I am an associate research professor in the Department of History at Ghent University, where I lead an ERC Starting Grant on the history of philology. I am also a member of the Young Academy of Belgium and guest lecturer at the University of Groningen. Before coming to Ghent, I held research fellowships (Fulbright, Marie Curie) at Cambridge, Chicago, and Göttingen, where I completed my PhD in history.

A cultural, intellectual, and religious historian, with further expertise in ancient Judaism and Semitic studies, I concentrate on the formation and circulation of knowledge about the ancient world both in and between Europe, the Middle East, and India from 1770 to 1930. My research expands traditional work on the history of the humanities by combining an understanding of global and colonial history, media theory, informatics, and history of science.


Dr. phil., summa cum laude, History (University of Göttingen, 2016)


Other Publications


Kaiser, Christ, and Canaan: The Religion of Israel in Protestant Germany, 1871–1918. Forschungen zum Alten Testament I/122. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2018.

This book investigates to what extent, in an age of allegedly disinterested ‘historical science,’ the very enterprise of reconstructing ancient Israel was shaped by liberal Protestant theology. The book scrutinizes what biblical scholars, philologists, and historians of religion considered ‘religion’ and ‘history’ to be, how they sought to access past religious life, and why they undertook their inquiries in the manner they did. To do so, it focuses on two key representatives of two different approaches: Julius Wellhausen, with a source criticism orientated towards the history of nations, and Hermann Gunkel, with a comparative procedure aimed at the world behind the literature. This inquiry reveals, on the one hand, a “Protestantization of the past,” where an interior, moral conception of religion defined the essence of ancient Israel, as embodied by its prophets, and, on the other, a conception of history as a meaningful, unified process held together by a metaphysical force—a teleology of the human past that converged in the present to serve as the basis for a progressive future. It further argues that despite highly technical labor putatively neutral and non-theological in nature and despite dramatic shifts in specific methods of historical analysis, such an understanding of religion and history remained fundamentally the same in the story told by dominant historians of ancient Israel.


  • ‘a dazzling new study’ – History of Religions

  • ‘a fascinating mosaic … a powerful statement’ – SOTS Book List

  • ‘excellent … a very noteworthy addition to Mohr Siebeck’s highly respected series’ – History of European Ideas

  • ‘I would recommend this book to anyone with even a passing interest in the intellectual genealogy of so much twentieth-century scholarship, and I would likely recommend that such a reader start with it’ – Catholic Bible Quarterly

  • ‘A German translation of this extraordinary first book is a serious desideratum’ – Theologische Literaturzeitung

  • ‘May the author of this book enrich and delight the scholarly world with more works on the history of science’ – Orientalistische Literaturzeitung

Review Panels:

  • University of Oxford, Faculty of History and Centre for Theology & Modern European Thought (Christ Church, December 2019): ‘New Books on Religion History in German & British Nineteenth-Century Intellectual Culture,’ convened by Paul Kerry, reviewed by Adam Sutcliffe

  • Italian Centre for Advanced Studies on Religions (Bertinoro, September 2019): Annual Meeting on Christian Origins, reviewed by Luca Arcari and Cristiana Facchini


  • History of European Ideas (2022), advance article online {Adam Sutcliffe}; History of Religions 61, no. 1 (2021): 129–32 {Michael Legaspi}; Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 45, no. 5, SOTS Book List (2021): 92 {Anselm Hagedorn}; Orientalistische Literaturzeitung 115, no. 3 (2020): 230–32 {Konrad Hammann}; Theologische Literaturzeitung 145, no. 6 (2020): 524–27 {Martin Ohst}; Catholic Bible Quarterly 83, no. 4 (2021): 681–83 {Andrew Tobolowsky}; Reading Religion, 30 Nov 2021 {John Will Rice}; Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 132, no. 2 (2020): 355 {Stefan Michel}; Review of Biblical Literature 2 (2020) {Collin Cornell}; Old Testament Abstracts 42, no. 2 (2019): 511–12 {Christopher T. Begg}



“Response to Adam Sutcliffe: Jewish Antiquity and Modern Germany.” History of European ideas, Forum: New Books on Religion History in German & British Nineteenth-Century Intellectual Culture (2022): published online, in queue for print.

These pages respond to insightful comments by Adam Sutcliffe on the author’s monograph ‘Kaiser, Christ, and Canaan: The Religion of Israel in Protestant Germany, 1871–1918′ (Mohr Siebeck, 2018) – first raised at a 2019 book review panel in Oxford and then elaborated in written form for this forum. The response focuses on four key issues: the place of Jewish voices, the representativity of the scholars selected for study, the rise of new sciences in the period in question, and the longer continuity of thought and practice.

“The Philological Apparatus: Science, Text, and Nation in the Nineteenth Century.” Critical Inquiry 47, no. 4 (2021): 747–76.

Philology haunts the humanities, through both its defendants and its detractors. This article examines the construction of philology as the premier science of the long nineteenth century in Europe. It aims to bring the history of philology up to date by taking it seriously as a science and giving it the kind of treatment that has dominated history of science for the last generation: to reveal how practices, instruments, and cooperation create illusions of timeless knowledge. This historical inquiry therefore asks how one modality of text-interpretation could morph into an integrated complex of knowledge-production, which ostensibly explained the whole human world. Ultimately, it advances a central argument: philology operated as a relational system, one that concealed diversity and disunity, projected unity and stability, and seemed to rise above the material conditions of its own making. The essay scrutinizes the composition of philology as a heterogeneous ensemble, the functioning of philology comparable to other sciences, whether human or natural, and the historical contingency in the consolidation of philology.

“Is Kant among the Prophets? Hebrew Prophecy and German Historical Thought, 1880–1920.” Central European History 54, no. 1 (2021): 34–60.

This article examines the interpretation of Hebrew prophecy by German Protestant scholars in the era of 1880–1920. Though overlooked by commentators, these scholars exalted the prophets for more than ethical monotheism: namely, for their historical understanding. It argues, first, that Old Testament interpreters valued the prophets since they presented God as the guiding force behind human history and, second, that these theologians cum philologians saw the prophetic conception of history as anticipating their own understanding of God in the world. The inquiry bases this argument on a reading of numerous exegetes, both leading lights and forgotten figures. Moreover, it traces this interpretative tendency across a range of sources, including specialist studies, theological monthlies, critical and literary journals, popular works, public speeches, and pedagogical literature. Rather than leave the prophets in the past, these exegetes also ushered them into the present, employing their historical teachings to shore up the Christian faith. In doing so, they identified Hebrew prophecy with German Protestantism and in contrast to Judaism. 

“Defining Hellenistic Jews in 19th-Century Germany: The Case of Jacob Bernays and Jacob Freudenthal.” Erudition & The Republic of Letters 5, no. 3 (2020): 308–42.

Hellenic language and culture occupy a deeply ambivalent place in the mapping of Jewish history. Amidst the modern redefinition of what it meant to be Jewish as well as doubts about the genuine Jewishness of Hellenistic Judaism, how did scholars identify Jewish authorship behind ambiguous, fragmented, and interpolated texts – all the more with much of the Hebraic allegedly deprived by the Hellenic? This article not only argues for the contingency of diagnostic features deployed to define the Jewish amidst the Greek but also maintains the embeddedness of those features in nineteenth-century Germany. It scrutinizes the criteria deployed to establish Jewish texts and authors of the Hellenistic period: the claims and qualities assumedly suggestive of Judaism. It ultimately reveals the subtle entanglements as well as the mutually conditioning forces not only of antiquity and modernity but also of the personal and academic, manifest both in the philological analysis of ancient texts and in the larger historiography of antique Judaism in the Graecophone world.  

“How Nineteenth-Century German Classicists Wrote the Jews out of Ancient History.” History & Theory 58/2 (2019): 210–32.

This essay considers why Jewish antiquity largely fell outside the purview of ancient historians in the Germanies for over half a century, between 1820 and 1880, and examines the nature of those portraits that did, in fact, arise. To do so, it interrogates discussions of Jewish antiquity in this half-century against the background of those political and national values that were consolidating across the German states. Ultimately, the article claims that ancient Jewish history did not provide a compelling model for the dominant (Protestant) German scholars of the age, which then prompted the decline of antique Judaism as a field of interest. This investigation into the political and national dimensions of ancient history both supplements previous lines of inquiry and complicates accounts that assign too much explanatory power to a regnant anti-Judaism or anti-Semitism in the period and place. First, the analysis considers why so little attention was granted to Jewish history by ancient historians in the first place, as opposed to its relative prominence before ca. 1820. Second, the essay examines representations of ancient Judaism as fashioned by those historians who did consider the subject in this period. Surveying works composed not only for the upper echelons of scholarship but also for adolescents, women, and the laity, it scrutinizes a series of arguments advanced and assumptions embedded in universal histories, histo- ries of the ancient world, textbooks of history, and histories dedicated to either Greece or Rome. Finally, the article asserts the Jewish past did not conform to the values of cultural ascendancy, political autonomy, national identity, and religious liberty increasingly hal- lowed across the Germanies of the nineteenth century, on the one hand, and inscribed into the very enterprise of historiography, on the other. The perceived national and political failures of ancient Jews—alongside the ethnic or religious ones discerned by others—thus made antique Judaism an unattractive object of study in this period.

“The Morphological Development of the 3.M.Sg. Suffix on Plural Nouns in Classical Hebrew, Part 2” Hebrew Studies, 60 (2019): 7–37 [with Jeremy M. Hutton and Amanda R. Morrow].

This article is the second half of a study, continued from the previous volume of Hebrew Studies. The 3 m. sg. pronominal suffix on plural nouns is realized in several allomorphs in Classical Hebrew: in early Hebrew inscriptions, the suffix appears as <-W> and perhaps as <-YH>; in Bibli-cal Hebrew, it usually appears as <-YW> (sometimes emended from <-W> in instances of Masoretic Qere readings), and occasionally as <-YHW> in poetic texts. In this study we provide a unified and principled linguistic account of these textual data, tracing the various phonological develop-ments of the 3 m. sg. genitive suffix on plural nouns, and relating these phonological developments to the phonetic causes underlying them. After analyzing the phonological realizations of the high vocoids *(/w/ and /u/) and *(/y/ and /i/) and of *H (found in the third-person pronominal morphemes), we identify three stages of development that produced the <-Y-> in Biblical Hebrew: (1) the linkage of the number-gender morpheme to a single slot in the skeletal tier (effectively yielding an early diphthong contraction *-aI ē); (2) the deletion of *in selected environments defined by accent and the surrounding vowels; and (3) the phonetically-motivated insertion of the glide *in the hiatus environment [-e:w:].

“Of Lions, Arabs, & Israelites: Some Lessons from the Samson Story for Writing the History of Biblical Scholarship.” Journal of the Bible and Its Reception 5/1 (2018): 31–48.

This article follows a thread of evidence employed across many languages and lands, genres and generations to defend the historicity of the Samson story. It reveals why histories of modern scholarship should broaden their conventional chronological, geographic, and linguistic scope.

“The Morphological Development of the 3.M.Sg. Suffix on Plural Nouns in Classical Hebrew, Part 1” Hebrew Studies 59 (2018): 39–64 [with Jeremy M. Hutton and Amanda R. Morrow].

See above, Part 2.

“’Was wir von dem Siege erhoffen’. Eine Stellungnahme Hermann Gunkels zur Zeit des Ersten Weltkriegs. Zeitschrift für die neuere Theologiegeschichte/Journal for the History of Modern Theology 24, no. 1 (2016): 51–59.

In an opinion piece penned at the Great War’s onset yet apparently unpublished until now, the historian of religion Hermann Gunkel outlined the opportunities he saw for the German people in anticipation of their triumph. He believed this war could consummate what the Napoleonic Wars and the Unification of Germany had not. Gunkel hoped for true German unity, more liberal domestic politics, and spiritual restoration. Further still, he referred to a resurgence of piety on account of the conflict. On the Great War’s centenary, this documentation speaks to the mobilizing, nationalist activities of Gunkel in particular and of academicians and theologians more generally.

“Waiting at Nemi: Wellhausen, Gunkel, and the World Behind Their Work.” Harvard Theological Review 109/4 (2016): 567–85.

This article investigates the individual, intellectual, and institutional oppositions of Julius Wellhausen and Hermann Gunkel both in history and in historiography. It demonstrates why disciplinary history must move its analysis beyond a strict focus on scholars and their methods to understand transformations in the field.

Axes of Inquiry: The Problem of Form and Time in Wellhausen and Gunkel.” Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament 29, no. 2, (2015): 247–95.

This article disassembles the methodologies of Wellhausen and Gunkel to demonstrate an intellectual conundrum endemic to reconstructing historical phenomena. Applying insights from Carlo Ginzburg and Jonathan Smith, the essay distinguishes morphology and evolution as two discrete inquiries. First, it surveys Goethe’s classificatory pursuits and their incorporation into natural science’s later temporality. The study then identifies their fusion in Wellhausen’s textual criticism, literary analysis, anthropology, and national history. Though cast as his conceptual combatant, Gunkel succumbed to the same quandary, combining morphology and evolution in religious and literary comparisons. Finally, the essay traces such conflation throughout diverse debates that converge in Hebrew Bible scholarship.

The Way of War: Wellhausen, Israel, and Bellicose Reiche.” Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 127, no. 1 (2015): 1–19.

»War is what makes nations,« added the Bismarckian Julius Wellhausen to the second edition of his Israelitische und jüdische Geschichte between the unification of Germany and the onslaught of the First World War. Public pronouncements were rare for Wellhausen, but he did discuss both foreign and national affairs throughout his personal correspondence. Complementing most historiography written in the field of biblical studies, this essay unites the man and his work. On the 100th anniversary of the Great War’s beginning, the essay positions Wellhausen in the context of war and war in the context of Wellhausen. Through this topic in particular, it brings into view his more implicit assumptions about religion and the state more generally, the two being closely connected with each other.



“A Historical, Critical Retrospective on Historical Criticism.” In The New Cambridge Companion to Biblical Interpretation, 15–36. Edited by Ian Boxall and Bradley C. Gregory. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2022.

This chapter examines how historical and critical modalities of reading sacred scripture became central to modern biblical studies. It examines what “criticism” was, whence it came, what it did, and which critiques it sustained, before considering its prospects for future historical and literary analysis of the Bible.

“The Spirit of Jewish Poetry: Why Biblical Studies Has Forgotten Duhm’s Psalter Commentary.” In Fromme und Frevler: Studien zu Psalmen und Weisheit. Festschrift für Hermann Spieckermann zum 70. Geburtstag. Edited by Corinna Körting and Reinhard Gregor Kratz, 283–301. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2020.

This essay addresses the generation and perpetuation of interpretative modalities in academic communities. Analysing how one biblical commentary – hailed as epoch-making – fell into oblivion, it argues that the historicist revisionism of Duhm’s commentary on the Psalms entailed moral, historical, and aesthetic conclusions unacceptable to most of his contemporaries in Christian biblical scholarship. In the end, he assigned such Hebrew poetry to specifically ‘Jewish’ history, which curtailed its reception and caused its demise in disciplinary memory. This analysis not only provides a new explanation for the fate of Duhm’s work but also offers methodological guidance for the history of scholarship.

“The Silence on the Land: Ancient Israel versus Modern Palestine in Scientific Theology.” In Negotiating the Secular and the Religious in the German Empire: Transnational Approaches, 56–97. Edited by Rebekka Habermas. New York: Berghahn Books, 2019.

This essay analyzes the study of ancient Israel as colonial knowledge. It examines an intellectual irony in the German Empire: Protestant biblical scholars, semitists, and early church historians could spend their entire lives studying Palestine and yet show little interest in the dynamic events in contemporaneous Palestine. Focused less upon intention than effect, it explores how concern for the ancient, biblical past and a corresponding disregard for other material, geographical, and ethnic continuities ultimately effected an appropriation of Palestine’s past and present alike – a colonisation of history that obscured current events on the ground. This appropriation of Palestine’s ancient past for the history of Christian Europe together with this attraction to the modern land expressly for the sake of the biblical past therefore dissolved the integrity of past and present and ultimately obstructed a view of contemporary space. Through such production of knowledge, the past eclipsed the present. 

“Thou Shalt Not Kill, Unless…: The Decalogue in a Kaiserreich at War.” In The Mobilization of Biblical Scholarship, 111–34. Edited by Andrew Mein, Nathan MacDonald, and Matthew Collins. T&T Clark Library of Biblical Studies. London: Bloomsbury, 2019.

This article examines the diversity of interpretations that addressed the biblical commandment not to kill during the First World War. Considering an array of religious traditions and national affiliations, a spectrum of ethnic, gender, and sexual identities, and a range of social and political positions, it shows the centrality of the Bible as a symbol of law, a touchstone for morality, and an emblem of civilization as well as the abiding interest in religious questions at a time often characterized as increasingly secular in nature. 

Blog Posts

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Paul Michael Kurtz

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