Johann Gottfried, a celebrated German Orientalist and theologian, was born October 16, 1752, at Dorenzimmern, in the principality of Hohenlohe- OEhringen. He received his education at the gymnasium of Heilbronn and at the University of Gottingen, under Michaelis and Heyne. He became professor of Oriental literature at Jena in 1775, and was named court- councillor by the duke of Saxe-Weimar in 1783. In 1788 he succeeded Michaelis as professor of philosophy at the University of Gottingen, and in 1811 he was made professor of theology there, which post he retained until his death, June 25, 1827. Eichhorn was a thoroughly industrious student and a very voluminous writer. His first proof of Oriental knowledge was given in his Geschichte des Ostindischen Handels vor Mohammed (Gotha, 1775, 8vo). This was followed by Monumenta antiquissima historiae Arabum., post Alb. Schultens, arabiae edidit, latine vertit, et animadvers. adjecit J. G. Eichhorn (Gotha, 1775, 8vo): De rei numemarie apud A rabos initiis (Jena, 1776, 4to). At Jena he devoted himself to Biblical literature, and established, as a sort of organ, a magazine entitled Repertoriur fur biblische und morgenliindische Literatur, which lasted from 1777 to 1786 (Leipzig), and was followed by the Allgemeine Bibliothek d. biblischen Literatur (Leipz. 1787-1803, 10 volumes, 8vo). His professorship at Gottingen opened to him a wider field (1788) after the death of J.D. Michaelis. He lectured not only on Oriental literature, and on the exegesis of the O. and N.T., but also in the field of general history, in which he soon appeared as an author. In 1790-93 appeared his Urgeschichte (Primitive History), edited by Gabler from the Repertorium (Nuremb. 8vo). His more important works, in addition, are Commentarius in Apocalypsin Joannis (Gotting. 1791, 2 volumes, 8vo): Einteitung ins A.T.: Einleitung ins N.T. (also published under the general title of Kritische Schrijfen, Leips. 1804-1814, 8vo, 7 volumes). He also published a number of historical writings, besides many essays, reviews, etc.; and all this time his lectures were kept up in the university. The zealous and continued industry of Eichhorn is one of the marvels of modern literature.
As an interpreter of the Bible, Eichhorn, following Michaelis, transcended him in the boldness of his criticism and in his far-reaching Rationalism. The results of his criticism were that the Bible, as we have it, has only a moral and literary superiority over other, books. The primeval history attributed to Moses was made up of ancient sagas, and gathered up, partly, by Moses into the Pentateuch. His system of interpretation multiplies paradoxes, and tends to uproot the Christian revelation, as such, entirely. In his view the Apocalypse is a prophetic drama, and he comments on it as he would on a play of Aristophanes or Terence. But his vast labors in Biblical literature retain great part of their reputation, while his method of interpretation is fast passing into oblivion, even in Germany. Saintes, History of Rationalism, chapter 11; Herzog, Real-Encyklop. 3:710.