Jewishness as an Explanation for Rejection of the Word

Caspar Güttel’s Reception of Martin Luther’s Anti-Judaism

in Church History and Religious Culture
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The present essay challenges prior accounts of the “literary echo” to Martin Luther’s 1523 treatise, That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew, which called for “friendly” theological instruction of Jews. Focusing on a dialogue between a Christian and a Jew written by Caspar Güttel, I demonstrate that Güttel was not concerned with the persuasion of Jews. Rather, writing in 1527, Güttel deployed his knowledge of the ineffectiveness of Luther’s missionary overture as part of a larger strategy casting intra-Christian resistance to the Word as “Jewish.” Moreover, the primary influence on Güttel was not That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew, but Luther’s Christmas Postils. From the latter, Güttel received and propagated an image of Jews as “blind with seeing eyes”—as unable to deny truth yet paradoxically unreceptive to it. Güttel’s case underlines the necessity of looking beyond Luther’s “Jewish writings” to locate the transmission and reception of the reformer’s anti-Judaism.

Jewishness as an Explanation for Rejection of the Word

Caspar Güttel’s Reception of Martin Luther’s Anti-Judaism

in Church History and Religious Culture

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5

See Wilhelm Maurer“Die Zeit der Reformation,” in Kirche und Synagoge. Handbuch zur Geschichte von Christen und Judened. Karl Heinrich Rengstorf and Siegfried von Kortzfleisch 2 vols. (Stuttgart 1968) 1: 363–452; here 388–389; and Johannes Brosseder Luthers Stellung zu den Juden im Spiegel seiner Interpreten. Interpretation und Rezeption von Luthers Schriften und Äußerungen zum Judentum im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert vor allem im deutschsprachigen Raum (Munich 1972) 348. Both are cited by Peter von der Osten-Sacken (see Note 7).

9

KaufmannLuthers “Judenschriften” 15–17 42–80; esp. points 1 and 2 on 79; on responses from Luther’s Catholic opponents 24–25 161–163. Kaufmann writes “[I]n den sechs Jahren zwischen 1523 und 1529 erschienen … nicht viel weniger vielleicht gar mehr Flugschriftendrucke zum Judentum als in den sieben anschließenden Jahrzehnten des 16. Jahrhunderts zusammen. Luthers Schrift Daß Jesus Christus ein geborener Jude sei wurde von den Zeitgenossen im Vergleich mit der sonstigen Literatur zur Sache als Umbruch und Initial für ‘Veränderungen’ wahrgenommen. Der reformatorische Flugschriftendiskurs über die Judenheit ist in Anknüpfung Weiterführung aber auch impliziter oder expliziter Kritik auf diese Schrift bezogen.” See also Reinhold Lewin Luthers Stellung zu den Juden. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Juden in Deutschland während des Reformationszeitalters (Berlin 1911) 34–35.

11

Caspar GüthelVon den straffen vnd plagen / die etwan Gott vber die Ju[e]den / vnd auch lang zeit / ytzt aber ynn sonderheit vber vns Christen / hat verhangen vnd ausgehen lassen / Ein kurtze liebliche vnterrede. Das Christus warer Gott vnd mensch sey. Caspar Guthel Ecclesiastes zu Eisleben (Zwickau: Gabriel Kantz1529). The treatise was evidently written at least two years before publication as the prefatory epistle is dated 1527.

16

See KaufmannLuthers “Judenschriften” 42–80 134–145; idem. Konfession und Kultur. Lutherischer Protestantismus in der zweiten Hälfte des Reformationsjahrhunderts (Tübingen 2006) 138–154; and Johannes Wallmann “The Reception of Luther’s Writings on the Jews from the Reformation to the End of the 19th Century” Lutheran Quarterly 1 (1987) 72–97. Wallmann’s essay was groundbreaking in 1987 but further research is overdue. Even if Luther’s anti-Jewish writings of 1543 fell into obscurity before the nineteenth century—as Wallmann concludes—Luther’s anti-Judaism could have been transmitted to posterity through many of the reformers’ other works including the various postil collections. Also problematic is Wallmann’s distinction between a young “pro-Jewish” Luther and an older “anti-Jewish” Luther. Even in 1523 Luther welcomed Jews within Christian society only as potential converts; and very shortly after he wrote That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew Luther concluded that the Jews were irredeemably stubborn and hostile to Christianity—a conclusion he maintained up to his dying breath. Luther appears to have abandoned the missionary optimism of That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew after several rabbis visited him in Wittenberg in 1525. (See Osten-Sacken Martin Luther und die Juden (see above n. 7) 103–110.) Eric W. Gritsch Martin Luther’s Anti-Semitism: Against His Better Judgment (Grand Rapids MI 2012) 97–110 uncritically repeats Wallmann’s conclusions about the reception of Luther’s “Jewish writings” and in addition he asserts that Luther held to an attitude of “pastoral evangelism” toward the Jews through 1537. For the 19th- and 20th-century reception of Luther’s stance toward the Jews see Brosseder Luthers Stellung (see above n. 5); and recently Christopher J. Probst Demonizing the Jews: Luther and the Protestant Church in Nazi Germany (Bloomington 2012).

21

See esp. Caspar GüttelD. Caspar Gu[e]thels Ecclesiasten zu Eissleben / seines Standes vnnd Wesens manchfeldiger verenderung vrsach / mit angezeigter Bekentnus vnnd rechenschafft seines Glaubens (Erfurt: Melchior Sachse, d.Ä.1535) B2v–B3r.

35

KaufmannLuthers “Judenschriften” 25.

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