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Martin Luther & Bach

Luther's original translation

Andrew Oliver wrote (September 17, 2001):
[To Johan van Veen] I don't know whether Luther's translation is available online. I have it on CD-ROM. If you look at the website given below, they tell you it is still in development, and not available to download. However, they will tell you how to get the CD on which it is included. If you have any difficulty, I can give you the website of the firm where I bought mine. Look at

(Many other language versions are also available - e.g. Hebrew, Greek, Latin, French, Dutch, and lots of others.)

Riccardo Nughes wrote (September 17, 2001):
[To Andrew Oliver] Try this :

Johann van Veen wrote (September 17, 2001):
[To Riccardo Nughes] Thanks for the link, but that site has the revised version of 1984, and that's not what I am looking for. I'm looking for the original version, and so far I haven't been able to find that on the internet.

Peter Petzling wrote (September 17, 2001):
Luther's works

Re: LUTHER'S WORKS - WA -- on the net

The WEIMARER AUSGABE ( WA ) is in the process of being put on CD-Rom. This CD-Rom product is already partially available. But the price is dear and the purchase might require a "library budget". Remember large chunks of Luther's works are in Latin -- it isn't all German. And to make things more interesting:

German will often show up in the middle of Luther's Latin texts, especially in his exegetical lectures.

Take a look at
They are doing the CD-Rom in conjunction with Hermann Bohlau Vlg in Weimar. You may sign up for a free "trial registration" to sample the product.

Also worth visiting is this website:

It is offered by Boston College and gives you an entry to Luther's German writings between 1517-1525. However, it is an "INDEX VERBORUM" that helps you locate words that make up Luther's works. It is thus a "clavis", a key to texts not a text source per se. The introduction to this website was the work of a now deceased professor at BC -- it is very much worth reading.

Andrew Oliver wrote (September 18, 2001):
[To Peter Petzling] The website provided by Riccardo gives only the 1984 revision of the Luther-bibel. Both the 1984 and 1912 revisions can be downloaded from the website I gave. The CD-ROM I have does not include the 1984 revision, but it does include the 1912 revision as well as Luther's original translation of 1545, which is the version Bach would have known and used. (I am speaking here only about German language versions; there are also translations of Luther's version into Dutch.)

Peter Petzling wrote (September 18, 2001):
This is a correction of a faulty web address given earlier re: the WEIMARER AUSGABE of LUTHER'S WORKS on CD-Rom.

The correct address is :

The printed WEIMARER AUSGABE consists of several "Abteilungen"; The "Deutsche Bibel" is a 15 vols. segment of the total set of 121 volumes.

Luther's first complete Bible Translation was initially printed by Hans Lufft in 1534 and is entitled as follows :

"Biblia/ das ist / die ganze Heilige Schrifft Deudsch."

Mart. Luth. Wittemberg

Begnadet mit Kürfurstlicher zu Sachsen Freiheit


Luther and Goebbels

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (March 19, 2007):
It was recently suggested here that we are to discuss only the cantatas and not Bach's large vocal works. That simply is not the reality of this list. In spite of the practice some years ago where the large vocal works were part of the instrumental list, this list is today The Bach List for all intents and purposes and it is also the list where we are constantly given "insights" into the great philosopher, theologian, and humanitarian, Martin Luther. In the USA indeed we are generally taught in cursory world history courses in college (and I gather in high schools too) that there was the Reformation and it was sort of part of the Enlightenment and the Renaissance. It all goes together in two weeks.

However part of this Reformation under Luther was a prodromos to Hitler and we need to keep that in mind as we receive our weekly readings. This is from a German tv series:

"But Koshofer does not spare the Christian theologians. According to the series, Martin Luther, who brought about the Reformation, actually demonstrated a certain sympathy for the Jews at the start of his career, saying they were not involved in the moral corruption of the Christians. But he later changed his view and called for the destruction of the Jews, the demolition of their homes and the theft of their property. In the 20th century, the Nazi propaganda minister Josef Goebbels made direct use of these words of Luther".

This part of Luther, which I gather was also his approach to the Anabaptists, cannot be expunged from our discussions.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 19, 2007):
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote:
>>This is from a German tv series:
"But Koshofer does not spare the Christian theologians. According to the series, Martin Luther, who brought about the Reformation, actually demonstrated a certain sympathy for the Jews at the start of his career, saying they were not involved in the moral corruption of the Christians. But he later changed his view and called for the destruction of the Jews, the demolition of their homes and the theft of their property. In the 20th century, the Nazi propaganda minister Josef Goebbels made direct use of these words of Luther".<<
Before we even try to link this statement to Bach's music, I, for one, would like to see the original documentation for Luther's statements in this regard. All we need are the specific references (book, volume,
page) and the original statements in Luther's own words with some context (when, where, in which document, under which circumstances, etc.). I do want to be enlightened in this matter, but, on the other hand, I do not want to accept this type of information from secondary sources (translations, interpretations by others attempting to explain what they think Luther was trying to say, tv programs, etc.), "vorgekaut" ("pre-chewed"), as Franz Kafka would put it. Can you supply this absolutely vital information?

Peter Bright wrote (March 19, 2007):
[To Thomas Braatz] Things can always be misinterpreted, but I thought it was generally accepted that Luther's later writings on the Jewish people were obscene and indefensible. I cannot translate, but here is a reference:

Luther's Works, Volume 47: The Christian in Society IV, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971).

There is a list of writings (yes, in translation) from this work here:

Some of these extracts are very disturbing (readers please note), but I don't suppose they were created out of thin air and then misattrto Luther. If someone knows otherwise, pray tell. Otherwise, I think we should accept that, yes, Luther may have preached many honourable things but the fact remains that - on the basis of his writing - he was a savage anti-semite who contributed a great deal to the common people's terrible attitude towards Jews - and it is difficult to argue against the view that these writings paved the way for many atrocities to be carried out against the Jewish people (in the name of 'God'!!!), the most obvious of these being the 'Final Solution'. Trying to argue that Luther was not anti-semitic is akin to arguing that Nazi ideology wasn't particularly anti-semitic either. Both views are repugnant.

Paul T. McCain wrote (March 19, 2007):
Luther's use of Hebrew in Psalm 22

[To Yoël L. Arbeitman] Yoel, you may have missed my question, but I would like to know what your point is in your repeated pointing out that in his Bible translation Luther used the Hebrew form of the Aramaic "sabachthani" from Psalm 22? Can you let me know please? What's your point and what you are driving at? And how this relates to Bach's cantatas?

Paul T. McCain wrote (March 19, 2007):
This entire discussion list can easily be turned into an extended debate over the extent to which Martin Luther is personally responsible for the "Final solution to the Jewish question" under Naziism.

I've seen any number of Internet discussion groups and articles taken over by this issue. If the list moderator wishes that to happen here, I suppose that is his call, but it seems to me to be off-topic, similar to "our" recent spate of posts about a certain characterization of a recording of the Mass in B Minor. Obviously, Yoel has some personal axes to grind here, and best probably to let him just have his say and continue the conversation about Bach's cantatas, per list guidelines. I am thankful to Aryeh for decisively ending the other off-topic conversation.

"Bach" to the cantatas!

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 19, 2007):
Paul T. McCain wrote:
>>This entire discussion list can easily be turned into an extended debate over the extent to which Martin Luther is personally responsible for the "Final solution to the Jewish question" under Naziism.<<
Reluctantly, but realizing that our discussion of Bach's music must remain foremost in our messages, I have to agree with Paul McCain. However, I am very grateful to Peter Bright for having directed me (and perhaps a few other interested readers) to the Medieval Sourcebook, containing what appears to be a complete translation by Martin H. Bertram of Luther's book from 1543 "On the Jews and Their Lies". I have no access to the original German, but this translation appears to be a reasonable one and will serve as a substitute since I had never seen the complete text before. Reading this has answered, at least for me, the question whether Luther had or would have advocated, condoned, etc. Christians attacking Jews, Turks, Papists and their property.

Eric Bergerud wrote (March 20, 2007):
[To Yoël L. Arbeitman] Wow, I didn't know list members could change the nature of the list itself on individual whim. If Bach's choral works are not enough to keep the list going, I would prefer to open comments to matters concerning military aviation and reasoned discourse about the Minnesota Vikings. But Yoel, being Yoel, wants to have his periodic rants blaming all of the world's evils on the Christian Church. Well, Yoel, if you really feel so inclined, why not join a list dedicated to knocking Christianity - they're a dime a dozen now. Luther was controversial while he was alive much less since and there must be lists dealing with him. (If you are relying on a review of a German television series produced by a woman who admittedly has no background in history, it might imply this is a subject of which you could use some brushing up on.) I am sure the University of Michigan would allow an erudite gent like yourself access to the variety of history lists they run which includes forums on religion, war, anti-semitism and diplomacy among others. I'm sure you could find some fellow fans of Daniel Goldhagen and spew venom to your heart's content. There might be some troubles however. You would be in the company of people that knew their subject. Some might be able to distinguish between the racially driven ideas of Hitler & Himmler (which were very common in the early 20th century and almost completely secular - indeed usually anti-clerical) and the religious ideas of Martin Luther. Some might also know that Goebbels could lie with the best of them, and would have thought nothing of using a famous name to support the Party's war against the Jews and other inferior races. (Nor do I think Luther would have approved of someone who murdered his six children. Julius Streicher, thought of as a nut-cake even by Himmler, did use Luther's words as defense at Nuremberg - to no good as he was hung anyway.) In short, you'd probably get murdered in a proper debate if anyone thought it worth their time. But unless the list decides otherwise, why don't you keep your ideas about the Third Reich to yourself - a human with the slightest amount of empathy would understand that.

Eric Bergerud wrote (March 20, 2007):
[To Thomas Braatz] OK

Luther had one foot firmly planted in the Middle Ages - maybe two. He was extremely superstitious and gullible, traits not unknown among people who rarely ventured outside what was a very small world. (It's startling to remember how little Luther traveled and, despite a powerful mind, very poorly educated in the way of Erasmus.) According to Bainton Luther heard and believed rumors of Jews in Moravia kidnapping Christian children and quickly penned "The Jews and their Lies." I strongly urge that you look at the whole thing, not the excerpt cited, at:
What you find is pretty typical Luther. It's 95% theology put in the rough and tumble style of polemics of the era. It is not consistent - something else common in Luther's writings. It includes bits of feminism and Zionism if you can believe it. (And a bit of late Medieval wit - Luther claims that he wouldn't be able to understand how badly the Jews had been misled had he not dealt with the papists his whole life.) The actions Luther suggests be considered (it's very unclear whether this is a polemic or some kind of policy document - read it and judge for yourself) include burning Synagogues, banning the teaching of rabbis, banning of usury, confiscation of moneys gained from usury (to be kept in a "safe place" in case a Jewish family converts and can be given moneys to make a new start) and, if needed, ejecting Jews from Germany as had been done in Spain. Luther does not suggest exterminating the Jewish people. Actually he is quite clear on that point - it would be vain to try to exact vengeance because that is the sole prerogative of God. This document is from a different era than ours and shows it.

This is a serious issue and should be treated as such. If one wishes to get inside the mind set of the Third Reich I strongly urge tracking down a copy of Albert Speer's last book called Infiltration: How Heinrich Himmler Schemed to Build as SS Industrial Empire. Written in haste by a dying Speer this book never received the attention it deserved. It shows how the SS andits ideologues worked and thought - it does not sound at all like a Luther polemic. Nor do the cavalcade of recent biographers about the Hitler regime. Nor does Mein Kampf. Above all Hitler thought in terms of race: not religion but race. In Hitler's world demolishing an entire race made
perfect sense. But linking Luther with Hitler is almost bizarre in my view. Luther's idea of the "Godly prince" was almost the opposite of the 3d Reich. Indeed, the very idea of racialism found in the 20th century has no equivalent at all in the 16th. In any case, if the Lutherans outside of Germany (including the USA) thought Hitler was guided by the teachings of Luther they had a very odd way of showing it. The 3d Reich was left it utter ruin, much of it caused by Christians. But Hitler's world was also that of Marx, Darwin, Houston Chamberlain, and the authors of every bit of political trash circulating in Vienna or Munich in 1910. I hate to say it, but Hitler's world is far closer to ours than it was to Luther's or Bach's. Let's not forget that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently held conference aimed at rehabilitating Hitler and cursing Israel. And he wasn't quoting Luther.

Neil Halliday wrote (March 20, 2007):
[To Eric Bergerud] Eric, thanks for the link to the whole article.

If nothing else, one has to admire Luther's apparent command of just about every word in the Old and New Testaments - and his unshakeable belief, based on this knowledge, in Jesus as Messiah, as well as his joy in the promise of eternal life.

Neil Halliday wrote (March 20, 2007):
Neil Halliday wrote:
>"as well as his (Luther's) joy in the promise of eternal life"<,
this joy being beautifully realised in the text and music of Bach's lovely soprano aria, 127/3.

"The soul rests in Jesus' hands / when earth covers this body / ah!
call me soon, you death-tolling / I am not frightened of dying /
because my Jesus again awakes me."

The repeated notes on the flutes are surely suggestive of the bliss of paradise.

Paul T. McCain wrote (March 19, 2007):
[To Yoël L. Arbeitman] Yoel, you keep grinding away on this point, but you have failed to provide the necessary facts to prove that, in fact, you have any point at all. I'm referring to your criticism of Luther using the Hebrew form of the Aramaic verb recorded in the Gospel of Matthew (Matt. 27:46).

The Hebrew word from Psalm 22 that you are so bothered by, which Luther apparently used in his Bible translation of the Gospels, means precisely the same thing as the Aramaic in the Gospel account.

The word in Matthew 27:46 is "sabachthani" The entire phrase that Christ said, in Aramaic, is "Eli Eli lama sabachthani" -- which, being translated, is, "My God My God why have you forsaken me."

We turn to the Hebrew text of Psalm 22:2 and it is obvious that the phrase is a direct quotation of Psalm 22:2. Of course anyone is free to say that this is all made up and Christ never said it, but....the text of the Gospel is merely a direct quotation from Psalm 22:2

Which, says, "My God, My God why have you forsaken me."

To suggest that somehow there is something perfidious about Luther putting the Hebrew form of the verb from Psalm 22 in his translation of Matthew 22 is absurd. Why did Luther use the Hebrew form of the verb rather than the Aramaic? Perhaps the text he was working from had the Hebrew rather than the Aramaic, for for whatever reason, this is simply of absolutely no consequence!

The Hebrew word is "Sabathani" the Aramaic is "Sabachthani" -- virtually identical and they mean the same thing!

The fact is that the Gospel of Matthew is reporting a statement made by Christ while he was being crucified, who cried out, in Aramaic, the common tongue of his day, a passage from Psalm 22. That's simply a fact and your attempt to suggest some grand conspiracy theory or something perfidious about Luther using the Hebrew verb in place of the Aramaic verb is without any merit.

I'm more than well aware of the difference between Higher Criticism and Lower Criticism, or "textual criticism." You on the other hand seem either entirely unaware of the relationship between Hebrew and Aramaic, or, if you are, you are trying to persuade people that there is actually something of substance going on here, who themselves are not aware that Aramaic and Hebrew are virtually identical.

Much ado about nothing.
Yes, Bach was a Christian. Yes, he was a Lutheran. Yes, he believed that the Old Testament finds its fulfillment in Christ Jesus. These are facts. You may not like them. You may disagree with them, but I see no point in grinding away on these points. The New Testament is predicated on the belief that the prophecies of the Old Testament about a coming Messiah being fulfilled in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. This is what was believed by Christians in the first century and by Christians like Bach in the 18th century and by orthodox Christians today.

As I said previously, I am more than happy for this discussion list to be about Bach's Cantatas, but when the comments turn into remarks that disparage the faith about which these cantatas are all about, then a response is appropriate and will be forthcoming.


OT: Martin Luther photograph

Stephen Benson wrote (July 17, 2008):
Well, not really. It's just that having Martin Luther's name show up several times this week gives me the opportunity to put in a plug for a major photographic exhibition through September at the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin, an exhibition that includes a remarkable June, 1947, photograph of Martin Luther's memorial in Dresden, or at least the base of the memorial, standing unbowed before the rubbled ruins of the Frauenkirche. If you've seen the famous Blockade photograph of the cargo plane arriving at Tempelhof with the children on the ground looking up at its approach, then you've seen a sample of the photography of Henry Ries, the focus of this exhibition, which is titled "Brennpunkt Berlin--Die Blockade 1948/49". My wife and I, close friends of Henry (who died in 2004) and his wife, Wanda, made the trip to Berlin in June for the opening, a trip which, by the way, included a John Eliot Gardiner performance at the Festival de St. Denis, just outside of Paris. Information about the exhibition and Henry's work may be found at the museum's website ( ). Interestingly enough, our friendship developed through a common interest in the music of Bach. One of Henry's cherished memories was of the 1950 Prades Festival, which produced a wealth of photographs, several of which we have displayed in our home. One of my favorites has Pablo Casals playing, with Eugene Istomin, Isaac Stern, and Alexander Schneider gathered around. Remarkably, through the haze of Alzheimer's, one word would take Henry back more than fifty years to Prades and get him reminiscing in detail about performers and musicians. If anyone is going to be in Berlin in the next few months, it's an exhibition well worth checking out.


Der Speigel: Theft of Luther Writings from Wartburg

Douglas Cowling wrote (July 24, 2013):
Geklaute Schriften von Martin Luther: Wer stiehlt hier und kann nicht anders? (Der Spiegel) [German]


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Last update: żOctober 12, 2013 ż17:20:22