Saturday, December 14, 2013

Recent Research into Luther's Anti-Semitism

I hadn't realized two recent full-length books came out exploring Luther's attitude toward the Jews.  I recently received both of them.

The first one (of which I'm halfway through) is Eric Gritsch, Martin Luther's Anti-Semitism: Against His Better Judgment (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012). Gritsch is a good Luther scholar. So far, the book helpfully begins by defining terms, especially what the term "antisemitism" means.  the term isn't as easy to define as some may think.

What I found interesting so far is that back in 1993 Gritsch wrote, “Luther was not an anti-Semite in the racist sense. His arguments against the Jews were theological, not biological” [Eric Gritsch, “Was Luther Anti-Semitic? ” [Christian History, 39 (vol. XII, No. 3),39]. In an earlier book 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].

In this recent book, Gritsch states, Luther is not simply "anti-Judaic" but rather "genuinely anti-Semetic" "in accordance with the broad, contemporary definition of anti-Semitism." It appears to me his position on Luther has shifted a bit from his earlier conclusions. One tangential point about Gritsch that I did not know was that he mentions in his recent book that he had been "a member of the Hitler Youth during the final days of World War II" (p. xiii).

The second book (which arrived today) is Christopher J. Probst, Demonizing the Jews, Luther and the Protestant Church in Nazi Germany (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012). I thumbed through this one briefly, and there was a fascinating section on Luther scholar Paul Althaus, the author of one of the best systematic approaches to Luther's theology. Probst documents the association that Althaus had with the Nazis, and then after the war being part of the denazification at Erlangen University, and then being suspended from this for being "pro-Hitler," and then being found not guilty by the denazification board.

I look forward to reading both books over the holiday.

6 comments:

J Peterman said...

James - What do you make of this Luther-bashing, Catholic apologetic drivel?

What about time declaring Pope Francis "Man of the Year"?

It brings up in my mind John 15;19

J Peterman said...

James - What do you make of this Luther-bashing, Catholic apologetic drivel?

"http://lutherancatholicblog.com/big-rock-little-rock-rock-star/"

What about time declaring Pope Francis "Man of the Year"?

It brings up in my mind John 15:19

James Swan said...

J Peterman said...
James - What do you make of this Luther-bashing, Catholic apologetic drivel? "http://lutherancatholicblog.com/big-rock-little-rock-rock-star/"
What about time declaring Pope Francis "Man of the Year"?
It brings up in my mind John 15:19


I visited the link, and it appears someone named "Nate" cut-and-pasted some Luther quotes I posted a few years back in response.

In regard to Pope Francis, I'm really waiting to hear what he'll say or do next. He's made things very interesting for conservative Roman apologists.

J Peterman said...

James - Thank you for your comments. Yes, it appears to be an uncomfortable time for "Conservative" Catholics since Pope Francis appears to be a "Progressive" or "Social Justice" type of works-righteousness person. To me, it simply underscores what Luther said about the Papacy: They are willing to tolerate just about anything excepting preaching of the Gospel of salvation by Grace alone/Faith alone. In other words, you can be conservative or progressive just as long as you swear loyalty to the power of the office of the Papacy and the Roman Church - and you believe first in self and your self-appointed "good works" as your path as your means of salvation.

bob said...

I would not exactly call Luther's comments about Jews anti-Semetetic since when he say's "Jews" he is mostly referring to either the doctrine of Judaism or to the Jewish religious hierarchy in particular, e.g.

"...that you prohibit their Rabbis to teach. For they have forfeited the right to such an office, because they keep the poor Jews captive with the passage of Moses 7:11-12 [Leviticus], who there commands them to obey their teachers under threat of losing body and soul. Moses clearly adds, `What they teach you according to the law of the Lord.' This the profligates pass over, and use the obedience of the poor people [Jews] for their own wilfulness against the Lord, and pour out for them such poison and blasphemy." The Jews and their Lies, Martin Luther, Liberty Bell Publications 2004 page 39

Many antichristian and liberal critics are not aware of the rather rough manner of speech in the time and place in which Luther lived, where political correctness had not yet been invented, and where, at times, one had to `turn it up' even more to be heard above the rabble.

James Swan said...

J Peterman said... To me, it simply underscores what Luther said about the Papacy: They are willing to tolerate just about anything excepting preaching of the Gospel of salvation by Grace alone/Faith alone.

Well said.

bob said...
I would not exactly call Luther's comments about Jews anti-Semetetic since when he say's "Jews" he is mostly referring to either the doctrine of Judaism or to the Jewish religious hierarchy in particular, e.g.


Yes, I've argued similarly:

http://tquid.sharpens.org/luther_Jews.htm

In my link, you'll notice that I've documented Eric Gritsch likewise presenting this argument. In his recent book however, he defines antisemitism broader, and charges Luther with engaging in antisemitism.