The Second of Luther’s Most Virulent Anti-Semitic Works

Luther, Martin (1483-1546)

Vom Schem Hamphoras: Und vom Geschlecht Christi. Matthei am j. Capitel.

Wittenberg: Georg Rhau, 1543


Quarto: 19.6 x 14.8 cm. [64] lvs. A-Q4

FIRST EDITION, fourth issue (all printed in 1543).

Modern marbled boards. A very good copy with nice margins. First two leaves lightly toned.

“As he had announced in On the Jews and Their Lies, Luther immediately set to work on a follow-up treatise, On the Ineffable Name and On the Lineage of Christ, making clear that he was not interested in debating with or trying to convert Jews, rather he writes to warn those in danger of becoming Jews. The treatise is saturated, with fecal imagery and references to the Devil (a common association in Christian art and writing from the twelfth-thirteenth centuries onward), all of which is linked to the Jews: the Jews are the Devil’s children, they worship the Devil, the Devil is their god, Jewish biblical interpretation is “Judas-piss,” and so on. The crudeness of the treatise is approached perhaps only by Against Hanswurst (1541), and two of Luther’s close colleagues, Andreas Osiander and Justus Jonas, were deeply troubled by what he had written. Luther was cognizant of how such language sounded, and he excused himself with the following: “Oh, my God, my dear Creator and Father! {I trust that} you will graciously credit me that I have – most reluctantly – had to speak so shamefully about your divine majesty against your cursed enemies, Devils and Jews. You know that I have done this out of the flame of my faith and for the honor of your divine majesty. For this is a matter of utmost seriousness to me.”

“The treatise contains a brief introduction followed by two main parts. In the introduction Luther speaks bluntly against the prospects of Jewish conversion and clarifies his understanding of the problematic text, Rom. 11:25-26. In part one he first presents his translation of a chapter from Porchetus’s Victory against the godless Hebrews, that is, the chapter in which Porchetus had summarized statements from the Toledot Yeshu which portray Jesus – and Judas – as magicians empowered by knowledge of the correct pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton, the four-letter name of God. There then follows a scatological broadside against the Jewish exegetical practice of gematria in general and its relevance to the Shem Ha-Meforash (The Ineffable Name of God) in particular. Part one concludes with two excursuses: an address to the civil authorities against toleration of the Jews, and an extended diatribe against reverencing the Tetragrammaton. Part two takes up the question of the true origins of Jesus and is devoted to demonstrating the Davidic lineage of Mary. This Luther accomplishes by harmonizing  the competing genealogies in Matthew and Luke. Part two also concludes with two excursuses: on the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament, and an extended diatribe against rabbinic exegesis.

“The Hebrew phase, Shem Ha-Meforash (literally, “the fully articulated/explicated name”), as a designation of the Tetragrammaton goes back at least to the time of the Mishnah. In the Middle Ages Jewish mystical traditions significantly developed notions about the Name and the names of God. Via Margaritha Luther had learned about the Jewish mystical practice of deriving the names of seventy-two angels from the Hebrew text of Exod. 14:19-21, each verse of which contains seventy-two letters. He regarded such a practice, as well as any attempts to make exegetical or theological claims on the basis of the numerical values of Hebrew letters and words (gematria), as sheer nonsense and quintessentially rabbinic. In this treatise, Luther uses “Shem Hamphoras” as a blanket term to cover all such practices and proceeds to satirize Jewish reverence of the divine name in the most offensive manner. It is in this context that Luther – proudly – invokes the image of the Judensau in Wittenberg.

“High on the exterior wall of St. Mary’s Church in Wittenberg (the church where Luther preached most of his sermons), at the southeast corner (that is, facing Jerusalem), there is a small sandstone relief of an image that was popular in German churches from the twelfth-fifteenth centuries: the Jewish Sow. The image portrays a large sow with Jewish children sucking and a male Jew staring intently into the sow’s behind. Luther invokes this image, which is still in place today, as the ideal illustration of the source of rabbinic knowledge in general and of the Shem Hameforash in particular.

“In the early 1980’s, after an extended discussion about the Judensau image, the community of St. Mary’s Church decided that the image should remain in place as a warning about the horrors of the recent past. In addition, a Mahnung (reminder / warning) was commissioned and placed on the ground directly beneath the Judensau, the inscription to which reads: “God’s own name, the reviled Shem Hameforash, which the Jews prior to the Christians regarded as virtually unspeakably holy, died in six million Jews under the sign of a cross.”(Schramm and Stjerna, eds., Martin Luther, The Bible, and The Jewish People, p. 177-8)

Benzing 3439