JOHANN DAVID MICHAELIS
Born on 27 February 1717 in Halle/Saale
Died on 22 August 1791 in Göttingen
• Son of the theologian and Orientalist Christian Benedikt Michaelis
• privately educated in the paternal home and the school of the Orphanage at Halle
• 1733–1739 – studied theology and Oriental languages at the University of Halle
• 1741– travelled to England and the Netherlands
• became acquainted with the theologian and Arabist A. Schultens in Leiden
• 1745 – moved to Göttingen
• 1750–1791 – Professor and Chair of the Faculty of Philosophy (although not carrying the title of Professor of Oriental Languages).
As an academic teacher, Michaelis contributed significantly to the image of the young University of Göttingen as an institution that was attractive to the youth of Storm and Stress. He was an academically educated, open-minded intellectual who was involved in the public sphere, as opposed to representing the reclusive, “dry” scholar.
In addition to being an intellectual inspiration to others, his scholarly accomplishments were in the fields of textual criticism and analysis of the Old Testament. He viewed Oriental Studies as the discipline of non-Hebrew languages and literatures and of the “antiquities” of the Orient, and thus it was still ancilla theologiae to him. The famous Arabia-expedition from 1761–1763, which he had initiated, can also be understood in this sense, as seen in his Fragen an eine Gesellschaft Gelehrter Männer, die auf Befehl Ihro Majestät des Königes von Dännemark nach Arabien reisen (1762). The great results of this expedition (which were actually the accomplishment of Forskal and Niebuhr) were not of interest to him, and so his self-centeredness eventually prevented the appointment of a man who could have transformed Arabic Studies into an independent field of scholarship that was at the peak of its time: Johann Jakob Reiske.