- MÜNSTER, Sebastian
Sebastian Münster was a German Renaissance scholar with broad interests: one of the most important Hebraists of his age, he was also a theologian, astronomer, cartographer, and geographer. Born in Ingelheim on the Rhine, Germany, Münster, at an early age, came to Heidelberg, where he entered the Franciscan order in 1505. He studied philosophy, Greek, and Hebrew at the monasteries of Heidelberg, Louvain, Freiburg, Rufach (Alsace), and Pforzheim. Ordained priest in 1512, Münster taught philosophy in the monastery of his order in Tübingen and at Basel, where he began in the early 1520s his literary career with translations from Latin into German, among them some works by Martin Luther* and the medieval Speculum sapientiae/Spiegel der Wyssheit (Mirror of Wisdom), a collection of medieval fables. From 1521 on, he devoted himself to Hebrew-language studies. After 1524 he taught at the University of Heidelberg. In 1529 he left his order after having been offered a chair for Hebrew and theology at the reformed University of Basel, whose rector he became in 1547/48. He died of the plague in 1552.Though Münster worked in many fields, he achieved fame in two areas: his study of Hebrew and his geographical studies. Together with Johannes Reuchlin and Konrad Pellikan, Münster was the third great Christian Hebraist of that period. The range of his interests and his scholarly output were enormous. He published over sixty works, and by the end of the sixteenth century over 100,000 volumes were in circulation, ranging from grammars, dictionaries, and textbooks to commentaries, editions, and original works. In his work he often incorporated the work of the eminent Jewish scholar Elia Levita. Münster's most important achievement was the Hebrew edition of the Old Testament, the Biblia Hebraica (1534-35), with a new Latin translation and commentary. Münster also published several missionary works aimed at the Jewish community, including a translation of the Gospel of Matthew into Hebrew, the first such translation of any part of the New Testament. In addition, he devoted himself also to the study of Aramaic, the language of the Apostles, authoring a dictionary and grammar in that language.While his Hebraic books and studies, important as they are, were limited to a small circle of scholars, his astronomical and geographical works established his fame throughout Germany and Europe. His astronomical works became great publishing successes, especially his calendars and his instructions on how to build sundials and astronomical instruments. His principal reputation, however, rests on his Kosmographey (Cosmography, 1544), a geographical-historical description of the whole world known at the time. It was translated into Latin (1550), French (1552), Czech (1554), and Italian (1558). Using ancient, medieval, and modern sources and relying on a network of coworkers from all over Europe as well as his own excursions to southern Germany and Switzerland, Münster's work was the first serious attempt at a scholarly but at the same time popular description of the total geographical knowledge of his time. Richly illustrated with maps and woodcuts, it was published in numerous editions in the sixteenth century.BibliographyK. H. Burmester, Sebastian Munster: Versuch eines biographischen Gesamtbildes, 2nd ed., 1969.J. Friedman, The Most Ancient Testimony: Sixteenth-Century Christian-Hebraica in the Age of Renaissance Nostalgia, 1983.Eckhard Bernstein
Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. Jo Eldridge Carney. 2001.