Johann Jakob Griesbach (1745–1812) was active in Halle when he published his epoch-making Synopsis of 1774 which appeared separately in 1776. This instrument enabled him to apply himself to an exhaustive study of the literary relationships among the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. He later moved to Jena, and in 1783 gave scholars of Germany a hint of his Synoptic Theory. In 1789–90 this was fully elaborated and published under the title of Commentatio; in 1794 the study was republished with supplements. Similar theories had been put forward in Great Britain by Henry Owen in 1764 and in Germany by Anton Friedrich Büsching in 1766; but Griesbach mentioned neither of these.
The background of Griesbach's Synoptic Theory
The Synoptic Hypothesis of Griesbach was a modification of a theory which had prevailed down to his time, viz., the hypothesis of Augustine according to whom Mark had to be seen as the epitomizer of Matthew, but not of Luke (Augustine, De consensu evangelistarum, i. 2.4: ‘Marcus eum, scil. Matth., subsecutus tamquam pedisequus et breviator ejus videtur’; i. 3.6: ‘non habuit tamquam breviatorem conjunctum Lucas sicut Marcum Matthaeus’). Griesbach contradicted the second, negative proposition of Augustine, and affirmed that Luke had also been used by Mark. It was his synopsis that led Griesbach to this conclusion.
Recalling his own youth, Goethe says of the young Griesbach and the brothers Schlosser, that in Frankfurt ‘everyone cherished the sure hope that they would accomplish outstanding things in State and Church’. ‘Distinguished in those linguistic and other studies that open up the way to an academic career’, by their own excellence they stimulated others ‘to immediate emulation’. In this connection Goethe mentions that, ‘subsequently he formed a closer tie with these men, a tie that endured unbroken for many years’. In fact Goethe moved to Weimar in 1775, the same year in which Griesbach moved to Jena; as a result, there grew up a frequent interchange between the two men.
Growing up as he did in an intellectually lively Frankfurt bourgeois family, Johann Griesbach saw a wide horizon open out to him from his earliest days. Until 1806 Frankfurt was de facto a free imperial city; it had a great market, was a centre of international trade, a city of banks; it boasted also a busy book-fair, and was a city of both printing-presses and publishing houses. The Römer at Frankfurt was more than a wellknown market-hall; it was distinguished by the part it played in the coronation of the emperor, which was solemnized in Frankfurt from 1562 to 1792. Goethe has given us a detailed description of his impressions of the events surrounding the coronation of Joseph II as ‘King of the Romans’ in April 1764.
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