Wandering Soul

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Wandering Soul, the English (German, Wandelnde or Wandlende Seele) title of a popular devotional book, originally written in Dutch by Jan Philipsz Schabaelje, a Waterlander Mennonite, and published in 1635 at Alkmaar in the Netherlands. At present the work is little known, although it remains in print in German (Berne, 1952) and in English (Scottdale, 1958) editions, but a large number of editions in Dutch as well as in German and English translation give evidence that it appealed widely until the end of the 19th century. In the Dutch editions it is appended to Lusthof des Gemoeds, a brief devotional work by the same author, with which it had a common title page and pagination. The composite title of the 1638 edition, the earliest edition which is extant, is Lust Hof des Gemoets inhoudende verscheijden Geestelicke Oeffeningen. Met noch drie Collatien der wandelende ziele met Adam, Noah, ende Symeon Cleophas. It was printed by Thomas Fonteyn at Haarlem for Claes Jacobsz at De Rijp. In this early edition, probably the second, a third dialogue had been added. The earlier edition(s) contained two dialogues, those with Adam and Noah. The new dialogue, a lengthy one with Simon Cleophas, extended the book in the 12mo format to 603 pages. Some of the later Dutch editions reprinted only the two original dialogues but most contained the three, as was the case with all the German and English editions. A 1656 Dutch edition added dialogues with Jacob and Joseph, written by Schabaelje, but these were never reprinted. The number of Dutch editions is not known exactly. Maatschoen, in a footnote in Schijn (1744), estimates it "was printed at least forty or fifty times." Currently it is possible to locate 48 editions. The last known Dutch reprint appeared in 1768. All the Dutch editions contained illustrations, usually very simple woodcuts by unidentified artists, but in 1706 the book was enlarged to octavo format and enhanced by the addition of 25 etchings done by Jan Luiken with accompanying verses, and the title was changed to De vermeerderde Lusthof. In this form it was reprinted in 1724, 1742, and 1768.

In translation the book gained an independent character. In both German and English it was separated from the Lusthof and published as a distinct work. The earliest known German edition was 1741, Die wandlende Seel, das ist: Gespräch der wandlenden Seelen mit Adam, Noah und Simon Cleophas, printed at Basel by von Mechel. This edition, however, is indicated as the fourth, which points to evidence that it was translated and published much earlier in the 18th century. The translator was B.B.B., possibly Benedikt Brechbill. Two further editions, 1770 and 1811, came from the von Mechel press, and at least three editions appeared in Germany during the same period, at Frankfurt and Leipzig in 1758 and 1770 and at Stuttgart in 1860. In America Saur reprinted the same German translation at Germantown, in 1768 and 1771. Other Germantown imprints are 1794 and 1805, which were followed by 12 known editions in the 19th century at Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. In 1919 the Mennonite Publishing House at Scottdale, Pennsylvania, published a new edition to meet the demand for it among the Amish, and in 1952 the Amish publisher J. A. Raber of Baltic, Ohio, repeated. A study of the publishers of these many editions indicates that the book had an appeal beyond Mennonite circles. The English translation was made from the German translation rather than the original Dutch, by I. Daniel Rupp, and was printed in 1834 as The Wandering Soul: Dialogues between the Wandering Soul and Adam, Noah, and Simon Cleophas. It was published by the translator and John Winebrenner at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and was illustrated. In 1838 Johnson and Stockton at Pittsburgh published a new edition with the title changed to The Pilgrim Soul. Two English editions came out in Virginia, at Woodstock in 1840 and at Winchester in 1841. Rupp reprinted the book in 1834 and 1840, an edition appeared at Harrisburg in 1857, John Baer's Sons at Lancaster published one in 1874, and the Light and Hope Press, of Berne, Indiana, the last in 1958. In all at least 84 editions have appeared, 48 Dutch, 9 German in Europe, 18 German in the United States, and 9 English in the United States. It is probably the most widely read book by a Mennonite ever published.

The subject matter of the book pertains chiefly to historical events, both Biblical and secular, from the Creation to about the end of the first century after Christ. Simon Cleophas, a character taken from Eusebius, is said to have witnessed the fall of Jerusalem. Schabaelje lists the sources of his information as the Bible, Josephus, Augustine, Erasmus, and others. The work is a popular treatment and accurate for its time of composition, although there is a tendency to speculate about the origin of races and nations. Rather than a historical work, it is cast in literary form, that of the dialogue, which was prevalent and popular for a long time after the Middle Ages. The Wandering Soul, an earnest Christian desiring to finish the course of his pilgrimage, seeks admonition from Adam, Noah, and Simon Cleophas. The skillful handling of the conversation breaks the monotony of what would otherwise be an extended historical account with admonition. Some of the characters come to life and reflect a genial piety. In both conception and execution the book has some literary merit, which likely accounts in part for its wide appeal. In purpose, however, it is a devotional book, a work of spiritual edification in a practical sense. It was intended, as the German translator notes, to incite its readers to become pilgrims. The book reflects the particular piety characteristic of many Waterlander Mennonites in Holland in the 17th century, a spiritualistic fervor with a strong moral note. The concern with practical piety, however, and the concept of the Christian life as a pilgrimage, are reminiscent of the larger Anabaptist movement.


Friedmann, Robert. Mennonite Piety Through the Centuries. Goshen, 1949: 111-15.

Horst, Irvin B. "The Wandering Soul, a Remarkable Book of Devotion." Mennonite Historical Bulletin (October 1957).

Schijn, Hermann. Uitvoeriger Verhandeling van de Geschiedenisse der Mennoniten. Amsterdam: Kornelis de Wit, 1744: 584-86.

For a partial list of Dutch editions, see:

Catalogus der werken over de Doopsgezinden en hunne geschiedenis aanwezig in de bibliotheek der Vereenigde Doopsgezinde Gemeente to Amsterdam. Amsterdam: J.H. de Bussy, 1919: 224-26, 355.

For a list of American editions, see:

Bender, Harold S. Two Centuries of American Mennonite Literature, A Bibliography of Mennonitica Americana 1727-1928. Goshen, IN: Mennonite Historical Society, 1929.

Horst, Irvin B. "The Wandering Soul, a Remarkable Book of Devotion." Mennonite Historical Bulletin (October 1957).

Author(s) Irvin B Horst
Date Published 1959

Cite This Article

MLA style

Horst, Irvin B. "Wandering Soul." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 27 Sep 2023. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Wandering_Soul&oldid=134739.

APA style

Horst, Irvin B. (1959). Wandering Soul. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 27 September 2023, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Wandering_Soul&oldid=134739.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 884-885. All rights reserved.

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