Thursday, October 13, 2016
Luther's Dark Side
I'm already musing about what we might do to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's momentous challenge to the Roman Catholic practice of selling indulgences with the posting of the 95 theses on the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany. I've already purchased my best-selling Playmobil Luther and begun reading a fascinating book called Brand Luther.
I just discovered a shocking anecdote about a sculpture which is a graphic and ugly reminder of two thousand years of anti-Jewish sentiment and involved Luther.
According to an article in Christianity Today another church in Wittenberg, where Luther regularly preached, married his wife Katharina von Bora( a former nun) and baptized their six children, is currently drawing greater attention because of a challenge to remove a 700-year-old anti-Semitic sculpture from its facade. Perched 26 feet above the ground, on the exterior southeast corner of the Town Church, is a 14th-century sandstone sculpture of a pig with two people in identifiably medieval Jewish hats suckling at its teats and another holding a piglet’s ear. An additional Jewish person lifts the tail while looking into the sow’s rear. Written above the relief is an inscription with the words, “Rabini Shem Hamphoras.” This nonsensical reference to the Jewish appellation of God’s name, added after Luther’s time, quotes a derogatory comment in one of Luther’s writings. Sadly, Luther became increasingly anti-Semitic through the years. a dark blot on the legacy of the founder of the Reformation.
There are Lutherans who are determined to remove this sculpture and others like it, but there is an interesting twist to the story. There are approximately 100,000 Jews in Germany and about 1400 live in the state where Wittenberg is located. The Jewish communities in the area have recently discussed the removal of the “Judensau” and they have concluded that it should remain in place as a blatant reminder of anti-Semitism.“We think that the sculpture represents a testimony of medieval thinking and Christian architectural tradition,” said Max Privorozki, chairman of the executive committee of the association of Jewish communities in the state of Saxony-Anhalt.
While I find this sculpture quite unsettling perhaps the Jewish community has it right. Knowing that some Christians, including Lutherans, were complicit in the annihilation of six million Jews during WW2, it's important to have reminders of how deep-seated the antipathy toward them has been around the world, and for such a long time.
What do you think? Should the sculpture be taken down, or should it remain as an educational opportunity and a cautionary tale (not tail)?. Should 2017 be reserved for celebration, or do we acknowledge Luther's darker side?