in the past, these exegetes also ushered them into the present, employing their historical teachings to shore up the Christian faith. In doing so, they identified Hebrew prophecy with German Protestantism and in contrast to Judaism.
“Defining Hellenistic Jews in 19th-Century Germany: The Case of Jacob Bernays and Jacob Freudenthal.” Erudition & The Republic of Letters 5, no. 3 (2020): 308–42.
Hellenic language and culture occupy a deeply ambivalent place in the mapping of Jewish history. If the entanglement of the Jewish and the Greek became especially conflicted for modern Jews in philhellenic Europe, nowhere was it more vexed than in the German-speaking lands of the long nineteenth century. Amidst the modern redefinition of what it meant to be Jewish as well as doubts about the genuine Jewishness of Hellenistic Judaism, how did scholars identify Jewish authorship behind ambiguous, fragmented, and interpolated texts – all the more with much of the Hebraic allegedly deprived by the Hellenic? This article not only argues for the contingency of diagnostic features deployed to define the Jewish amidst the Greek but also maintains the embeddedness of those features in nineteenth-century Germany. It scrutinizes the criteria deployed to establish Jewish texts and authors of the Hellenistic period: the claims and qualities assumedly suggestive of Judaism. First, the inquiry investigates which characteristics German Jewish scholars expected to see in Greek-speaking Jewish writers of antiquity, interrogating their procedures and their verdicts. Second, it examines how these expectations of antiquity corresponded to those scholars’ own modern world. The analysis centers on Jacob Bernays (1824–1881) and Jacob Freudenthal (1839–1907), two savants who helped establish the modern study of Hellenistic Judaism. Each overturned centuries of learned consensus by establishing an ancient author – Pseudo-Phocylides and Eupolemus, respectively – as Jewish, rather than Christian or pagan. This article ultimately reveals the subtle entanglements as well as the mutually conditioning forces not only of antiquity and modernity but also of the personal and academic, manifest both in the philological analysis of ancient texts and in the larger historiography of antique Judaism in the Graecophone world.
"Rationalism and Biblical Interpretation: H.E.G. Paulus, K.G. Bretschneider, and W.M.L. de Wette." In The Oxford History of Modern German Theology, vol. 1, 1781–1848. Edited by Grant Kaplan and Kevin Vander Schel. Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2022.
This chapter examines standards of argumentation for interpretation of the Bible between the 1815 Congress of Vienna and the Revolutions of 1830. Offering an incursion into the topic, it contends that so-called rationalist biblical interpreters constructed a specific kind of courtroom for demonstration: one which, firstly, permitted certain types of evidence (ancient sources, earliest versions, original languages, human reason) while barring others (church authority, hermeneutical tradition, personal experience); which, secondly, demanded specific modes of explanation (grammatical, historical, natural) yet prohibited alternatives (dogmatic, supernatural, even philosophical at times); and which, thirdly, admitted a few confessional adherents (state-church Protestants) but excluded many (Catholics, Jews, free-church Protestants). By so delimiting sets of data, regulating techniques of exposition, and circumscribing types of interlocutors, such scholars – it claims further – portrayed a particular modality of reading as universal, cast their interpretative approach as neutral arbitration of fact, and elevated their own training and expertise into prerequisites for establishing and evaluating objective knowledge. In effect, if not intention, these critics set new rules for the game of explicating the Bible, which brought themselves advantage and authority. Moreover, their endeavor to configure one mode of exegesis as general and impartial – able to yield knowledge absolute and true – entailed appeal and necessity alike, insofar as this was an age of vehement politics both between and among spiritual and temporal powers, with high personal and professional stakes for those who would, at least in public, cause a stone to fall from the scriptural foundation of church and state. Their works thus prove dense with meaning: not in the sense of disclosing deep truths about the divine but rather charged with direct functions, filled with strategies of exposition, laden with interpersonal relationships, and freighted with material and symbolic connections to the world that encompassed more immediate questions of exegesis.
“The Silence on the Land: Ancient Israel versus Modern Palestine in Scientific Theology.” In Negotiating the Secular and the Religious in the German Empire: Transnational Approaches, 56–97. Edited by Rebekka Habermas. New York: Berghahn Books, 2019.
This essay analyzes the study of ancient Israel as colonial knowledge. It examines an intellectual irony in the German Empire: Protestant biblical scholars, semitists, and early church historians could spend their entire lives studying Palestine and yet show little interest in the dynamic events in contemporaneous Palestine. Focused less upon intention than effect, it explores how concern for the ancient, biblical past and a corresponding disregard for other material, geographical, and ethnic continuities ultimately effected an appropriation of Palestine’s past and present alike – a colonisation of history that obscured current events on the ground. First, the inquiry considers histories of ancient Israel as an historiographical corpus and discerns two fundamental claims: a rift between Israel and Judaism and the culmination of Israelite history and religion in the Christian faith, which then moved Europeward. Whatever the real divergences apparent in this corpus – from the beginning or end of Israel’s history through the value of certain sources to interpretations of specific biblical texts – the genealogy of Israel and Christianity remained a constant. Second, the examination interrogates the institutionalisation of researches abroad – amidst the foundation of foreign institutes, the establishment of publication organs, and the contest among nations – and scrutinizes the religious dimensions part and parcel of these developments. It concentrates on the objectives and operations of the German Society for the Exploration of Palestine (DPV) and the German Protestant Institute for Ancient Study of the Holy Land (DEIAHL). Finally, the analysis reveals how both the historiography of Israel and the archaeological work of institutes abroad factors into questions of colonial knowledge. It locates the discourse of these endeavours within several larger discussions: the colonisation of Jewish history, where Christian authors arrogated unto themselves the historiography of Christian origins and antique Judaism, the issue of a ‘deep orientalism’, where claims already advanced in ancient sources echoed in modern historiography, and the process of transfer and nontransfer in knowledge production, where a silencing occurred. This appropriation of Palestine’s ancient past for the history of Christian Europe together with this attraction to the modern land expressly for the sake of the biblical past therefore dissolved the integrity of past and present and ultimately obstructed a view of contemporary space. Through such production of knowledge, the past eclipsed the present.
"The Spirit of Jewish Poetry: Why Biblical Studies Has Forgotten Duhm’s Psalter Commentary." In Fromme und Frevler: Studien zu Psalmen und Weisheit. Festschrift für Hermann Spieckermann zum 70. Geburtstag, 283–301. Edited by Corinna Körting and Reinhard Gregor Kratz. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2020.
Rather than recount a history of errors, this essay addresses the generation and perpetuation of interpretative modalities in academic communities. It tells a story of curbed reception on account of theological interference. In the end, Duhm interpreted the Psalms as a product of Jewish communities under the Seleucids, Hasmoneans, and Romans, such that one reviewer was not far off when he styled a more appropriate title for the Psalter – in line with the Basel professor – as 'The Hymns of the Sadducees and Pharisees: A Composite Book.' This inquiry argues the historicist revisionism of Duhm’s commentary on the Psalms ultimately entailed moral, historical, and aesthetic conclusions unacceptable to most of his contemporaries in Christian biblical scholarship, which restricted the reach of the work. First, the investigation surveys the oeuvre of Duhm, placing his work on the Psalms against the larger landscape of his work on biblical texts: the history of books, the history of prophecy, and the history of religion. Next, the analysis assesses the criticism of his commentary. The critiques of reconstructive efforts, late chronology, interpretative peculiarity, and disciplinary trends prove insufficient as an explanation for the demise of Duhm’s commentary, for the same qualities characterize the rest of his oeuvre, from the history of Israel to the composition history of the Hebrew Bible. Third, the examination evaluates the moral, historical, and aesthetic problems posed by Duhm’s setting of the Psalms in explicitly Jewish history, given the deep ambivalence towards Judaism in Christian theology, including in its historicist ventures. Finally, from this preceding inquiry, the essay tenders two suggestions of method, aimed at cultivating a more robust historiography of Hebrew Bible scholarship and thus a deeper understanding of the discipline itself. To comprehend the history of scholarship, the conclusion stresses, on the level of sources, the insight afforded by contemporaneous review articles and, on the level of research questions, the analytical purchase gained by the study of roads not taken as well as those abandoned. Therefore, this contribution not only provides a new explanation for the fate of Duhm’s work on the Psalter but also offers historiographical guidance for further work in the field of Hebrew Bible.
Modern Intellectual History
History of Judaism