Johann Salomo Semler

1725-1791. German biblical scholar. Born in Thuringia, son of a Pietistic pastor, he entered the University of Halle and came under the influence of the rationalist J.S. Baumgarten whose assistant he became. He was professor at Coburg and Altdorf before returning to Halle in 1752 as professor of theology. When Baumgarten died five years later, Semler became head of the theological faculty. Semler pioneered in biblical and church historical criticism, investigating the origins of NT books in a manner unacceptable to Lutheran orthodoxy, and developing a threefold classification of Greek manuscripts which enabled textual criticism to go beyond quantity to quality based on age and geographical origin (Alexandrian, Oriental, or Occidental). He produced a major work on the canon (4 vols., 1771-75) in which a historical view of its development was first introduced. But when he replied to the fragments of H.S. Reimarus's* work published by Lessing, it appeared that he was moving away from his rationalistic stance.