Julius Conradus Otto

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Julius Conradus Otto was appointed as Edinburgh University’s first Professor of Hebrew in 1642.

Creation of the Chair of Hebrew

The Chair of Hebrew and Oriental Languages was the second Professorship founded in Edinburgh University after the Chair of Divinity in 1620. In 1642, Alexander Henderson (c1583–1646), the Rector of Edinburgh University, was the prime mover behind a resolution of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland calling on Scottish universities to seek abroad for able professors. In the same year, Henderson persuaded the Town Council of Edinburgh to introduce the specialized teaching of Hebrew into the University, and to employ a foreign scholar. The Council’s choice fell upon Julius Conradus Otto, ‘a learned Jew’.

Disputed Identity of Julius Conradus Otto

Sources vary considerably concerning Otto’s biographical details. Most historians identify him with the scholar Naphtali Margolioth, born in Vienna in 1562. Margolioth converted to Christianity in 1603, changed his name to Julius Conradus Otto, and became Professor of Hebrew at Altdorf, Germany. He later reverted to Judaism. George F. Black (1929) feels, however, that it is unlikely that the University would have called a scholar from Margolioth's age from abroad. He argues that the holder of the Edinburgh Chair was probably son of Margolioth, who assumed the same Christian name as his father. Morris Zamick (1930), conversely, argues that annotations in two MS notebooks held by Edinburgh University Library (Dc. 5.31, DC. 5.69) strongly support the hypothesis that Otto was the elderly Margolioth.

Otto was succeeded in the Chair by Alexander Dickson (b. 1628) in 1656, but A. Levy’s analysis of Town Council Minutes suggest that he may have died in 1649 and the Chair lain vacant for seven years. Otto is the earliest-known person of Jewish origin to have lived in Scotland.

Sources

  • George F. Black, 'The Beginnings of the Study of Hebrew in Scotland', in Studies in Jewish Bibliography and Related Subjects: In Memory of A. S. Freidus, ed. Louis Ginzburg (New York: Alexander Kohut Memorial Fund, 1929), pp. 463-78.
  • Thomas Craufurd, History of the University of Edinburgh, from 1580 to 1646: To Which is Prefixed the Charter Granted to the College by James VI of Scotland, in 1582 (Edinburgh: Printed by A. Neill & Co., 1808)
  • Sir Alexander Grant, The Story of the University of Edinburgh during its First Three Hundred Years, 2 vols (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1884)
  • A. Levy, Origins of Scottish Jewry (London: The Jewish Historical Society of England, 1958)
  • Zamick, Morris. 'Julius Conradus Otto: Manuscript Remains in the University Library', University of Edinburgh Journal, 4 (1930-31), 229-35.