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Martin Luther’s Attitude Toward The Jews

 

By James Swan

Tertiumquid@msn.com

June 2005

 

 

 

 

 

-Table of Contents-

 

Introduction: Is Luther Being “Whitewashed” By Protestants? :

Did the 2003 Luther movie present Luther accurately? Why didn’t the film include his comments about the Jews?  A brief overview of the Roman Catholic concern for Luther’s remarks on the Jews. 

           

II. Was Luther an Anti-Semite?:

A brief overview of Luther’s 16th century anti-Semitism, theological anti-Semitism and its differences with modern anti-Semitism.

 

III. Luther’s Apocalyptic Expectation And His Volatile Language:

Luther saw the Judgment Day quickly approaching and his rhetoric against the Jews raised in intensity.

 

IV. 16th Century Anti-Jewish Roman Catholic Theologians:

A comparison of the leading 16th Century Roman Catholic theologian, John Eck, with Martin Luther.

 

 

 

V. Luther's Early Attitude Toward The Jews:

The young Luther slowly moves away from the prevailing cultural negativity towards the Jews. An overview of Luther’s lifelong theological opinion on the Jews.

 

VI. 1523: Luther's Treatise “Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew”:

Luther goes against the prevailing anti-Jewish sentiment of his time and writes a treatise inviting the Jews to the Christian faith.

 

VII. 1537: The Josel Of Rosheim Controversy:

After years of failure in converting the Jews, a political request from a Jewish leader marks the beginning of Luther’s anti-Jewish attitude.

 

 

 

VIII. 1538: Luther's Treatise "Against The Sabbatarians":

Luther’s first anti-Jewish writing. A review of the theological arguments put forth.

 

IX. 1543: Luther's Treatise "On The Jews And Their Lies":

Luther’s infamous anti-Jewish book. A review of its arguments and attacks against the Jews.

 

X. 1543: Luther’s Treatises “On The Ineffable Name” and “The Last Words of David”:

A brief look at Luther’s lesser-known anti-Jewish writings.

 

XI. 1546:  Luther’s Last Words About The Jews:

Luther’s comments about the Jews from his letters to his wife. An investigation of Luther’s last sermon and its anti-Jewish exhortations.

 

 

 

Appendix 1: The Reaction to Luther’s Anti-Jewish Writings:

Citations noting the reaction of Luther’s contemporaries to his polemic against the Jews.

 

Appendix 2: Citing Luther Out Of Context:

Examples of inaccurate Luther citations on the Jews.

 

 

Endnotes: Bibliographic material and interaction with various anti-Luther writers and Catholic apologists.

 

*Throughout this paper, citations from Martin Luther will be in blue.*

 

 

 

 

 

Introduction: Is Luther Being “Whitewashed” By Protestants?

 

The 2003 Luther movie portrayed the young Reformer valiantly battling the injustices of the sixteenth century Roman Catholic Church. Catholic criticism of the film said this depiction of Luther was severely one-sided. One Catholic review said the film “conveniently shies away from any unflattering facts that would cast Luther in an unfavorable light…”[1] Said one Catholic apologist, “The ‘Luther-as-always-the-noble-hero-and slayer-of-hopelessly-corrupt-Rome-Babylon’ myth, however, also holds that he was the champion of religious freedom and freedom of conscience, for men to worship as they please. This is simply not true…”[2] This author then goes on to point out many of Luther’s less-than-tolerant attributes, including Luther’s negative statements about the Jews. He quotes Luther as saying:

 

Let their houses also be shattered and destroyed . . .  Let their prayer books and Talmuds be taken from them, and their whole Bible too; let their rabbis be forbidden, on pain of death, to teach henceforth any more. Let the streets and highways be closed against them. Let them be forbidden to practice usury, and let all their money, and all their treasures of silver and gold be taken from them and put away in safety. And if all this be not enough, let them be driven like mad dogs out of the land.”[3]

 

I suspect many would be shocked to learn the man who said these words was also the man heroically portrayed in the Luther movie. In discussions I have had with Roman Catholics, they dismiss the movie because it did not mention his negativity towards the Jews.[4] They argue, “how could a movie claiming to present a hero of freedom and human dignity neglect to mention such blatant hatred for an entire group of people?” One must seriously question whether or not the Reformation Luther started against the Roman Catholic Church was a movement really interested in freedom and human dignity. Perhaps Luther has been overly romanticized:  the Church he fought against really wasn’t as bad as portrayed. Luther’s anti-Semitic statements prove unhesitatingly he could not have been a “Reformer” in any sense of the word. A true man of God could never say such awful things.[5]

 

There is an obvious answer as to why the film didn’t take Luther’s negative statements about the Jews into consideration. Luther’s negativity towards the Jews comes primarily late in his career, while the Luther movie focuses on the initial impact of the Reformation in Luther’s early career. Luther’s first “anti-Jewish” writing was Against the Sabbatarians (1538). Popularly, Luther’s career begins in 1517 with the posting of the 95 Theses. Thus, for around 20 years, Luther said little about the Jews, and what he did say was positive (when judged by the standards of popular culture of his time). Luther’s “anti-Jewish” writings span his last 8 years (1538-1546).

 

Even many good biographies only focus on the first years of Luther’s career up to 1530.[6] Hence, the Luther movie follows one of the normal patterns of biographical presentation by ending with the Diet of Augsburg in 1530. One probably could then argue the film should have spanned more years of Luther’s life. However, I think the filmmakers rightly focused on the issue that thrust Luther into the spotlight: the indulgence controversy. Secondarily, Luther’s attitude toward the Jews is somewhat peripheral to his overall life’s work.  As the largest collections of his writings show, comparatively, very few of those pages are dedicated to his opinions on the Jews.[7]

 

There is no getting around it: in his later years, Luther did say some awful things about the Jewish people. Where Luther was gravely mistaken, Protestants must admit his faults. Even the editors of Luther’s Works included some of Luther’s harsh writings against the Jews.  There was no attempt to hide the material from the public eye. They explain:

 

“The fact that Luther, during the last years of his life, wrote treatises harshly condemnatory of the Jews and Judaism is rather widely known. The treatises themselves, however, have not previously been available in English. The publication here of the longest and most infamous of them, On the Jews and Their Lies, will no doubt prove dismaying to many readers, not only because it shows Luther at his least attractive, but also because of the potential misuse of this material. The risk to Luther’s reputation is gladly borne, since the exposure of a broader range of his writings to modern critical judgment is an inherent purpose of this American edition. However, the thought of possible misuse of this material, to the detriment either of the Jewish people or of Jewish-Christian relations today, has occasioned great misgivings. Both editor and publisher, therefore, wish to make clear at the very outset that publication of this treatise is being undertaken only to make available the necessary documents for scholarly study of this aspect of Luther’s thought, which has played so fateful a role in the development of anti-Semitism in Western culture. Such publication is in no way intended as an endorsement of the distorted views of Jewish faith and practice or the defamation of the Jewish people which this treatise contains.”[8]

 

Along with the sentiment expressed by these editors, I likewise do not condone Luther’s anti-Jewish writings.[9] He was deeply wrong. I have sadness and anger towards Luther’s later anti-Jewish writings and his generation’s treatment of the Jews. Honest answers must be given as to why Luther said what he did, and those answers do not completely exonerate him of anti-Semitism. 

 

However, before delving into those answers, one has to stop and ask some important questions: Why do Catholics resort to bringing up Luther’s later attitudes toward the Jews?[10] “Why would Luther’s attitudes toward the Jews affect the accuracy of the 2003 Luther movie? Is it because the Roman Catholic Church has a spotless record of defending the Jews and other groups against intolerance and hatred? Are they the watchdogs of all religious intolerance?

 

The answer: No, they do not posses a spotless record of defending the minority against the majority, nor do they have a spotless record in their relations with the Jews:

 

“In 1553 all copies of the Talmud found in Rome were burned in public. Pope Paul IV (1555-1559) ordered measures to be taken against the Jews, and twenty-four men and one woman were burned at the stake. On July 12, 1555, he issued a bull that renewed all the oppressive medieval legislation against the Jews, excluding them from professions, limiting their financial and commercial activities, forbidding them to own real estate, and humiliating them by obliging them to wear yellow hats.”[11]

 

Rather, Roman Catholics try to deflect the guilt of their church’s abuses and doctrinal confusion that Luther rightly fought against. Instead of dealing with the blatant abuses, need for reform, and muddled theology inherent in the sixteenth century church, the tactic is to discredit Luther by any means possible.[12] Simply because Luther was wrong on his attitude toward the Jews does not necessarily mean he was wrong on the need for church reform, the proclamation of the gospel of justification by faith alone, or sola scriptura. No bona fide Protestant argues that Luther was an infallible interpreter, divine authority, or immaculately conceived.  We realize Luther was a man of many faults. Yet when he proclaims the gospel, he is absolutely correct because the Bible clearly teaches it.  When he speaks out against the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church he is right because history shows this was the case. When he makes terrible statements about the Jews, he’s not right (or wrong) because he was somehow a Protestant pope or the originator of Protestantism, he’s wrong because a clear exposition of the Scriptures do not support such terrible statements.

 

To reason that Luther’s work is somehow nullified because of his anti-Jewish writings is perhaps an argument for an impossible standard: it is to say that one must live a life of perfection in order for their work to have validity.  Many examples can be drawn from the Scriptures to prove that God uses sinful people to proclaim his truth. I would have never imagined that Peter, who walked daily with the Lord Jesus Christ, would deny the Gospel and face correction by Paul (Galatians 2:11-21). Solomon “offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places” (1 Kings 3:3) to appease the multiple “foreign women” he married (1 Kings 11).  The most striking example is King David, whose legacy includes adultery and conspiracy to murder. Yet God used these men despite heinous sin. The Bible presents the Christian life as a struggle with sin (1 John 1:8-10; Romans 7). It also presents the normal Christian life as a living faith showing itself alive by its works (James 2:14-26; Ephesians 2:8-10). Luther’s life has been scrutinized by countless biographies: those that fairly evaluate his life see a man struggling to live corum deo.[13] As I would stand against Peter’s denial, Solomon’s idolatry, David’s adultery and conspiracy to murder, so I would stand against Luther’s anti-Jewish writings. That a holy God chooses to use sinful men to accomplish his will is an example of his mysterious divine providence: all things work together for His glory.       

 

Since I’ve run into a number of Catholic laymen criticizing the Luther movie for leaving out Luther’s negativity towards the Jews, I thought it would be helpful to explain and explore Luther’s treatment of the Jews, and the historical context these writings were written in. It will be shown that Luther’s writings began favorably toward the Jews, but as the years progressed, he developed a deep hostility that was nurtured in medieval stereotype and bias, as well as his apocalyptic expectation. That the older Luther wrote anti-Jewish writings does not negate his positive work of proclaiming the Gospel and his battles against the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church.

 

Some may wonder why I would spend the time presenting information that is readily available in many good biographies on Luther. I realize this paper in some ways is simply “reinventing the wheel.” However, I have found that cyber-space contains very little helpful information on this subject. One is usually bombarded with Internet links viewing Luther as the precursor to Hitler. The on-line articles that do attempt to deal with the facts honestly are usually sparse: they leave out significant amounts of helpful information.         

  

 

II. Was Luther an Anti-Semite?

It should be kept in my mind that Luther’s later anti-Jewish tracts were written from a position different than current anti-Semitism. Luther was born into a society that was anti-Judaic, but it was not the current anti-Judaic type of society that bases it racism on biological factors. Luther had no objections to integrating converted Jews into Christian society. He had nothing against Jews as “Jews.” He had something against their religion because he believed it denied and blasphemed Christ.[14] Heiko Oberman points out,

 

“One thing must be clearly understood: Luther was anti-Jewish in his repeated warnings against the Jews as bearers of an anti-Christian religion which had established itself both within and outside Christianity. But Luther was not an anti-Semite or racist of any kind because- to apply the test appropriate to his time- for him a baptized Jew is fully Christian. Conversely, he said that among us Christians in Germany there are horrifyingly many who in their hearts deny Christ. Those are the true Jews! Not race but belief in the law, in good works, makes Jews.”[15]

 

Lutheran scholar Eric Gritsch echoes Oberman’s point: “Luther was not an anti-Semite in the racist sense. His arguments against the Jews were theological, not biological.”[16] Gritsch goes on to point out the origin of biological anti-Semitism:

 

“Not until a French cultural anthropologist in the nineteenth century held that humankind consisted of ‘Semites’ and ‘Aryans’ were Semites considered inferior. Alfonse de Gobineau’s views were quickly adopted by European intellectuals and politicians, and Jews became the scapegoats of a snobbish colonialist society in England, France, and Germany. The rest is history- including the Jewish holocaust perpetrated by Adolf Hitler and his regime. National Socialists used Luther to support their racist anti-Semitism, calling him a genuine German who had hated non-Nordic races.”[17]

 

In his article “Luther’s Attitudes toward Judaism,” Carter Lindberg provides an excellent example proving Luther’s anti-Jewish writings were not motivated by biological racism. Lindberg says,

 

More to the point is Luther’s stance on religious intermarriage. In his criticism of the medieval Catholic canonical prohibition against a Christian marrying a Jew, Luther wrote, "Just as I may eat, drink, sleep, walk, ride with, buy from, speak to, and deal with a heathen, Jew, Turk, or heretic, so I may also marry and continue in wedlock with him. Pay no attention to the precepts of those fools who forbid it. You will find plenty of Christians—and indeed the greater part of them—who are worse in their secret unbelief than any Jew, heathen, Turk, or heretic. A heathen is just as much a man or a woman—God's good creation—as St. Peter, St. Paul, and St. Lucy, not to speak of a slack and spurious Christian."[18]

 

Rather than being motivated by biological factors, Luther’s criticisms were motivated by theological concerns. Luther directed intensely abusive language against Anabaptists, lawyers, the papacy, and the Jews.[19] Luther felt these groups were united in the conviction that men were ultimately made right before God by the law.[20] Anabaptism held a moralistic view of the gospel with an emphasis on the heavy burden of righteousness placed upon men in order to be accepted before God. Lawyers made their living by imposing the law. The papacy was viewed as the antichrist, which promoted a false religion with a false view of salvation through obedience to the law. The Jews had a religion based upon works righteousness. When Luther attacked these groups, he felt he was attacking the devil- the underlying spirit of works righteousness.[21]

 

In his last expositions on Genesis in 1544, Luther makes it explicit that no one has the right to boast on their race or lineage:

Accordingly, the Jews have no grounds for boasting; they should humble themselves and acknowledge their maternal blood. For on their father’s side they are Israelites; but on their mother’s side they are Gentiles, Moabites, Assyrians, Egyptians, Canaanites. And by this God wanted to point out that the Messiah would be a brother and a cousin of both the Jews and the Gentiles, if not according to their paternal genealogy, at least according to their maternal nature. Consequently, there is no distinction between Jews and Gentiles, except that Moses later separated this people from the Gentiles by a different form of worship and political regime. Moreover, these things were written to make it known to all that the Messiah would gather the Gentiles and the Jews into one and the same church, just as they are joined by nature and consanguinity.”[22]

 

In his commentary on Galatians 3:28, Luther explains we are all equal. No particular people has any right to claim special privilege before God:

 

‘There is neither magistrate nor subject, neither professor nor listener, neither teacher nor pupil, neither lady nor servant.’ For in Christ Jesus all social stations, even those that were divinely ordained, are nothing. Male, female, slave, free, Jew, Gentile, king, subject—these are, of course, good creatures of God. But in Christ, that is, in the matter of salvation, they amount to nothing, for all their wisdom, righteousness, devotion, and authority.”[23]

 

Luther’s most well known anti-Jewish writing was On The Jews and Their Lies. It is often quoted and cited as the clearest example of Luther’s anti-Semitism. Interestingly though, this very document proves that Luther was not a biological anti-Semite, he was not against the Jews as people, nor did he seek for their extermination.[24]

 

In that treatise, Luther launches into a long section against any notion that the Jews are better than anyone else. He puts forth an alleged popular anti-Jewish argument that they thanked God that they were not born gentiles or women. In arguing against this caricature, Luther mocks those who think any one particular people is better than another:

 

“…[T]he Greek Plato daily accorded God such praise and thanksgiving—if such arrogance and blasphemy may be termed praise of God. This man, too, praised his gods for these three items: that he was a human being and not an animal; a male and not a female; a Greek and not a non-Greek or barbarian…Similarly, the Italians fancy themselves the only human beings; they imagine that all other people in the world are nonhumans, mere ducks or mice by comparison.”[25]

 

Luther also levels the playing field in regards to sexuality. He sees it as blasphemy to view women as inferior to men: “[They] are also human beings and the image of God as well as we; moreover, they are our own flesh and blood, such as mother, sister, daughter, housewives, etc...”[26] Luther insists that before God, we are all equal, and this equality consists in the entire human race standing condemned by our sin before a holy God:

 

“…[T]o strut before God and boast about being so noble, so exalted, and so rich compared to other people—that is devilish arrogance, since every birth according to the flesh is condemned before him without exception in the aforementioned verse, if his covenant and word do not come to the rescue once again and create a new and different birth, quite different from the old, first birth.”[27]

 Oh, what do we poor muck-worms, maggots, stench, and filth presume to boast of before him who is the God and Creator of heaven and earth, who made us out of dirt and out of nothing! And as far as our nature, birth, and essence are concerned, we are but dirt and nothing in his eyes; all that we are and have comes from his grace and his rich mercy.” [28]

 

III. Luther’s Apocalyptic Expectation And His Volatile Language

 

End Times

Essential to understanding Luther’s attitude toward the Jews is the eschatological framework of his theology. As early as 1522, Luther preached that his generation was living in the last days: “I do not wish to force any one to believe as I do; neither will I permit anyone to deny me the right to believe that the last day is near at hand. These words and signs of Christ compel me to believe that such is the case. For the history of the centuries that have passed since the birth of Christ nowhere reveals conditions like those of the present.”[29]  In 1542, Luther said, “I hold that Judgment day is not far away. I say this because the drive of the gospel is now at its height.”[30]  Thus, the entirety of his Reformation career embraced an impending consummation of history.[31] Lutheran scholar Paul Althaus notes that the “Middle Ages feared the Day of Wrath but Luther desires the coming of Jesus, because he will bring an end to the antichrist and bring about redemption. Luther can call itthe most happy Last Day.’”[32]

 

Toward the end of his life, this expectation gained in momentum. Luther spoke out strongly against those groups who went against the Gospel: the Papacy, Turks, radicals, and the Jews. These groups were led by the devil, used for continued opposition of the gospel.[33] Early in his career, his treatise That Jesus Christ Was born a Jew kindly appealed to the Jews to embrace the Gospel. Later in his career, the impending Judgment Day compelled Luther to appeal to the authorities to protect Christendom against those groups that continually chose not to convert and opposed to the Gospel. Those that did not embrace the Gospel were not indifferent to it, but rather were opposed to it. Heiko Oberman explains,

 

“[Luther] spoke to the Christian authorities: the Last Judgment is fast approaching, so woe to those temporal rulers who have neglected their duty to protect Christendom! Now is the time for defense against the storm troopers of the Antichrist, whether they descend upon Christendom from the outside in the form of the Turks, subvert the preaching of the Gospel and order in the empire from inside the Church like the pope and clerics beholden to him, or, like the Jews, undermine the public welfare from the inside. Luther had discovered this concatenation of Jews, pope, and Turks as the unholy coalition of the enemies of God long before he began leveling his massive assaults on the Jews. Now that the terrors of the Last Days had been unleashed, the Church and temporal authorities were forced into their own defensive battle, one without the promise of victory but with the prospects of survival. Christian rulers, you should “not participate in the sins of others, you must pray humbly to God that he should be merciful to you and allow your rule to survive.”[34]

 

There are those who misunderstand Luther’s Eschatology. For instance, Roman Catholic writer Erik R. von Kuehnelt-Leddihn misunderstands the relationship of the Jews and Luther’s belief he lived during the last days. von Kuehnelt-Leddihn says,

 

“Of course, there are some dark aspects to Martin Luther, for instance, his inordinate non-racist but religious hatred for the Jews, whom he wanted to put into labor-battalions to let them work "in the sweat of their nostrils." Why? They had rejected his outstretched hand and his call for conversion. Since Luther was convinced that the Pope is Antichrist and because, according to tradition, the conversion of the Jews heralded the Day of Judgment, he published a pamphlet inviting the Jews to the baptismal font. Had they accepted his offer, he would have proved his point against the Papacy, but the Jews failed to react and this infuriated him enormously. Thus he became even more anti-Jewish than Marx or Engels.”[35]

 

For this explanation to be coherent, von Kuehnelt-Leddihn needs to explain why Luther still believed it was ‘last days’ despite the non-conversion of the Jews. von Kuehnelt-Leddihn can’t do this because early in Luther’s Reformation career, Luther already affirmed that the Jews would not convert in mass.[36]  In a sermon on Luke 21:25-36 Luther said, “[Jesus] calls the Jews ‘this generation.’ And this verse clearly obliges us to believe that the common talk that the Jews are all to become Christians is not true.[37] Later in his career, Luther still held this position: “Of the great mass of Jews he who will may harbor hope. I have no hope for them, nor do I know any passages of Scripture that does.[38] Gordon Rupp also has pointed out,

 

In his lectures on Romans (1515-6) Luther had to treat Paul's hopes for the Jews in chapters 9-11. About a final conversion of the Jewish people Luther is skeptical and though he admits there is patristic support for this, he continued to affirm that he could find no clear word in Holy Scripture that more than a few individuals might be saved. It is true that in his second course of lectures on the Psalms (1519-21) Lewin thought that at Psalm 14 Luther struck a more optimistic note when he prays that, at the very last, divine mercy will intervene. For such an intervention, Luther prayed in one of his very last writings, but it is clear that as far as the Jews are concerned he had no theology of hope.”[39]

 

Luther’s Volatile Language

There is also concern over Luther’s language, which becomes quite foul towards the Jews in his later treatises. In regards to Luther’s foul language, Roland Bainton has observed,  The volume of coarseness, in his total output is slight. Detractors have sifted from the pitchblende of his ninety tomes a few pages of radioactive vulgarity.”[40] But though small in percentage, it is there nonetheless and needs to be accounted for. Lest some think that Luther’s harsh language against the Jews was unique, his language against the Papacy was stronger, and his words against the Turks and false brethren were almost as strong: 

 

“Neither the vulgarity nor the violence nor the charges of satanic motivation nor the sarcastic mocking is unique to [Luther’s later Jewish] treatises. If anything, Luther’s 1541 Against Hanswurst and his 1545 Against the Papacy at Rome, Founded by the Devil contain more scatology, more sallies against the devil, more heavy sarcasm, and more violence of language and recommendations. The polemics of the older Luther against the Turks and Protestant opponents are only slightly more restrained. Against each of these opponents- Catholics, Turks, other Protestants and Jews- he occasionally passed on libelous tales and gave credence to improbable charges. In all these respects Luther treated the Jews no differently than he treated his other opponents.”[41]

 

Some think that illness and depression caused the “old” Luther to explode in violent harsh outbursts of profanity towards his enemies. It is a convenient explanation which locates the cause of his harsh polemics in unavoidable human frailty: senility, disease, and depression.[42]  But, a much more likely explanation is that put forth by Heiko Oberman. Oberman traces Luther’s harsh language as far back as sermon preached in 1515, thus proving the young Luther used the same type of speech as the old Luther. Most importantly, Oberman provides insight rather than psychological condemnation.  He points out, “In the total historical context, …Luther’s scatology-permeated language has to be taken seriously as an expression of the painful battle fought body and soul against the Adversary, who threatens both flesh and spirit.”[43] Luther’s rough language was therefore a weapon to use against the devil. “…[A]ll true Christians stand in a large anti-defamation league and are called upon to combat the God-awful, filthy adversary, using his own weapons and his own strategy: ‘Get lost Satan…[44] In other words, Luther used scatological language to fight against Satan. Since Luther felt Satan was the mastermind behind works-centered religions (like Judaism), Luther attacks those religions using Satan’s own weapons against him.[45]

 

For Luther, his use of scatological language exposes the Devil, who has hidden himself in the papacy, behind the Turks, and in the theology of Judaism. Since it is the Last Days, Satan must be resisted with all one’s might: with as much energy and all the vehemence possible. By exposing Satan in these systems, Satan becomes enraged and fights harder against God. By fighting harder, the Last Day approaches quicker.[46]

 

Luther also felt he was following the example of Christ. Luther asks rhetorically if the Lord used abusive language against his enemies: “Was he abusive when he called the Jews an adulterous and perverse generation, an offspring of vipers, hypocrites, and children of the Devil?… The truth, which one is conscious of possessing, cannot be patient against its obstinate and intractable enemies.”[47]  In similar fashion, Luther responded to his opponent Latomus:

 

He [Latomus] says that I lack the evangelical modesty which I enjoin, and that this is especially true of the book in which I replied to the sophists of Louvain when they condemned my teachings.  Now I have never insisted that anyone consider me modest or holy, but only that everyone recognize what the gospel is. If they do this, I give anyone freedom to attack my life to his heart’s content. My boast is that I have injured no one’s life or reputation, but only sharply reproached, as godless and sacrilegious, those assertions, inventions, and doctrines which are against the Word of God. I do not apologize for this, for I have good precedents. John the Baptist [Luke 3:7] and Christ after him [Matt. 23:33] called the Pharisees the “offspring of vipers.” So excessive and outrageous was this abuse of such learned, holy, powerful, and honored men that they said in reply that He had a demon [John 7:20]. If in this instance Latomus had been judge, I wonder what the verdict would have been! Elsewhere Christ calls them “blind” [Matt. 23:16], “crooked,” “liars,” “sons of the devil” [John 8:44, 55]. Good God, even Paul lacked evangelical modesty when he anathematized the teachers of the Galatians [Gal. 1:8] who were, I suppose, great men. Others he calls “dogs” [Phil. 3:2], “empty talkers” [Tit. 1:10], “deceivers” [Col. 2:4, 8]. Further, he accused to his face the magician Elymas with being a “son of the devil, full of all deceit and villainy [Acts 13:10].” [48]

 

 

 

IV. 16th Century Anti-Jewish Roman Catholic Theologians

Similar to Luther, one of the leading Roman Catholic theologians of his day, his nemesis Johann Eck[49], also wrote some virulent anti-Jewish tracts.[50] Here we find two leading theologians of the Protestant Church and the Roman Catholic Church both engaging in clearly anti-Christian attitudes. How could two of the best minds of the sixteenth century be so wrong and not realize it? Had it just been Luther, perhaps a critic could say: “See the basis of Protestantism is flawed and leads to anti-Semitism.” However, Johann Eck was considered a Roman Catholic theologian of great brilliance. He was respected and revered by the Papacy (and utilized by the Papacy!), and yet he also attacked the Jews unjustly:

 

“…Luther’s arch-antagonist John Eck published a similar treatise entitled Refutation of a Jew-Book (Ains Judenbuechlins Verlegung). Fulminating against the “cunning, false, perjured, thievish, vindictive, and traitorous Jews,” he decries the security and freedom they had hitherto been granted and recommends new and more stringent anti-Jewish laws.”[51]

 

“The absolute nadir of anti-Jewish polemic in the early modern period was by Luther’s Catholic opponent Johannes Eck, whose 1541 Refutation of a Jew Book was ‘a summa of the anti-Jewish literature of the Middle Ages, leaving out no accusation of genocide, blasphemy, or treason.’ ”[52]

 

“Could [the Jews] but drown all Christians in one spoon, said Johann Eck in the course of one of the most vicious of all anti-Jewish diatribes, ‘they would eagerly do it.”[53]

 

“By the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the campaign against Jewish physicians…attained a high pitch of virulence. No slander was too mean to be turned to account… ‘When they come together at their festivals, each boasts of the number of Christians he has killed with his medicine; and the one who has killed the most is honored,’ runs Johann Eck’s variation upon an inexhaustible theme.”[54]

 

“In 1540, when another ritual murder charge was raised against the Jews in Sappenfeld, Eck wrote Refutation of a Jewish Booklet in which he explains that Jews needed Christian blood in order to wash away their own blood stains which God had inflicted on them because they had crucified Christ. He concludes that, ‘it is no wonder that the Jews now buy the blood of innocent children, just as their fathers had bought the innocent blood of Jesus Christ from Judas with thirty pennies.’ ”[55]

 

“Although Johannes Eck, Luther’s dedicated opponent, and others wrote vitriolic attacks on the Jews, some of Luther’s collegues, such as his dear friend Justas Jonas, present at Luther’s deathbed, Andreas Osiander, reformer in Nuremberg, were very understanding of the position of the Jews.”[56]

 

“When Osiander ventured to publish an anonymous tract defending Jews against the charge of ritual murder, Eck, knowing the true identity of the author, calls him the ‘evangelical scoundrel’ who dared to defend the ‘bloodthirsty Jews’. The Lutherans, Eck curses on, were all evil monks who had stirred up the Peasants War and were now defending the archenemies of Christendom… Eck concludes his long-winded vituperation by accusing Osiander of slander against the whole of Christianity, because by denying the truth of ritual murders, the evangelical reformer was in essence accusing Christians of murder, magic, and lies.”[57] 

 

“Luther’s Roman Catholic opponents frequently considered Luther to be a friend of the Jews. This was especially true in the early years of the Reformation, but even as late as the 1540’s, Eck considered the Lutheran Reformer Andreas Osiander to be a ‘Luther-son’ and thus a ‘Jew-father.’ In other words, Luther’s Catholic opponents attacked what they perceived to be his pro-Jewish opinions. This in turn led to the Counter-Reformation revival of medieval anti-Jewish perspectives out of concern that Jewish biblical interpretation supported Protestant teachings.”[58]

 

A telling comparison can be made by consulting the way the Catholic Encyclopedia evaluates the anti-Jewish remarks of Johann Eck and Martin Luther. The Catholic Encyclopedia highly praises Eck: “He was the most distinguished theologian of the time in Germany, the most scholarly and courageous champion of the Catholic Faith. Frank and even in disposition, he was also inspired by a sincere love of truth; but he showed none the less an intense self-consciousness and the jovial bluntness of speech which characterized the men of that day.[59] Interestingly, the Catholic Encyclopedia makes no mention of Eck’s anti-Jewish writings.

 

However, in their entry on “Luther” they point out, “It was while in this agony of body and torture of mind, that his unsurpassable and irreproducible coarseness attained its culminating point of virtuosity in his anti-Semitic and antipapal pamphlets.”[60] In the Catholic Encyclopedia’s entry on the “History of the Jews,” no mention is made of Johann Eck. However, of Luther they point out, “Luther himself, towards the end of his life, was [the Jews] greatest opponent,” and, “Luther, on the other hand, required their absolute expulsion. . . . It was reserved for him to place Jews on a level with Gypsies. . . . He was the cause of their being expelled by Protestant princes[61]

 

I submit that many Roman Catholics evaluate Luther’s anti-Semitism the same way the Catholic Encyclopedia does.  The Catholic Encyclopedia fails to document that one of the leading theologians of the sixteenth century was blatantly hostile towards the Jews, but rather characterizes him to be “inspired by a sincere love of truth.” I’ve met many Roman Catholics in discussion who point out that Johann Eck defeated Luther in debate, and was a champion for the Roman Catholic Church. How many of them would dismiss the entirety of Eck’s work because he was blatantly anti-Semitic?

 

 

V. Luther’s Early Attitude Toward The Jews

Martin Luther was born into a society of animosity toward the Jews. The Jews were stigmatized as those who killed Christ, and deserved to experience God’s wraith as His rejected people. They had become the scapegoats of society, blamed for countless evils befalling the medieval age. The populace had gone as far to create fictional crimes to charge to their account. They were said to partake in ritual murders: slaughterers’ of Christian children for blood to use during Passover.[62] Mark U. Edwards explains,

 

“Only on rare occasions did Luther encounter Jews; he never lived in close proximity to them, but he inherited a tradition, both theological and popular, of hostility toward them. He lived within a larger community, Western Christendom, which saw Jews as a rejected people guilty of the murder of Christ, and capable of murdering Christian children for their own evil purposes. And he lived within a local community that had expelled Jews some ninety years earlier.” [63]

 

In the earliest days of Luther’s academic career, Luther held four theological opinions on the Jews, which were to remain unchanged his entire career. Gordon Rupp presents these as follows:

 

1. God's Wrath has fallen on his disobedient people and only God can take it away.

 

2. Humanly speaking, the Jews are unconvertible and they cannot be saved by human action.

 

3. Because they reproach God and blaspheme against Christ their faith is an actively anti-Christian religion.

 

4. But these things are true not only of the Jews, but of all human beings who set themselves against God, so that unbelieving Jews and Christians are comprehended within one solidarity of guilt.[64]

 

While his theological attitude did not change, his opinion toward them did. Early in his career, one finds glimmers of Luther breaking from the anti-Jewish cultural climate.  During the controversy over the banning and destroying of Hebrew books in the 1510’s, the young Luther sided with the great Hebraist John Reuchlin who was being investigated by the Inquisition for his interest in Hebrew literature. Luther saw the great value of Reuchlin’s Rudiments, the first Hebrew grammar published in Germany. Luther expressed his concern in 1514 for the great Hebraist:  let us pray for our Reuchlin.”[65] Luther saw great value in learning the Hebrew language. When an opportunity arose in 1519 to have the learned Jewish scholar Matthew Adrian teach at Wittenberg, Luther made haste to acquire him. This is not to suggest that Luther was a defender Judaism.  Rather, his primary concern was “the preservation of Hebrew literature for scholarly purposes, rather than the merits of Judaism or the Jews as such.”[66]

 

In 1516, one finds Luther moving towards the position of friendliness towards the Jews that would be explicit of his work in the 1520’s:

 

“…[M]any people are proud with marvelous stupidity when they call the Jews dogs, evildoers, or whatever they like, while they too, and equally, do not realize who or what they are in the sight of God. Boldly they heap blasphemous insults upon them, when they ought to have compassion on them and fear the same punishments for themselves. Moreover, as if certain concerning themselves and the others, they rashly pronounce themselves blessed and the others cursed. Such today are the theologians of Cologne,  who are so stupid in their zeal, that in their articles, or rather their inarticulate and inept writings, they say that the Jews are accursed. Why? Because they have forgotten what is said in the following chapter: “Bless and do not curse” (Rom. 12:14), and in another place: “When reviled, we bless; when slandered, we try to conciliate” (1 Cor. 4:12–13). They wish to convert the Jews by force and curses, but God will resist them.”[67]

 

With Luther’s proclamation of the Gospel in the early 1520’s, Luther, against the prevailing culture of his day re-evaluated the plight of the Jews.  For a time, he rose above cultural conformity and extended the Gospel message to the Jewish people. Perhaps it was due to the persecution he received from the Roman Catholic Church. In his exposition of the Magnificat in 1521 Luther said, “We ought, therefore, not to treat the Jews in so unkindly a spirit, for there are future Christians among them, and they are turning every day.”[68] In his lectures on the Psalms during the period of 1519-1521, Luther chastises his “Christian” culture that oppressed the Jews:

 

The fury of some Christians (if they are to be called Christians) is damnable. They imagine that they are doing God a service when they persecute the Jews most hatefully, think everything evil of them, and insult them with extreme arrogance and contempt amid their pitiable misfortunes, whereas, according to the example of this psalm and that of Paul (Rom. 9:1), a man ought to be most heartily sorry for them and continually pray for them. These folk ought certainly see to it that they listen to Paul (Rom. 11:18): "Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee." And again (v. 20): "Be not high-minded, but fear." But by this tyrannical attitude of theirs these godless people, who are Christians in name only, are inflicting no light injury on the Christian name as well as Christian people. And they are guilty and partakers of Jewish godlessness. By the example of this cruelty they are, as it were, repelling Jews from Christianity, whereas they ought to attract them by all manner of gentleness, patience, pleading, and care.”[69]

There are even some theologians so unreasonable as to sanction such cruelty to the Jews and to encourage people to it; in their proud conceit they assert that the Jews are the Christians’ slaves and tributary to the emperor, while in truth they are themselves Christians with as much right as any one nowadays is Roman Emperor. Good God, who would want to join our religion, even though he were of a meek and submissive mind, when he sees how spitefully and cruelly he is treated, and that the treatment he can expect is not only unchristian, but worse than bestial? If hating Jews and heretics and Turks makes people Christians, we are beyond a doubt worse than Jews, heretics, and Turks, because no one loves Christ less than we. The rage of these people reminds me of children and fools, who, when they see a picture of a Jew on a wall, go and cut out his eyes, pretending that they want to help the Lord Christ. Most of the preachers during Lent treat of nothing else than the cruelty of the Jews towards the Lord Christ, which they are continually magnifying.  Thus they embitter believers against them, while the Gospel aims only at showing and exalting the love of God and Christ.”[70]

 

Against the spirit of his day, Luther did not singularly blame the Jews for the death of Christ. Eric Gritsch points out, “Luther did not, however, hold Jews responsible for the death of Christ. As he wrote in a hymn, ‘We dare not blame…the band of Jews; ours is the shame.’ And he felt that at least a few Jews might be won for Christ”[71] It was the sins of all men that brought about Christ’s death. Heiko Oberman explains, “Though his attitude toward the Jews remained medieval, even in the last phase of his life he never took over that medieval hatred for the Jews as ‘murderers of Christ’ which subjected them ‘in a Christian spirit’ to the rage of the mob.”[72]

 

 

VI.1523: Luther’s Book “Jesus Christ Was Born A Jew”

In 1523 Luther published Jesus Christ was born a Jew. The occasion of the writing occurred when Luther’s enemies charged him with denying the virgin birth of Christ. They promulgated the rumor that Luther held Christ was the natural son of Joseph.[73] Luther announces early in the treatise that he will exonerate himself by proving from the Scriptures that Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, and in doing so might “perhaps also win some Jews to the Christian faith.”[74] Luther would not only prove his detractors false, but for the benefit of the Jews he would prove the Old Testament scriptures prophesied of the New Testament Jesus:[75]Let [the Jews] first be suckled with milk, and begin by recognizing this man Jesus as the true Messiah; after that they may drink wine, and learn also that he is true God. For they have been led astray so long and so far that one must deal gently with them, as people who have been all too strongly indoctrinated to believe that God cannot be man.”[76]

 

Against the spirit of medieval culture, Luther took bold steps of tolerance towards the Jews. He said,

 

I would request and advise that one deal gently with them and instruct them from Scripture; then some of them may come along. Instead of this we are trying only to drive them by force, slandering them, accusing them of having Christian blood if they don’t stink, and I know not what other foolishness. So long as we thus treat them like dogs, how can we expect to work any good among them? Again, when we forbid them to labor and do business and have any human fellowship with us, thereby forcing them into usury, how is that supposed to do them any good? If we really want to help them, we must be guided in our dealings with them not by papal law but by the law of Christian love. We must receive them cordially, and permit them to trade and work with us, that they may have occasion and opportunity to associate with us, hear our Christian teaching, and witness our Christian life. If some of them should prove stiff-necked, what of it? After all, we ourselves are not all good Christians either.”[77]

 

In this treatise, Luther expresses sympathy toward the Jews saying that he would not have become a Christian either if he had been born a Jew under the papacy:

 

Our fools, the popes, bishops, sophists,  and monks—the crude asses’ heads—have hitherto so treated the Jews that anyone who wished to be a good Christian would almost have had to become a Jew. If I had been a Jew and had seen such dolts and blockheads govern and teach the Christian faith, I would sooner have become a hog than a Christian. They have dealt with the Jews as if they were dogs rather than human beings; they have done little else than deride them and seize their property. When they baptize them they show them nothing of Christian doctrine or life, but only subject them to popishness and monkery. When the Jews then see that Judaism has such strong support in Scripture, and that Christianity has become a mere babble without reliance on Scripture, how can they possibly compose themselves and become right good Christians? I have myself heard from pious baptized Jews that if they had not in our day heard the gospel they would have remained Jews under the cloak of Christianity for the rest of their days. For they acknowledge that they have never yet heard anything about Christ from those who baptized and taught them. 

 

I hope that if one deals in a kindly way with the Jews and instructs them carefully from Holy Scripture, many of them will become genuine Christians and turn again to the faith of their fathers, the prophets and patriarchs.  They will only be frightened further away from it if their Judaism is so utterly rejected that nothing is allowed to remain, and they are treated only with arrogance and scorn. If the apostles, who also were Jews, had dealt with us Gentiles as we Gentiles deal with the Jews, there would never have been a Christian among the Gentiles. Since they dealt with us Gentiles in such brotherly fashion, we in our turn ought to treat the Jews in a brotherly manner in order that we might convert some of them.  For even we ourselves are not yet all very far along, not to speak of having arrived.” [78]

 

Against the cultural stereotype that the Jews were enemies of Christ, Luther says that the Jews are (biologically speaking), closest to Christ:

 

When we are inclined to boast of our position we should remember that we are but Gentiles, while the Jews are of the lineage of Christ. We are aliens and in-laws; they are blood relatives, cousins, and brothers of our Lord. Therefore, if one is to boast of flesh and blood, the Jews are actually nearer to Christ than we are, as St. Paul says in Romans 9. God has also demonstrated this by his acts, for to no nation among the Gentiles has he granted so high an honor as he has to the Jews. For from among the Gentiles there have been raised up no patriarchs, no apostles, no prophets, indeed, very few genuine Christians either. And although the gospel has been proclaimed to all the world, yet He committed the Holy Scriptures, that is, the law and the prophets, to no nation except the Jews, as Paul says in Romans 3 and Psalm 147 , “He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and ordinances to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any other nation; nor revealed his ordinances to them.”[79]

 

Luther was convinced that by exposing the errors and abuses of the papacy, and treating them with kindness, some Jews would be converted.[80] With some similarity to Luther’s treatise, a Table Talk entry (probably from the same period), quotes Luther as saying,

 

The Jews are the most miserable people on earth. They are plagued everywhere, and scattered about all countries, having no certain resting place. They sit as on a wheelbarrow, without a country, people, or government; yet they wait on with earnest confidence; they cheer up themselves and say: It will soon be better with us. Thus hardened are they; but let them know assuredly, that there is none other Lord or God, but only he that already sits at the right hand of God the Father. The Jews are not permitted to trade or to keep cattle, they are only usurers and brokers; they eat nothing the Christians kill or touch; they drink no wine; they have many superstitions; they wash the flesh most diligently, whereas they cannot be cleansed through the flesh. They drink not milk, because God said: “Thou shalt not boil the young kid in his mother’s milk.” Such superstitions proceed out of God’s anger. They that are without faith, have laws without end, as we see in the papists and Turks; but they are rightly served, for seeing they refused to have Christ and his Gospel, instead of freedom they must have servitude. If I were a Jew, the pope should never persuade me to his doctrine; I would rather be ten times racked. Popedom, with its abominations and profanities, has given to the Jews infinite offence. I am persuaded if the Jews heard our preaching, and how we handle the Old Testament, many of them might be won, but, through disputing, they have become more and more stiff-necked, haughty, and presumptuous. Yet, if but a few of the rabbis fell off, we might see them come to us, one after another, for they are almost weary of waiting.[81]

 

His hope was that a proper understanding of the gospel would bring the Jews to faith in Christ. The Jews would only be returning to the ancient faith of their fathers and prophets. They were to cease waiting for the Messiah, for he had come 1500 years before. James Mackinnon says of Luther’s attitude,

 

“At this period he evidently had a genuine sympathy with a race which had, for so many centuries, been treated as an alien and an outcast among the nations. He was eager to offer its members the hand of fellowship in a common profession of allegiance to the Christ of the Gospels, in opposition to the disfigured Christ of the mediaeval Church, whose brutal intolerance, so little in keeping with the spirit of the former, had done so much to alienate them. His correspondence with converted Jews like Bernhard, to whom he sent a copy of the work, shows how eager he was to make amends for this brutal intolerance, in the hope that they would welcome Christianity in its evangelical form.”[82]

 

In this hope, Luther was naïve, and converts were few. The approach of theological discussion was no match for the centuries of harsh treatment inflicted on the Jews.  They had suffered intense persecutions at the hand of Christians. They were subject to harsh legal limitations, economic exploitations by rulers, and to persecution and maltreatment by the general public and authorities for supposed magical and demonic activities. Luther failed to convert the Jews through his writings. Luther scholar Roland Bainton commented, “When he endeavored to proselytize some rabbis, they undertook in return to make a Jew of him.”[83]

 

VII. 1537: The Josel Of Rosheim Controversy

Luther’s hope for Jewish conversion seems to have reached its zenith of dismaying frustration in 1536. Sometime previous to this year, Luther met with three learned Jews who disagreed with his interpretation of messianic passages from the Old Testament based on rabbinic tradition. During these years Luther had been taking great effort to expound a Christological interpretation of the Old Testament. The argument centered around the Christological interpretation of Jeremiah 23:6. The Rabbis refused to see Christ in the passage. Luther said of this meeting:

 

I myself have discussed this with the Jews, indeed with the most learned of them, who knew the Bible so well that there wasn’t a letter in it that they did not understand. I held up this text to them, and they could not think of anything to refute me. Finally they said that they believed their Talmud; this is their exegesis, and it says nothing about Christ. They had to follow this interpretation. Thus they do not stick to the text but seek to escape it. For if they held to this text alone, they would be vanquished.”[84]

 

That these learned Jews refused this, as well as the Christological nature of the Old Testament must have evoked deep frustration. Coupled with the failure of Jewish conversion since his writings from 1523, Luther vowed to never enter into dialog with the Jews again.

 

The rabbis though were not particularly interested in theological dialog with Luther. They needed Luther to write them a letter which would allow them to pass safely through Saxony. Luther obliged them and wrote the letter, only to hear reports that later they spoke blasphemously of Christ, calling him merely a “crucified bandit”.[85]An older version of the Table Talk records Luther saying,

 

Two Jewish rabbis, named Schamaria and Jacob, came to me at Wittenberg, desiring of me letters of safe conduct, which I granted them, and they were well pleased; only they earnestly besought me to omit thence the word Tola, that is, Jesus crucified; for they must needs blaspheme the name Jesus. They said: ‘Tis most wonderful that so many thousands of innocent people have been slaughtered, of whom no mention is made, while Jesus, the crucified, must always be remembered.”[86]

 

Luther had now come to perceive the Jews quite negatively. They didn’t mind appealing to him for toleration in Saxony, but they completely ignored his theological exhortations and proclamation of the Gospel. The proclamation of the gospel did not have the effect on them that Luther thought it would.  Heiko Oberman describes Luther’s mindset toward them:

 

“For Luther the Jews were doing anything but improving. What was worse, encouraged by their misreading of his own words, they had become more daring, defaming and cursing Jesus of Nazareth and regarding Christians as their ‘worst enemies,’ so much so that ‘if you could, you would [now] rob [all Christians] of what they are and what they have.’ However, the decision not to speak for the Jews in Saxony hinged on the analysis that they were appealing to religious tolerance while irreligiously rejecting their own God…the Father of Jesus Christ.”[87]

 

Luther took the resolve of non-dialog with learned Jews seriously. In 1537 he refused to intercede for the Jewish official, Josel of Rosheim who needed a guarantee of safe-conduct through Electoral Saxony. Josel was said to be one of the leading spokesmen for the Jews throughout the empire. Indeed, he needed to speak on behalf of all Jews in Saxony; they had recently been driven out of the area by the decree of John Frederick (“Luther’s magnanimous patron and staunch defender of the Reformation...”)[88] Josel felt that Luther could aid him in his task, since Luther was known as a friend of the Jews from his writings of 1523. The plan was for Luther to help Josel change the mind of the elector. Interestingly, Rabbi Josel had earlier sided with the emperor against Luther.[89] Now seeing Luther’s importance in political situations, he sought his aid.

 

Luther though, was to deny any assistance. In his letter to this Jewish official, Luther reiterated his position on the Jews from his 1523 treatise That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew, and also added that his influence was not to be used to further Judaism. He said:

 

My dear Josel:

I would have gladly interceded for you, both orally and in writing, before my gracious lord [the elector], just as my writings have greatly served the whole of Jewry. But because your people so shamefully misuse this service of mine and undertake things that we Christians simply shall not bear from you, they themselves have robbed me of all the influence I might otherwise have been able to exercise before princes and lords on your behalf.  For my opinion was, and still is, that one should treat the Jews in a kindly manner, that God may perhaps look graciously upon them and bring them to their Messiah—but not so that through my good will and influence they might be strengthened in their error and become still more bothersome.

I propose to write a pamphlet about this if God gives me space and time, to see if I cannot win some from your venerable tribe of the patriarchs and prophets and bring them to your promised Messiah…”[90]

 

For I have read your Rabbis, how they simply cry out that Christ is a crucified and damned Jew ... so please take this as a friendly warning: for the sake of that Crucified Jew, I would willingly do my best for your people but I will not contribute to your obstinacy by my own kind actions. You must find another intermediary with my good lord.”[91]

 

Heiko Oberman sees this event as significant in Luther’s attitude toward the Jews: “Even today this refusal is often judged to be the decisive turning point in Luther’s career from friendliness to hostility toward the Jews.”[92] In a Table Talk entry, Luther is quoted as exhibiting explicit hostility to Rabbi Josel’s appeal:

A letter was delivered to Dr. Martin [Luther] from a certain Jew who requested and pleaded (as he had often written to the doctor before) that permission be obtained from the elector to grant him [the Jew] safe entrance into and passage through the elector’s principality. Dr. Martin [Luther] responded, “Why should these rascals, who injure people in body and property and who withdraw many Christians to their superstitions, be given permission? In Moravia they have circumcised many Christians and call them by the new name of Sabbatarians. This is what happens in those regions from which preachers of the gospel are expelled; there people are compelled to tolerate the Jews. It is said that Duke George declared with an oath that before he would tolerate the Lutherans he would lay waste all churches, baptism, and sacraments. As if we didn’t preach the same service of Christ and the same sacraments! In short, the world wants to be deceived. However, I’ll write this Jew not to return.”[93]

 

Years later, Josel of Rosheim was deeply troubled by Luther’s viscous treatise, On The Jews and Their Lies (1543). He sought permission from the city council of Strasburg to write a counter-response to Luther. He was denied. The Jewish Encyclopedia notes, “Josel complains that although he made seven attempts to see Luther he was never admitted, and in his memoirs, written in the year following Luther's death, he speaks with bitterness of the great reformer's attitude toward the Jews, expressing the hope that he was in hell, both body and soul.”[94] He was though able to persuade the Strasbourg city council not to publish a second printing of On The Jews and Their Lies.

 

Around this time also there were rumors that the Jews sought to assassinate Luther. Some of the rumors said the Papacy had hired the Jews to kill him. Luther writing to friend informed him that a Polish Jewish physician attempted to poison him, but he was arrested before being able to carry out his plan.[95] Eric Gritsch thinks this factored into his theological understanding of the Jews: “There were rumors of Jewish conspiracies and plots to kill Luther, which only increased his suspicion that Jews were afflicted with hardening hearts.”[96]

 

At this point in Luther’s career, he had been reading anti-Jewish works of Lyra, Paul of Burgos, Victor of Carben, and Antonius Margaritha.[97] These writings greatly influenced Luther.[98] Luther was to hear that Moravia and Bohemia were gaining Jewish converts from Christianity. Similarly, some of his own supporters began to adhere to the Jewish Sabbath and certain Jewish laws as a means of increasing Christian morality. With these sources of anti-Jewish polemic, Luther launched into defending Christendom from the Jews.

 

 

VIII. 1538: Luther’s Treatise “Against The Sabbatarians”

As the above Table Talk entry documents, Luther increasingly exhibited open hostility towards the Jews. His earlier position of patience toward them proved futile. There were not many converts. In his eyes, the Jews were a clear example of hardened hearts: they were no longer the church’s responsibility, but rather need to be given over to God’s judgment.  By 1538, he came to believe the popular stories about the Jews attempts to convert Christians.[99] His first written treatise against alleged Jewish proselytizing was Against the Sabbatarians. He wrote as a response to reports that the Jews had been proselytizing in Bohemia and Moravia. More importantly, he was informed that the Jews had convinced some Christians that they should be circumcised, that the messiah had not yet come, that the Jewish law was externally valid, and that it should be observed by Gentiles. Luther begins this writing (an “open letter”) stating exactly what topics he will cover: 

 

You informed me that the Jews are making inroads at various places throughout the country with their venom and their doctrine, and that they have already induced some Christians to let themselves be circumcised and to believe that the Messiah or Christ has not yet appeared, that the law of the Jews must prevail forever, that it must also be adopted by all the Gentiles, etc. Then you inquired of me how these allegations are to be refuted with Holy Scripture. For the time being and until I am at greater leisure, I will convey my advice and opinion briefly in this matter.”[100]

 

Luther laid out a number of scriptural arguments to counter these claims. By and large, Luther treats the Jews in this writing as he would any group that opposed the Gospel. He uses rhetoric, argumentum ad absurdum, and appeal to a clear exposition of the Scriptures. It is helpful to consider some of the arguments he put forth, to see that Luther’s beginning polemic against the Jews was primarily theological.

 

Luther first blames the stubbornness of the Jewish people towards the gospel on the teachings of their rabbi’s (recall though, his emphasis in the early 1520’s also blames the Papacy). He also is still cognizant of the difficult plight of the Jews through history, and sees this plight as the direct anger of God toward them in rejecting the Messiah. Luther then develops the argument that either God has lied and not sent the Messiah, or the Jews have lied in saying that He has not come. Luther says,

 

Since it is clear and obvious that the Jews are unable to name a sin because of which God should delay so long with his promise and thus be a liar in this matter, and that even if they could mention one or more, God’s word still stamps them as liars, since he assures them that he will never fail because of their sins in his promise to send the Messiah and to preserve the throne of David forever—it follows incontestably that one of the following two things must be true: either the Messiah must have come fifteen hundred years ago, or God must have lied (may God forgive me for speaking so irreverently!) and has not kept his promise. I repeat, either the Messiah must have come fifteen hundred years ago when the throne of David, the kingdom of Judah, the priesthood of Israel, the temple, and Jerusalem were still intact, when the law of Moses and the worship he instituted still endured, and the people were still living under their government in Jerusalem, before all of this had collapsed and been destroyed so miserably; or if not, God has lied. Those Jews who are still in possession of their reason cannot deny this. The hardened ones may wriggle and writhe, bend and twist with whatever artifices they may or can find, but their expedients and subterfuges are nothing over against such obvious truth.

 

The Messiah has come and God’s promise has been kept and fulfilled. They, however, did not accept or believe this, but constantly gave God the lie with their own unbelief, etc. Is it any wonder that God’s wrath destroyed them together with Jerusalem, temple, law, kingdom, priesthood, and reduced these to ashes, that he scattered them among all the Gentiles, and that he does not cease to afflict them as long as they give the lie to the divine promise and fulfillment and blaspheme them by their unbelief and disobedience?[101]

 

With some similarity to Luther’s later attacks against the Jews, he concludes the argument by saying,

 

I know this argument is true. Where there are still reasonable Jews, it must move them, and it must even upset the obdurate ones a little, for they cannot bring any substantial evidence against it. But if it does not move them or make them waver, we have nonetheless substantiated our own faith, so that their foul and worthless lies and idle chatter cannot harm us. And if they do not stick to the point of the argument but evade the issue by resorting to other twaddle, as they like to do, let them go their way and you go yours. It only shows you how they are given to babbling and lying.”[102]

 

Luther’s next argument was that the observance of the Jewish ceremonial law had ceased. It was not the case that Christians should become Jews because God’s law endured forever. Luther argues that if the Messiah has come, the law is fulfilled.  He then argues that if the law endures forever, why is it that for fifteen hundred years Judaism has been in a state of ruin? The ceremonial law inferred the existence of an actual Jerusalem. Since the Jews were not able to fulfill the ceremonial law in its designated location, the law has not endured forever, but has been fulfilled in Christ. Luther concludes,

 

For since God himself has let [the law] lapse for these fifteen hundred years, it is reasonable to assume that he pays it no heed and that he is not interested in obedience or service to such a law. Otherwise he would never have let it collapse or, at least, he would have determined how long he would let it lie in decay (as he did in the abovementioned instances), and with new promises, as well as prophets and other persons, he would have secured and regulated it. But he did not do this. Therefore the law of Moses is finished. It does not stand as a law that endures forever; rather it has become a law that is forever abandoned.”[103]

 

Luther then launches into a long series of scriptural arguments concerning the law and its fulfillment. He then concludes with arguments concerning the inadequacy of Jewish theology claiming it has a direct claim on the Ten Commandments. This is their law that endures forever. Luther though argues that the Ten Commandments are not simply the property of Israel. They were in fact, in place before Moses ever directly received them:

 

“Finally, we also want to discuss the Ten Commandments. For perhaps the Jews will also call the Ten Commandments the law of Moses, since they were given on Mount Sinai in the presence of none but Jews or children of Abraham, etc. You must reply: If the Ten Commandments are to be regarded as Moses’ law, then Moses came far too late, and he also addressed himself to far too few people, because the Ten Commandments had spread over the whole world not only before Moses but even before Abraham and all the patriarchs. For even if a Moses had never appeared and Abraham had never been born, the Ten Commandments would have had to rule in all men from the very beginning, as they indeed did and still do. 

For all creatures rightly regard God as God and honor his name, as do also the angels in heaven. Thus we and all human beings are obligated to hear his word, to honor father and mother, to refrain from killing, from adultery, from stealing, from bearing false witness, from coveting one’s neighbor’s house or anything else that is his. All the heathen bear witness to this in their writings, laws, and governments, as can be clearly seen; but nothing is said therein of circumcision or of the laws Moses gave to the Jews for the land of Canaan.”[104]

 

Luther ends this writing by admitting defeat in converting the Jews:

 

If you are unable to convert the Jews, then consider that you are no better than all the prophets, who were always slain and persecuted by this base people who glory solely in the boast that they are Abraham’s seed, though they surely know that there have always been many desperate, lost souls also among them, so that they might well recognize that it requires more to be a child of God than just to be the seed of Abraham… Because God for fifteen hundred years has failed to do this with the Jews but lets them live on and on in exile without any word or prophecy to them regarding it, it is evident that he has forsaken them, that they can no longer be God’s people, and that the true Lord, the Messiah, must have come fifteen hundred years ago.”[105]

 

Mark U. Edwards correctly summarized, “Each of these arguments was drawn out and buttressed with careful examination of the appropriate texts from Scripture. Luther was uncompromising in his insistence on the error of the Jews, but his language is still, for the most part, temperate and restrained.”[106] After this treatise, Luther decided, “to write no more either about the Jews or against them.”[107] Had Luther kept to this decision, he would have avoided writing one of his most controversial and dismaying treatises, “On The Jews And Their Lies.”

 

IX. 1543: Luther’s Treatise “On The Jews And Their Lies”

In 1543 Luther broke his silence with the treatise, “On the Jews and Their Lies.” Roland Bainton, the famous biographer of Luther, once said: “One could wish that Luther had died before ever this tract was written.”[108] The treatise was a response to a letter from Count Schlick of Moravia. The Count had sent Luther a Jewish apologetic pamphlet, containing a Jewish attack against Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and Christian exegesis of the Old Testament. The Count wanted Luther to refute it. Unfortunately, this letter and attack have been lost, so we are unaware of the exact tone of argument Luther was responding to. Often, Luther’s tone and method of argumentation was strongly influenced by that taken in the work he was responding to. James Mackinnon thinks that the original pamphlet was a direct response to Luther’s Against the Sabbatarians: It naturally provoked a reply in which a Jew, in the form of a dialogue with a Christian, controverted his exegesis…”[109] Whatever was in that Jewish writing, Luther erupted in vicious polemic, attacking not only through theology, but also in antagonistic ad hominem as well. Luther moved from his earlier writings of attacking Jewish theology to attacking Jewish people.[110] Still, Luther was not against the Jews for being “Jews”- he had no objections to integrating converted Jews into Christian society: “Now, in order to strengthen our faith, we want to deal with a few crass follies of the Jews in their belief arid their exegesis of the Scriptures, since they so maliciously revile our faith. If this should move any Jew to reform and repent, so much the better.”[111]

  

In this work, Luther no longer holds out any hope for Jewish conversion expressed in his earlier writings: “Much less do I propose to convert the Jews, for that is impossible.”[112] Nor is there to be any debate over their scriptural interpretation: “Therefore a Christian should be content and not argue with the Jews[113] and,  it is useless to argue with them about how God is triune, how he became man, and how Mary is the mother of God. No human reason nor any human heart will ever grant these things, much less the embittered, venomous, blind heart of the Jews.”[114] Luther has completely given up writing in order to dialog with Judaism or possible conversion, he now writes for the sole purpose of warning Christians against them. Luther repeats many of the arguments he put forth in his earlier writing, Against the Sabbatarians,[115] though it’s obvious his tone and demeanor have negatively increased.

 

Not all of the work is violent rhetoric against the Jews. Much of it involves arguments based on the Scriptures.  Luther argues for equality among groups of people (who are all in sin and condemned by God equally).  Luther argues that circumcision is not essential to salvation. He sees that any attempt to link circumcision to giving one a special status with God is a form of works righteousness, and thus a denial of the Gospel.[116] Even though Luther comes down hard on the Jews in regard to circumcision, by analogy, he argues that the Christian church has done the same thing with the sacraments; they have turned them into works righteousness:

 

The following is an analogous situation for us Christians: God gave us baptism, the sacrament of his body and blood, and the keys for the ultimate purpose or final cause that we should hear his word in them and exercise our faith therein. That is, he intends to be our God through them, and through them we are to be his people. However, what did we do? We proceeded to separate the word and faith from the sacrament (that is, from God and his ultimate purpose) and converted it into a mere opus legis, a work of the law, or as the papists call it, an opus operatum—merely a human work, which the priests offered to God and the laity performed as a work of obedience as often as they received it. What is left of the sacrament? Only the empty husk, the mere ceremony, opus vanum, divested of everything divine. Yes, it is a hideous abomination in which we perverted God’s truth into lies and worshiped the veritable calf of Aaron. Therefore God also delivered us into all sorts of terrible blindness and innumerable false doctrines, and, furthermore, he permitted Muhammad and the pope together with all devils to come upon us.

 

The people of Israel fared similarly. They always divorced circumcision as an opus operatum, their own work, from the word of God, and persecuted all the prophets through whom God wished to speak with them, according to the terms on which circumcision was instituted. Yet despite this, they constantly and proudly boasted of being God’s people by virtue of their circumcision. Thus they are in conflict with God. God wants them to hear him and to observe circumcision properly and fully; but they refuse and insist that God respect their work of circumcision, that is, half of circumcision, indeed, the husk of circumcision. God, in turn, refuses to do this; and so they move farther and farther apart, and it is impossible to reunite or reconcile them.” [117]

 

Luther also launches into arguments concerning the law. He views the Jews as being conceited because God gave them the law, and he sees them as the disobedient wife of God, because the law that they were given is not kept.[118] Luther argues that the Jews delight in their special status based on the land given to them by God” “they pride themselves tremendously on having received the land of Canaan, the city of Jerusalem, and the temple from God.”[119] Luther though sees that they were taken out of their homeland because of their disobedience.[120]

 

Luther defends prophecies concerning Jesus. With Genesis 49:10, the prophecy concerning “Shiloh,” Luther concludes, that the Bible clearly teaches the Messiah has come.[121] Luther argues that the last words of David in II Samuel 23 proclaim an everlasting covenant in which God’s house will stand eternally.[122] Only Christ proves this prophecy accurate. Luther argues from Haggai 2:6–9 that the “consolation of the Gentiles” is Christ, and he came while the Jewish temple was still standing “in a little while”. Luther argues the Jews are still waiting for Christ, this is hardly a “little while” and their temple is now destroyed.[123] Thus, for Luther, the Biblical record once again refutes Judaism. Luther argues that the seventy weeks prophesied in Daniel have been fulfilled and the messiah has come.[124]

 

Luther defended various charges against the person and work of Christ- many of which that had been part of popular medieval tradition.[125] Roman Catholics should be especially interested to find out that Luther defends Mary: in the third section charges that Mary was a prostitute and that there was not a virgin birth were vigorously argued against.

 

But, the treatise is littered with harsh rhetoric throughout. Luther takes seriously his belief that the Jews were gross blasphemers, and to even converse with them one supports there blasphemy.

 

When you lay eyes on or think of a Jew you must say to yourself: Alas, that mouth which I there behold has cursed and execrated and maligned every Saturday my dear Lord Jesus Christ, who has redeemed me with his precious blood; in addition, it prayed and pleaded before God that I, my wife and children, and all Christians might be stabbed to death and perish miserably. And he himself would gladly do this if he were able, in order to appropriate our goods. Perhaps he has spat on the ground many times this very day over the name of Jesus, as is their custom, so that the spittle still clings to his mouth and beard, if he had a chance to spit. If I were to eat, drink, or talk with such a devilish mouth, I would eat or drink myself full of devils by the dish or cupful, just as I surely make myself a cohort of all the devils that dwell in the Jews and that deride the precious blood of Christ. May God preserve me from this![126]

 

  Luther now believes all the popular slanderous myths about the Jews:

 

They stuff themselves, guzzle, and live in luxury and ease from our hard-earned goods. With their accursed usury they hold us and our property captive. Moreover, they mock and deride us because we work and let them play the role of lazy squires at our expense and in our land.”[127]

 

Since it has now been established that we do not hold them captive, how does it happen that we deserve the enmity of such noble and great saints? We do not call their women whores as they do Mary, Jesus’ mother. We do not call them children of whores as they do our Lord Jesus. We do not say that they were conceived at the time of cleansing and were thus born as idiots, as they say of our Lord. We do not say that their women are haria, as they do with regard to our dear Mary. We do not curse them but wish them well, physically and spiritually. We lodge them, we let them eat and drink with us. We do not kidnap their children and pierce them through; we do not poison their wells; we do not thirst for their blood. How, then, do we incur such terrible anger, envy, and hatred on the part of such great and holy children of God?[128]

 

So we are even at fault in not avenging all this innocent blood of our Lord and of the Christians which they shed for three hundred years after the destruction of Jerusalem, and the blood of the children they have shed since then (which still shines forth from their eyes and their skin). We are at fault in not slaying them. Rather we allow them to live freely in our midst despite all their murdering, cursing, blaspheming, lying, and defaming; we protect and shield their synagogues, houses, life, and property. In this way we make them lazy and secure and encourage them to fleece us boldly of our money and goods, as well as to mock and deride us, with a view to finally overcoming us, killing us all for such a great sin, and robbing us of all our property (as they daily pray and hope). Now tell me whether they do not have every reason to be the enemies of us accursed Goyim, to curse us and to strive for our final, complete, and eternal ruin![129]

 

Because of their blasphemy against Jesus, Mary, the Trinity, and the whole of the Christian faith, Luther’s understanding of the Jewish people reduces them to being murderers, blasphemers, lies and thieves. He has stereotyped an entire group of people to be the worst of criminals. With this prejudice, Luther launches into the section of the treatise for which On The Jews and Their Lies is most remembered. He says, “We must exercise harsh mercy with fear and trembling, in the hope that we could save some from the flames and embers. We must not avenge ourselves. They are under God’s wrath- a thousand times worse than we could wish it upon them.”[130] Luther considered his early treatise from 1523 soft mercy: an appeal to the Jews to convert. Now, Luther attempts to use harsh mercy: forcing the Jews to convert and to protect Christians from blasphemy. Luther gives his infamous seven recommendations to the political authorities:

 

Recommendation One:

First, to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. This is to be done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians, and do not condone or knowingly tolerate such public lying, cursing, and blaspheming of his Son and of his Christians. For whatever we tolerated in the past unknowingly—and I myself was unaware of it—will be pardoned by God. But if we, now that we are informed, were to protect and shield such a house for the Jews, existing right before our very nose, in which they lie about, blaspheme, curse, vilify, and defame Christ and us (as was heard above), it would be the same as if we were doing all this and even worse ourselves, as we very well know.”[131]

 

Recommendation Two:

Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed. For they pursue in them the same aims as in their synagogues. Instead they might be lodged under a roof or in a barn, like the gypsies. This will bring home to them the fact that they are not masters in our country, as they boast, but that they are living in exile and in captivity, as they incessantly wail and lament about us before God.”[132]

 

Recommendation Three:

Third, I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them.”[133]

 

 

Recommendation Four:

Fourth, I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb. For they have justly forfeited the right to such an office by holding the poor Jews captive with the saying of Moses (Deuteronomy 17 [:10 ff.]) in which he commands them to obey their teachers on penalty of death, although Moses clearly adds: “what they teach you in accord with the law of the Lord.” Those villains ignore that. They wantonly employ the poor people’s obedience contrary to the law of the Lord and infuse them with this poison, cursing, and blasphemy. In the same way the pope also held us captive with the declaration in Matthew 16 [:18], “You are Peter,” etc., inducing us to believe all the lies and deceptions that issued from his devilish mind. He did not teach in accord with the word of God, and therefore he forfeited the right to teach.”[134]

 

Recommendation Five:

Fifth, I advise that safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews. For they have no business in the countryside, since they are not lords, officials, tradesmen, or the like. Let them stay at home. I have heard it said that a rich Jew is now traveling across the country with twelve horses—his ambition is to become a Kokhba—devouring princes, lords, lands, and people with his usury, so that the great lords view it with jealous eyes. If you great lords and princes will not forbid such usurers the highway legally, some day a troop may gather against them, having learned from this booklet the true nature of the Jews and how one should deal with them and not protect their activities. For you, too, must not and cannot protect them unless you wish to become participants in all their abominations in the sight of God. Consider carefully what good could come from this, and prevent it.”[135]

 

Recommendation Six:

Sixth, I advise that usury be prohibited to them, and that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them and put aside for safekeeping. The reason for such a measure is that, as said above, they have no other means of earning a livelihood than usury, and by it they have stolen and robbed from us all they possess. Such money should now be used in no other way than the following: Whenever a Jew is sincerely converted, he should be handed one hundred, two hundred, or three hundred florins, as personal circumstances may suggest. With this he could set himself up in some occupation for the support of his poor wife and children, and the maintenance of the old or feeble. For such evil gains are cursed if they are not put to use with God’s blessing in a good and worthy cause.”[136]

 

Recommendation Seven:

Seventh, I recommend putting a flail, an ax, a hoe, a spade, a distaff, or a spindle into the hands of young, strong Jews and Jewesses and letting them earn their bread in the sweat of their brow, as was imposed on the children of Adam (Gen. 3 [:19]). For it is not fitting that they should let us accursed Goyim toil in the sweat of our faces while they, the holy people, idle away their time behind the stove, feasting and farting, and on top of all, boasting blasphemously of their lordship over the Christians by means of our sweat. No, one should toss out these lazy rogues by the seat of their pants.”[137]

 

These seven recommendations give this writing its infamy. Countless web pages, all with the goal of “exposing” Luther as an anti-Semite usually highlight this section. It is the lowest of point in Luther’s work.  Scholars have chastised Luther:

 

Gordon Rupp:

“Sharp compassion; and it is no excuse that most of it could be paralleled in contemporary writings. In recommending the burning of Jewish writings he was relapsing into the very obscurantism which as a young professor he had denounced. The destruction of synagogues and houses recalls the worst antisemitic actions of the previous thousand years. Imperial law in 1530 had tried to turn the Jews from the trade of usury and force them to manual labour.”[138]

 

James Mackinnon:

“It is not surprising that these effusions evoked loud protests on the part of Bullinger, Bucer, and others of Luther's Sacramentarian opponents. Did Luther mean this frenzied outburst to be taken seriously ? Are we, on the strength of it, to regard him as the sixteenth-century protagonist of Fascism as well as the prophet of a volcanic religious movement ?  It is difficult to believe that he soberly contemplated the literal application of such monstrous proposals. On his own confession he wrote much in the white heat of controversy that, on second thoughts, he would fain not have seen in print. At the same time, we cannot forget that he refused to retract a syllable of his wild fulmination against the peasants, and it is clear that in his eruptive and growingly intolerant old age, he has become increasingly liable to obsessions, and less and less able to control his blazing irascibility.”[139]  

 

Kenneth A. Strand:

“The treatment that Luther, in his On the Jews and Their Lies, recommended should be given the Jews by the secular authorities is enough to make one shudder; and the bald references to defecatory and urinary excrements when describing rabbinic exegesis and supposed Jewish beliefs is enough to make one blush.”[140]

 

 

 

X. 1543: Luther’s Treatises “On The Ineffable Name” and “The Last Words of David”

Luther went on to publish two more anti-Jewish writings: On The Ineffable Name and On Christ’s Lineage (1543), and On The Last Words of David (1543). Neither of these treatises are contained in the English edition of Luther’s Works.[141] In these writings, Luther intended to show the superiority of Christian interpretation over rabbinical interpretation. 

 

The first treatise, On The Ineffable Name and On Christ’s Lineage Luther picks up where he left off in On The Jews and Their Lies”. Mark U. Edwards explains the first part revealed Luther at his worst:

 

“The…treatise was written, Luther said, to expose to German Christians the devilsh lies of the Jews and especially the lies of the rabbinic exegetes and further, to show those Christians who were considering becoming Jews what fine articles of Jewish faith they would have to believe. The treatise was not directed at the Jews themselves since Luther had given up all hope of their conversion. A few of their number might yet be saved, he wrote, but the great majority of the Jews were so stubborn that to convert them would be like converting the devil into an angel, hell into heaven, death into life, and sin into holiness.”[142]

 

“In contrast to Luther’s other writings about the Jews, section one of this treatise is singularly devoid of any edifying theological, exegetical, or historical comments. Even by Luther’s standards the vulgarity is excessive and unusually humorless. Offering his standard apology to critics of his polemics, Luther replied to the ‘merciful saints among us Christians who think that I am being too coarse and tasteless toward the poor wretched Jews in dealing with them so disdainfully and sarcastically’ that the devil was the Jews master.”[143]

 

Gordon Rupp provides this summary of the argumentation found in the first section of On The Ineffable Name and On Christ’s Lineage:

 

“Luther gives verbatim a mediaeval anti-Christian legend which he takes from the 14th century Carthusian Salvatus Porchetus's Victoria adversus impios Hebraeos. According to this, Jesus was a magician who escaped past the iron dogs which guarded the Temple in the time of the Empress Helena, by concealing the sacred Name, the Tetragrammaton, in a wound in his leg, and, in the power of this Name, wrought all his miracles. But finally another Jew, Judas Iscariot, escaped from the Temple by the same device and Jesus was crucified not on a wooden cross but on a giant cabbage-stalk which was split in twain, a cabbage-stalk which bore cabbages hundreds of pounds in weight. It is an interesting, probably Gnostic document, though one can understand why contemporary Jews claimed to know nothing of such old wives' tales. But Luther is explaining to Christians what Jews have invented and he leads into a debunking of numerology (which assigned numbers to each letter of the Hebrew alphabet) which is effective and Chestertonian—or perhaps Bellocian—in humour. He also puts the case against all magic by a lucid summary of his own doctrine of the relation of the Word of God to all outward signs.”[144]

 

The second section of this work deals with theological arguments. Luther discusses the lineage of Jesus, and offers interpretation and commentary on Matthew 1:1-6 and Luke 3:23-28, showing that Jesus was the intended Messiah.  He again defends Mary’s virginity and offers arguments based on Isaiah 7:14. Luther finds his argumentation beyond dispute, thus Jewish rabbinical interpretation must be the work of direct deceit:

 

In sum; these desperate devilish liars think they own Holy Scripture like a piece of paper from which one can carve at will little figures of people, birds, houses, toys. And whatever they say Jews and Christians are to consider right. Let me give you my own judgment about these damned rabbis. First, Holy Scripture does not belong to the Jews nor the Gentiles, neither to angels nor even less to devils, but to God alone. He alone spoke it and wrote it, and He alone should interpret it, whenever necessary. Both devils and humans should be his students and hearers. Second, we Christians are not permitted, on pain of losing divine grace and eternal life, to believe and to accept as right the rabbis' glosses about Scripture. We may read them in order to see and to protect ourselves from the kind of devilish work they do.”[145] 

 

Andreas Osiander, the reformer in Nuremberg combined with one of his old Jewish teachers, Levita in writing a response to this treatise. Both were outraged by this anti-Jewish writing. The writing is now lost, because Melanchthon intercepted it before Luther ever saw it.[146]  In 1545, the Zurich city council said of the work, “If this had been written by a swineherd, rather than by a celebrated shepherd of souls, it might have some, but very little, justification.” [147]

 

The next work against the Jews from Luther was On The Last Words of David. Like the previous treatise, Luther writes to Christians, not Jews: “Since the Jews do not accept this Christ, they cannot know or understand what Moses, the prophets, and the psalms say, what true faith is, what the Ten Commandments want, and what the examples and stories of Scripture teach and prove. To them Scripture is bound to be (according to the prophecy in Is. 29:12) like a letter to a man who cannot read. He sees the letters very well but does not know their meaning.”[148] Here Luther regains his ability to argue theologically. Almost the entirety of the treatise deals with refuting rabbinic exegesis. Luther leaves out attacking the Jews as he did in his previous two writings.  James Mackinnon explains:

 

“In this production he strives in a calm and scholarly fashion to demonstrate from 2 Sam. Xxiii. 1-7, and a couple of other Old Testament passages (Gen. iv. i and i Chron. xviii. 17), the divinity of Christ and the traditional doctrine of the Trinity against all heretics as well as the Jews. His exegesis, in part original and striking, is dominated, not by his hatred of the Jews, but by his Christological convictions, and though to some extent lacking in true historic and philological insight into the text, shows the genuine piety of his best religious mood. It reflects, too, the tolerance of difference of opinion which, in his more equitable mood, he could still profess and practice towards opponents in matters theological. What he claims for himself—freedom to follow his own judgment in the interpretation of Scripture—he is ready to accord to others, and leave the issue to the judgment of God. His reasoning would, however, have been more forcible had he refrained from distrusting reason in such matters and lapsing into his bad habit of denouncing it as a guide in theological discussion. " This time," he says, in reference to the interpretation of certain of the passages in question, which he had previously adopted from others, " I will be obstinate and follow no one except my own mind. Whoever is not pleased, let him reject it. It is not the first time that I write what is displeasing to others, and I am. God be thanked, well accustomed to such displeasure. For my part, I do not accept what others write. Let each see to it how and what he builds on his foundation —gold or wood, silver or hay, precious stones or straw. The day of the Lord will reveal it."”[149]

 

Mark U. Edwards comments,

 

On the Last Words of David just happens not be a polemical treatise. Instead, it is a detailed discussion of those passages in the Old Testament that he believed attested unequivocally to the Christian Trinity and to the incarnation of the Word in Jesus Christ. As such, it is a fascinating example of Luther's theologically based hermeneutics and Christocentric interpretation of the Old Testament. It is also a rich source for his understanding of the Trinity and of the incarnation including the communication of idioms between the divine and human natures of Christ.”[150]

 

 

 

XI. 1546: Luther’s Last Words About The Jews

The English edition of Luther’s Works contain three volumes dedicated to his letters (spanning the entirety of his career). Very few of those letters include anything substantial concerning Luther’s attitudes toward the Jews. However, two letters written to Luther’s wife Katie (from the year in which Luther died) reveal Luther’s deep hostility toward the Jews.

 

February 1, 1546. To my dearly beloved mistress of the house, Catherine Luther,  a doctor, the lady of Zölsdorf [and] of the pig market,  and whatever else she is capable of being; Before all else, grace and peace in Christ, and my old, poor, and, as Your Grace knows, powerless love. Dear Katie. Yes, on the way, shortly before Eisleben, I became dizzy.  That was my fault. Had you been here, however, you would have said that it was the fault of the Jews or their god.  For shortly before Eisleben we had to travel through a village in which many Jews are living, [and] perhaps they have attacked me so painfully.[151]  At this time over fifty Jews reside here in the city of Eisleben.  It is true that when I passed by the village such a cold wind blew from behind into the carriage and on my head through the beret, [that it seemed] as if it intended to turn my brain to ice. This might have helped me somewhat to become dizzy. But thank God now I am well, except for the fact that beautiful women tempt me so much that I neither care nor worry about becoming unchaste.  After the main issues have been settled, I have to start expelling the Jews.  Count Albrecht is hostile to them and has already outlawed them.  But no one harms them as yet. If God grants it I shall aid Count Albrecht from the pulpit, and outlaw them too.” [152]

 

Feb 7, 1546. “I think that hell and the whole world must now be empty of all devils, who, perhaps for my sake, have congregated here at Eisleben, so hard has this affair run aground. There are also Jews here, about fifty in one house,  as I have written to you previously. Now it is said that in Rissdorf—close to Eisleben, where I became iii during my journey—there are supposedly about four hundred Jews living and working.  Count Albrecht, who owns all the area around Eisleben, has declared that the Jews who are caught on his property are outlaws.  But as yet no one wants to do them any harm. The Countess of Mansfeld, the widow of Solms,  is considered to be the protector of the Jews. I do not know whether this is true. Today I made my opinion known in a sufficiently blunt way if anyone wishes to pay attention to it. Otherwise it might not do any good at all. You people pray, pray, pray, and help us that we do all things properly, for today in my anger I had made up my mind to grease the carriage. But the misery of my fatherland, which carne to my mind, has stopped me.”[153]

 

One should use caution in interpreting these letters- Luther mixes sarcasm and humor throughout (this is not to deny that Luther said hostile things towards the Jews in these letters). For instance, Luther says that the Jews have attacked him “painfully”. Luther is not saying that the Jews literally attacked him. What exactly does Luther mean when he says that his wife would have blamed the Jews for his illness? Does he literally mean this? Or did his wife at times jest with his deep intolerance and use it as a sarcastic jab against him? What does Luther mean when he says that there were fifty Jews in one house?

 

On the other hand, Luther was probably serious about wanting to preach against the Jews from the pulpit at Eisleben. Luther’s Last Sermon has been said to contain his last blast of anti-Jewish writing: “Luther's last sermon, preached just days before his death, was brimming over with biting condemnation and vulgarities for the Jews.”[154] The editors of Luther’s Works though note this probably did not happen.[155] They include Luther’s last sermon preached at Eisleben February 15, 1546 and it does not contain anti-Jewish material. Even the respected scholar Gordon Rupp refers to Luther’s last sermon and its material against the Jews: “Probably Luther preached his last sermon within hours of his death. It is the rambling, repetitious sermon of an old, tired man and we can almost hear the pauses for breath. But it is in the main a moving and simple exposition of the great evangelical mandate "Come unto me . . ." Yet at the end of it, he spoke about the Jews.”[156] Rupp then provides this citation from Luther’s sermon: 

"Now I am going home, and perhaps I will never preach to you again, and I have blessed you and prayed you to stay always close to God's Word ... I see the Jews are still among you. Now we have to deal with them in a Christian manner and try to bring them to the Christian faith that they may receive the true Messiah who is their flesh and blood and of the seed of Abraham—though I am afraid Jewish blood has got watery and wild these days. Yet they must be invited to turn to the Messiah and be baptized in him ... If not then we must not suffer them to remain for they daily abuse and blaspheme Christ. I must not, you must not be a partaker of the sins of others. God knows I have enough to do with sins of my own, but if they will give up usury and receive Christ we will willingly receive them as our brethren . . . but if they call Mary a whore and Jesus her bastard still we must exercise Christian love towards them that they may be converted and receive our Lord . . . this I tell you as your Landeskind not to be partakers of the sins of others. If they turn from their blasphemies we must gladly forgive them, but if not we must not suffer them to remain!"[157]

 

These words probably are not from Luther’s last sermon, but rather from his An Admonition Against The Jews (1546), which was added to his last sermon. If these are Luther’s last words about the Jews, they summarize what his later position was towards them with minimal rhetoric and abusive language (at least in this section). Luther admonishes his hearers to “try to bring them to the Christian faith” and to treat them in a “Christian manner,” which harkens back to his positive treatise of 1523. On the other hand, he is firm that if the Jews do not embrace Christianity  then we must not suffer them to remain for they daily abuse and blaspheme Christ” and if they continue partaking in an anti-Christian religion, “we must not suffer them to remain.” This is indeed the later Luther, intolerant of non-Christian religions that he considered in league with the Devil.[158] Heiko Oberman notes, “…[I]n his final Admonitionthe concept of tolerance that leaves room for conversion is certainly retained. But his imminent expectation of the Last Judgment lets him interpret and evaluate the ‘signs of the times’ so as to keep this tolerance within very narrow bounds, as it is the very last chance to avert expulsion.”[159]

 

 

 

Appendix 1: The Reaction to Luther’s Anti-Jewish Writings

Most of Luther’s proposals [in On The Jews and Their Lies] are paralleled in the other anti-Jewish literature of the period, but the specific formulation which follows may be attributed to him. Fortunately… most of the authorities proved unwilling to carry out his recommendations, whether out of horror at their inhumanity or out of self-interest (since Jews played an important role in the economy).”[160]

 

“Already upon its first appearance in the year 1543, Luther’s treatise caused widespread dismay, not only among contemporary Jews but also in Protestant circles. Melanchthon and Osiander are known to have been unhappy with its severity. Henry Bullinger, in correspondence with Martin Bucer, remarked that Luther’s views reminded him of those of the Inquisitors. And a subsequent document prepared by the churches of Zurich declared (speaking specifically of the treatise Vom Schem Hamphoras , published later in 1543), that “if it had been written by a swineherd, rather than by a celebrated shepherd of souls, it might have some—but very little—justification.” [161]

 

“Nobody took Luther's programme seriously, and the new mandate of John Frederick in 1543, though severe, was on other lines. Three years later, as we shall see, Jews were still living unmolested in the Mansfeld area.”[162]

“As we follow Luther through the years, we find a signal instance of how we become like what we hate. We see a growing obstinacy, a hardening of heart, a withering of compassion, a proneness to contemptuous abuse—the very things he thought were the marks of judgment on the Jews.”[163]

 

The question of Protestant acceptance or rejection of Luther's writings on the Jews is focused on his late, hate-filled polemics. Oberman has pointed out that Luther's close associate, Philipp Melanchthon, ‘was just as unhappy over the harsh writings on the Jews of the late Luther as were some of the leading city reformers.’ The Nuremberg Reformer and disciple of Luther, Osiander... wrote an anonymous apology for Luther's polemics. And Luther's lifelong colleague Justus Jonas used his role as Latin translator of Luther's writings against the Jews to do ‘his utmost to offset Luther's exasperated disenchantment with the mission to the Jews and in the process manages to draw an entirely novel and positive picture of them.’ This selective rejection of Luther is evident in the refusal of evangelical political authorities to follow through on Luther's recommendations. Because Luther was such an authority figure for Lutherans, it is striking that in 1611 when the Lutheran city of Hamburg asked the theological faculties of Jena and Frankfurt an der Oder whether the Jews fleeing from Portugal should have the right to remain in the city, both faculties answered in the affirmative. The Jena opinion self-consciously chose Luther's early, tolerant opinions over his later, intolerant ones. More important for future developments was the fact that Luther's portrayals and recommendations were not incorporated into the Lutheran confessional writings and Lutheran devotional literature. ‘For the decades after Luther's death all the evidence seems to support Lewin's thesis that Luther's late works on the Jews failed to achieve their intended effect.’”[164]

 

The reaction of contemporaries to Luther's anti-Jewish writings indicates fairly clearly that his readers saw a significant difference between the early and the later treatises. That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew appears to have been received with favor among Protestants, Jews, and Jewish converts (Marranos). Some Marranos in the Netherlands may even have translated the work into Spanish and sent copies to their brethren in Spain. The treatise may have even reached Palestine. It may also have encouraged several South Germans to work for the amelioration of the treatment of the Jews. On the other hand, it may have lent some support to the Catholic charge, aired, for instance, at the Diet of Augsburg in 1530, that the Protestants had learned their doctrine from the Jews. The later tracts met with more criticism. Catholics, not surprisingly, were sharply critical. For instance, at the 1545 Diet of Worms several Catholic deputies reportedly characterized On the Ineffable Name as a "hateful book, as cruel as if it had been written in blood," and argued that it incited the rabble to violence.”[165]

 

Protestant reaction was mixed. Melanchthon sent a copy of On the Jews and Their Lies to Landgrave Philipp of Hesse with the mild recommendation that the book contained "much useful teaching." When he sent a copy of On the Ineffable Name, however, he failed to add a similar recommendation. It is hard to say whether this indicates disapproval; generally speaking, Melanchthon was uncomfortable with the violent tone of many of the writings of the older Luther. Andreas Osiander of Nuremberg appears to have been critical of the work, although unwilling to confront Luther with his objections. Luther's Zurich opponents, the authors of the 1545 True Confession, branded Luther's On the Ineffable Name as "swinish" and "filthy," and remarked that had it been written by a swineherd and not by a famous shepherd of souls, there might have been some although little excuse for it.”[166]

 

 

APPENDIX 2: Citing Luther Out Of Context

Most of the time, web pages against Luther attempting to paint him as the precursor of Hitler simply provide quotes from On The Jews And Their Lies. Sometimes though, citations of Luther’s anti-Jewish remarks aren’t even accurate. I call them “hit and run” citations: contexts are not given; references are either lacking, bogus, or referring to hard-to-get German sources. Countless such web pages exist, all of them have the same goal: painting a picture of Luther that makes him appear as villainous as possible.

 

Example One: Luther’s Drowning a Jew Instead of Baptizing Him

This Luther quote appears on various anti-Luther pages: “If I had to baptize a Jew, I would take him to the river Elbe, hang a stone around his neck and push him over with the words `I baptize thee in the name of Abraham'.” Upon a surface reading, one pictures a Jewish convert approaching Luther for baptism, and Luther brimming with murderous anti-Jewish hatred. A review of the probable context though shows no such thing.  I highly suspect this quote is from one of the less reliable editions of the Table Talk. The Table Talk material is highly rhetorical, and easily misinterpreted when over-literalized.[167]  The quote is probably a derivation of the following Table Talk utterance. The context speaks for itself:

 

“In 1541, Doctor Menius asked Doctor Luther, in what manner a Jew should be baptized? The Doctor replied: You must fill a large tub with water, and, having divested the Jew of his clothes, cover him with a while garment. He must then sit down in the tub, and you must baptize him quite under the water. The ancients, when they were baptized, were attired in white, whence the first Sunday after Easter, which was peculiarly consecrated to this ceremony, was called dominica in albis. This garb was rendered the more suitable, from the circumstance that it was, as now, the custom to bury people in a white shroud; and baptism, you know, is an emblem of our death. I have no doubt that when Jesus was baptized in the river Jordon, he was attired in a white robe. If a Jew, not converted at heart, were to ask baptism at my hands, I would take him on to the bridge, tie a stone round his neck, and hurl him into the river; for these wretches are wont to make a jest of our religion. Yet, after all, water and the Divine Word being the essence of baptism, a Jew, or any other, would be none the less validly baptized, that his own feelings and intentions were not the result of faith.”[168]

 

In the same Table Talk collection, an utterance verifies that Luther had no problem baptizing converted Jews:

 

A Jew came to me at Wittenberg, and said: He was desirous to be baptized, and made a Christian, but that he would first go to Rome to see the chief head of Christendom. From this intention, myself, Philip Melancthon, and other divines, labored to dissuade him, fearing lest, when he witnessed the offences and knaveries at Rome, he might be scared from Christendom. But the Jew went to Rome, and when he had sufficiently seen the abominations acted there, he returned to us again, desiring to be baptized, and said: Now I will willingly worship the God of the Christians for he is a patient God. If he can endure such wickedness and vallany as is done at Rome, he can suffer and endure all the vices and knaveries of the world.”[169]

 

Example Two: The Unjust God And The Jews

This Luther quote appears on various anti-Luther pages, “Either God must be unjust, or you, Jews, wicked and ungodly. You have been, about fifteen hundred years, a race rejected of God.” This quote was used by a Roman Catholic I was dialoging with who was trying to prove Luther’s hatred of the Jews. A surface reading of this quote suggests that Luther viewed the Jews as an awful people, and to think otherwise indicts the goodness of God.

 

The quote is a poor consolidation of a much longer passage from also an older version of Luther’s Table Talk. The passage is actually a description of Luther arguing with two rabbis’, who allegedly converted to Christianity after being unable to respond to Luther’s argumentation. Here is the quote, with the words used highlighted:


Either God must be unjust, or you, Jews, wicked and ungodly; for ye have been in misery and fearful exile, a far longer time than ye were in the land of Canaan. Ye had not the Temple of Solomon more than three hundred years, while ye have been hunted up and down above fifteen hundred. At Babylon ye had more eminence than at Jerusalem, for Daniel was a greater and more powerful prince at Babylon than either David or Solomon at Jerusalem. The Babylonian captivity was unto you only a fatherly rod, but this last punishment was your utter extermination. You have been, above fifteen hundred years, a race rejected of God, without government, without laws, without prophets, without temple. This argument ye cannot solve; it strikes you to the ground like a thunderclap; ye can show no other reason for your condition than your sins. The two rabbis, struck to the heart, silenced, and convinced, forsook their errors, became converts, and the day following, in the presence of the whole university at Wittenberg, were baptized Christians. The Jews hope that we shall join them, because we teach and learn the Hebrew language, but their hope is futile. `Tis they must accept of our religion, and of the crucified Christ, and overcome all their objections, especially that of the alteration of the Sabbath, which sorely annoys them, but `twas ordered by the apostles, in honor of the Lord's resurrection.[170]

 

Example Three: Luther Says The Jews Should Be Hanged

Perhaps the most shocking Luther quotes are such like these: “The Jews deserve to be hanged on gallows, seven times higher than ordinary thieves.” This is a notorious “hit and run” citation. Neither a context nor a helpful reference is given.[171] One critical web-page of Luther inflamingly says, “It will be found, at close inspection, that Luther's laws are much more strict, or at least as severe, as those of Hitler. Very often he repeated his order, “The Jews have to be expelled from our country.” Or he gave the Christian advice. “The Jews deserve to be hanged on gallows seven times higher than ordinary thieves”.[172]  The author uses the quote to suggest that Luther was equal to or beyond Hitler!

 

The quote is probably derived from this section of On The Jews And Their Lies, and addresses Luther’s hatred of the practice of usury, not the mass killing of Jews like that put forward by Hitler: 

 

If they were not so stone-blind, their own vile external life would indeed convince them of the true nature of their penitence. For it abounds with witchcraft, conjuring signs, figures, and the tetragrammaton of the name, that is, with idolatry, envy, and conceit.  Moreover, they are nothing but thieves and robbers who daily eat no morsel and wear no thread of clothing which they have not stolen and pilfered from us by means of their accursed usury. Thus they live from day to day, together with wife and child, by theft and robbery, as arch-thieves and robbers, in the most impenitent security. For a usurer is an arch-thief and a robber who should rightly be hanged on the gallows seven times higher than other thieves.  Indeed, God should prophesy about such beautiful penitence and merit from heaven through his holy angel and become a flagrant, blasphemous liar for the sake of the noble blood and circumcised saints who boast of being hallowed by God’s commandments, although they trample all of them under foot and do not keep one of them.”[173]

 

The context shows Luther was totally convinced of the medieval stereotype of the Jew as thieves because of their occupation in the practice of usury.  The editors of Luther’s Works explain,

“The practice of usury, in the simple sense of the taking of interest on loans (without any connotation of exorbitant rates), is prohibited in such texts as Exod. 22:25, Lev. 25:35 ff., and Deut. 23:19 f., but only with respect to fellow Israelites. The Deuteronomy text is the most explicit with regard to dealings with others: “To a foreigner you may lend upon interest, but to your brother you shall not lend upon interest” (23:20). The practice of usury was strictly forbidden to Christians by the medieval church, but permitted to Jews. They prohibition began to break down during the Reformation period; Luther himself, however, steadfastly maintained the medieval position.”[174]

 

Example Four: Luther Says The Jews Breath Reeks

This commentary and quote are found often, “There was, according to Luther, no good or human quality about the Jews. ‘What is good in us Christians, they ignore; what is wrong in us Christians the Jews take advantage of’” ‘The breath of the Jews reeks.’ ‘Their rabbis teach them that theft and robbery is no sin.’ ”[175]

The breath of the Jews reeks” is probably another citation from On The Jews And Their Lies. Luther is in the middle of addressing Haggai 2. As with the previous example, Luther is enraged against the practice of usury. In Haggai 2: 6-9, the phrase “consolation of the gentiles” Luther applies prophetically to the coming Messiah. He says the Jews apply it to the desires of the gentiles for gold, silver, and gems. Luther then says,

You may ask why the Jews make this kind of gloss here. I will tell you. Their breath stinks with lust for the Gentiles’ gold and silver; for no nation under the sun is greedier than they were, still are, and always will be, as is evident from their accursed usury. So they comfort themselves that when the Messiah comes he will take the gold and silver of the whole world and divide it among them. Therefore, wherever they can quote Scripture to satisfy their insatiable greed, they do so outrageously. One is led to believe that God and his prophets knew of nothing else to prophesy than of ways and means to satisfy the bottomless greed of the accursed Jews with the Gentiles’ gold and silver.”[176]

 

 

Endnotes

These endnotes are dual purposed: first, to provide the necessary bibliographic information utilized. Please note: “LW” refers to Luther’s Works, English edition (55 volumes). I strive, as much as possible, to only quote Luther from this primary English source. “WA” refers to Luther’s Works, Weimar edition, the Geramn version of Luther’s Works. Secondly, the endnotes serve as an area in which to interact with various critics of Luther, or to substantiate the point I’m making. When possible, web links are included for the authors or topics discussed. If any of the links do not work, I suggest copying the “http” address to this Internet archive site: http://www.archive.org/.

 



[1] David DeCerto, "Luther" Movie Review, Catholic News Service (“DiCerto is on the staff of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops”). Another Catholic reviewer: “Relentlessly hagiographical in its depiction of Luther and one-sidedly positive in its view of the Reformation, the film also distorts Catholic theology and significant matters of historical fact, consistently skewing its portrayal to put Luther in the best possible light while making his opponents seem as unreasonable as possible.” “More troubling is the filmmakers’ apologetic manipulation of the facts of its hero’s life. It’s one thing for the film to avoid Luther’s notorious anti-Semitism, which is especially associated with his declining years after the period depicted in the film.” [Steven D. Greydanus,  Luther: Well Made But Flawed]. Non-Catholic reviews likewise wonder about the lack of material on Luther’s anti-Semitism: “It is also troubling what is not touched on in the film, such as Luther's virulent anti-Semitism, which was commonplace at the time but disturbing nonetheless. On Jews and Their Lies, which Luther wrote in 1543, is a vile, vituperative document in which he excoriates the Jews for pride and racism while exhibiting the same traits. (To be fair, he also produced conciliatory works like Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew.)” [Carlos Cavagna, Luther (Aboutfilm.com)].

 

[2] Dave Armstrong, “Catholic Response to the Movie Luther (2003)" .  While a review of Armstrong’s comments are beyond the scope of this paper, I agree with him in theory that the Luther Movie made historical errors.  A helpful review has been given by Lutheran scholar Eric Gritsch found here.

 

 Armstrong is probably using a 21st century-Western-culture standard as his tool of evaluation. The 16th Century in general saw little toleration for  religious freedom and freedom of conscience, for men to worship as they please.” Luther did express toleration toward the Jews, but it is not a modern day standard of toleration. Toward the end of his life, that toleration ceased.  Heiko Oberman has pointed out, “Out with the Jews’ was a common rallying cry in the streets and from the pulpits. Luther, on the other hand, did not advocate expulsion; he sought to preserve ‘tolerance,’ tolerance only, of course, for the purpose of conversion. That is the attitude that stayed with him to the end of his life. But the approach of the Last Days fixed temporal limits to the period in which tolerance could be exercised…Judaism, which endangered Christians not only by deeds but also by words. That is why Luther advised the authorities to burn synagogues as schools of lies, to confiscate rabbinical books or- if no means worked- to expel those Jews who would not be converted. Because Jewish ‘blasphemy’ was beginning to have effects, measures to protect Christianity had become necessary... But with the approach of the Antichrist, the only way out was a final separation- not only from the Jews, however! As Luther neared the end of his days on earth, the issue was not a Turkish crusade, or hatred of Rome or the Jews, it was upholding the Gospel against all enemies in the confusion of the Last Days” [Heiko Oberman, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil (New York: Image Books, 1989), 295-296].

[3] Martin Luther, as cited by Dave Armstrong, “Catholic Response to the Movie Luther (2003)" . This small quote Armstrong uses appears to be extracted and scaled down from about 16 pages of an earlier English translation of Luther’s treatise, “About the Jews and Their Lies.” Elsewhere, Armstrong cites this reference as: “(Erlangen Ausgabe edition of Luther's Works (Werke) in German, 1868, 67 volumes)., XXXII, 217-233;  Durant, 422; About the Jews and Their Lies, 1543; Durant cites as his source Janssen, III,  211-212)”. This way of citation is unhelpful to someone who wants to read the quote in context. If the quote were to be taken from Luther’s Works (English edition), the quote would span 23 pages. It would appear like this:    

“I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed (LW 47:269)… I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them  (LW 47:269)... I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb (LW 47:269)… I advise that safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews (LW 47:269)….I advise that usury be prohibited to them, and that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them and put aside for safekeeping (LW 47:270)… If this does not help we must drive them out like mad dogs… (LW 47:292).”

 

[4] Various comments: “[I]t looks as though this movie makes a hero out of one of history's infamous anti-Semites. Luther's toxic views on the Jews are well-known and any cursory internet search on Luther and anti-Semitism will yield much fruit in linking the actions of this self-obsessed heresiarch to the rise of anti-Jewish violence in Europe” Seattle Catholic News: Letters. I doubt very seriously that the film went into Martin Luther's strong antisemiticism. Now, the time period that he lived in was very anitsemetic anyway, but he was unusually strong in his venom toward the Jewish people. Do a web search on the book On Jews and Their Lies by Martin Luther. There are quotes from the book all over the web.” “The film appears to be a gloss of Luther's life, whitewashing his major faults, (attacking the Jews, violent language, massacre of the peasants, allowing bigamy) and highlighting the traditional misconceptions about catholic "corruption". The 2003 LUTHER movie is pure Hollyweird (i.e. Lutheran too) fiction and propaganda. Hitler's men would be envious of the propaganda and misleading depiction in this film. Imagine a historical film that never mentioned the Jews or the final solution and made Hitler out to be a poor picked on leader who was persecuted by the rest of the world for bringing Germany greatness and freedom? etc.Various participants on Catholic Answers Forums.

 

[5] Heiko Oberman rightly points out the danger in solely identifying Luther with the Reformation at the expense of the other Reformers: “We should not identify the Reformation movement with Luther to such an extent as to neglect the nuances of various views among a series of Luther’s distinguished students. Justas Jonas, his close collaborator and the translator of his Jewish tracts, and the Nuremberg reformer Andreas Osiander did not implicate the Jews in the final struggle with the Antichrist and his armies. In their Evangelical faith they hoped for a common, liberated future for Jews and Christians in the last days” [Heiko Oberman, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil (New York: Image Books, 1989), 296].

 

[6] Mark U. Edwards points out, “Although the vast majority of historical studies of Luther deal exclusively with the events through 1530, Luther did not die at the Imperial Diet of Augsburg. On the contrary, after living another 15 years- a period longer than the hectic span from 1517 to 1530- he died of heart failure on 18 February 1546, 62 years old. There are reasons for the relative neglect of the older Luther. Since World War One, when the revolution in theology was brought on by Karl Barth, among many others, most research on Luther has been done by theologians, who often seek in him insights to enrich contemporary theology. In this quest their most fruitful source has been the young Luther, who gradually broke away from medieval Catholicism and who, in a struggle easily seen as heroic, hammered out a new understanding of the Christian faith. In contrast, the older Luther's theology is thought to differ little from that of the younger and, in its lack of development and perhaps in its greater dogmatic rigidity, to be less interesting and suggestive. Among biographers and historians the neglect of the older Luther is more difficult to explain. Of course there is something intrinsically fascinating about the younger Luther. Here was a monk and university professor who on the basis of conviction and conscience successfully defied two of the great institutions of his age: the Roman Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Empire. If modern scholars shy away from the simplistic picture of the "heroic Luther" found in earlier Protestant hagiography, they still find much to admire in the anxious professor and unwilling heretic. In contrast, the older Luther appears to be something of a problem”[Mark U Edwards, Luther’s Last Battles (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983), 1-2].

 

[7] “Much attention has been focused upon Luther’s attitude toward the Jews, although they were quite peripheral to his reformatory concern, as a comparison of the very few pages on the Jews with the total output in the 110 folio volumes of his collected works suggest” [Lewis W. Spitz, The Protestant Reformation (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1985), 357]. George S. Robbert points out that “Luther wrote some 60,000 pages, much of it later in life” [George S. Robbert, “Martin Luther’s Later Years ” [Christian History, 39 (vol. XII, No. 3),34]. The material Luther wrote in regards to the Jews probably spans less than a thousand pages. Of that amount, only a small percentage of it involves hostile rhetoric.

 

[8] LW 47:123.

 

[9] And neither do the Lutherans: “In the spirit of that truth-telling, we who bear his name and heritage must with pain acknowledge also Luther's anti-Judaic diatribes and violent recommendations of his later writings against the Jews. As did many of Luther's own companions in the sixteenth century, we reject this violent invective, and yet more do we express our deep and abiding sorrow over its tragic effects on subsequent generations. In concert with the Lutheran World Federation, we particularly deplore the appropriation of Luther's words by modern anti-Semites for the teaching of hatred toward Judaism or toward the Jewish people in our day” (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). “ See: Documents from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (1994) and The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (1995).  Likewise, the second official dialogue between the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations and the Lutheran World Federation stated in 1983, “We Lutherans take our name and much of our understanding of Christianity from Martin Luther. But we cannot accept or condone the violent verbal attacks that the Reformer made against the Jews. Lutherans and Jews interpret the Hebrew Bible differently. But we believe that a christological reading of the Scriptures does not lead to anti-Judaism, let alone anti-Semitism. We hold that an honest, historical treatment of Luther's attacks on the Jews takes away from modern anti-Semites the assumption that they may legitimately call on the authority of Luther's name to bless their anti-Semitism. We insist that Luther does not support racial anti-Semitism, nationalistic anti-Semitism and political anti-Semitism. Even the deplorable religious anti-Semitism of the 16th century, to which Luther's attacks made important contribution, is a horrible anachronism when translated to the conditions of the modern world. We recognize with deep regret, however, that Luther has been used to justify such anti-Semitism in the period of national socialism and that his writings lent themselves to such abuse. Although there remain conflicting assumptions, built into the beliefs of Judaism and Christianity, they need not. And should not, lead to the animosity and the violence of Luther's treatment of the Jews. Martin Luther opened up our eyes to a deeper understanding of the Old Testament and showed us the depth of our common inheritance and the roots of our faith. Yet a frank examination also forces Lutherans and other Christians to confront the anti-Jewish attitudes of their past and present.  Many of the anti-Jewish utterances of Luther have to be explained in the light of his polemic against what he regarded as misinterpretations of the Scriptures. He attacked these interpretations, since for him everything now depended on a right understanding of the Word of God. The sins of Luther's anti-Jewish remarks, the violence of his attacks on the Jews, must be acknowledged with deep distress. And all occasions for similar sin in the present or the future must be removed from our churches… Lutherans of today refuse to be bound by all of Luther's utterances on the Jews. We hope we have learned from the tragedies of the recent past. We are responsible for seeing that we do not now nor in the future leave any doubt about our position on racial and religious prejudice and that we afford to all the human dignity, freedom and friendship that are the right of all the Father’s children” [Statement as cited by Kenneth A. Strand, “Current Issues And Trends In Luther Studies,” (Andrews University Seminary Studies, Spring 1984, Vol. 22, No. 1), 144-146].

 

[10] One Jewish convert to Roman Catholicism gives this answer: “The Jews for Jesus say, correctly, that On the Jews and Their Lies is not the sum of Luther's life and is not embraced by Christians today. But the architect of the Protestant Reformation in the fullness of his years drew these conclusions from Scripture. Can anyone trust his understanding of Scripture to a man who can read, "Love one another," (Jn 13:34) "Love your enemies," (Mt 5:43) "The measure you give will be the measure you get," (Mt 7:2) and still hold that the New Testament supports such vitriol? [Martin K. Barrak, Why Jews are Better Off in the Catholic Church Than in the Jews for Jesus ].  Barrak’s response is that one cannot trust any of Luther’s theological conclusions since Luther made anti-Semitic comments. This is poor reasoning, since Luther held many similar theological conclusions to his own position. This also suffers from the mistaken notion that Luther serves as an infallible interpreter for Protestants. Barrak also says, “Without an authoritative interpreter, how would anyone know how to interpret Scripture? Luther's answer was that Scripture is so clear that even a farm boy behind the plow could understand it as correctly as the most learned theologians in the universities, and further that the Holy Spirit would guide each believer.”  Luther actually held that the Bible was clear enough so far as the truths necessary for salvation are concerned. He never denied that the Bible had difficult sections to understand, nor did he consider himself an infallible interpreter. Thus, Protestants follow the notion that the truths necessary for salvation are perspicuous, but any comments any man makes must be judged by the ultimate authority of the Scripture.   

 

[11] Lewis W. Spitz, The Protestant Reformation (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1985), 357. Owen Chadwick likewise documents this: “He forced every Jew to wear a yellow hat and live in a ghetto with only one exit… He caused to be published the first Index of prohibited books… Sixtus of Siena was sent to Cremona, where there was a great Hebrew school (for the destruction of the Talmud was ordered), and reported that he had burnt a store of 12,000 volumes…. Under an Inquisition with extended powers, and a pope ready to suspect everyone, there was almost a reign of terror in the city. ‘Even if my own father were a heretic,’ said the Pope, ‘I would gather the wood to burn him’” [Owen Chadwick, The Reformation (New York: Penguin Books, 1964), 271].

 

In a Table Talk Luther is recorded as likewise verifying the practice of identifying the Jews with the wearing of yellow: “At Frankfort-on-the-Main there are very many Jews; they have a whole street to themselves, of which every house is filled with them. They are compelled to wear little yellow rings on their coats, thereby to be known; they have no houses or grounds of their own, only furniture; and, indeed, they can only lend money upon houses or grounds at great hazard” [Table Talk (online), “Of The Jews: DCCCXIX”].

 

[12] Roman Catholic writers have a long history of attacking Luther. See: The Roman Catholic Perspective of Martin Luther (Part One).

 

[13] Space does not allow a tangential excursion into the positive aspects of Luther’s life. However, a brief look at Luther’s career ten years after he posted the 95 Theses can be found here: 1527: The Ten Year Anniversary of the Reformation .

 

[14] Luther says, “Here I remind you again that in itself there is nothing wrong with living like a Jew, for it is a matter of indifference whether you eat pork or any other meat. But to live like a Jew in the sense that you abstain from certain foods for the sake of conscience is a denial of Christ and the destruction of the Gospel” [LW: 26:118].

 

[15] Heiko A. Oberman. The Impact of the Reformation. (Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.,1994), p.76. Oberman says also, “One must realize that Luther does not see ‘a race’ when he looks at the Jews, nor are baptized and unbaptized Jews for Luther the exponents of an ethnic, racial unit. Baptized Jews belong unqualifiedly to the people of God, just as do baptized Germans, the Gentiles” [Heiko A. Oberman, The Roots of Anti-Semitism: In the Age of Renaissance and Reformation (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984), 102]. Likewise Kenneth A. Strand says, “Luther’s anti-Semitism has, of course, been drawn upon with baleful effect in later German history, by those who failed to notice that his attitude was largely theologically based, not built on concepts of any social superiority of one race over another. After all, to Luther, all humanity, irrespective of race, was in utter ruin, except as the grace of Christ was accepted through faith. This is a point overlooked by those who would draw support from Luther for their criminal misdeeds or who would stand passively by to watch such crimes committed” [Kenneth A. Strand, “Current Issues And Trends In Luther Studies,” (Andrews University Seminary Studies, Spring 1984, Vol. 22, No. 1), 141-142. That Luther saw no biological distinction is verified by a comment made in his Galatians commentary about conversion: “With the words ‘there is neither Jew,’ then, Paul vigorously abolishes the Law. For here, where a new man comes into existence in Baptism and where Christ is put on, there is neither Jew nor Greek. Now he is not speaking of the Jew in a metaphysical sense, according to his essence; but by ‘Jew’ he means someone who is a disciple of Moses, who is subject to the laws, who has circumcision, and who observes the form of worship commanded in the Law. Where Christ is put on, he says, there is no Jew any longer, no circumcision, no temple worship, no laws that the Jews keep. For Christ has abolished throughout the world whatever laws there are in Moses. Therefore the conscience that believes in Christ should be so sure that the Law with its terrors and threats has been abrogated that it simply does not know whether Moses or the Law or the Jew ever existed, for Christ and Moses are utterly incompatible. Moses comes with the Law and various works and forms of worship; but Christ, granting grace and righteousness, comes absolutely without the Law or any demands of works. John 1:17: ‘The Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ’ ” [LW 26:354].

 

[16] Eric Gritsch, “Was Luther Anti-Semitic? ” [Christian History, 39 (vol. XII, No. 3),39. Elsewhere Gritch says, “And yet it must be said that Luther forged a theological ‘anti-Judaism’ rather than a biological ‘anti-Semetism.’ The biological, ethnic designation was disseminated in Germany during the financial panic following the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. Luther was not therefore the real father of German anti-Semitism, with its mass murder of Jews efficiently executed by Hitler’s bureaucratic henchmen” [Eric Gritsch, Martin- God’s Court Jester: Luther in Retrospect (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), 145].

 

[17] Eric Gritsch, “Was Luther Anti-Semitic? ” [Christian History, 39 (vol. XII, No. 3), 39.  The Jewish Virtual Library website  includes a page called Martin Luther: The Jews And Their Lies. Many negative quotes are extracted from On The Jews And Their Lies, yet they include the following helpful information: “A number of points must, however, be made. The most important concerns the language used. Luther used violent and vulgar language throughout his career. We do not expect religious figures to use this sort of language in the modern world, but it was not uncommon in the early 16th century. Second, although Luther's comments seem to be proto-Nazi, they are better seen as part of tradition of Medieval Christian anti-Semitism. While there is little doubt that Christian anti-Semitism laid the social and cultural basis for modern anti-Semitism, modern anti-Semitism does differ in being based on pseudo-scientific notions of race. The Nazis imprisoned and killed Jews who had converted to Christianity: Luther would have welcomed them.”

 

[18] Carter Lindberg, “Tainted Greatness: Luther’s Attitudes Toward Judaism and Their Historical Reception,” in Nancy A Harrowitz (ed.), Tainted Greatness: Antisemitism and Cultural Heroes (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994), 20-21. Lindberg also adds, “Mark Edwards has noted, "Luther identified a Jew by his religious beliefs, not by his race. (Identification of a Jew by his race is, in any case, a concept foreign to the sixteenth century.) If a Jew converted to Christianity, he became a fellow brother or sister in Christ. For racial anti-Semitism religious belief is largely irrelevant” (21).

 

[19] That Luther lumped these groups together is verified by a Table Talk comment, “The Jews read our books, and thereout raise objections against us; ‘tis a nation that scorns and blasphemes even as the lawyers, the papists, and adversaries do, taking out of our writings the knowledge of our cause, and using the same as weapons against us. But, God be praised, our cause has a sure, good and steadfast ground, namely, God and His Word” [Table Talk (online), “Of The Jews: DCCCXIV”].

 

[20] For instance, in his commentary on Galatians in 1531, Luther says, “In this epistle, therefore, Paul is concerned to instruct, comfort, and sustain us diligently in a perfect knowledge of this most excellent and Christian righteousness. For if the doctrine of justification is lost, the whole of Christian doctrine is lost. And those in the world who do not teach it are either Jews or Turks or papists or sectarians”[ LW 26:9]. “We see this today in the fanatical spirits and sectarians, who neither teach nor can teach anything correctly about this righteousness of grace. They have taken the words out of our mouth and out of our writings, and these only they speak and write. But the substance itself they cannot discuss, deal with, and urge, because they neither understand it nor can understand it. They cling only to the righteousness of the Law. Therefore they are and remain disciplinarians of works; nor can they rise beyond the active righteousness. Thus they remain exactly what they were under the pope. To be sure, they invent new names and new works; but the content remains the same. So it is that the Turks perform different works from the papists, and the papists perform different works from the Jews, and so forth. But although some do works that are more splendid, great, and difficult than others, the content remains the same, and only the quality is different. That is, the works vary only in appearance and in name. For they are still works. And those who do them are not Christians; they are hirelings, whether they are called Jews, Mohammedans, papists, or sectarians” [LW 26:9-10].

 

[21] “Thus the Jewish question is not a racist ‘dark side’ of Luther’s work bur rather central to his theology. While all of late medieval Europe was anti-Jewish, the dominant element in Luther’s anti-Jewish perspective was informed by neither economic issues nor racial purity but by his doctrine of justification by grace alone, apart from fulfilling the law. Thus Luther’s writings against the Jews are part of his larger corpus of writings against those he perceived advocating salvation by works: heretics, papists, Turks, and Jews” [Carter Lindberg, “Tainted Greatness: Luther’s Attitudes Toward Judaism and Their Historical Reception,” in Nancy A Harrowitz (ed.), Tainted Greatness: Antisemitism and Cultural Heroes (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994), 22].

 

[22] LW 7:14. Luther builds this argument from Biblical precedent. In his commentary on Galatians 3:7 Luther says: ““This is a general statement and the principal argument of Paul against the Jews, that those who believe, not those who are descended from his flesh and blood, are the sons of Abraham. Paul vigorously presses this argument here as well as in the fourth and ninth chapters of Romans. For this was the supreme confidence and boast of the Jews (John 8:33): ‘We are the offspring and the sons of Abraham. He was circumcised and observed the Law. Therefore if we want to be true sons of Abraham, we must imitate our father.’ It was truly an outstanding ground of boasting and of confidence to be the offspring of Abraham, for no one can deny that God spoke to the offspring of Abraham and about the offspring of Abraham. But this prerogative was of no benefit to unbelieving Jews. Therefore Paul, especially here, contends vigorously against this argument and deprives the Jews of this supreme confidence. As the chosen instrument of Christ (Acts 9:15) he was able to do this more than anyone else. For if we had had to argue against the Jews from the beginning without Paul, we would probably have accomplished little against them” [LW 26:236].

 

[23] LW 26:353.

 

[24]“It should be noted that while Luther recommended expulsion of the Jews, he did not recommend their annihilation. Cf. Bertold Kappert, ‘Erwahlung und Rechtfertigung,’ in Kremers, ed. Die Juden, 368-410, esp.377” [Carter Lindberg, “Tainted Greatness: Luther’s Attitudes Toward Judaism and Their Historical Reception,” 30, footnote 1]. Even Luther’s treatise On The Jews and Their Lies was not geared toward annihilating the Jews: “This was not an appeal to the mob to rise up in a surge of riotous patriotism and attack the Jews in cruel revenge, for Luther had unequivocally prefaced his reeducation program with this statement: ‘We must not avenge ourselves.’ His demands were directed at the temporal rulers, the princes and nobility” [Heiko Oberman, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil (New York: Image Books, 1989), 294].

 

[25] LW 47:140.

 

[26] LW 47:142.

 

[27] LW 47:142.

 

[28] LW 47:154.

 

[29] Martin Luther, The Sermons of Martin Luther Volume 1 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 62. Available on line at: http://www.orlutheran.com/html/mlselk21.html.

 

[30] Ewald M. Plass, What Luther Says: An Anthology Volume Two (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959), 696. In a Table Talk Luther says also, “It is my firm belief that the angels are getting ready, putting on their armor and girding their swords about them, for the last day is already breaking, and the angels are preparing for the battle, when they will overthrow the Turks and hurl them along with the pope to the bottom of hell. The world will perish shortly. Among us there is the greatest ingratitude and contempt for the Word…As things are beginning to go, the last day is at the door, and I believe that the world will not endure a hundred years. For the light of the gospel is now dawning. That day will follow with thunder and lightning, for the voice of the Lord and of the trumpet are conveyed in the thunder. It will come from the east, and the earth will be severely shaken by the crash with such horror, that men will die of fear. I believe that the last day is not far off, for this reason: the gospel is now making its last effort, and it is just the same as with a light which, when it is about to go out, gives forth a great flash at the end as if it is intended to burn a long time yet, and then it is gone. So it appears to be in the case of the gospel, which seems on the point of widely extending itself, but I fear that it also will go out in a flash, and that the last day will then be at hand. It is just so with a sick man: when he is about to die he often appears most refreshed, and in a trice he has departed”[Hugh Kerr, A Compend of Luther’s Theology (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1966), 244-245. (cf. LW 54:427; Tabletalk online, entry: Of Angels: DLXIX].

 

[31] “In general Luther viewed the history of his own time as the realization of the apocalyptic predictions of Daniel and Revelation. The events of his age, he was convinced, were certain signs that the End Time was at hand. The 1530 foreword to his translation of Daniel makes clear how firmly set this conviction was. Following traditional exegesis, Luther identified Daniels ‘kingdom of iron’ with the Roman Empire, which, through its transference to the Germans, had survived into Luther’s own time and would persist until the last day. The papacy was the antichrist alluded to in the eleventh chapter of Daniel, and the Turk was the small horn that replaced three horns of the beast in the seventh chapter. The appearance of the papal antichrist and the success of the Turk left no doubt in Luther’s mind that the apocalyptic drama was in its final act” [Mark U Edwards, Luther’s Last Battles (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983), 97].

 

[32] Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966), 420-421.

 

[33] “As he grew older, Luther became increasingly convinced that Satan had rallied many forces against him and the gospel’s cause. Papists, Turks, other Protestants (whom he called schwaermer because they were like swarming bees), and Jews were to him Satan’s agents attacking the gospel he had rediscovered” [Eric Gritsch, “The Unrefined Reformer” Christian History, 39 (vol. XII, No. 3),36].

 

[34] Heiko Oberman, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil (New York: Image Books, 1989), 294. Oberman says elsewhere, “…Luther as the reformer cannot be understood unless he is seen located between God and the devil, who have been involved in a struggle- not in a metaphysical but a real battle- ever since the beginning of the world- a battle which now ‘in these last days’ is reaching a horrible climax. As the assiduous reader of Augustine and Bernard, Luther knew that after the first phase of persecutions in the Roman empire and the second phase of attacks by heretics assailing the church from without, in the third phase the enemy would come from within, when the antichrist would successfully disguise himself as the vicarious Christi” [Heiko A. Oberman. The Impact of the Reformation. (Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.,1994), 56].

 

[35] Catholic Culture: Martin Luther. Likewise, Catholic historian Hartmann Grisar says, “Luther’s opinion was that the only thing to do was to break [the Jews] pride; he now relinquished all hope of convincing any large number [of Jews] of the truth of Christianity; even the biblical statements, according to which the Jews were to be converted before the end of the world, appeared to him to have been shorn of their value” [Hartmann Grisar, Luther Volume IV (St Louis: B. Herder, 1915), 285].

 

[36] Ewald Plass notes though Luther’s earliest view may have held to a large Jewish conversion (1515-1517). Plass notes Luther’s commentary on Psalm 14:1-7, “ [Luther] remarks to verse seven that famous fathers have taken it to refer to the final conversion of the Jews en masse but confesses that he himself has not yet clearly understood this mystery. In his earlier years (1515-1517) Luther seems to have inclined to the view of these ‘famous fathers.’ But, as appears from other passages, he later disavowed it” [Ewald M. Plass, What Luther Says: An Anthology Volume Two (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959), 683].

 

[37] Ewald M. Plass, What Luther Says: An Anthology Volume Two (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959), 687.

 

[38] Ibid.

 

[39] Gordon Rupp, Martin Luther and the Jews (London: The Council of Christians and Jews, 1972), 10.

 

[40] Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (New York: Mentor Books, 1950), 232.

 

[41] Mark U Edwards, Luther’s Last Battles (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983), 140. Though devoid of context, presented to paint Luther in the worst possible light, and lacking a theological evaluation of Luther’s language, Catholic historian Hartmann Grisar documents Luther’s “equal” treatment in language of his enemies: “Duke George he scolds as the "Dresden pig," and Dr. Eck as "Pig-Eck"; the latter Luther promises to answer in such a way "that the sow's belly shall not be too much inflated." The Bishops of the Council of Constance who burnt Hus are "boars"; the "bristles of their backs rise on end and they whet their snouts." Erasmus "carries within him a sow from the herd of Epicurus."  The learned Catholics of the Universities are hogs and donkeys decked out in finery, whom God has sent to punish us; these "devils' masks, the monks and learned spectres, from the Schools we have endowed with such huge wealth, many of the doctors, preachers, masters, priests and friars are big, coarse, corpulent donkeys, decked out with hoods red and brown, like the market sow in her glass beads and tinsel chains." The same simile is, of course, employed even more frequently of the peasants. "To-day the peasants are the merest hogs, whilst the people of position, who once prided themselves on being bucks, are beginning to copy them."—The Papists have "stamped the married state under foot"; their clergy are "like pigs in the fattening-pen," "they wallow in filth like the pig in his sty."—The Papists are fed up by their literary men, as befits such pigs as they. "Eat, piggies, eat ! This is good for you."—We Germans are "hopeless pigs." Henry of Brunswick is "as expert in Holy Writ as a sow is on the harp." Let him and his Papists confess that they are "verily the devil's whore-church." "You should not write a book," Luther tells him, "until you have heard an old sow s—— ; then you should open your jaws and say : Thank you, lovely nightingale, now I have the text I want. Stick to it; it will look fine printed in a book against the Scripturists and the Elector ; but have it done at Wolfenbuttel. Oh, how they will have to hold their noses!" Another favourite image, which usually accompanies the sow, is provided by the donkey. Of Clement VII. and one of his Bulls Luther says: "The donkey pitched his bray too high and thought the Germans would not notice it." Of Emser and the Catholic Professors he writes: "Were I ignorant of logic and philosophy you rude asses would be after setting yourselves up as logicians and philosophers, though you know as much about the business as a donkey does about music." Of Alveld the Franciscan he says: "The donkey does not understand music, he must rather be given thistles." The fanatics too, naturally, could not expect to escape. All that Luther says of heavenly things is wasted upon them. "They understand it as little as the donkey does the Psalter." The devil, however, plays the chief part. Luther's considered judgment on the Zwinglians, for instance, is, that they are "soul-cannibals and soul-assassins," are "endeviled, devilish, yea, ultra-devilish and possessed of blasphemous hearts and lying lips." [Hartmann Grisar, Luther Volume IV (St [Louis: B. Herder, 1915), 287-288].

 

[42] Roland Bainton notes of the “old” Luther, “[T]he conflicts and the labors of the dramatic years had impaired his health and made him prematurely an irascible old man, petulant, peevish, unrestrained, and at times positively coarse. This is no doubt another reason why biographers prefer to be brief in dealing with this period. There are several incidents over which one would rather draw the veil, but precisely because they are so often exploited to his discredit they are not to be left unrecorded” [Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (New York: Mentor Books, 1950), 292].  Note the words “exploited to his discredit.” Bainton goes on to discuss Luther’s pronouncements on the bigamy of Philip of Hesse, and Luther’s attitude toward the Anabaptists, Jews, and Papists. Bainton’s intent is to show that even with these “incidents,” the impact and greatness of Luther cannot be dismissed (see Bainton’s conclusion, “The Measure of the Man” on pages 300-302). Bainton describes the tenor of Luther’s later work:  Illness, irritability, and old age produced in a Luther a pen that was at times unrestrained and coarse. The main intent of Bainton is to show that even despite this, Luther’s impact and importance to the history of the church and the world cannot be minimized or written off. Luther’s faults cannot be “exploited” to denigrate or question his significance. Bainton is quite sympathetic to Luther’s character in his later years. 

 

[43] Heiko Oberman, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil (New York: Image Books, 1989), 108-109. Paul Althaus summarizes Luther’s view of Satan: “It is the devil who stands behind all enemies of the word, behind the misinterpretation of Scripture, behind all false doctrine and sects, and behind philosophy. He cannot bear the pure word and the true doctrine and attempts to falsify them: particularly to falsify their decisive content, justification through faith alone” [Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966), 162-163].

 

[44] Heiko A. Oberman. The Impact of the Reformation. (Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.,1994), 61.

 

[45] Catholic historian Hartmann Grisar provides examples: “The "'devil" also is drawn into the fray the better to enable Luther to vent his ire against the Jews. At the end of the passage just quoted he says : " For the devil has entered into the Jews and holds them captive so that perforce they do his will, as St. Paul says, mocking, defaming, abusing and cursing God and everything that is His. ... The devil plays with them to their eternal damnation."—And elsewhere: " Verily a hopeless, wicked, venomous and devilish thing is the existence of these Jews, who for fourteen hundred years have been, and still are, our pest, torment and misfortune. In fine, they are just devils and nothing more, with no feeling of humanity for us heathen. This they learn from their Rabbis in those devils aeries which are their schools."—"They are a brood of vipers and the children of the devil, and are as kindly disposed to us as is the devil their father."— "The Turk and the other heathen do not suffer from them what we Christians do from these malignant snakes and imps. . . . Whoever would like to cherish such adders and puny devils—who are the worst enemies of Christ and of us all—to befriend them and do them honour simply m order to be cheated, plundered, robbed, disgraced and forced to howl and curse and suffer every kind of evil, to him I would commend these Jews. And if this be not enough let him tell the Jew to use his mouth as a privy, or else crawl into the Jew's hind parts and there worship the holy thing, so as afterwards to be able to boast of having been merciful, and of having helped the devil and his progeny to blaspheme our dear Lord." The last clause would appear to have been aimed at the Counts of Mansfeld, who had allowed a large number of Jews to settle in Eisleben, Luther s birthplace” [Luther Volume IV (St Louis: B. Herder, 1915), 286]. 

 

[46] “The very ferocity of Luther’s language, his high pitch, has the double purpose of unmasking the devil and shouting to God… so loud that he will intervene to skin the devil and expose him for all to see. This double purpose in crying aloud the gospel, to confront the devil and pierce the ear of God, has a twofold impact. It provides for a time of grace before the coming of the Dies irae (and Dies gratiae), for the interim in which the blind servants of the devil can be converted: it creates space for what we usually call ‘the reformation.’ But since the preaching of the gospel evokes the reaction of the antichrist all the more, it also brings closer the final adventus, the second coming and the last day of the world” [Heiko A. Oberman. The Impact of the Reformation. (Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.,1994), 63].

 

[47] Martin Luther as cited by Eric Gritsch, “The Unrefined Reformer” Christian History, 39 (vol. XII, No. 3), 36.

 

[48] LW 32:141.

 

[49] “Johann Eck, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ingoldstadt, by common consent acknowledged as one of the foremost theological scholars of his day, endowed with rare dialectical skill and phenomenal memory…” [Catholic Encyclopedia: Luther entry].

 

[50] Most of Johann Eck’s writings were in Latin, but some feel that since his anti-Jewish writings were written in German, they were intended for a popular audience. In one of his anti-Jewish works, Eck perpetuates some of the leading anti-Jewish propaganda prevalent in his day, particularly the Jewish ritual murder of children and the taking of their blood. After documenting Eck’s work to substantiate a Jewish ritual murder, Mark U. Edwards notes, “Eck harbors no doubts about the authenticity of this ritual murder… This incredible story is only one of several alleged ritual murders related in the anonymous account and in Eck's treatise. It illustrates well, however, the improbability of the charge of ritual murder, while at the same time it shows that even highly educated men such as Johann Eck firmly believed such libels. Eck's whole treatise, Refutation of a Jew-book in Which a Christian, to the Dishonor of All Christendom Claims That Injustice is Done the Jews in the Accusation That They Murder Christian Children, published a year before Luther's most infamous treatises, is dedicated to proving, in reply to a Lutheran skeptic, that Jews did murder Christian children for their rituals; that they did desecrate the eucharistic host; and that they did do such things as poison wells and bewitch animals and ruin crops. These were the convictions of a scholar, writing in this case for a popular audience” [Mark U Edwards, Luther’s Last Battles, 120].

 

[51] LW 47:129.

 

[52]Carter Lindberg, “Tainted Greatness: Luther’s Attitudes Toward Judaism and Their Historical Reception,” in Nancy A Harrowitz (ed.), Tainted Greatness: Antisemitism and Cultural Heroes (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994), 17.

 

[53] Joshua Trachtenburg, The Devil and the Jews: The Medieval Conception of the Jew and Its Relation to Modern Anti-Semitism (Philadelphia: ThE Jewish Publication society of America, 1943), 182.

 

[54] Joshua Trachtenburg, The Devil and the Jews: The Medieval Conception of the Jew and Its Relation to Modern Anti-Semitism (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication society of America, 1943), 93.

 

[55]  R. Po-chia Hsia, “Jews as Magicians in Reformation Germany,” in Sander L. Gilman and Steven T. Katz, Anti-Semitism in Times of Crisis (New York: New York University Press, 1991), 119-120.

 

[56] Lewis W. Spitz, The Protestant Reformation (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1985), 358.

 

[57] . Po-chia Hsia, “Jews as Magicians in Reformation Germany,” in Sander L. Gilman and Steven T. Katz, Anti-Semitism in Times of Crisis (New York: New York University Press, 1991), 124-125.

 

[58] Carter Lindberg, “Tainted Greatness: Luther’s Attitudes Toward Judaism and Their Historical Reception,” in Nancy A Harrowitz (ed.), Tainted Greatness: Antisemitism and Cultural Heroes (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994), 22.

 

[59] Catholic Encyclopedia, Johann Eck entry.

 

[60] Catholic Encyclopedia, Luther entry.

 

[61] Catholic Encyclopedia, entry on the History of the Jews.

 

[62] “Not only were there relatively few Jewish communities left within the empire, those that did remain were subject to severe legal restrictions, to economic exploitation by rulers, and to harassment and persecution by populace and authorities for alleged magical and demonic activities. The most extreme of these accusations, one leveled with some frequency in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, was that Jews murdered Christian children for their blood to be used in the Passover celebration and in various magical activities” [Mark U. Edwards, Jr. Luther’s Last Battles (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983), 118-119].  

 

[63] Mark U Edwards, Luther’s Last Battles (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983), 121. Gordon Rupp agrees: “…[M]ost of what Luther had so far written was book learning. His Jews were paper tigers cut from texts of Holy Scripture. They had but the faintest connection with real situations and human beings. The number of Jews with whom Luther had personal contact can be counted on two hands” [Gordon Rupp, Martin Luther and the Jews (London: The Council of Christians and Jews, 1972), 10].

 

[64] Gordon Rupp, Martin Luther and the Jews (London: The Council of Christians and Jews, 1972), 9. Eric Gritsch also points out that Luther early on made a distinction spiritual Israel and historical Israel: “Luther, therefore, distinguished between a ‘historical’ and a ‘spiritual’ Israel, thereby following Augustine’s differentiation between the ‘letter’ and the ‘spirit’ in the interpretation of Scripture. The patriarchs Abraham, Jacob, and Isaac were prime examples of a spiritual Israel which prefigured faith in Christ. They received the promise of becoming the new Israel to be ruled by Jesus, ‘the seed of Abraham’ born of the Virgin Mary.’ ” [Eric Gritsch, Martin- God’s Court Jester: Luther in Retrospect (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), 133].

 

[65] LW 48:10.  However, it should also be kept in mind, Luther was not at the same level of tolerance for the Jews that he would arrive at in 1523. Gordon Rupp explains, “Like most forward-looking scholars, Luther supported Reuchlin against the obscurantism of the converted Jew Pfefferkorn and the theologians of Cologne. But when in 1514 his friends solicited his opinion, the grounds of his support of Reuchlin are different from those of the humanists. In February 1514 he wrote to Spalatin: "What we hear (from Christians) in the streets of Jerusalem are a hundred times worse than all the blasphemies of the Jews ... as all the prophets foretold, so say I, that the Jews will always blaspheme God and their king Jesus Christ and the man who cannot see this is just not worth calling a theologian ... to try as these Cologne people are doing to purge the Jews from their blasphemy is to turn God and his holy scriptures into a liar . . . if you take these occasions of blasphemy from the Jews (i.e. burning their sacred writings) they will only find others. They are delivered up by the Wrath of God to a reprobate mind” [Gordon Rupp, Martin Luther and the Jews (London: The Council of Christians and Jews, 1972), 9.

 

[66] LW 47:127.

 

[67] LW 25:428. It is sometimes suggested Luther was overwhelmingly positive towards Judaism early in his career (previous to 1517) and did not suffer from all of the cultural stereotypes of his day. However, the editors of Luther’s Works make it clear that this is not so: “Luther’s earliest lectures—those on the Psalms, delivered in 1513–1515—already contained in essence the whole burden of his later charges against the Jews.  The Jews, Luther asserts in these lectures, suffer continually under God’s wrath; they are paying the penalty for their rejection of Christ. They spend all their efforts in self-justification, but God will not hear their prayers. Neither kindness nor severity will improve them. They become constantly more stubborn and more vain. Moreover, they are active enemies of Christ; they blaspheme and defame him, spreading their evil influence even into Christian hearts. As for Jewish efforts to interpret Scripture, these, Luther asserts, are simply lies. They forsake the word of God and follow the imaginations of their hearts. It would be quite wrong, he concludes, for Christians to extend tolerance to those who hold such views. Similar sentiments are expressed in Luther’s Lectures on Romans of 1515–1516 (LW 47:126). “In short, the evidence indicates that the Luther of these earlier years shared to the full in the medieval prejudices against the Jews. From this perspective, his more favorable attitude toward the Jews as expressed in the early 1520’s is to be understood as a temporary modification of the underlying negative stereotype which characterized his earliest statements, and to which he returned in his later treatises. That underlying stereotype, in turn, can be understood only in terms of the medieval background.” (LW 47:127). The editors of Luther’s Works go on to explain exactly what this “medieval background” was: “The place of the Jew in a culture as dominated by the Christian faith and by Christian institutions as was medieval Europe had long been problematic. Already in the patristic period, the church’s polemic against Judaism had produced a highly negative image of the Jew…  Probably the most virulent of anti-Jewish spokesmen in the ancient church was John Chrysostom. In the year 387 he preached a series of sermons against the Jews, concerning which the historian James Parkes comments: “In these discourses there is no sneer too mean, no gibe too bitter for him to fling at the Jewish people. No text is too remote to be able to be twisted to their confusion, no argument is too casuistical, no argument too startling for him to employ.…” The so-called “dark ages,” marked by relative social disorganization in Europe, were on the whole a period of respite for the Jews. But the more Western culture moved toward the unity of the “medieval synthesis,” the more the Jews appeared as an anomaly, a rent in the otherwise seamless robe of Christendom. The First Crusade, organized to combat the Muslim occupiers of the Holy Land, turned against “the infidel at home,” and from this year, 1096, medieval history is marked by a never-ending series of persecutions, pogroms, and expulsions of the Jews. All this comes to a climax in what Israel Abrahams, in his classic study of Jewish Life in the Middle Ages,  calls “that black age in Jewish life, the sixteenth century, the century of the ghetto and degradation.” It dawned with the forced dissolution of the most substantial and most learned Jewish community in Europe, that of Spain, from which Jews were expelled by decree of Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492. Meanwhile the Inquisition had been employed to ferret out those of dubious faith among the Marranos, Spanish Jews who had been forcibly converted. Already in 1290 Jews had been entirely expelled from England, in 1394 from France. Now, as the sixteenth century proceeded, the disparate German principalities and cities followed suit” (LW 47:127-128).

 

[68] LW 21:354.

 

[69] Ewald M. Plass, What Luther Says: An Anthology Volume Two (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959), 683.

 

[70] W.H.T. Dau, Luther Examined and Reexamined: A Review of Catholic Criticism and a Plea for Revaluation (St Loius: Concordia Publishing House, 1917), 202-203.

 

[71] Eric Gritsch, “Was Luther Anti-Semetic?” (Christian History, Issue 39 Vol. XII, No.3), 38.

 

[72] Heiko Oberman, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil (New York: Image Books, 1989), 296.

 

[73] “Luther's writings about the Jews were all solicited by others and written out of a situation, and their intent, whatever their result, was apologetic rather than polemical” [Gordon Rupp, Martin Luther and the Jews (London: The Council of Christians and Jews, 1972), 11].

 

[74] LW 45:199. James Mackinnon points out, “[Luther’s] correspondence with converted Jews like Bernhard, to whom he sent a copy of the work, shows how eager he was to make amends for this brutal intolerance [of the Jews], in the hope that they would welcome Christianity in its evangelical form” [James Mackinnon, Luther and the Reformation Vol. IV, (New York: Russell & Russell inc. 1962) 195].

 

[75] Eric Gritsch outlines those arguments as follows: “1. Jacobs prophecy to his sons about "the scepter of Judah" belonging to a future king had been fulfilled in the person of Jesus (Gen. 49:10-12). Between the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70 and Luther's own time, there had never been a Jewish state ruled by a king. Yet the prophecy referred to a king who would rule over both Jews and Gentiles: Jesus Christ, born a Jew and destined to restore the broken covenant between God and Israel in a new and everlasting covenant ushering in eternal righteousness. Luther found it amazing that Jewish interpreters of Scripture would not agree with such an interpretation (LW 45:213-221). 2. Daniel's prophecy, inspired by the angel Gabriel, about "seventy weeks of years" before the final desolation of Israel also points to the person of Jesus (Dan. 9:24-27). Using the popular year-week interpretation, Luther calculated the resulting 490 years to be the period between the Persian king Cambyses (529-522 B.C.) and the appearance of Christ in his thirtieth year (Luke 3:23). Although these calculations were neither consistent nor precise, Luther found sufficient agreement between Scripture and history to conclude that Daniel spoke of Jesus rather than of anyone else (LW 45:221-228). 3. Still clearer to him were the prophecies of Hag. 2:9 ("The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former") and Zech. 8:23 ("In those days ten men of all languages of the Gentiles shall take hold of the robe of a Jew saying, 'We want to go with you'"). These sayings clearly indicated to Luther the greater power of the new Israel, which includes Gentiles under the lordship of Christ (LW 45:228-229)” [Eric Gritsch, Martin- God’s Court Jester: Luther in Retrospect (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), 134].

 

[76] LW 45:229.

 

[77] LW 45:229.

 

[78] LW 45: 199-200.

 

[79] LW 45:200.

 

[80] “At the outset of his career, Luther seems to have had little hope of converting the Jews. Then for a brief time he believed that most Jews would be converted. His optimism was grounded in the naïve assumption that their conversion would occur once papal scandals were ended and the loving gospel of Christ was preached clearly” [Lewis W. Spitz, The Protestant Reformation (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1985), 358].

 

[81] Martin Luther, Table Talk (online), ““Of The Jews: DCCCVIII”.

 

[82] James Mackinnon, Luther and the Reformation Vol. IV, (New York: Russell & Russell inc. 1962) 195.

 

[83] Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (New York: Mentor Books, 1950), 297.

[84] LW 47: 191 (footnote 63).

 

[85] James Mackinnon describes these Rabbis, “discussed religion with him and whom he favored with a letter of commendation to the authorities at Gleitz, begging them for Christ’s sake to grant them free passage through Saxony. What was his amazement to learn that they had spoken contemptuously of Christ as the Thola, or crucified bandit, to Aurogallus, to whom they had shown the letter!” [James Mackinnon, Luther and the Reformation Vol. IV, (New York: Russell & Russell inc. 1962), 196]. The editors of Luther’s Works provide more information on this meeting: “Commenting on Jer. 23:6 (“This is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness’”), which [Luther] interprets messianically, Luther notes that the application of the sacred name to Christ is proof of his divinity. He then adds: “I myself have discussed this with the Jews, indeed with the most learned of them, who knew the Bible so well that there wasn’t a letter in it that they did not understand. I held up this text to them, and they could not think of anything to refute me. Finally they said that they believed their Talmud; this is their exegesis, and it says nothing about Christ. They had to follow this interpretation. Thus they do not stick to the text but seek to escape it. For if they held to this text alone, they would be vanquished.” Cf. WA 20, 569 f. The incident is also referred to in a table remark of Luther from the year 1540, wherein the names of the three Jews are given as Samaria, Schlomo, and Leo, and they are identified as “three rabbis.” The account here notes that the conversation ended with both Luther and the Jews expressing the hope for the conversion of the other (WA, TR 4, 619 f.; Entry No. 5026)”[LW 47:190, footnote 63]. Commenting on this meeting with much hostility, Luther recounts in “On The Jews And There Lies”: “Three learned Jews came to me, hoping to discover a new Jew in me because we were beginning to read Hebrew here in Wittenberg, and remarking that matters would soon improve since we Christians were starting to read their books. When I debated with them, they gave me their glosses, as they usually do. But when I forced them back to the text, they soon fled from it, saying that they were obliged to believe their rabbis as we do the pope and the doctors, etc. I took pity on them and give them a letter of recommendation to the authorities, asking that for Christ’s sake they let them freely go their way. But later, I found out that they called Christ a tola, that is, a hanged highwayman. Therefore I do not wish to have anything more to do with any Jew. As St. Paul says, they are consigned to wrath; the more one tries to help them the baser and more stubborn they become. Leave them to their own devices” [LW 47:190].

 

[86] Martin Luther, Table Talk (online), “Of The Jews: DCCCXV.”  This version of the Table Talk records that there were only two Rabbi’s, where more reliable sources record the meeting involved three Rabbi’s. The missing Rabbi’s name was Leo. Luther also recounts this story later in On The Jews And Their Lies: “Three learned Jews came to me, hoping to discover a new Jew in me because we were beginning to read Hebrew here in Wittenberg, and remarking that matters would soon improve since we Christians were starting to read their books. When I debated with them, they gave me their glosses, as they usually do. But when I forced them back to the text, they soon fled from it, saying that they were obliged to believe their rabbis as we do the pope and the doctors, etc. I took pity on them and give them a letter of recommendation to the authorities, asking that for Christ’s sake they let them freely go their way. But later, I found out that they called Christ a tola, that is, a hanged highwayman. Therefore I do not wish to have anything more to do with any Jew. As St. Paul says, they are consigned to wrath; the more one tries to help them the baser and more stubborn they become. Leave them to their own devices” [LW 47:191].

 

[87] Heiko Oberman, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil (New York: Image Books, 1989), 293-294.

 

[88] Heiko Oberman, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil (New York: Image Books, 1989), 292.

 

[89] “One of the most interesting Jewish leaders of this period was Josel of Joselman of Rosheim near Strasbourg (1480-1554), who observed the battle of clement VII and Charles V with the mere monk Martin Luther and sided with the emperor” [Lewis W. Spitz, The Protestant Reformation (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1985), 359]. “He appeared in the background at the courts of Maximilian and Charles V and was present at the imperial diets”[Ibid.]. 

 

[90] LW 47: 62. “Some of this letter seems to harken back to the position expressed in That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew. He is still advocating friendly treatment of the Jews, and he appears not to have abandoned entirely his hope for Jewish converts, although he expects their numbers to be small. At the same time there is a harshness in this letter not found in the 1523 treatise” [Mark U Edwards, Luther’s Last Battles (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983), 125].

 

[91] Luther’s letter to Rabbi Josel as cited by Gordon Rupp, Martin Luther and the Jews (London: The Council of Christians and Jews, 1972), 14. This paragraph is not available in the English edition of Luther’s works.

 

[92] Heiko Oberman, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil (New York: Image Books, 1989), 293.

 

[93] LW 54:239.

 

[94]Jewish Encyclopedia: Luther entry. Lewis Spitz notes that Rabbi Josel “persuaded the Strassbourg city council to prevent the publication of Luther’s tract On The Jews And Their Lies, which understandably led him to hate Luther” [Lewis W. Spitz, The Protestant Reformation (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1985), 359].

 

[95] “In a letter to Nicholas von Armsdorf dated 23 January 1535, Luther reported that a Polish Jewish physician had been sent to Wittenberg to poison him but had been arrested before he could carry out his plan. WA. BR 3:428. 14-17) [Eric Gritsch, Martin- God’s Court Jester: Luther in Retrospect (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), 249 (footnote 25].  Roland Bainton points out that rumors circulated that the Jews were hired to assassinate him: “The rumor that a Jew had been suborned by the papists to murder him was not received with complete incredulity.”[Bainton, Here I Stand, 297]. The Jewish Encyclopedia notes, “In one of his letters he speaks of a Polish Jew who had been hired to assassinate him, but this was most likely merely a vague rumor in which he did not himself believe (Geiger," Jüd. Zeit." vii. 26)[Jewish Encyclopedia: Luther entry. Gordon Rupp posits, “His experiences with converted Jews, who in that age were often social casualties, were generally unfortunate. Some gossip that Jews were behind alleged plots to poison him gave him a lively distrust of Jewish physicians”[Gordon Rupp, Martin Luther and the Jews (London: The Council of Christians and Jews, 1972), 10].

 

[96] Eric Gritsch, Martin- God’s Court Jester: Luther in Retrospect (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), 135.

 

[97] Gordon Rupp explains, “The effect on Luther of one of these writings was catastrophic. Antonius Margaritha was of a famous Jewish family and he claimed to describe faithfully the life and worship of the Jews, and especially their anti-Christian prayers and practices, in a work, The Whole Jewish Faith, published in Augsburg in 1530. But at the Diet of Augsburg, Josel withstood Margaritha to his face, accused him of lies and exaggerations, to such good effect that Margaritha was arrested and finally banned from the city. Yet it was the third edition of this work which Luther had read aloud to his friends at supper-time and which he said had come as a revelation to him, confirming his fears that they practiced what amounted to public blasphemy” [Gordon Rupp, Martin Luther and the Jews (London: The Council of Christians and Jews, 1972), 14-15].

 

[98] In On The Jews And Their Lies, these sources played a key role: “Luther offered a christological interpretation of the Old Testament in opposition to the Jewish claims based on Scripture that the Messiah had not yet come. Here Luther relied on traditional methods of interpretation, especially those developed by Nicholas of Lyra (1270-1349) and by Paul of Burgos (1351-1435), a Spanish rabbi who had converted to Christianity and had become an archbishop. Both had used rabbinical methods in their Old Testament interpretations to show that Christ was the Messiah foretold in the Jewish Bible. Luther followed their example and cited four passages of the Old Testament as proof texts for the coming of the Messiah: Gen. 49:10 ("the scepter shall not depart from Judah . . . until he comes to whom it belongs"); 2 Sam. 7:12-16 (Nathan's prophecy to David about an offspring whose throne will be established forever); Hag. 2:6-9 (the promise to reconcile all nations, presumably through the Messiah); and Dan. 9:24 (the prophecy concerning seventy weeks, following which an everlasting righteousness would come). Luther used lengthy exegetical arguments to show that all of these texts "prove" that Jesus was the Messiah” [Eric Gritsch, Martin- God’s Court Jester: Luther in Retrospect (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), 138]. “Luther made use of a popular collection of anti-Semitic polemics, compiled by Anthony Margaritha and published in Augsburg under the title The Whole Jewish Faith (Der ganze judische Claube) in 1530. Margaritha was a Jew who had converted to Lutheranism in 1522, leaving his prominent rabbinic family Much of what he reported to be anti-Christian Jewish polemics turned out to be false; he was jailed and eventually expelled from Augsburg when the Jewish community complained about his slanderous statements. Nevertheless. Luther enjoyed reading Margaritha’s stories at table and cited them whenever he dealt with the Jewish question. One of these items was that Jews considered Jesus the product of adultery—the wliore Mary had relations with a blacksmith—and therefore Luther called for stern measures against the people who so abused the toleration extended to them by Christians. Since Jews had slandered the holiest of holy in Christendom, Jesus, Mary, and the Trinity, they should be deprived of Christian mercy” [Ibid. 139].

 

[99] “Direct proselytizing activities by Jews were uncommon, but not unknown. Former Jews who had been converted to Christianity—perhaps under unsavory conditions such as the pressures of the Inquisition—offered a prime target for re-conversion; and such efforts became more feasible when the monolithic power of the medieval church was broken by the Reformation” [Editors comments, LW 47:60]. Gordon Rupp though mentions, “In I536. there came news of a radical sect in Moravia where Anabaptists were accepting Jewish laws and celebrating the Sabbath. So far from the Reformation opening up the conversion of Jews to Christianity, it seemed there was rather a relapse of Christians to Judaism, and this confirmed for Luther fears he had already expressed about his own radical colleague Karlstadt and his followers ten years before” [Gordon Rupp, Martin Luther and the Jews (London: The Council of Christians and Jews, 1972), 13]. James Mackinnon agrees: “In 1532 he heard from Count Schlick zu Falkenau of a Jewish propanda among the Moravians, which succeeded in seducing many of the mobile inhabitants of this sect-ridden region to the observance of the Jewish Sabbath and the adoption of the rite of circumcision”[James Mackinnon, Luther and the Reformation Vol. IV, (New York: Russell & Russell inc. 1962) 195].

 

[100] LW 47:65.

 

[101] LW 47:73.

 

[102] LW 47:78.

 

[103] LW 47:79.

 

[104] LW 47:89-90.

 

[105] LW 47:96.

 

[106] Mark U Edwards, Luther’s Last Battles (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983), 127.

 

[107]LW 47:133.

 

[108] Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (New York: Mentor Books, 1950), 297.

 

[109] James Mackinnon, Luther and the Reformation Vol. IV, (New York: Russell & Russell inc. 1962), 198.

 

[110] Written pre-holocaust, the Roman Catholic historian Hartmann Grisar comments “It is clear that [Luther] was within his rights when he scourged the anti-Christian blasphemy and seductive wiles of the Jews, however much he may have been wrong in allowing himself to be carried away by fanaticism so far as to demand their actual persecution” [Luther Volume IV (St Louis: B. Herder, 1915), 306]. 

 

[111] LW 47:140.

 

[112] LW 47:137.

 

[113] LW 47:138. Luther though qualifies, “But if you have to or want to talk with them, do not say any more than this: “Listen, Jew, are you aware that Jerusalem and your sovereignty, together with your temple and priesthood, have been destroyed for over 1,460 years?” For this year, which we Christians write as the year 1542 since the birth of Christ, is exactly 1,468 years, going on fifteen hundred years, since Vespasian and Titus destroyed Jerusalem and expelled the Jews from the city.  Let the Jews bite on this nut and dispute this question as long as they wish” (Ibid).

 

[114] LW 47:139.

 

[115] Luther again sees that the historical misery of the Jews is the result of their rejection of Christ and His Word:

 

For such ruthless wrath of God is sufficient evidence that they assuredly have erred and gone astray. Even a child can comprehend this. For one dare not regard God as so cruel that he would punish his own people so long, so terribly, so unmercifully, and in addition keep silent, comforting them neither with words nor with deeds, and fixing no time limit and no end to it. Who would have faith, hope, or love toward such a God? Therefore this work of wrath is proof that the Jews, surely rejected by God, are no longer his people, and neither is he any longer their God.”

 

If there were but a spark of reason or understanding in them, they would surely say to themselves: “O Lord God, something has gone wrong with us. Our misery, is too great, too long, too severe; God has forgotten us!” etc. To be sure, I am not a Jew, but I really do not like to contemplate God’s awful wrath toward this people. It sends a shudder of fear through body and soul, for I ask, What will the eternal wrath of God in hell be like toward false Christians and all unbelievers? Well, let the Jews regard our Lord Jesus as they will. We behold the fulfillment of the words spoken by him in Luke 21: “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near … for these are days of vengeance. For great distress shall be upon the earth and wrath upon this people.”

 

[116]Luther attacks the notion that circumcision is essential to salvation, or that God will look more favorably on one who is circumcised: “God says that they have an uncircumcised heart. But the Jews do not pay attention to such a foreskin of the heart; rather they think that God should behold their proud circumcision in the flesh and hear their arrogant boasts over against all Gentiles, who are unable to boast of such circumcision” (LW 47:155). Luther sees that any attempt to link circumcision to giving one a special status with God is a form of works righteousness, and thus a denial of the Gospel. Luther sums up what the proper interpretation of circumcision is: “But to speak for us Christians—we know very well why [circumcision] was given or what purpose it served. However, no Jew knows this, and even when we tell him it is just like addressing a stump or a stone. They will not desist from their boasting and their pride, that is, from their lies. They insist that they are in the right; God must be the liar and he must be in error. Therefore, let them go their way and lie as their fathers have done from the beginning. But St. Paul teaches us in Romans 3 that when circumcision is performed as a kind of work it cannot make holy or save, nor was it meant to do so. Nor does it damn the uncircumcised Gentiles, as the Jews mendaciously and blasphemously say. Rather, he says, “circumcision is of great value in this way—that they were entrusted with the word of God” [cf. Rom. 3:1 ff.]. That is the point, there it is said, there it is found! Circumcision was given and instituted to enfold and to preserve God’s word and his promise. This means that circumcision should not be useful or sufficient as a work in itself, but those who possess circumcision should be bound by this sign, covenant, or sacrament to obey and to believe God in his words and to transmit all this to their descendants” [LW 47:158].

 

[117] LW 47:160.

 

[118]If the boast that God spoke with them and that they possess his word or commandment were sufficient so that God would on this basis regard them as his people, then the devils in hell would be much worthier of being God’s people than the Jews, yes, than any people. For the devils have God’s word and know far better than the Jews that there is a God who created them, whom they are obliged to love with all their heart, to honor, fear, and serve, whose name they dare not misuse, whose word they must hear on the Sabbath and at all times; they know that they are forbidden to murder or to inflict harm on any creature.  But what good does it do them to know and to possess God’s commandment? Let them boast that this makes them God’s own special, dear angels, in comparison with whom other angels are nothing! How much better off they would be if they did not have God’s commandment or if they were ignorant of it. For if they did not have it, they would not be condemned. The very reason for their condemnation is that they possess his commandment and yet do not keep it, but violate it constantly” [LW 47:167].

 

[119] LW 47:172.

 

[120]Moses had informed them a great many times, first, that they were not occupying the land because their righteousness exceeded that of other heathen—for they were a stubborn, evil, disobedient people—and second, that they would soon be expelled from the land and perish if they did not keep God’s commandments” [LW 47:173]. “They neither hear nor see that God gave them all of this that they might keep his commandments, that is, regard him as their God, and thus be his people and church. They boast of their race and of their descent from the fathers, but they neither see nor pay attention to the fact that he chose their race that they should keep his commandments. They boast of their circumcision; but why they are circumcised—namely, that they should keep God’s commandments—counts for nought. They are quick to boast of their law, temple, worship, city, land and government; but why they possess all of this, they disregard” [LW 47:173].

 

[121]But we have clearly and forcefully seen from this verse that the Messiah had to come at the time of Herod. The alternative would be to say that God failed to keep his promise and, consequently, lied. No one dare do that save the accursed devil and has servants, the false bastards and strange Jews. They do this incessantly. In their eyes God must be a liar. They claim that they are right when they assert that the Messiah has not yet come, despite the fact that God declared in very plain words that the Messiah would come before the scepter had entirely departed from Judah. And this scepter has been lost to Judah for almost fifteen hundred years now. The clear words of God vouch for this, and so do the visible effect and fulfillment of these same words” [LW 47:183].

 

[122]Well and good, if God is truthful and almighty and spoke these words through David—which no Jew dares to deny—then David’s house and government (which are the same thing) must have endured since the time he spoke these words, and must still endure and will endure forever—that is, eternally. Otherwise, God would be a liar. In brief, either we must have David’s house or heir, who reigns from the time of David to the present and in eternity, or David died as a flagrant liar to his last day, uttering these words (as it seems) as so much idle chitchat: “God speaks, God says, God promises.” It is futile to join the Jews in giving God the lie, saying that he did not keep these precious words and promises. We must, I say, have an heir of David from his time onward, in proof of the fact that his house has never stood empty—no matter where this heir may be. For his house must have been continuous and must ever remain so” [LW 47:192]. “Now let the Jews produce such an heir of David. For they must do so, since we read here that David’s house is everlasting, a house that no one will destroy or hinder, but rather as we also read here [II Sam. 23:4], it shall be like the sun shining forth, which no cloud can hinder. If they are unable to present such an heir or house of David, then they stand fully condemned by this verse, and they show that they are surely without God, without David, without Messiah, without everything, that they are lost and eternally condemned” [LW 47:193]. “Anyone who would venture to contradict such clear and convincing statements of Scripture regarding the eternal house of David, which are borne out by the histories, showing that there were always kings or princes down to the Messiah, must be either the devil himself or whoever is his follower. For I can readily believe that the devil, or whoever it may be, would be unwilling to acknowledge a Messiah, but still he would have to acknowledge David’s eternal house and throne. For he cannot deny the clear words of God in his oath vowing that his word would not be changed and that he would not lie to David, not even by reason of any sin, as …[Ps. 89] impressively and clearly states” [LW 47:199].

 

[123]For it is easily understood that if the consolation of the Gentiles, whom the ancients interpret as the Messiah, did not come while that temple was still standing, but is still to come (the Jews have been waiting 1,568 years already since the destruction of that temple, and this cannot be termed “a little while,” especially since they cannot foresee the end of this long time), then he will never come, for he neglected to come in this little, short time, and now has entered upon the great, long time, which will never result in anything. For the prophet speaks of a short, not a long time” [LW 47:210].

 

[124]This is what he tells Daniel: “Seventy weeks of years are decreed concerning your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. We cannot now discuss this rich text, which actually is one of the foremost in all of Scripture. And, as is only natural, everybody has reflected on it; for it not only fixes the time of Christ’s advent but also foretells what he will do—namely, take away sin, bring righteousness, and do this by means of his death. It establishes Christ as the Priest who bears the sin of the whole world” [LW 47:229].

[125] “In many cases, the charges and countercharges are traceable to the earliest polemics between Jews and Christians in the first and second centuries” [LW 47:256].

 

[126] LW 47:274.

 

[127] LW 47:266.

 

[128] LW 47:266.

 

[129] LW 47:266.

 

[130] This sentence was left out of the English translation. It can be found in WA 53.522, 34-37. My citation of it comes from Heiko Oberman, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil (New York: Image Books, 1989), 290.

 

[131] LW 47:268.

 

[132] LW 47:268.

 

[133] LW 47:268.

 

[134] LW 47:269.

 

[135] LW 47:269.

 

[136] LW 47:270.

 

[137] LW 47:271.

 

[138] Gordon Rupp, Martin Luther and the Jews (London: The Council of Christians and Jews, 1972), 16-17.

 

[139] James Mackinnon, Luther and the Reformation Vol. IV, (New York: Russell & Russell inc. 1962) 202.

 

[140] Kenneth A. Strand, “Current Issues And Trends In Luther Studies,” (Andrews University Seminary Studies, Spring 1984, Vol. 22, No. 1), 140.

 

[141] On The Ineffable Name and On Christ’s Lineage is available translated in English in the book, Gerhard Falk, The Jew in Christian Theology: Martin Luther's Anti-Jewish Vom Schem Hamphoras, Previously Unpublished in English, and Other Milestones in Church Doctrine Concerning Judaism (North Carolina: McFarland and Company, 1992).

 

[142] Mark U Edwards, Luther’s Last Battles (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983), 132.

 

[143] Mark U Edwards, Luther’s Last Battles (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983), 133.

 

[144] Gordon Rupp, Martin Luther and the Jews (London: The Council of Christians and Jews, 1972), 19. Eric Gritsch’s overview is helpful: “Shem Hamphoras ("The name of the Lord is exposed") was the legend of a secret formula inscribed on the stone supporting the ark of the covenant in the Temple of Jerusalem. Luther read the Shem Hamphoras legend in a fourteenth-century book, Victory Against the Jews (Victoria adversus Hebraeos), compiled by Salvagus Porchetus, a Carthusian monk from Genoa who died around 1315. The book had been reprinted in Paris in 1520. Luther translated the eleventh chapter of part 1, a rendering of supposedly Jewish accounts relating how Jesus abused the formula in order to perform the miracles that made people believe he was the Messiah. The story has all the features of polemical medieval legends: Jesus appears in Israel at the time of Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great (ca. A.D. 260-340 ?). When he came upon the secret formula in the Temple, knowing it would enable him to use divine powers, he copied it on a piece of paper and hid it inside his leg in a self-inflicted wound—which would heal immediately, of course, since he now knew the formula for healing. Temple priests had placed two bronze dogs on two pillars to guard the stone with the formula and to so scare intruders that they would forget the formula while trying to escape from the dogs. Although the dogs succeeded in making Jesus forget the formula when he escaped them, he had tricked them by hiding the formula in his leg, thus enabling him to use it again. Once in possession of the formula, Jesus assembled disciples, did miracles, and seduced many people into following him. When the rabbis complained to Queen Helena, she tried in vain to kill him. Finally, Jewish wise men hanged him on a stump of cabbage, and cabbages have grown in the sanctuary ever since. Most scholars of his time would not have bothered to deal with this rather senseless legend, but Luther not only translated it, he commented on it. Verbosely repeating his disgust with rabbinical polemics against Christianity, Luther then offered his demythologized version of the Shem Hamphoras formula: he contended it was nothing but the anagram of seventy-two names of angels, based on a combination of Hebrew letters from Exod. 14:19-21 and using three letters for each name. Luther had simply invented this scheme, since he was obviously intrigued by the minimal knowledge of Hebrew he had acquired from his friend Melanchthon. The anagram suggested, at least to Luther, that God's name as well as his deeds are hidden in the names of angels; sometimes they mean "love," at other times "salvation," etc. It was Luther's way of telling Jews that all of this was speculation which could be used either to edify or to put people down. Jews, for example, could be teased with another version of Shem Hamphoras, namely, Shama Perez ("there is the dirt"). Luther reminded his readers that "dirt" and "swine" are closely related in the popular mind, which is why there is a stone relief in a Wittenberg church (and in other German churches) depicting a sow with suckling piglets to represent Judaism and the Talmud. A rabbi stands behind the sow and is lifting her right rear leg to study her anus, which represents the Talmud. Luther thought this kind of anti-Semitic "art" was a way of illustrating the German proverb which satirizes people who pretend to be wise, "Where did he read it? In the ass of a sow." He accused the Jews of trying to be clever with the "name" (shem) of God by using the mysterious tetragram JHWH (often spelled Jehova) instead of seeking honest communication with God. That, he said, is why God has imposed his wrath on them. Luther concluded his commentary on the Shem Hamphoras by saying, "I wish that they not only avoided the name 'Jehova' but any and all letters of Scripture. . . . For they only slander God, dishonor Scripture, and condemn themselves"” [Eric Gritsch, Martin- God’s Court Jester: Luther in Retrospect (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), 141-142].

 

[145] WA 53:644.20-33, as cited by Eric Gritsch, Martin- God’s Court Jester: Luther in Retrospect (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), 143.

 

[146]Andrew Osiander, himself a Cabbalist, sent a copy to his old Jewish teacher, Levita, at Isny, and between them they concocted a reply which was no doubt withering enough. They sent it to Wittenberg, where it was intercepted by Melanchthon, who burned it before it could get to Luther's eyes—much to Osiander's relief, who had now got cold feet at the thought of a public controversy with Luther. Nor need we suppose that all the right was on Osiander's side. Luther's devastating exposure of the magical nature of numerological mysticism struck at one of the weaknesses of the Platonic Hebraists” [Gordon Rupp, Martin Luther and the Jews (London: The Council of Christians and Jews, 1972), 19].

 

[147] Quoted in WA 53:574, my citation from Eric Gritsch, Martin- God’s Court Jester: Luther in Retrospect (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), 144.

 

[148] W 54:30, as cited by Ewald M. Plass, What Luther Says: An Anthology Volume Two (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959), 684.

 

[149] James Mackinnon, Luther and the Reformation Vol. IV, (New York: Russell & Russell inc. 1962) 201- 202.

 

[150] Mark U Edwards, Luther’s Last Battles (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983), 134.

 

[151] A footnote in the text at this point says, “In the following letter to Melanchthon, Luther explains the circumstances slightly differently… Luther said in the carriage, as he began to feel ill: “the devil does this to me every time I intend and ought to undertake something important—he first tempts me in this way and attacks me with such a tentatio [i.e., Anfechtung; see LW 48, 28, n. 10].”

 

[152] LW 50: 290-291.

 

[153] LW 50:302.

 

[154]  The Legacy of Martin Luther.

[155] “In Luther’s sermon of February 7, 1546 (WA 51, 173 ff.) no “blunt” statements against the Jews can be found. This sermon has been preserved in notes and was published later. At the end of this first edition the Admonition Against the Jews (WA 51, 195 f.), which has been ascribed to Luther, was added; this writing seems to fit the description Luther outlines [in his letters]—though this judgment may be debated—but it does not fit the one made[to his wife in a letter], since Luther does not “outlaw” or “expel” the Jews in this document. It is, of course, possible (as is suggested in WA, Br 11, 288, n. 15) that the editor of the sermon and of the Admonition “polished” the text somewhat and perhaps eliminated passages that sounded too harsh. Even though there is some evidence that the Admonition could have been a part of Luther’s last sermon preached in Eisleben and thus would be dated February 14/15, the arguments and the material presented in Rückert, LB, p. 429, n. 9, are sufficiently strong to suggest the Admonition was a part of Luther’s February 7 sermon” [LW 50:303, footnote 19].

 

[156] Gordon Rupp, Martin Luther and the Jews (London: The Council of Christians and Jews, 1972), 20. Many reputable scholars refer to anti-Jewish sentiment in Luther’s last sermon. Mark U. Edwards: “…[T]he intense antagonism Luther bore the Jews continued to the end of his life and even found violent expression in his last public sermon” [Luther’s Last Battles (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983), 134]. James Mackinnon: “His last sermon delivered at Eisleben a few days before his death (15th February 1546) concluded with a fiery summons to drive [the Jews] bag and baggage from their midst, unless they desisted from their calumny and their usury and became Christians” [James Mackinnon, Luther and the Reformation Vol. IV, (New York: Russell & Russell inc. 1962) 204].

 

[157] WA. 51. 195-6 as cited in: Gordon Rupp, Martin Luther and the Jews (London: The Council of Christians and Jews, 1972), 21. Luther’s Works English edition includes Luther’s last sermon of Feb 15, 1546, but they do not include this section- their translation covers WA. 51.187-194, while Rupp’s section is from 195-196. Rupp is probably citing Luther’s Admonition Against The Jews.

 

[158] One web page cites this quote, alleged to be from Luther’s last sermon (and it is probably from Luther Admonition Against the Jews): “You, Milords and men of authority, should not tolerate but expel them. They are our public enemies and incessantly blaspheme our Lord Jesus Christ; they call our blessed Virgin Mary a harlot and Her Son a bastard … if they could kill us all, they would gladly do so; in fact many of them murder Christians, especially those professing to be surgeons and doctors. They know how to deal with medicaments in the manner of the Italians — the Borgias and Medicis — who gave people poison which brought about their death in one hour or a month … As a good patriot I wanted to give you this warning for the very last time to deter you from participating in alien sins. You must know I only desire the best for you all, rulers and subjects. (Erlanger (sic.) 62, pg. 189)”.[ Elizabeth Dilling,  The Jewish Religion: Its Influence Today]. Heiko Oberman uses a similar quote, thus verifing it is from Luther’s added Admonition:  “Three days before his death Luther added an ‘Admonition against the Jews’ to his last sermon, held in Eisleben on February 15, 1546. It clearly illustrates the change Luther had undergone in old age. There had been no transformation of friendship into enmity; only the measures propsed for an effective policy of improvement and conversation had changed: The Jews are our public enemies; they do not ceae to defame Christ our Lord, to call the Virgin Mary a whore and Christ a bastard, ‘and if they could kill us all, they would gladly do so. And so often they do.’ Nonetheless, ‘we want to practice Christian love toward them and pray that they convert’” [Heiko Oberman, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil (New York: Image Books, 1989), 294].

 

[159] Heiko Oberman, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil (New York: Image Books, 1989), 296.

 

 

[160] LW 47:267 (Editors comment, footnote 173).

 

[161] LW 47:123.

 

[162] Gordon Rupp, Martin Luther and the Jews (London: The Council of Christians and Jews, 1972), 18.

 

[163] Gordon Rupp, Martin Luther and the Jews (London: The Council of Christians and Jews, 1972), 22.

 

[164] Carter Lindberg, “Tainted Greatness: Luther’s Attitudes Toward Judaism and Their Historical Reception,” in Nancy A Harrowitz (ed.), Tainted Greatness: Antisemitism and Cultural Heroes (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994), 23.

 

[165] Mark U Edwards, Luther’s Last Battles (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983), 134.

 

[166] Mark U Edwards, Luther’s Last Battles (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983), 135.

[167] I came across some helpful excerpts from the book Luther's Table Talk, A Critical Study, by Preserved Smith, but was unable to locate the book to check the citations. Smith makes some excellent points about the nature of the Table Talk:

“Luther's enemies have always found in the Table Talk a trenchant weapon for attacking his character and doctrines. Even in his writings Luther is neither consistent nor temperate, much more in his private conversation is he careless and unguarded. By taking every thoughtless remark to a friend literally and with no attention to the context, the occasion on which it was uttered, and the cause which evoked it, it is easy enough to entangle Luther in a hopeless mass of contradictions and to asperse his character. This was done by Catholics and humanists as soon as the Tischreden were published, and subsequently has been undertaken more thoroughly by more scientific though equally hostile historians.”

“Luther spoke out whether in describing the morals of the Italians, or his own ailments or in giving advice to one tempted. He spoke out too, in giving his opinions of his enemies and those of the Gospel In language which has never been surpassed and rarely equaled for invective force. hese defects have been so elaborately apologized for by editor and translator that they have perhaps attained undue prominence. Whatever he was Luther was not vicious, and we never see that polisonnerie [polissonnerie: mischievousness, etc.] which is so plain in Erasmus, for example. We do not find Luther writing enthusiastically to a friend about the kisses he has enjoyed or wittily toying with the vicious propensities of mankind in the style of the Praise of Folly. Luther was considered remarkably pure in his own age. Mathesius relates that he never heard from him one shameful word, a judgment in which any fair-minded reader will concur; Luther was frank, but he was not prurient.”

 

[168] Martin Luther, Table Talk (online), “Of Baptism:CCCLV.”

 

[169] Martin Luther, Table Talk (online), “Of The Jews: DCCCXXV.”

 

[170] Martin Luther, Table Talk (online), “Of The Jews: DCCCXVII.”

 

[171] Sometimes “W 53 502” is mentioned as a reference, which is probably a reference to a German collection of Luther’s Works.

 

[172] Peter F. Wiener, Martin Luther: Hitler's Spiritual Ancestor.

 

[173] LW 47:241-242.

 

[174] LW 47: 169 (footnote 31).

 

[175] Peter F. Wiener, Martin Luther: Hitler's Spiritual Ancestor.

 

[176] LW 47:211.