History of the IJD

The beginnings of the IJD lie in the Institutum Judaicum founded by the Old Testament scholar Franz Delitzsch (1813-1890) in Leipzig in 1886. Delitzsch was a renowned Old Testament scholar and one of the best non-Jewish experts of his time on Judaism and the Hebrew language. He held regular contacts with Jewish scholars around the world, strived to promote the knowledge of Judaism in Germany and argued against anti-Semitism. However, in the spirit of his time, Delitzsch was also devoted to the mission to the Jews.

After Delitzsch’s death (1890), the leadership of the institute, now called the ‘Institutum Judaicum Delitzschianum’, passed to Gustaf Dalman for the period 1893–1902, who worked mainly on Jewish Aramaic during his years in Leipzig. He was followed as director from 1903 to 1935 by Otto von Harling, supported from 1930 by Hans Kosmala, who succeeded him in 1935. In order to escape the pressure of the Nazi regime, Kosmala relocated the institute from Leipzig to Vienna in the same year and, after the de facto annexation of Austria in 1939, attempted to continue his work in London, which, however, was not successful due to the outbreak of war. The library that remained in Leipzig had already been confiscated by the Gestapo (most of it disappeared; a small part was later discovered in the Leipzig University Library).

In 1948, Karl Heinrich Rengstorf, who had worked with von Harling as a vicar in 1926, re-established the IJD as an independent institute at the University of Münster; since Rengstorf was also professor of New Testament, there was a connection with the Faculty of Protestant Theology via his person. The research and teaching he initiated at the institute, in which he also included Jewish scholars, focused on rabbinic literature (especially the Tosefta) and the writings of Josephus, as well as on Jewish regional history, especially through the work of Bernhard Brilling. When Rengstorf claimed the directorship of the Institute beyond his retirement, the IJD was completely integrated into the Faculty of Protestant Theology in the 1980s and the position of director was filled anew (1984/85 with Ernst Bammel, 1988–94 with Hermann Lichtenberger, 1996–2012 with Folker Siegert).

Even though the IJD continues to use Delitzsch’s name in its institute name for historical reasons and in consideration of his academic interest in Judaism as well as the Hebrew language, it nevertheless now firmly distances itself from the mission to the Jews. After the latter had already ceased to play a practical role in the institute’s work in recent decades, the farewell to the mission to the Jews was publicly announced and theologically argued for by the director of the years 1996–2012, Folker Siegert (a short version can be found here).

Since the current director, Lutz Doering, took up his post in 2014, the work of the IJD has been re-organised under the motto, ‘Ancient Judaism and Christian-Jewish Relations’. With an international orientation, and research and teaching that are methodologically informed by Judaic and historical studies, the IJD is dedicated to ancient Judaism in its full breadth – from Jewish apocalypticism to the Dead Sea Scrolls, from Hellenistic Judaism to Rabbinic Literature, from literary texts through inscriptions and papyri to archaeological evidence – as well as the New Testament in its Jewish context and the eventful history of Christian-Jewish relations up to the present.