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Thomas Kaufmann – Martin Luther


Professor of Ecclesiastical History, University of Gottingenand

Chairman, German Society for Reformation History


Selected works: 

·       Luther’s Jews, A Journey into Anti-Semitism

·       Geschichte der Reformation in Deutschland
·       Das Ende Der Reformation: Magdeburgs Herrgotts Kanzlei

·       Konfession Und Kultur

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Episode #1

Q: Luther’s Jews – Professor Thomas Kaufmann – Intro:


  • Theologian & Historian

  • Understand problematic Luther views

  • Attitude towards Jews & Judaism

  • Train students as pastors in Germany

  • Consequences of Luther’s writing today

Episode #2

Q: What were the early influences that shaped Luther?


  • Background of 1500’s

  • Jews were separate from society

  • Pogroms, Ritual Murder Accusations

  • No contact with Jews

Episode #3

Q: What was the Reformation?


  • Occurred in Latin European Christian World

  • Conflict with Papacy

  • Attempt to change traditions, rules

  • Claim that beliefs not rooted in Scriptures

  • Role of worldly authorities

Episode #4

Q: What made Luther & his Writings so Impactful?


  • Luther was a very talented author

  • Broad literary facilities

  • Played different roles

  • Strong polemicist

  • Leveraged “new media” --printing press

  • Published and published

  • Short texts for an eager audience

Episode #5

Q: What is ”That Jesus Was Born A Jew”


  • Published in 1523

  • First part: attack on Catholic Church

  • Did not do enough to convert Jews

  • Part 2: biblical proofs

  • Political: Christians & Jews living together

Episode #6

Q: What was the Impact of “That Jesus was born a Jew”?


  • Essay was published ten times

  • In Latin as well

  • Jews still were separated

  • And associated with money

  • 1520s, 1530s – situation better for Jews

Episode #7

Q: Why did Luther write The Jews and Their Lies?


  • Written in 1543

  • Involved a “policy change

  • Advocated extreme, hateful measures

  • Such as burning of synagogues, expulsion

  • Opposite of what he wrote 20 years earlier

  • Fight to make the Jewish Bible, ”Christian”

  • Fought against other Protestant s on this issue

Episode #8

Q:  Was Luther’s anti-Semitism: Theological, Racial, Political?


  • Luther’s anti-Semitism as a crude mixture

  • Elements of pre-Modern racism

  • Jewish People are their own type of mankind

  • Biological  aspect

  • Also theological, based on Bible

Episode #9

Q: Did Luther’s anti-Semitism impact the Reformation?


  • Difficult to say

  • Jewish population was small

  • Not much influence, marginalized

  • Cooperation between Rabbis & Reformation figures

  • Worked together on translation of the Prophets

  • Luther was not interested

Episode #10

Q: How did Luther view Johannes Reuchlin?


  • Initially Luther supported Reuchlin

  • Reuchlin was attacked & Luther defended him

  • Luther’s studies Reuchlin’s Hebrew translations

  • Luther tried to bring Reuchlin to his side

  • But Reuchlin stayed with the Church

  • And Reuchlin supported rights for the Jews

Episode #11

Q: How did future Protestants view Luther?


  •  Changes over the centuries

  • Early Orthodox Lutherans supported 1543 treatise

  • Pietists in late 17th, 18th favored 1523 work on Jews

  • In 19th century it’s a mix

  • 19th, 20th Germany know Luther’s works

  • Some Protestants use Luther to justify anti-Jewish

  • Direct line from Luther to Kristalllnacht

Episode #12

Q: Why Should Young People Study Luther’s Jews?


  • Important to have awareness

  • Learn how theology can be impacted by Ideology

  • And how that can be very dangerous

  • Entrenchment of one’s position

  • Luther is difficult

  • Teaching Luther’s views is not simple

Full Interview - Thomas Kaufmann

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