Sunday, March 31, 2013

Luther: "The Book of Esther I Toss into the Elbe" a 19th Century Explanation

A few years back I explained how the famous Table Talk quote from Luther "The book of Esther I toss into the Elbe" was actually a mis-citation that was actually in regard to Esdras. I've mentioned this a number of times over the years.

What's interesting about this Luther quote is it was corrected some time ago, at least as far back as the  19th Century, yet it still pops up on fresh on the Internet.  Here was a great overview of the quote from the 19th Century, in which Julius Charles Hare corrected the great Sir William Hamilton:
 For instance, when our eyes run through the Reviewer's anthology, one of the most startling sentences is this: "The Book of Esther I toss into the Elbe." If a person familiar with Luther's style lights upon this sentence, he will recognize the great Reformer's unmistakable mark in the words, / toss into the Elbe; and it will be a pang to him to find Luther applying such rude words to any book, even the least important, in the Holy Scriptures. But he did not. The Reviewer asserts that he gives us Luther's "own words, literally translated:" Mr Ward asserts that the Reviewer's name is "a sufficient voucher for the accuracy of his quotations:" and yet Luther never said anything of the sort about the book of Esther. The original of this "literal translation" is plainly the following sentence in Luther's Tabletalk, Das dritte Such Esther werfe ich in die Elbe: The third book of Esther I toss into the Elbe. Why the Reviewer left out the word third in his "literal translation," it is for him to explain. Were one to follow the example he sets in imputing the vilest motives to all persons in authority in the University of Oxford, one should call this a fraudulent imposition. Was he puzzled to make out what could be meant by the third book of Esther? and did he intend tacitly to correct the text? When words are made the ground of an accusation, they should be examined with scrupulous care; and if it appear requisite to alter them, this should be expressly stated. Here the next sentence plainly shews that a totally different correction is needed. "In the fourth book, in that which Esther dreamt, there are pretty, and also some good sayings, as, Wine is strong, the king stronger, women still stronger, but truth the strongest of all" I quote from Walch's edition, Vol. xxn. 2079, and have no means of examining older copies of the Tischredren; but the old English translation speaks of the third book of Hester. So that the error  gross as it is, seems to have belonged to the original text. For there can be no question that Luther had been talking, not of a non-existent third and fourth book of Esther, but of the book of Ezra or Esdras: though there is still much confusion in the report of his words; since the argument about strength does not stand in the fourth book, but in the third, the first of the Apocryphal ones; those of Ezra and Nehemiah being numbered as the first two. Thus Luther's words are nothing but a Lutheran mode of saying what Jerome actually did, when he cast these Apocryphal books out of his Version, as he says in his Preface to the book of Ezra: "Nec quemquam moveat quod unus a nobis editus liber est; nec apocryphorum tertii et quarti somniis delectetur; quia et apud Hebraeos Ezrae Neemiaeque sermones in unum volumen coarctantur, et quae non habentur apud illos, nec de viginti quatuor senibus sunt, procul abjicienda." Nor can anything well go beyond Jerome's contemptuous expressions about the same books in his pamphlet against Vigilantius (bI). Assuredly too the next sentence quoted by the Reviewer,— "I am so an enemy to the book of Esther that I would it did not exist; for it Judaizes too much, and hath in it a great deal of heathenish naughtiness,"—though here again the English Translation agrees with Walch in applying Luther's words to the Book of Esther, was in fact spoken of the Apocryphal books of Esdras. For the whole passage in the Tabletalk is as follows : " When the Doctor was correcting the translation of the second Book of the Maccabees, he said, I dislike this book and that of Esther so much, that I wish they did not exist; for they Judaize too much, and have much heathenish extravagance. Then Master Forster said, The Jews esteem the book of Esther more than any of the prophets" The combination of the book with that of the Maccabees, — which the Reviewer ought not to have omitted, — as well as Forster's remark, leaves no doubt that Luther spoke of the book of Esdras (b j). These blunders shew how unsafe it is to build any conclusions on the authority of the Tabletalk.

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