Joseph Ernest Renan, a French philologist, born at Tréguier, department of Côtes-du-Nord, Feb. 27, 1823. He was destined for the church, studied Hebrew, Arabic, and Syriac in Paris, and in 1847 obtained the Volney prize for a treatise on the Semitic languages, afterward published as the first part of an Histoire géné-rale et systéme comparé des langues sémitiques (8vo, 1855; 4th ed., enlarged, 1864). He was sent by the academy of inscriptions and belles-lettres in 1849 on a literary mission to Italy, and brought back materials for a historical essay on the philosopher Averroes, which was published under the title Averroès et l'averroïsme (1852). In 1851 he was attached to the department of manuscripts in the national library, and in 1856 was elected a member of the academy of inscriptions and belles-lettres. In 1858 he published a translation of the book of Job, with an essay on the age and character of the poem; and in 1860 a translation of the book of Canticles. On the occupation of Syria by the French in 1860, he was sent with the army at the head of a scientific commission, and explored the sites of Tyre and Sidon, the Lebanon, and other localities.
In 1862 he was appointed professor of Hebrew in the collége de France; but his opening lecture excited such intense opposition that his appointment was not confirmed, and he was dismissed from the chair in 1864. In connection with this subject he published a pamphlet which passed through five editions. In 1863 his Vie de Jésus appeared, treating the gospel narrative as little more than a legendary romance. It passed through 13 editions in five years, and was immediately translated into the different languages of Europe (English translation by Charles E. Wilbour, New York, 1863). This work was intended to be the first of a series under the general title Histoire des origines du Christianisme, which he has continued in Les apôtres (1866), Saint Paul (1869), and L'Antéchrist (1873), to be followed by a fifth work entitled Les derniers hommes apostoliques. He has also published Études d'histoire réligieuse (1857; revised ed., 1864); De l'origine du lan-gage (1858); Essais de morale et de critique (1859; English translation by O. B. Frothing-ham, New York, 1864); Nouvelles considérations sur le caractère général des peuples sémi-tiques (1859); Mission de Phénicie (1864 et seq.); Nouvelles observations d'épigraphie hé-tra'ique (1867); Rapport sur les progrès de la littérature orientale (1868); La réforme intel-lectuelle et morale (1872); and De la part des peuples sémitiques dans la civilisation (7th ed., 1875).