Johann Jakob Scheuchzer

JOHANN JAKOB SCHEUCHZER

KUPFER-BIBEL ODER PHYSICA SACRA, 4 BÄNDE, 1731-1735

THE KUPFER-BIBEL AS A MONUMENTAL WORK

The four-volume work comprises over 2000 pages and 750 copper plates. The complete title of the German edition, which appeared parallel to the Latin edition, is "Copper Bible, in which the Physica sacra or sacred natural science of the natural things occurring in the Holy Scriptures is clearly explained and proven". The purpose of the Kupfer-Bibel was to prove the existence of God via the natural science of that time.

This theological undertaking is reflected in the overall concept of the work. The Bible provides the framework on which the content and order of the chapters are based. Central to each chapter is a biblical quote, illustrated with a lavishly produced copper plate engraving.

There are three different types of copper plate engraving:
1. The illustration of individual objects in front of a deep spatial landscape in a fanciful frame. 2. The illustration of three-dimensional objects in a simple frame. 3. Simpler, unframed illustrations.

CENSORED IN ZURICH

The censoring authority in Zurich, which consisted of reformed theologians, vehemently opposed theories that could question the myth of Creation. When Scheuchzer was working on his previous work, the "Physica sacra Iobi" (Job's Physica sacra), this authority demanded that all references to the Copernican planetary doctrine be removed, which he had no choice but to obey. This authority was probably the reason why the Kupfer-Bibel was printed in Augsburg rather than in the Confederation.

This authority was still active when Scheuchzer sent the first manuscripts of the Physica sacra to press. Therefore, at the beginning of the work, he declared the cosmological model according to the "principles of Corpernicus" to be irrefutable. However, it was these very printed sheets that Scheuchzer sent out to the publisher prior to the first examination by the censors, so that only the remainder of the work could be examined. To protect himself theologically, Scheuchzer also included a comprehensive 34-page directory of theological works. The Copernican world view did not gain official approval in Zurich until Scheuchzer occupied the Chair of Physics at the Carolinum, shortly before his death.

Despite Scheuchzer's difficulties with the reformed censors, in the end, the Kupfer-Bibel no longer met the demands of the scientific society at that time. Studies of contemporary reactions to Scheuchzer's Physica sacra indicate that the monumental work was already considered outdated when it appeared.

CITY PHYSICIAN AND UNIVERSAL SCHOLAR

Johann Jakob Scheuchzer (1672–1733) was a member of the author group consisting of city physicians and universal scholars. He completed his medical studies in Altdorf bei Nuremberg and in Utrecht. At 23 years of age, he became an orphanage doctor, and thus one of four public medical officers in Zurich. In addition, he took up the position of professor of mathematics, was curator of the Chamber of Art, a collection of natural objects in the Wasserkirche of Zurich, was responsible for the valuable Bürgerbibliothek (Citizen's Library), and participated actively in the cultural life of the city. He did not obtain the coveted position of physics professor until shortly before his death.

In 1697, Scheuchzer married the dyer's daughter Susanna Vogel. The pair had seven sons and one daughter, but only four boys survived childhood. 

The Kupfer-Bibel was a major project that could only be completed through the complex collaboration of various people. The engraver and publisher Johann Andreas Pfeffel worked closely with Scheuchzer. The painter and friend of Scheuchzer, Johann Melchior Fuessli, drew most of the plates according to guidelines, but sometimes using pieces from different publications of that time, which he adapted. The Latin text is from Scheuchzer himself. His Swiss Standard German was translated into Standard German by a pastor. The frame images designed by Johann Daniel Preissler are historically noteworthy. Many other artists were also involved.   

PROOF OF GOD THROUGH THE STUDY OF NATURE

Scheuchzer writes in his preface: "I sought to link the venerable holiness of the Revelation with the ornament and art of nature."

While other natural scientists distanced themselves from a theological interpretation of the world, Scheuchzer, as a physicist-theologian, wanted to use the knowledge of nature for theological purposes. The goal of the physicist-theologian was to provide proof of God with natural scientific arguments. The dominant mechanistic world view was not an obstacle here because the physicist-theologian detected God's will behind the mechanical workings. Both animate and inanimate nature is the idea and work of God, which is not to be examined but rather illustrated in its glory. The perfection of nature is interpreted as proof of the existence of God.

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