Martin Luther & the Jews
Vom Shem Hamphorash and The Jew in Christian Theology
by Gerhard Falk (McFarland & Co., Publishers)
1543, the founder of Protestant Christianity, Martin Luther, published an
anti-Jewish diatribe called Vom Shem
Hamphorash. Vom is German and means “Of the.” Hamphoarsh is Hebrew and
may be translated as “interpret” or “explicit.”
this book by Luther was not included in the American edition of all the works of
Martin Luther, I translated this book into modern American English. In 1543, the
German language was as distant from modern German as Chaucer’s English is
distinct from American English today. Moreover, Luther used Gothic script and
cited a number of Latin authors
without translating them, because Latin was in his day a universal language used
by all literate Europeans.
have been called liars because we take the liberty of choosing words and phrases
which in our opinion reflect the meaning of the original, even if a verbatim
translation would lead to a different wording. Therefore I chose to translate
Shem Hamphorash as “The Unknowable Name” of God.
In this book, Luther demands that
all synagogues be burned down and that all Jewish books be burned. He also
wanted all Jews to be out of Germany and hinted that he would not object to the
mass murder of the Jewish population.
are those who have repeatedly traced a direct influence of Luther to Hitler and
the persecution of the European Jews during the Holocaust. Indeed, Nazi
propaganda included citations from the work of Luther. Nevertheless, it is
evident that the root cause of anti-Jewish behavior in Europe for 1900 years was
that Jews were a small minority who were defenseless and easily murdered. If
there had been a hundred million Jews in Europe instead of only 9 million among
700 million Europeans, and if these Jews had weapons, there surely could not
have been and would not have been any persecution. The evidence for this is that
the six million Jews of Israel have successfully defended themselves against 250
million Arabs seeking to kill them all.
reason Luther wrote such an anti-Jewish diatribe was that he was raised in the
Christian tradition, which denounced Jews since the first century. In fact, the
first anti-Jewish hatemonger among Christians was a former Jew known only as
Barnabas. He had accepted the new religion, Christianity, and therefore demanded
that all Jews convert as he had done. When Jews would not follow him, he wrote
horrendous invectives and the most vicious attacks against his erstwhile
brethren, which were then repeated by Christian theologians and others
throughout the centuries.
my book The Jew in Christian Theology
I have shown that the early church fathers participated vigorously in anti-Jewish
hatred, claiming in particular that all Jews are guilty
of having killed the Christian God, who is also a Jew. Throughout the ages, this
accusation served as an excuse for murder and bloodshed and violence against the
Jewish minority in Europe. Protestants as well as Catholics and the Eastern
Orthodox and all other Christian denominations participated in anti-Jewish
persecutions because they profited greatly from stealing Jewish property,
driving Jews out of their homes, and cheating Jews out of their earnings.
anti-Jewish European literature is so vast that it cannot be listed here. One
example is the work of Geert Geerts, who called himself Erasmus (1439-1546),
which is Latin for The Dearly
Beloved. Erasmus repeated all the anti-Jewish canards with which everyone else
was already acquainted.
outstanding Christian theologian discussed in The Jew in Christian Theology was the Frenchman Jehan Cauvin, known
among English speakers as John Calvin (1509-1564). Calvin abused the Jews in his
influential writings, demanding the Jews convert to his form of Christianity. He
perpetuated the usual hatemongering into the succeeding generations. Calvin
founded the Puritan version of Christianity.
the French Revolution of 1789, French Jews were given some rights and were
released from the ghettos by Napoleon Bonaparte. As science gradually weakened
the anti-Jewish polemics, it became necessary for the hatemongers to find
reasons other than theology for the persecution of the European Jews. Therefore
a German journalist by the name of Wilhelm Marr invented the phrase
anti-Semitism in 1873. According to the Torah, Sem was one of the sons of Noah
who, after the flood, settled in the area now known as Israel. Therefore
linguists called languages spoken in the Middle East Semitic languages,
including Hebrew and Arabic. Marr now claimed that Jews were racially Semites
who destroyed all culture and were
the enemies of all civilized men. By these means, Marr converted a language
group into a race, and promoted the view that Jews cannot live among Europeans.
By placing anti-Judaism on a racial basis, he made religion irrelevant, so that
even Jews converted to Christianity were still Semites and needed to be
eliminated. Marr founded The League of Anti-Semites, which became the most
successful social movement Europe had ever experienced. This is true because 60
years after its founding, Hitler became dictator of Germany, as the Nazi party
ruled thereafter for 12 years.
is therefore obvious that is was not Hitler’s own idea to persecute Jews, but
that he had learned all this from his reading of history, from the speeches of
politicians, from newspapers, and from the sermons of Christian clergy. There
are those who like to say that Hitler was crazy or a psychiatric case. This was
by no means so, as Hitler reflected everything that was already believed before
he was even born. William Shirer, in his book The
Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, writes that Hitler was so successful
because he preached anti-Jewish hate, which appealed to all his listeners who
already believed that.
needs to be remembered that the European population vigorously participated in
the murder of the local Jews after the invasion of each European country by the
German Army. This shows that hatred of Jews was and is as much a part of
European civilization as speaking the local language, driving on the right side
of the street (except for England), or reading newspapers. Even today, European
Jews are leaving France and other European countries in large numbers, so that
as of now there are only 1.4 million
Jews among 750 million Europeans.
may not overlook that on October 17, 1965, the Catholic Church issued a
declaration entitled ”Nostra Aetate” or “In Our Age.” These are the
first words of a proclamation by Vatican II, which was a meeting of the major
church leaders on the request of Pope John XXIII. That council issued a
proclamation which rejected anti-Jewish conduct, as well as all aspects of
so-called anti-Semitism. In 1983, the Lutheran Church followed this example, as
did most Protestant denominations.
have therefore included in my book The Jew
in Christian Theology several appendices concerning these developments.