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JOHANN AUGUST ERNESTI (1707-1781)

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Originally appearing in Volume V09, Page 753 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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JOHANN AUGUST ERNESTI (1707-1781), German theologian and philologist, was born on the 4th of August 1707, at Tennstadt in Thuringia, of which place his father was pastor, besides being superintendent of the electoral dioceses of Thuringia, Satz and Sangerhausen. At the age of sixteen he was sent to the celebrated Saxon cloister school of Pforta (Schulpforta). At twenty he entered the university of Wittenberg, and studied afterwards at the university of Leipzig. In 1730 he was made master in the faculty of philosophy. In the following year he accepted the office of conrector in the Thomas school of Leipzig, of which J. M. Gesner was then rector, an office to which Ernesti succeeded in 1734. He was, in 1742, named professor extraordinarius of ancient literature in the university of Leipzig, and in 1756 professor ordinarius of rhetoric. In the same year he received the degree of doctor of theology, and in 1759 was appointed professor ordinarius in the faculty of theology. Through his learning and his manner of discussion, he co-operated with S. J. Baumgarten of Halle (1706-1757) in disengaging the current dogmatic theology from its many scholastic and mystical excrescences, and thus paved a way for a revolution in theology. He died, after a short illness, in his seventy-sixth year, on the ilth of September 1781. It is perhaps as much from the impulse which Ernesti gave to sacred and profane criticism in Germany, as from the intrinsic excellence of his own works in either department, that he must derive his reputation as a philologist or theologian. With J. S. Semler he co-operated in the revolution of Lutheran theology, and in conjunction with Gesner he instituted a new school in ancient literature. He detected grammatical niceties in Latin, in regard to the consecution of tenses which had escaped preceding critics. His canons are, however, not without exceptions. As an editor of the Greek classics, Ernesti hardly deserves to be named beside his Dutch contemporaries, Tiberius Hemsterhuis (1685-1766), L. C. Valckenaer (1715-1785), David Ruhnken (1723-1798), or his colleague J. J. Reiske (1716-1774). The higher criticism was not even attempted by Ernesti. But to him and to Gesner is due the credit of having formed, by discipline
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Additional information and Comments

Ernesti,while Rektor at the Thomasschule,had Johann Sebastian Bach as his Director of Music. Bach made Ernesti godfather of his youngest son,John Christian Bach,as well as another child. Later he and Bach had a falling out over the emphasis on music in the school's curiculum. John Christian became a famous musician/composer in his own right and was for a short period of time tutor to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
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