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Encyclopedia > Martin Luther and the Jews

Martin Luther has been accused of Anti-Semitism, primarily in relation to his work On the Jews and their Lies. While Luther's supporters are disheartened by Luther's harsh words towards the Jewish people and others, they argue that Luther's words were motivated by Judaism's rejection of Christianity rather than hatred of Jews as a race. Luther at age 46 (Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1529) The Luther seal Martin Luther (November 10, 1483–February 18, 1546) was a German theologian, an Augustinian monk, and an ecclesiastical reformer whose teachings inspired the Reformation and deeply influenced the doctrines and culture of the Lutheran and Protestant traditions. ... The Eternal Jew: 1937 German poster. ...


Religious intolerance in the 16th century

Church and state were closely connected in Luther's day. Unbelievers were somtimes tolerated, but never when they preached heresy or insulted the Christian faith. Doing so could lead to exile, imprisonment, or worse. Luther himself was threatened with burning at the stake. In Calvinist Geneva, a notorious anti-Trinitarian was publicly executed, although the Lutheran church did not conduct public executions.

Luther's polemics

Luther himself was at one time or another during his life hostile towards just about everyone, including his own parishioners, good friends, allies, opponents and, himself. His most obvious and self-acknowledged flaw was his temper. He often berated himself for this, even in print.

Luther's Statements about the Jews

Luther's first known comment on the Jewish people is in a letter written to George Spalatin in 1514 he stated: George Spalatin, the name taken by George Burkhardt (January 17, 1484 - January 16, 1545), an important figure in the history of the Reformation, who was born at Spalt (whence he assumed the name Spalatinus), near Nuremberg, where his father was a tanner. ... Events March - Louis XII of France makes peace with Emperor Maximilian. ...

I have come to the conclusion that the Jews will always curse and blaspheme God and his King Christ, as all the prophets have predicted....For they are thus given over by the wrath of God to reprobation, that they may become incorrigible, as Ecclesiastes says, for every one who is incorrigible is rendered worse rather than better by correction.[1]

Seven years later Luther distinguished between the religious and racial aspects of the Jews in his 1523 essay That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew, telling his followers that Events April - Battle of Villalar - Forces loyal to Emperor Charles V defeat the Comuneros, a league of urban bourgeois rebelling against Charles in Spain. ...

"When we are inclined to boast of our position [as Christians] 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."

Twenty years later, after his overtures to Jews failed to convince Jewish people to adopt Christianity, he wrote On the Jews and Their Lies, a work which has been described as "a notorious Antisemitic document"[2], and which, according to Paul Johnson, "may be termed the first work of modern anti-Semitism, and a giant step forward on the road to the Holocaust." (A History of the Jews, 1987, p.242) Image File history File links 1543 On the Jews and Their Lies by Martin Luther This image is a book cover. ... Paul Johnson (born Paul Bede Johnson on November 2, 1928 in Lancashire, England) is a British Roman Catholic conservative historian, journalist and author. ... Children survivors of the Holocaust before their liberation The Holocaust is the name applied to the systematic state-sponsored persecution and genocide of various ethnic, religious and political groups during World War II by Nazi Germany and collaborators. ...

In the book Luther views the Jews' lineage in quite a different light. He states "There is one thing about which they boast and pride themselves beyond measure, and that is their descent from the foremost people on earth, from Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and from the twelve patriarchs, and thus from the holy people of Israel." He quotes the words of Jesus in Matthew 12:34, where Jesus called the Jewish religious leaders (Pharisees) of his day "a brood of vipers and children of the devil", and attributes this characteristic to all Jews. In the book, written three years before his death, he describes the Jews as (among other things) "miserable, blind, and senseless", "truly stupid fools", "thieves and robbers", "lazy rogues", "daily murderers", and "vermin", likens them to "gangrene", and recommends that Jewish synagogues and schools be burned, their homes destroyed, their writings be confiscated, their rabbis be forbidden to teach, their travel be restricted, that lending money be outlawed for them and that they be forced to earn their wages in farming. Finally, Luther advised "[i]f we wish to wash our hands of the Jews' blasphemy and not share in their guilt, we have to part company with them. They must be driven from our country" and "we must drive them out like mad dogs." The Pharisees (from the Hebrew perushim, from parash, meaning to separate) were, depending on the time, a political party, a social movement, and a school of thought among Jews that flourished during the Second Temple Era (536 BCE–70 CE). ...

Several months after publishing On the Jews and Their Lies, Luther wrote another attack on Jews titled Schem Hamephoras, in which he explicitly equated Jews with the Devil.[3]

In his final sermon shortly before his death, Luther preached "We want to treat them with Christian love and to pray for them, so that they might become converted and would receive the Lord" (Weimar ed., vol. 51, p. 195).

Luther's view of the Jews

Luther's harsh comments about the Jews are seen by many as a continuation of medieval Christian anti-Semitism, and a reflection of earlier anti-Semitic expulsions in the 14th century, when Jews from other countries like France and Spain were invited into Germany. The Eternal Jew: 1937 German poster. ... This 14th-century statue from south India depicts the gods Shiva (on the left) and Uma (on the right}. It is housed in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. As a means of recording the passage of time, the 14th century was that century which lasted from 1301 to...

In August 1536, Luther's prince, Elector John Frederick of Saxony, issued a mandate that prohibited Jews from inhabiting, engaging in business in, or passing through his realm (Martin Brecht, Martin Luther, vol. 3, p. 336). When Luther in On the Jews and Their Lies wrote that Jews should be expelled from his homeland he concurred with the widespread sentiments of his times. These sentiments were subsequently echoed in the Germany of the 1930s. According to Daniel Goldhagen Johann Friedrich I, Elector of Saxony (30 June 1503 - 3 March 1554), called John the Magnanimous, was head of the Protestant Confederation of Germany (the Schmalkaldic League), Champion of the Reformation. He was the son of John the Steadfast of Saxony and born in Torgau, Germany. ... Goldhagen Daniel Jonah Goldhagen (born 1959) is an American political scientist most famous for his controversial book, Hitlers Willing Executioners, which posits that ordinary Germans not only knew about but were actively in favour of the Holocaust because of a supposedly unique and virulent eliminationist antisemitism in the German...

One leading Protestant churchman, Bishop Martin Sasse published a compendium of Martin Luther's antisemitic vitriol shortly after Kristallnacht's orgy of anti-Jewish violence. In the foreword to the volume, he applauded the burning of the synagogues and the coincidence of the day: On November 10, 1938, on Luther's birthday, the synagogues are burning in Germany. The German people, he urged, ought to heed these words of the greatest antisemite of his time, the warner of his people against the Jews. Die Kristallnacht, also known as die Reichskristallnacht (literally Imperial Crystal Night), die Pogromnacht and in English as the Night of Broken Glass, was a massive nationwide pogrom in Germany and Austria on the night of November 9, 1938 (including early hours of the following day). ...

Roland Bainton, noted church historian and Luther biographer, wrote with reference to On the Jews and Their Lies: "One could wish that Luther had died before ever this tract was written. His position was entirely religious and in no respect racial" (Here I Stand, [Nashville: Abingdon Press, New American Library, 1983], p. 297). This is later echoed by James M. Kittelson writing about Luther's correspondence with Jewish scholar Josel Rosheim, (Luther the Reformer: The Story of the Man and His Career [Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1986], p. 274): "There was no anti-Semitism in this response. Moreover, Luther never became an anti-Semite in the modern, racial sense of the term." This might be construed to support the view that Luther's ideas in On the Jews and Their Lies were anti-Judaic rather than anti-Semitic in that they were not motivated by a racial or ethnic prejudice. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America statement cited below makes this distinction on the basis of chronology, that Anti-Judaism is the prototype of Anti-Semitism. In the view of just people there is always the danger of mitigating Anti-Semitism however it manifests itself. Roland H. Bainton (1894-1984) was born in England and came to the United States in 1902. ... Anti-Judaism in Christian theology is a phenomenon distinct from anti-Semitism. ... The Eternal Jew: 1937 German poster. ... The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is a mainline Protestant denomination headquartered in Chicago, Illinois. ... Anti-Judaism in Christian theology is a phenomenon distinct from anti-Semitism. ... The Eternal Jew: 1937 German poster. ...

In 1983, the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, noting that "Anti-Semitism and other forms of racism are a continuing problem in our world," made an official statement [4] disassociating themselves from what they describe as "intemperate remarks about Jews" in Luther's works. 1983 (MCMLXXXIII) is a common year starting on Saturday of the Gregorian calendar. ... The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS) is the second-largest Lutheran body in the United States. ...

In 1988 Lutheran theologian Stephen Westerholm argued that Luther's attack on Judaism was part and parcel of his attack on the Catholic Church — that Luther was applying a Pauline critique of Phariseism as legalistic and hypocritical to the Catholic Church. Westerholm rejects Luther's interpretation of Judaism and his apparent anti-Semitism but points out that whatever problems exist in Paul's and Luther's arguments against Jews, what Paul, and later, Luther, were arguing for was and continues to be an important vision of Christianity. 1988 (MCMLXXXVIII) is a leap year starting on a Friday of the Gregorian calendar. ...

In 1994, the Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America publicly rejected [5] what it described as "Luther's anti-Judaic diatribes and the violent recommendations of his later writings against the Jews," and their "appropriation... by modern anti-Semites for the teaching of hatred toward Judaism or toward the Jewish people in our day." 1994 (MCMXCIV) was a common year starting on Saturday of the Gregorian calendar, and was designated the International year of the Family. ... The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is a mainline Protestant denomination headquartered in Chicago, Illinois. ...


  • Bainton, Roland. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1978. ISBN 0687168945.
  • Brecht, Martin. Martin Luther, 3 vols. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1985-1993. ISBN 0800607384, ISBN 0800624637, ISBN 0800627040.
  • Johnson, Paul. A History of the Jews. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1987. ISBN 0060915331.
  • Kittelson, James M. Luther the Reformer: The Story of the Man and His Career. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1986. ISBN 0806622407.
  • Oberman, Heiko A. The Roots of Anti-Semitism in the Age of Renaissance and Reformation. James I. Porter, trans. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984. ISBN 0800607090
  • Siemon-Netto, Uwe. The Fabricated Luther: the Rise and Fall of the Shirer myth. Peter L. Berger, Foreward. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1995. ISBN 0570048001.
  • Siemon-Netto, Uwe. "Luther and the Jews." Lutheran Witness 123 (2004)No. 4:16-19. [[6]]
  • Tjernagel, Neelak S. Martin Luther and the Jewish People. Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1985. ISBN 0810002132

Roland H. Bainton (1894-1984) was born in England and came to the United States in 1902. ...

External links

  • Martin Luther and the Jews (PDF) by Albrecht, Mark. Essays Online Mequon, WI: Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, 1999.
  • Antisemitism - Reformation from the Florida Holocaust Museum.
  • Luther and the Jews (PDF) by Siemon-Netto, Uwe. Lutheran Witness 123 (2004) No. 4:16-19.
  • Martin Luther article in Jewish Encyclopedia (1906 ed.) by Gotthard Deutsch

  Results from FactBites:
Medieval Sourcebook: Martin Luther (1483-1546): The Jews and their Lies 1543 (2308 words)
Letters to Spalatin, we can already see that Luther's hatred of Jews, best seen in tis 1543 letter, was not some affectation of old age, but was present very early on.
Luther used violent and vulgar language throughout his career: he was not a man to say "manure" when he meant "shit".
Therefore be on your guard against the Jews, knowing that wherever they have their synagogues, nothing is found but a den of devils in which sheer self-glory, conceit, lies, blasphemy, and defaming of God and men are practiced most maliciously and veheming his eyes on them.
Martin Luther - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (5607 words)
Martin Luther (November 10, 1483–February 18, 1546) was a German theologian, an Augustinian monk, and an ecclesiastical reformer whose teachings inspired the Reformation and deeply influenced the doctrines and culture of the Lutheran and Protestant traditions.
In 1507 Luther was ordained to the priesthood.
Luther, while professing his implicit obedience to the Church, now boldly denied papal authority, and appealed first "from the pope not well informed to the pope who should be better informed" and then (Nov. 28) to a general council.
  More results at FactBites »



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