One of the Most Notorious Works of Anti-Semitism

Luther, Martin (1483-1546)

Von den Jüden und iren Lügen.

Wittenberg: Hans Lufft, 1543


Quarto: 19.8 x 15 cm. [143] lvs. Collation: A-Z4, a-n4 (with final blank n4)

FIRST EDITION. Lufft printed a second edition in the same year. A Latin edition, translated by Justus Jonas, was printed in the following year. No other edition appeared in the 16th c.

With an elaborate woodcut title border by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472 – 1553), featuring a caricature of a Jew with a horned hat. Bound in 20th c. calf. An excellent copy of a book often found in poor condition. This copy is very clean aside from a pale dampstain in the gutter of the final signature and a little fraying and pale staining to the blank inner margin of the title, not affecting the woodcut. Broad margins throughout. Complete with the final blank.

This is the rare first edition of Luther’s most notorious work, a virulent, anti-Semitic screed, permeated with cruelty and loathing.

“The treatise falls into four major parts plus an addendum. In the first, Luther considers what he calls the ‘false boasts’ of the Jews: their pride in their lineage and homeland and their reliance on the covenant of circumcision and on the Law. The second part of the treatise is devoted to a debate over the exegesis of key biblical passages.

“The abusiveness of Luther’s critique of the Jews increases as the treatise proceeds. In the third section, after dealing with their reputed calumnies against the persons of Jesus and Mary, he recounts some of the grossest elements of medieval superstition concerning the Jews. It is with this that he arrives at the fourth and final main section of the work. Here he presents to both secular and ecclesiastical authorities his recommendations for action concerning the Jews. This is the section that has been most often quoted in subsequent anti-Semitic literature and which, above all, is responsible for the notoriety of the treatise.

Luther urges Christians to burn down Jewish synagogues and schools and to warn people against them; to refuse to let Jews own houses among Christians; for Jewish religious writings to be taken away; to offer no protection to Jews on highways; for usury to be prohibited and for all silver and gold to be taken away from Jewish owners, put aside for safekeeping, and given back only to those Jews who truly convert; and to give young, strong Jews flail, axe, spade, and spindle, and let them earn their bread by the sweat of their brow.

“Already upon its first appearance in 1543, Luther’s treatise caused widespread dismay, not only among contemporary Jews but also in Protestant circles. Melanchthon and Osiander are known to have been unhappy with its severity. Bullinger remarked that Luther’s views reminded him of those of the Inquisitors…

“Indeed, one does not know whether to be more astonished at the crudeness of Luther’s language or at the cruelty of his proposals. Fortunately, those proposals did not meet with a widespread response among authorities. The immediate effect of the proposals was thus small; it remained for a later century to refine and systematize them and apply them on a massive scale.”(Bertram, Luther's Works, Vol. 47, p. 123 ff.)

Benzing, Luther 3424; VD 16 L 7153; Kratzsch: Verzeichnis der Lutherdrucke, Nr. 935