Beck, Joseph von (1815-1887)

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Joseph von Beck was an Austrian jurist and research scholar in the field of Anabaptism in Austria. His name will always be remembered for his extraordinary first edition of the Hutterite chronicles (1883). He was born in Moravia in a Czech middle-class family, studied law, and soon attained increasingly important positions in various Austrian courts, also as a teacher of law in several law schools. Toward the end of his successful career he was appointed to the Austrian Supreme Court, and two days before his death was knighted by the Emperor Francis Joseph. His law activities allowed him enough leisure time to pursue his real hobby of historical research. While a judge in Bratislava (Pressburg), 1854-1866, he discovered in Slovakian and Hungarian archives and libraries a rich and hitherto untapped source: the handwritten manuscripts of the former Hutterian Brethren, Austrian Anabaptists who had spent 200 years here, being expelled from Hungary and migrating eastward to Wallachia and later to Russia. Their precious codices, which had been ruthlessly confiscated upon their expulsion and stored away in many remote places, proved to be a source of first rank. Tirelessly Beck collected this material, in original and transcripts (filling hundreds of boxes today); he traveled through many lands to make this collection as complete as possible, and with his antiquarian interest discovered many an unknown book or document pertaining to the story of the Hutterites. Eventually he put together in a mosaic-like fashion the essential contents of these chronicles and published it as Die Geschichts-Bücher der Wiedertäufer in Oesterreich-Ungarn . . . (in Schriften der Wiener Akademie der Wissenschaften, F.R.A. 2. 43, Vienna, 1883). It is an exceedingly rich volume, in many regards still unsurpassed. The Introduction is highly illuminating, setting forth the faith of the Brethren (along the line of the famous Schleitheim Articles of 1527), and giving a report of all manuscripts (codices) used—a real mine of information. Also the innumerable footnotes are unsurpassed in details which no research scholar in this field can ever overlook. Unfortunately, Beck never felt prompted to creative historical writing. When he died, his entire collection (the Nachlass) was handed over to Johann Loserth, professor of modern European history at the University of Graz, Austria, to make use of it as he saw fit. A rich series of studies and books by this scholar was the outcome of this unusual scholarly cooperation. When Loserth felt that he had fulfilled this major task he gave the entire collection to the Moravian state archives in Brno, Moravia, where it has been much in demand ever since, and where it is still kept in custody. It was much used by W. Wiswedel for his historical writing on the Anabaptists.


See Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. I, 149 for a detailed biography of Beck by J. Loserth. Harold S. Bender describes the Beck collection in Mennonite Quarterly Review (April 1949).

Author(s) Robert Friedmann
Date Published 1953

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MLA style

Friedmann, Robert. "Beck, Joseph von (1815-1887)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 27 Feb 2024.,_Joseph_von_(1815-1887)&oldid=144793.

APA style

Friedmann, Robert. (1953). Beck, Joseph von (1815-1887). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 27 February 2024, from,_Joseph_von_(1815-1887)&oldid=144793.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 258-259. All rights reserved.

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