Martin Luther's Anti-Semitism: Against His Better Judgment. By Eric W. Gritsch. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012. ISBN: 978-0-8028-6676-9. xiv and 158 pages. Paper. $25.
Martin Luther, the Bible, and the Jewish People: A Reader. Edited by Brooks Schramm and Kirsi I. Stjerna. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2012. ISBN: 978-0-80069804-1. viii and 247 pages. Paper. $26.
These two important books appeared in the same year, both from faculty members of Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, addressing one of the most neuralgic points in Luther studies: his tragically disastrous writings about and against the Jews. Both books make major contributions to research and reflection on a topic whose historical trajectory found its most catastrophic conclusion in the Holocaust.
In 1994 the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) repudiated Luther's anti-Jewish writings: "In the spirit of that truth-telling, we who bear his name and heritage must with pain acknowledge also Luther's anti-Judaic diatribes and the violent recommendations of his later writings against the Jews. As did many of Luther's own companions in the sixteenth century, we reject this violent invective, and yet more do we express our deep and abiding sorrow over its tragic effects on subsequent generations. In concert with The Lutheran World Federation, we particularly deplore the appropriation of Luther's words by modern anti-Semites for the teaching of hatred toward Judaism or toward the Jewish people in our day." These two penetrating books document and analyze the massive evidence underlying this repudiation.
The outstanding achievement of Schramm and Stjerna is their documentation of how Luther's anti-Jewish sentiment and writings span his entire career. The book consists of 28 selections from Luther's writings on the Jews from 1513 to1546. Each excerpt has an individual and insightful scholarly introduction. These, together with the introduction to the entire volume, afterword, and timeline, provide ample interpretation and analysis of the context and meaning of the Luther texts. The conventional interpretation...