Tuesday May 05, 2020

Luther and the Jews

Christianity has had a 1900+ year bad history with (rabbinic) Judaism, with devastating consequences for the lives of Jews and theological bankruptcy for Christians. We hone in on the problem within our own tradition by looking at Luther's contorted and confusing attitude to Jews—from being the first person in about 1000 years to propose toleration and speak well of them, to his famously horrific suggestions to drive them out, steal their books, and burn their synagogues. Yet Luther proves to be not unique but representative in his anti-Judaism, so we also address wider concerns such as the not-always-tenable difference between anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism, and to what extent the roots of Christian anti-Judaism lie in our Scripture, Old and New Testament alike. Romans chs. 9–11 guide us through this mare's nest of issues.


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1. David Nirenberg, Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition

2. The chief texts of Luther relevant to his Janus-like relationship with the Jews are: “That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew” (1523; Luther’s Works vol. 45), “Against the Sabbatarians” (1539; Luther’s Works vol. 47), and “On the Jews and Their Lies” (1543; Luther’s Works vol. 47)

3. The book that popularly made the case in America for the direct lineage between Hitler and Luther was William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Uwe Siemon-Netto wrote a rebuttal to this claim in his The Fabricated Luther: Refuting Nazi Connections and Other Modern Myths.

4. My choice for the best place to examine this issue is in Thomas Kaufmann’s Luther’s Jews: A Journey into Anti-Semitism. Here's a review I wrote of it.

5. See Dad’s review of the excellent book by Peter Ochs, Another Reformation: Postliberal Christianity and the Jews in The Journal of Scriptural Reasoning 13/2 (2014) and in his book Beloved Community the “Excursus: on Jewish perplexity as a principle internal to Christology” on pp. 416–428. Also, check out his book Before Auschwitz, which analyzes various Christian theological positions regarding Jews and Judaism and how they were able to resist Nazi ideology or, conversely, fell right in step with it.

6. A few things I’ve written dealing with these issues: “Still Reckoning with Luther” in The Christian Century; commentary on Mark 12:28–34 for Working Preacher; my chapter “Tradition: A Lutheran Perspective” in the collection The Idea of Tradition in the Late Modern World; and a chapter in my ebook Luther, Thrice, available by signing up for the Theology & a Recipe newsletter on my website.

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Thanks, Sarah. Great job.

Tuesday May 05, 2020

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