Jean Astruc

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Jean Astruc (Sauves, Auvergne, March 19, 1684 - Paris, May 5, 1766) was a famous professor of medicine at Montpellier and Paris, who wrote the first great treatise on syphilis and venereal diseases, and 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 conclusively demonstrate by the techniques of textual analysis that were commonplace in studying the secular classics, that Genesis was composed based on several sources or manuscript traditions, an approach that was still carefully being called the documentary hypothesis in the late 19th century.

He was the son of a Protestant minister who had converted to Catholicism. Astruc was educated at Montpellier, one of the great schools of medicine in early modern Europe. His dissertation and first publication, submitted when he was only 19, is on decomposition, and contains many references to recent research on the lungs by Thomas Willis and Robert Boyle. After he had taught medicine at Montpellier, he became a member of the medical faculty at the University of Paris. His numerous medical writings, or materials for the history of medical education at Montpellier, are now forgotten, but the work published by him anonymously in 1753 has secured for him a permanent reputation. This book was entitled: Conjectures sur les mémoires originauz dont il paroit que Moyse s'est servi pour composer le livre de la Génèse. Avec des remarques qui appuient ou qui éclaircissent ces conjectures ("Conjectures on the original documents that Moses appears to have used in composing the Book of Genesis. With remarks that support or throw light upon these conjectures"). The title cautiously gives the place of publication as Brussels, safely beyond the reach of French authorities. Not all the 18th century books that declare that they were printed at Amsterdam or Geneva, to cite two other familiar imprints, were actually printed outside France. It was a safeguard.

Indeed a safeguard was required. The forcible "re-Catholicization" of Astruc's Languedoc homeland was a very recent memory, when the Protestant "Camisards" were being deported or sent to the galleys. The writers of the Encyclopédie were working under great pressure and in secret. The Ancien régime did not offer a tolerant atmosphere for biblical criticism. Astruc himself did not intend to deny Moses' authorship of Genesis, but his work opened the modern era of critical Biblical inquiry.


Reference

  • J. Doe, "Jean Astruc (1694-1766): a biography and bibliography," Journal of the History of Medicine vol. 15, (1960) pp.184-97
  • Jean Astruc, Conjectures sur la Génèse, 2003. critical edition with introduction and notes by Pierre Gibert.
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