Jean Astruc

po_Astruc-Jean1Jean Astruc (March 19, 1684 – May 5, 1766) was a professor of medicine at Montpellier and Paris, who wrote the first great treatise on syphilis and venereal diseases.

Astruc was the first — using the techniques of textual analysis that were commonplace in studying the secular classics — the theory that Genesis was composed of several manuscript traditions, an approach that is called the documentary hypothesis.

The son of a Protestant minister who had converted to Catholicism (although the House of Astruc was of medieval Jewish origin), Astruc was educated at Montpellier, one of the great schools of medicine in early modern Europe. His dissertation and first publication, submitted when he was only 19, is on decomposition, and contains many references to recent research on the lungs by Thomas Willis and Robert Boyle. After teaching medicine at Montpellier he became a member of the medical faculty at the University of Paris. His numerous medical writings, or materials for the history of medical education at Montpellier, are now forgotten, but the work published by him anonymously in 1753 has secured for him a permanent reputation. This book, brought out anonymously in 1753, was entitled “Conjectures on the original documents that Moses appears to have used in composing the Book of Genesis. With remarks that support or throw light upon these conjectures”).

Using methods already well established in the study of the Classics for sifting and assessing differing manuscripts, he drew up parallel columns and assigned verses to each of them according to what he had noted as the defining features of the text of Genesis: whether a verse used the term “YHWH” (Yahweh) or the term “Elohim” (God) referring to God, and whether it had a doublet (another telling of the same incident, as for example the two accounts of the creation of man, and the two accounts of Sarah being taken by a foreign king). Astruc found four documents in Genesis, which he arranged in four columns, declaring that this was how Moses had originally written his book, in the image of the four Gospels of the New Testament, and that a later writer had combined them into a single work, creating the repetitions and inconsistencies which Hobbes, Spinoza and others had noted.