Classics and Religious Studies


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Published in GELIEBTER FEIND GEHASSTER FREUND: ANTISEMITISMUS UND PHILOSEMITISMUS IN GESCHICHTE UND GEGENWART: FESTSCHRIFT ZUM 65. GEBURTSTAG VON JULIUS SCHOEPS, ed. Irene A. Diekmann & Elke-Vera Kotowski (Berlin: Verlag für Berlin-Brandenburg, 2009), pp. 135-146. Copyright © 2009 Verlag für Berlin-Brandenburg.


Jonathan Israel argues in his seminal work European Jewry in the Age of Mercantilism (1985) that the early modern period marked a distinctive phase in the historical experience and consciousness of the Jews of Western Europe. He contends that the key factor that paved the way for these changes was the "political and spiritual upheaval which engulfed European culture as a whole by the end of the sixteenth century", above all what he terms the "Catholic-Protestant deadlock". The Protestant Reformation, which began in Wittenberg but quickly divided into several competing forms of Protestantism, evoked a Catholic Reformation in response. Polemicists from these emerging Christian confessional churches were not slow to portray their theological opponents as demonic enemies of the one true God, but they all agreed that Judaism was a false religion, and that the Jews themselves were stubborn rebels against God. Yet the sixteenth century also saw the birth and explosive growth of Christian Hebrew scholarship, supported and encouraged by the leaders of these same confessional churches.

Christian interest in Hebrew and in the literature of Judaism has long been identified as a feature of early modern European Philosemitism, beginning with the pioneering book of Hans-Joachim Schoeps, Philosemitismus im Barock (1952), and continuing in the works of Shmuel Ettinger, Jonathan Israel, and David Katz. Yet scholarly agreement that Philosemitism existed in the early modern period has not necessarily extended to its existence during the Reformation. Indeed, Heiko Oberman asserted, "Philosemitism does not exist in the sixteenth century, and among the Christians friends of Jews are rare exceptions." I will argue in this paper that in fact Christian Hebraism in the Reformation era did at times foster a nascent form of Philosemitism that would become more important in the mid-late seventeenth century.

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