Martin Luther and German Anti-Semitism: Graham Noble Illustrates Luther's Anti-Jewish Views and Distinguishes Them from Those of the Nazis. (the Unpredictable Past)

By Noble, Graham | History Review, March 2002 | Go to article overview

Martin Luther and German Anti-Semitism: Graham Noble Illustrates Luther's Anti-Jewish Views and Distinguishes Them from Those of the Nazis. (the Unpredictable Past)


Noble, Graham, History Review


`What shall we Christians do with these rejected and condemned people, the Jews?' This rhetorical question, posed in 1543 by the great Protestant reformer Martin Luther, he answered in the most blood-chilling manner. Their synagogues should be burned to the ground; their houses destroyed; their prayer books seized; their rabbis forbidden to teach on pain of death. They should be prevented from travelling in the countryside and their wealth confiscated. The young and strong should be forced to do menial work in order to prevent them `feasting and farting ... and blasphemously boasting of their lordship over Christians'. Luther went on to call for their expulsion from Germany: `We should toss out these rogues by the seat of their pants'. He even recommended, for a number of them, an even more terrifying fate. The authorities, he urged, must act like a good physician and cut out the gangrene by slaying three thousand, `lest the whole people perish'.

Luther had once been more restrained in his writings about the Jews. As the Reformation was establishing itself in Saxony, he felt able to express pity for the poor conditions in which they were forced to live. He even invited Catholics, who grew tired of abusing him as a heretic, to revile him instead as a Jew, since Jews were related by blood to the Lord. Anyone denying that Jesus Christ was born a Jew, he wrote in 1523, was guilty of a foolish heresy. But underlying this reasonableness was a biting intolerance of the Jewish faith, which produced from Luther ever more furious demands for their conversion to his own brand of Christianity.

The vicious tone and language of On the Jews and Their Lie, the 60,000-word tirade quoted above, was repeated by Luther in his Schem Ha Mphoras of the same year. Its name is derived from an anti-Semitic stone relief carved in the City Church of Wittenberg, where Luther regularly preached, which mocks the traditional lore of the Jews, their CABBALA, and depicts a rabbi lifting the leg and tail of a pig to look into its anus. Luther's very last sermon, preached in Eisleben in February 1546, three days before his death, contained an Admonition against the Jews. They were identified as the sworn enemies of the true faith who would gladly `kill us all' if they could.

For students of later German history, the resonance of all this is obvious and appalling. Indeed the Lutheran Church in America has been moved to denounce its founder's `intemperate remarks' on the subject. But where did Luther's anti-Semitism come from, and how far did his writings, as has been suggested, encourage or lend support to National Socialist policies against the Jews 400 years later?

The Anti-Semitic Context

Luther's ideas did not emanate from personal experience. The evidence is that he had very little contact with Jews. They were, after all, allowed to live in very few German cities and were severely restricted in their freedom of movement. In August 1536 a decree to expel them entirely from his Saxon lands was passed by that lover of religious liberty, Frederick the Wise. (Luther abruptly rejected an appeal made to him to intervene with the Elector on behalf of Jewish merchants, who wanted exemption.)

In early modern Europe, anti-Semitism was widespread. Jews were burned at the stake for a variety of imagined crimes, including the desecration of churches, infanticide and ritual castration. They were blamed for spreading plague and poisoning wells and were commonly reviled as lazy parasites. Frederick's policy in Saxony was part of a series of similar banishments, including Ferdinand's and Isabella's expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, which drove them further and further east in search of new homes. The intolerance of the medieval Christian Church had formed an unholy alliance with secular anti-Semites. Those who saw the Jews as heretics and Christ-killers found ready support amongst others who were suspicious of these curious, self-contained outsiders, whose speech and dress appeared so odd, and whose success in business was so enviable.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Martin Luther and German Anti-Semitism: Graham Noble Illustrates Luther's Anti-Jewish Views and Distinguishes Them from Those of the Nazis. (the Unpredictable Past)
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.