- Christogenea Saturdays
The Jews in Europe: The Reuchlin Affair Revisited, Part 3
This is now the third, and final, segment of our presentation from chapter 7 of The Jewish Revolutionary Spirit and its Impact on World History by E. Michael Jones, which is titled Reuchlin v. Pfefferkorn. Here we see that from one of the first episodes of the Reformation, the future of academia in Europe is stuck in a dichotomy which we may describe as the self-hating Jew vs. the wannabe Jew. This is because Pfefferkorn, a Converso Jew, had made himself an advocate for the Dominican monks who wanted to rid Germany and the empire of the wicked writings of the Jews found in the Talmud, the Kabbalah, and other Medieval books. But Reuchlin, the German Christian, became fascinated with the Kabbalah and other writings of the Jews to the point of wanting to install Jews into the universities as teachers of Hebrew and Theology, while he had admittedly never even read the Talmud.
To the advantage of all Jews, the argument was quickly characterized anew as being between the humanists and the scholastics, even thought the primary issue remained centered on the Jewish literature. The scholastics, represented by the Dominican monks, wanted to eradicate the Jewish books because they saw them as an impediment to their goal of bringing the Jews as converts into the Catholic orthodoxy, naively imagining that the books themselves were the cause of historically anti-Christian Jewish behavior. While the scholastics were defenders of traditional Catholicism against the Jews, they were also traditional universalist Catholics, who would readily accept presumed converts from Judaism. The humanists rallied to the cause of the Judaizing Reuchlin because they saw an opportunity to put an end to Roman Catholic obscurantism, as they called it, which limited the studies of the universities to those books approved by the Roman Catholic theologians.
The material which E. Michael Jones has thus far presented has indeed added to our understanding of this affair, as we had followed the narrative of it earlier, in our series on Martin Luther, from the work of German historian Johannes Janssen. Here we shall present the last part of Jones’ chapter, and reserve our summary remarks for a conclusion.
Where we had left off, we were disappointed that Jones, in our opinion, had wrongly endeavored to characterize the humanists as racists for some of their criticisms of Pfefferkorn. Yet we hope to have shown that the remarks Jones used in order to illustrate his accusation were not attacking Pfefferkorn’s Jewishness on the basis of his race, but were rather made because they questioned the sincerity of his conversion. Jones, a traditional Roman Catholic who evidently believes in the Roman Church claims in relation to the efficacy of their baptism sacrament, is apparently biased by his own profession of faith.
When we concluded the last segment of this presentation, we saw the outcome of Reuchlin’s request of the pope’s Jewish physician, Bonet de Lates, to use his influence in order to help his case against the Dominicans. Jones noted that de Lates “must have been especially effective” because Reuchlin's case was transferred from the Dominican jurisdiction at Mainz to the Bishop of Speyer, who judged against Hoogstraten and in favor of Reuchlin. All charges against Reuchlin were dismissed, and Hoogstraten was found guilty of slander and ordered to pay a fine. Pfefferkorn responded by writing another booklet. Reuchlin responded in turn with a booklet of his own, as Jones described and said:
In response to Sturm Glock, Reuchlin published a self-serving anthology of letters of support he had received entitled Clarorum virorum epistolae, Letters of Famous Men, in which he predicted that when the scholastic theologians were done with him, they would "gag all poets, one after another." 110 Other humanists embraced Reuchlin's interpretation and began a letter-writing campaign to mobilize public opinion against the Dominican theologians.
[That is where we left off, and now we shall commence from page 246 of Jones’ book:]
If the humanists had left it at that, Reuchlin would have gone down in history as one more pompous, self-serving academic, but the humanists felt the cause too important to be left in the hands of an academic plodder. In 1515, Reuchlin's supporters brought out one of the most successful satires in the history of European letters, the Epistolae obscurorum virorum, [Letters of Obscure Men] a 16th Century version of the Screwtape Letters [a satirical Christian apologetic novel by C. S. Lewis which was also written as a collection of letters], [The Letters of Obscure Men was] written in the pidgin Latin which the humanists loved to ascribe to their Scholastic opponents. Erasmus of Rotterdam, we are told, laughed so hard while reading the Letters of Obscure Men that an abscess of the throat that had plagued him burst, and he was cured of his ailment. The Letters of Obscure Men did for Reuchlin what the pompous plodder could not do for himself: the letters made him the victor in the first major publicity campaign since the invention of the printing press. The Letters of Obscure Men also marked the beginning of the transition from the Humanist/Scholastic controversy to the Reformation.
[The Letters of Obscure Men were written by the pagan humanists Crotus Rubianus and Ulrich von Hutten. We disagree with Jones’ conclusion here, however, concerning the Reformation. That did not happen until Reuchlin’s ultimate failure, when the humanists dropped him for a new hero: Martin Luther. Jones is correct, however, insofar as the objectives of the humanists did not change simply because they switched buses at the station. However Luther had the addition of many valid theological arguments without which the Reformation would not have had wheels to run on.]
Click here to download a PDF copy of a reproduction and translation of The Letters of Obscure Men. It was published in a limited edition of 500 copies in 1909. The translation and introduction are by Francis Griffin Stokes. In the introduction, concerning the charge of blasphemy aimed at the authors of the Letters of Obscure Men, he says in part:
No better instance of this line of criticism could perhaps be found than that contained in the following extract from Janssen's learned and elaborate History of the German People.
"The similes in the Epistolae," says this historian, "are of the most offensive description. Our Lord Jesus Christ is compared to Cadmus…. Because Christ had two nativities, one before all time and another in his human form, he is compared to the twice-born Bacchus: Semele who brought up Bacchus signifies the Virgin Mary."
However Griffin goes on to describe the fact that the authors of the Letters of Obscure Men were merely satirizing a practice in which the monks were said to be engaging: the search for similarities of Scripture within the Greek Classics. We, however, would think the search to be harmless and even informative if done properly, while the authors of the Letters of Obscure Men were indeed impious pagans seeking to offend traditional Christian sensibilities. Returning to Jones:]
Some claimed "the Jewish question" was not central to the Letters of Obscure Men and that its main purpose was to lampoon Scholastic dialectics as an outmoded relic of the dark ages, but the book's opening shot was directed at the Church's directives against Jews, in particular the Fourth Lateran Council measures to segregate Jews from Christians. "By the love of God!" Rubeanus wrote under the name Ortwin Gratius, the Cologne Dominican who was one of Pfefferkorn's most stalwart defenders. "What are you doing? Those fellows are Jews, and you have taken off your cap to them!" 111 Pseudo-Gratius grapples with whether he sinned by greeting Jews as if they were Christians. "For if I had known that they were Jews and had nevertheless taken off my cap, then I would deserve to be burned at the stake for heresy. But, heaven knows, I had no idea from anything they said or did that they were Jews. I thought they were Doctors." 112' To calm his conscience, Gratius confesses, "But when I went to confession in the Dominican monastery, the confessor told me that the sin was mortal because we must always be on guard, and he told me he could not have absolved me, if he did not have an episcopal license, for it was a case for the bishop." 113 Gratius is finally absolved when he finds a confessor with "an episcopal license."
[We have not yet read the Letters of Obscure Men to the point that we can identify the letter which Jones describes here. But the very first of the letters only lampoons the scholastics for their love of bestowing particular Latin titles on those with certain academic achievements. They were also lampooning the idea that licenses were required for the disposition of such services.
However here the Humanists seem not to be quarreling with the Dominicans alone , but also with the quandary for Christians caused by the admonishment of the apostle John in his second epistle, where he warns Christians not even to greet those who do not bear the doctrines of Christ. Jews should have been ostracized from society, and the humanists were actually acting as their apologists. Jones continues:]
Pseudo-Gratius then moves on to the weightier theological issue of whether "when a Jew becomes a Christian, his foreskin, the part of his member that is cut off at birth according to the Jewish law, grows back." 114 He can't ask his fellow Dominicans because "they themselves are sometimes defective in that part," and so Gratius resolves "to establish the truth of this matter once and for all by asking Herr Pfefferkorn's wife." 115 Gratius [referring to the real Ortwin Gratius and not the character in the Epistolae] made the mistake of responding to this fraternity house humor with a book of his own, Lamentations of Obscure Men (1518), but it had few readers and little impact other than to ensure that the book he attacked would remain in print for the next four centuries. [It may have remained in print regardless.] A second edition of the Letters of Obscure Men appeared in 1516 with an appendix of seven new letters. The primary author of the additional material was Ulrich von Hutten, a talented poet and satirist. Emperor Maximillian crowned him poet laureate in 1517. An early supporter of Luther [in part 8 of our series on Luther, we had established that the two men did not have a direct relationship until 1520], he was prepared to use violence to assure the success of the Reformation. Hutten persuaded the equally volatile Franz von Sickingen to take part in the Pfaffenkrieg (the war against the priests), where the latter died in battle. Hutten then fled to the area around Basel and Zuerich, where he died of syphilis in 1523, just as the Peasant Revolt was getting underway. Graetz refers to Ulrich von Hutten, in spite of his syphilis, as "the most energetic and virile character of the time" because he "was most eager to bring about the downfall of ecclesiastic domination in Germany." 116
[Indeed, Graetz should have loved Hutten, as Hutten was an impious pagan humanist and an enabler of the Jews in Germany. But Jones is confused here. There were two Pfaffenkriegs, or wars against the priests, and they both belonged to the 15th century. Rather, Sickingen died after being wounded in the Knight’s Revolt of 1522, sometimes called the “Poor Barons' Rebellion”. The brief and unsuccessful revolt precipitated the much larger German Peasant’s War of 1524. Continuing with Jones:]
Graetz says the humanists had become "virtually a society" united behind the cause of Reuchlin in Western Europe "which silently worked for one another and Reuchlin." 117 It was "a struggle of the dark Middle Ages with the dawn of the better time" whose goal was "to destroy the Dominicans, priests and bigots and establish the kingdom of intellect and free thought, to deliver Germany from the nightmare of ecclesiastical superstition and barbarism, raise it from its abjectness and make it the arbiter of Europe." 118 With this goal in mind, the Reuchlin faction "involuntarily ... became friends of the Jews and sought grounds on which to defend them." "Prominent Jews," likewise, "were working in Rome for Reuchlin, but, like the German Jews, they had the good sense to keep in the background so as not to imperil the cause by stamping it as Jewish." 119
[Graetz is both right and wrong. The cause was not necessarily Jewish, but it benefited the Jews in every way. Naturally, Graetz would have no care for the legitimate complaints of Luther and the German theologians who joined him, nor would he have care for the oppression of the German people by the Roman Catholic Church and the luxuriant wealth of the priestly class which was obtained at the expense of the people. If the cause were merely Jewish, it would have failed. But because there was a greater cause, the Jews took advantage of it and benefited greatly as a result. Graetz gives the Jews too much credit, and Jones goes along because being a traditional Catholic he wants to give the Jews just as much credit.
It seems evident in the writings of Martin Luther, that at first he was amenable to the Jews because he held the hope that outside of the Roman Catholic Church they could ultimately be converted to Christianity. When they did not convert, he felt betrayed, and from there he developed the new thesis that the Jews were indeed devils and treacherous liars. But the humanists did not, as Graetz states, become friends of the Jews involuntarily. Rather, they were more than eager to support Reuchlin, Luther, or any other cause whereby they could undermine Roman Catholic authority, because they also had their own agenda. A pagan agenda. That agenda was made clear from their own writings in the history of Germany presented by Johannes Janssen.
Continuing with Jones:]
In July 1516 the majority of the commissioners confirmed the Speyer judgment acquitting Reuchlin. Formally, however, the decision was in the pope's hands. In a diplomatic move, he suspended proceedings, depriving Reuchlin of a clear victory but also frustrating Hoogstraten, who remained in Rome for another year before returning to Cologne in the spring of 1517. The situation was generally interpreted as a moral victory for Reuchlin, but by the time Hoogstraten returned from Rome, the Germanies had other things to think about. Luther had posted his 97 theses in Wittenberg and within seven years the empire's southern German speaking lands would witness a revolution so modern in form that the Communists of the 20th Century claimed it as their own. [Jones accepts this, but they did not claim it for the reasons he thinks.] Graetz thinks the Catholic Church was fatally undermined by the ridicule in the Letters of Obscure Men. The Church could not defend itself because "the whole tyranny of the hierarchy and the church" had been "laid bare. For, were not the Dominicans, with their insolent ignorance and shameless vices, the product and natural effect of the Catholic order and institution? So the satire worked like a corroding acid, entirely destroying the already rotting body of the Catholic Church." 120
[The theological basis for Luther’s Reformation is being ignored here. Hutten’s constant promotion of Luther’s work to the German priests, in forms that were often preached to the people, probably had more effect than the Letters of Obscure Men on the typical German. Furthermore, Luther did not approve of the Peasants’ War of 1524-1526, and even opposed it on theological grounds, although he supported the actual grievances of the peasants themselves. Ultimately, over a third of the estimated 300,000 peasants who took part in the war were slain.
The Peasants’ War seems to have started as a series of separate revolts which were later united in their cause. The chief unifier in the war seems to have been Thomas Müntzer, a Messianic mystic who had announced that the return of Christ was near, and he traveled from province to province promoting his views and offering his leadership to the protestants. He seems to have believed that after the nobility and the priests were destroyed, that Christ would return. Because Müntzer was a champion of the peasants, three centuries later the Jewish Marxists would adopt him as one of their own, but he was nothing of the sort. Returning to Jones:]
Graetz agrees with Erasmus that the legitimacy of the Church was also undermined by the rehabilitation of the Talmud. According to Graetz, "The discussion aroused by the Talmud created an intellectual medium favorable to the germination and growth of Luther's reform movement." 121 Erasmus supported the study of languages, including Hebrew, as a salutary antidote to Scholastic nit-picking, but he feared, nonetheless, that enthusiasm for language studies would create neo-pagan and Judaizing movements in the Church.
[Erasmus is being painted in the light of a pious Roman Catholic clergymen, however we have already seen that instead, he was a humanist who himself had pagan leanings, and who had raised up a generation of pagan humanists within the clergy of the Church. Erasmus had lauded the impiety of Hutten and Rubianus as genius. However Erasmus often disagreed with Luther, did not join the Reformation, and instead sought to reform the Roman Catholic Church from within. Continuing with Jones:]
Graetz best explains Reuchlin's ambivalent attitude toward the Jews and things Jewish when he says that Reuchlin spared the Talmud because of "his foolish fondness for the secret doctrine" it contained. 122 Graetz is referring specifically to Reuchlin's "love for the secret doctrine" of the Caballah, which he derived from "the most confused source of information," what Graetz refers to as "the foolish writings of the Kabbalist, Joseph Jikatilla, of Castile, which the convert Paul Reccio had lately translated into Latin": "Out of love for this secret doctrine, supposed to offer the key to the deepest knowledge of philosophy and Christianity, Reuchlin had wished to spare the Talmud because in his opinion it contained mystical elements." 123 Graetz can't quite bring himself to say it, but Reuchlin, the forerunner of the Enlightenment, spared the Jewish books because he wanted to learn magic from them. Graetz, who usually scorns the mumbo-jumbo of the Caballah, defends it in the case of Reuchlin because of the damage that Reuchlin and his "fondness for secret doctrine" did to the Church.
[We have seen how flimsy the charges were of anti-semitism which both Graetz and Jones have leveled towards Reuchlin.]
Willibald Pirckheimer, who spent time among the Reformed party before returning to the faith, identified himself as a friend of both Erasmus and Reuchlin. In 1517, he wrote a letter defending Reuchlin against the charge of bribery. "They," Pirckheimer writes, referring to Reuchlin's detractors, "are saying that he extorted gold from the Jews and was not ashamed to write many perverted things to do them a favor." 124 Pirckheimer defends Reuchlin in a series of rhetorical questions:
What would have impelled such a Christian man to commit so great a crime, deigning to prefer the friendship of the Jews to faith and truth? Love for the Jews? Then he would indeed deserve to be hated .... What could have motivated him then to prefer the friendship of the Jews to the truth? They rightly ask what advantage, what wealth might have served as inducements that he should be so blinded by cupidity. After all, he is a man of advanced years, who has already enjoyed positions of honor, who was born from Christian parents - why then would he venture on such a shameful deed?" 125
Pirckheimer dismisses the possibility of a bribe because "the Jews in their innate avarice would not part with a great deal of money, and little would do him no good." 126 Pirckheimer might have changed his argument had he known that Jonathan Levi Zion was willing to spend 100 Gulden, in addition to an unspecified down payment, to bribe the Margrave of Baden. "Innate avarice" and bribery are not mutually exclusive. Jonathan Levi Zion mentioned Reuchlin's appointment to the commission in the same letter in which he brags about bribing the Margrave of Baden, but that is as far as the documentation takes us. Even if he took money from the Jews, the real reason for Reuchlin's defense of Jewish books was not money but Gnosis. Reuchlin wanted to become a magus, and the only way to that end was through the Caballah.
Reuchlin was a Judaizer, but he was certainly not a philo-Semite, which Graetz brings out in spite of his praise for Reuchlin. Reuchlin, according to Graetz,
looked on the Jewish people as utterly barbarous, devoid of all artistic taste, superstitious, mean and depraved. He solemnly declared that he was far from favoring the Jews. Like his patron, Jerome, he testified to his thoroughgoing hatred of them.... Reuchlin no less than Pfefferkorn, charged the Jews with blasphemy against Jesus, Mary, the apostles and Christians in general; but a time came when he regretted the indiscreet lucubrations of his youth. For his heart did not share the prejudices of his head." 127
[We have already seen (in part 1 of this presentation) that Graetz could be very biased when it fit his opinion, and that he had eagerly accepted and repeated unfounded slanders in relation to Pfefferkorn. So we would like to see actual evidence before accepting that Reuchlin was a racial anti-Semite, as Jones and Graetz attempt to portray him. Jones continues in this endeavor:]
The source of Reuchlin's ambivalence was his infatuation with the Caballah. Reuchlin, according to Geiger, was drawn willy nilly into a relationship with the Jewish people, "because of the time he had spent studying the Hebrew language." Reuchlin was soon "beset on all sides with the accusation that the Jewish scriptures had taken root in his heart and turned him into a Judaizer,'' 128 Geiger feels that charge unfounded because of Reuchlin's antipathy to the Jews. But Reuchlin also respected the Jews because they had preserved the Bible. The fact that his opponent was a baptized Jew only confirmed Reuchlin in his racial animus against Pfefferkorn's heritage. He wasn't unprejudiced enough to attribute the errors of his enemy to one man; he had to ascribe them to the entire race from whence he came.
[We have already argued (in part 2 of this presentation), from the citations from Reuchlin himself that Jones had provided to us, that Reuchlin’s remarks may easily have been in reference to the sincerity of Pfefferkorn’s conversion, rather than to his race, and that Jones did not even undertake such a consideration. He continues:]
Geiger's confusion is easily resolved. Reuchlin was both a Judaizer and an anti-Semite. Rummel feels Reuchlin reshaped the conflict into the humanist vs. scholastic debate as a kind of plea bargaining because he recognized, with the Dominican inquisitor at his heels and recent Spanish history fresh in his mind, that Judaizing was a charge that needed to be taken seriously and quashed quickly by shifting the debate.
[While it is true that Reuchlin may have helped shape the debate in this manner, we had also seen that early on in the Reuchlin controversy Erasmus had already described such a struggle. In response to Pfefferkorn’s having joined the dispute on the part of the Dominicans, Jones had said early in this chapter that “The Jews did not sit idle. Humanistic studies of the sort promoted by Erasmus of Rotterdam had suggested that a new day of Enlightened tolerance was about to dawn after the long night of scholastic obscurantism, and so the Jews were emboldened to act.” This indicates that the struggle already existed, but the dispute over the Talmud was brought into it by the humanists themselves when they voluntarily enlisted to Reuchlin’s cause. Back to Jones:]
Reuchlin had reason to be fearful because [Jones is now quoting Geiger:]
the researches that had made him a paragon [a model of excellence] in the eyes of humanists also made him vulnerable to the charges of Judaism. His Rudiments of Hebrew (1506), a combination of grammar and lexicon, contained criticism of the traditional Vulgate text which was bound to raise the hackles of scholastic theologians. He had noticed discrepancies between the Hebrew text and the Vulgate translation, [the criticisms are based on the errant presumption that Jerome worked from the same Hebrew that the Masoretes were presenting in Reuchlin’s own time, and he quite certainly was not.] declaring that the translation was inferior, the translator "dreaming" or "blathering." In many cases he suggested improvements that were not merely idiomatic but changed the meaning.... By engaging in scriptural studies, Reuchlin was therefore entering dangerous territory. 129
Part of Geiger's confusion stems from his refusal to look squarely at Reuchlin's rehabilitation of magic. Geiger, like Graetz, was a German Jew and devotee of the Enlightenment. Both men wanted to portray Reuchlin as a forerunner of the Enlightenment rather than what he was, namely, an enthusiastic supporter of Jewish magic. When Geiger said Reuchlin knew nothing about magic, he meant to say that he himself apparently wanted Reuchlin to know nothing about it because it ruined his portrayal of Reuchlin as the disinterested Enlightenment scholar. Reuchlin's ideas, Zika says, "can only be adequately understood as part of the occult tradition of the Renaissance.... This system promised new sources of knowledge and power, not through reason, but rather through magic, astrology, hermetic and gnostic thought, Cabballah and Alchemy." 130 [Here Jones had quoted Charles Zika, the current cultural historian of late medieval and early modern Europe at the University of Melbourne. The book cited is Jones’ own translation of the German language original, which is titled (in English) Reuchlin and the occult tradition of the Renaissance.]
Geiger claims Pico was interested in the writings of Plato, but what really fascinated Pico were the later neoplatonic texts, and what neoplatonism and Caballah had in common was gnosticism and magic. There is no Greek-Hebrew dichotomy. Pico was as avid to learn from the Hebrews [actually, Jews are not Hebrews by any means] as Reuchlin. He was not afraid to avail himself of Jewish teachers like Eliah del Medigo (a.k.a. Eliah Cretensis), Jehuda or Leo Abarbanel, and Jochanan Aleman, who taught him Hebrew and Caballah. Pico claimed he could derive from the Caballah proof for Christian teachings like the Incarnation of the Word, the arrival of the Messiah, and original sin. [Which claims we have already refuted here in part.] But his main interest was magic. Pico could start by studying the Chaldean and Pythagorean writers, but in the cases of Pythagoras and Moses, the written text wasn't sufficient. To get to the meat of the magic tradition, one needed the oral tradition through the Caballah and the Hebrew language. Pico claimed he used Caballah as an apologetic tool: "No science gives us more certainty about the divinity of Christ than Caballah and magic." 131 But this claim was most likely intended to placate the still dangerous and ever wary Inquisition [chaired by the Dominican monks]. Reuchlin put the lessons he learned from Pico to good use in dealing with the Cologne Dominicans, assuring his critics that by magic he meant "the knowledge of the properties of the heavenly bodies." 132 The magic Reuchlin proposed was not the "forbidden art" found repugnant in others. It was, as Pico had indicated, a tool for Christian apologetics: "Caballah provides the weapon of choice against the Jews, who of course in their own way honor the Caballah but without having real insight into it." 133
[All of this is contrived, as the Kabbalah is antithetical to Christianity, and it is actually the product of Jews of the 12th century. What is more important to note, however, is how naively these men undertook this position in reference to it. The latter secret societies recruited generations of Germans with the same unqualified claims. Jewish success was never based on magic, but on usury, dishonesty and treachery of every sort. Returning to Jones:]
Pico convinced Reuchlin of the congruence between Pythagoras and the Caballah. What was the goal of each school? Nothing less than raising the human spirit to the level of God, to promote in him complete happiness. 134 "The cabalist adept can enjoy the happiness of the blessed in this life." 135 Unlike Zelivsky and the Hussites, who sought heaven on earth with the sword, Reuchlin sought it through esoteric knowledge or practical Caballah, i.e., magic. Whatever the means, the end was the same. The attraction which caballistic judaizing exerted over Reuchlin was the desire for heaven on earth. The best defense being a good offense, Reuchlin published a book affirming his love of the Caballah in 1517 at the height of his controversy with Pfefferkorn and the Dominicans. Reuchlin's De arte caballistica was dedicated to Pope Leo X. Reuchlin tried to establish the intellectual bona fides [good faith] of caballistic studies by associating them with Lorenzo de Medici, father of Leo X and patron of Ficino and Pico. "Your father," Reuchlin wrote in his dedication, "sowed the seeds of universal ancient philosophy which are now growing to maturity under your reign." 136 Reuchlin planned to build on the work of Lorenzo, Ficino, and Pico to "exhibit to the Germans a reborn Pythagoras, dedicated to your name." 137 However, he can only begin this monumental task by making use of Caballah, "for the Pythagorean philosophy has its origin in it, and with the memory of the roots being lost, it entered the books of the cabalists again via Greater Greece.... I have therefore written of the symbolic philosophy of the art of the Caballah to make Pythagorean teaching better known to scholars. But in all this I myself make no assertions; I merely recount the opinions of a third party. They are non-Christians; the Jew Simon, an experienced cabalist, who is on his way to Frankfurt, meets at an inn on the way a Pythagorean by the name of Philolaus the Younger and a Muslim by the name of Marranus." 138
[As we had explained earlier in this series of presentations, the neoplatonist philosophers of the third through the sixth centuries AD bore diverse teachings only loosely based on the philosophy of Plato, and they cannot at all be traced to Pythagoras. While we cannot quantify how much of the presumed gnosis, or knowledge, of the Kabbalah was taken from the earlier pagan philosophies, elements of neoplatonism were evidently adopted by both Jews and Moslems, as well as latter Medieval Christians. Returning to Jones:]
In his "Teutsch missive," Reuchlin claimed "only the learned Jew, who was practiced and experienced in the holy art known as Caballah," could understand sacred mysteries. 139 As a result of Reuchlin's book, Pope Leo X encouraged the publication of the same book that his predecessor Gregory IX had ordered burned. Times had indeed changed since Penaforte introduced the Jewish convert Donin to Pope Gregory IX. The Dominicans of Cologne remained true to their traditions and gave unwavering support to Pfefferkorn, but the Medici popes no longer held the position of Innocent III and Gregory IX.
De verbo mirifico marked Reuchlin's immersion in the depths of the Caballah, but his Hebrew studies were only the means to a greater end. When he published De arte caballistica in 1517, the controversy was winding down, and getting subsumed into the tumult of the Reformation. [Rather, the controversy was subsumed in Jewish and Humanist politicking on behalf of Reuchlin. Reuchlin ultimately lost his case, but received little penalty, and the Jews got to keep their books in spite of the loss.] De arte caballistica is another dialogue between three men: a Jew, Simon, a Muslim, Marranus, and the Pythagorean Philolaus. The participants meet at the house of the Jew, who compares the discovery of the Caballah with the discovery of the magic herb Moly. Both can accomplish wonders; both are like a Jacob's ladder that unites heaven and earth, or creates a heaven on earth. "If you have found it," Simon says referring to Moly, "you seem to be freed from all misery." This magic herb is, next to the Caballah, "the Jacob's ladder, the golden chain or cord. This ladder stretches from the superheavenly world down to earth, and on it man ascends step by step from one level to another, just like the golden chain of Homer." 140 [The idea of the “golden chain of Homer” is extracted from a poetic allegory found in the opening lines of Book VIII of The Iliad. It cannot honestly be confounded with Jacob’s Ladder. In Homer’s narrative, the chain is only proposed in a challenge issued by Zeus to the other gods, that if they hung a golden chain from heaven, they would not be able to pull Zeus down to earth. So Reuchlin takes Homer’s analogy entirely, and childishly, out-of-context. Continuing with Jones:] The key linking heaven and earth is the Hebrew names of the angels. [An idea which has no foundation in Scripture.] Since the angels move the heavenly bodies, they can be ordered or beseeched to create wonders on earth. Magic is the word of God, but not in the sense that the Gospel is the word of God. We are talking about something more primitive. The word of God is literally the Hebrew tongue. Reuchlin quotes Pico: "each voice which has the power of magic in it, has it only insofar as it is formed by the word of God, only insofar as it has within it the power to exert original natural magical effects which come from the voice of God." 141 Simon the Jew informs his interlocutors "those who have mastered the Caballah give great honor to the 72 angels' names, and through them bring about wonderful things, more wonderful than I am permitted to describe." 142 The circular movement of the stars and planets is attributable to angels who move them, not to natural causes. Unusual motions in the heavens are attributable to the angels' free will.
[So the motives for studying the Kabbalah are selfish, and relate to both covetousness and idolatry. However such studies never benefited the Jews themselves. It is idolatry indeed, to believe that by the utterance of a special secret word, God would bend to the will of man. The true Christian should instead endeavor to bend himself to the will of God, which his found in the true Word of God and not in any secrets of the Jews. Jones continues with his own assessment:]
Reuchlin is thus trying to use the Caballah as a bridge between God and man. [Which, we must note, replaces Yahshua Christ with the corrupt writings of the Jews.] Once he created this system, a new concept of religion would arise concentrated on becoming one with God through attainment of divine wisdom, which resembled Gnosis, activated through incantation and ritual. With the recovery of the Pythagorean-Cabalistic tradition, man has spectacular new powers that can work wonders and create a heaven on earth. In Reuchlin's system, man is no longer the pathetic suffering creature who finds in the Cross the best symbol of his life on earth; he now has the power to order angels, through the medium of theurgic [“god-working”] Hebrew spells, to work wonders for him. Gnosis and magic give man the coercive power God exerts over nature. In studying the Caballah, and especially by learning the names of the angels who run the universe, Reuchlin attempts to achieve that gnostic mastery without falling into the trap of trafficking in fallen spirits. His system was an early conflation of magic and science that was doomed to failure. But it was a failure he could not see because the Hebrew scripture and the judaizing promises of heaven on earth that went with it blinded him.
De arte caballistica confirmed the suspicions of Pfefferkorn and the Dominicans. Everything the viri obscuri [“obscure men”] had been saying about Reuchlin's judaizing was now confirmed in his own words. In 1519, Hoogstraten published "Destructio Cabalae," the counter-attack that exposed the agenda behind Reuchlin's actions. The Destruction of the Caballah stressed the scholastic method, which, Hoogstraten said, "was the principal tool in the search for doctrinal truth.... Aspects of the faith which were not explicit in scripture or the apostolic tradition depended on deductive reasoning, that is, on the use of the logical argumentation characteristic of scholastic theology." 143 Hoogstraten effectively rebutted Humanists like Pirckheimer, who claimed the "true theologian ... must understand Hebrew ... because all the mysteries of the Old and New Testament are hidden in it."144
[Rather, we would find Hebrew necessary to understanding the plain word of Scripture, and not necessarily for the discovery of anything unknown outside of the correction or improvement of translation and thus, of understanding in the Word of God. Therefore Reuchlin seems to have caught language studies in a dichotomy that caused them discredit, and which would prohibit their more serious and important use. Hoogstraten’s own backwards opinion has been miraculously transmigrated to modern adherents of the “King James Only” school, although there was no King James Version while Hoogstraten lived.]
In De verbo mirifico, Reuchlin's first attempt to rehabilitate Caballistic magic, Reuchlin had spoken as Capnion, the Greek form of his own name. In De arte cabalistica he speaks under a name that Hoogstraten finds especially telling. He calls himself Marranus, a play on the word Marrano, "the name of a man who on the surface proclaims his allegiance to one set of behavior, ceremony and teaching, but who inwardly practices something else." 145 Under the name Marranus, Reuchlin could praise Jewish perfidy and subvert Christian teaching, something hard to justify if he were a true Christian. By making Marranus his mouthpiece, Hoogstraten argued, Reuchlin was admitting publicly, albeit cryptically, his role as a judaizing subversive. By describing the Caballah as the "first revelation," which "Adam received after the Fall," Reuchlin undermined authentic scripture, and by making knowledge of the Caballah the sine qua non of theology, Reuchlin undermined both sacred and secular science.
[And we cannot help but to completely agree with Hoogstraten’s assessment in these respects.]
Hoogstraten wasn't the only one who accused Reuchlin of using the Jewish Caballah to promote blasphemy and magic. The Jesuit Martin del Rio leveled precisely those charges, following the lead of Pedro Ciruello. Thomas Erastus condemned the book's advocacy of "repugnant magic." 146 Reuchlin lent credence to their charges by promoting a talisman, which he described in his book. On one side of the medal, Reuchlin prescribed the wonder-working Tetragrammaton IHSUH [or ia-sua, an approximation of the name we know as Yahshua, if we understand the five letters to represent Greek forms and not English, but tetra means four, and not five, so maybe Reuchlin should have called it the Pentagrammaton] along with the seven astrological signs, and on the other side a star of David and various Hebrew signs. Reuchlin's recommendation of a standard instrument of Jewish magic was proof of his intention and his inspiration.
But by 1519, Germany had other things on its mind. Luther's actions and the rise of the Reformation destroyed whatever unity the "humanist" anti-Pfefferkorn/Dominican forces possessed. [Jones puts humanist in quotes, evidently alluding to a belief that they were truly Jewish because they were allied with Jews.] Luther was outspoken in his denunciation of caballistic foolishness. Even though he was a friend of and avid correspondent with Reuchlin, Erasmus was of the same opinion when it came to Caballah.
Although Reuchlin thwarted Pfefferkorn's plans to burn the Talmud, Pfefferkorn and the Dominicans thwarted Reuchlin's plan to spread the Caballah. Reuchlin's cover was blown when he was placed on the commission and had to defend the Jewish books he found repugnant (as well as the repugnant Jews) to prevent destruction of the newly emerging esoteric science that was mankind's new hope. As we have seen, Jakob Hoogstraten wrote Destructio Cabalae in 1519 as a warning to others, once he recognized the true magnitude of what Reuchlin was proposing. In his attack on the Caballah, Hoogstraten portrayed Reuchlin as a man who had acquired fame but brought forth only abuse and heresy, a man who falsified scripture, as well as Aristotle, Jerome and Dionysius, in the service of his occult theories.
Reuchlin was no philo-Semite [Jones is clinging to his initial charge that Reuchlin was an anti-Semite], but he was a Judaizer. He was interested in Hebrew for the access that it gave him to occult science. Reuchlin restated Pico's thesis in the Augenspiegel: No art gave more certainty about divine things than Magic and Caballah. 147 Christianity enabled Reuchlin to derive from the Caballah a universal esoteric science which incorporated pagan, Jewish, and Christian elements, but once that esoteric science was derived it threatened to replace Christianity as the true religion. Reuchlin had proposed just this sort of syncretistic secret wisdom in De verbo mirifico.
Within a year of the appearance of Reuchlin's second book on the Caballah, Daniel Bomberg brought out the first complete edition of the Babylonian Talmud. [The first edition produced on a printing press, evidently in 1520.] Graetz describes a French pantomime in which a doctor with the name Capnion, Reuchlin's nickname, written on his back drops a bundle of sticks on the stage and departs. Another figure with the name Erasmus appears, tries in vain to ignite the sticks, and then departs. Luther succeeds, but after him the pope arrives and pours oil on the fire, making it bigger than ever. "Pfefferkorn and the Talmud," Graetz concludes, "should not have been missing in this dumb show, for they were the fuse that started the conflagration" that came to be known as the Reformation. 148
[We have already belabored the fact that Graetz is clearly biased.]
Catholic writers like John Eck concurred, holding Reuchlin indirectly responsible for the Letters of Obscure Men as well as for Luther, thus establishing a connection between Reuchlin and the beginning of the Reformation. They also claimed that without the Jews, Martin Luther never would have come to the fore. The idea of Luther as the father of the Jews made its debut long before John Eck coined the term "Judenvater Luther."149
[Reuchlin only gave the humanists a vehicle for a long-held desire: the end of Roman Church control of scholarship and, as Erasmus had termed it, obscurantism, the systematic repression of certain literature.
Johann Eck was for a long time Luther’s adversary, in causes absolutely unrelated to the Jews or to Johannes Reuchlin, such as the indulgences dispute. Here, Jones’ citation for Eck’s having called Luther “Judenvater Luther”, or “Luther, father of the Jews”, is defective. He mistakenly attributes John Chrysostom, which is impossible and must be a clerical error. Jones is evidently following Hans Martin Kim, who he cites elsewhere in this chapter.
However we have found the label Judenvater in another source, The Impact of the Reformation: Essays, by Heiko Augustinus Oberman, a Dutch Calvinist theologian who studied at Harvard and died in 2001. On page 101 we read the following:
With the same repetitiousness with which Reuchlin had discredited Pfefferkorn as “der Tauft Jud" in the Augenspiegel, Eck calls Osiander “Judenschützer" or “Judenvater” who has the gall to denounce the authorities for their ﬁnancial greed instead of denouncing the Jews for their guilt. Osiander must have received a good bit of the Jewish golden calf to line his pockets. After all, the Talmud explicitly commands the Jews to kill Christian children. When that man argues that no baptized Jew has ever reported such a thing, Eck replies that the appeal to Pfefferkorn does not prove a thing, since Pfefferkorn can only speak for himself. It is equally inadmissible to introduce Reuchlin’s authority; the Augenspiegel makes perfectly clear that “der ehrlich Doctor” differed from Pfefferkorn only in a matter of words: Reuchlin never denied that there are Talmudic prayers directed against the Christians. Eck himself knows about a ritual murder case in Freiburg during 1503 and furthermore about many well-attested published cases. Why have the Jews been thrown out of so many countries and cities? Eck goes on to relate the European history of banning Jews over fifty years from the Spanish expulsion until his own day, which serves as proof of a common Christian stance and a common Christian sense.
In 1541 Johann Eck published his Against the Defense of the Jews, in opposition to Andreas Osiander, who was a German Lutheran theologian in the time of Luther. But he was not Luther. So Jones is being just a little dishonest, because Eck evidently did not apply the term Judenvater to Luther exclusively, but rather, to whoever criticized the Church authorities for financial greed instead of denouncing Jews for their guilt in unrelated activities! Eck made a straw-man argument, and Jones exacerbates the evasive dishonesty. We sympathize with Eck for his feelings towards the Jews, but that does not relieve him of his failure to adequately address the grievances of the German people against the excesses of the Roman Catholic Church.
There is no doubt that Eck was as biased a Roman Catholic as is E. Michael Jones. But we should admire Eck for his racial anti-semitism. We wonder if Jones would label Eck a racist for his feelings about the Jews, as Eck was a faithful Roman Catholic who despised and actively opposed the Reformers. But there is also no doubt that the Reformers had many valid complaints against an unbudging Catholic Church, which was oppressing the German people while Catholic officials lived lavish lifestyles at their expense.
On the other hand, there is no doubt that, as can be told from his own writings, Luther was friendly to the Jews early in his career, and until rather late in his career. We must also suspect Philip Melanchthon, who rapidly rose to the top of the Lutheran Church, as he was the nephew and protege of Johannes Reuchlin. But it is also evident from Luther’s writing, that his friendly demeanor towards the Jews was maintained because he was under the mistaken impression that he could convert the Jews to his church once the Reformation succeeded. Only in his disappointment did he realize their treacherous nature and turn on them in his writing.
Jones seems to miss the point that the Reformers had legitimate grievances against the Roman Church, which would not be resolved otherwise. He also misses the fact that Hutten and many of the other humanists were certainly not Jews. Neither were men such as Hutten, Mutian or Rubianus dependent on Jewish money. Hutten financed his activities through his employment at the court of the archbishop of Mainz, Mutian was a Catholic prebendary, and Rubianus the rector at Erfurt. All three men had their own motives, and once Reuchlin was expended, Luther was their chosen vehicle. It was probably the same motives which brought Jewry to support Luther as well, since the prospective benefits were certainly mutual.
Continuing with Jones:]
After 1519, most Reuchlinists became Lutherans. [In truth, men with their own agendas gave up Reuchlin for Luther.] Erasmus, though, wrote to Reuchlin saying he regretted the Lutheran tragedy and had always tried to separate Reuchlin's cause from Luther's, an admission that shows how closely they were related in everyone's mind. [Which we would consider unjust, and a matter of the confusion caused by the humanists, but not by Luther or Reuchlin.] Unlike Erasmus, who would become his opponent in a dispute over free will, Luther tried to link Reuchlin's cause to his own. [Here we would appreciate a citation, but there is none.] Luther's supporters did likewise. Ulrich von Hutten wrote to Erasmus, pleading with him not to attack Luther in public thereby jeopardizing the cause of anti-Scholasticism. [Hutten never talked to Luther personally until the end of 1520, and his agenda was also distinct from Luther’s, as Johann Janssen demonstrated from Hutten’s own writings.] The Reformers should keep a united front in public, no matter what they thought privately. Hutten also wrote to Reuchlin reminding him "Even if your stated disapproval of Luther could rescue you from them, you cannot regard it as honest to oppose his party, when you see that men who belong to it whom you must always support in a respectable cause, unless you want to be the most ungrateful man of all." 150
Maximillian I, who gave Pfefferkorn the mandate to seize Jewish books, died in 1519. In May 1520, the papal court rendered the final verdict in the Reuchlin case: the acquittal was overturned, and Reuchlin was obliged to pay the court costs. [We have previously mentioned Reuchlin’s ultimate defeat, but minor penalty.] In June 1520 Leo X signed the bull Exsurge Domine [“Arise, Lord”] threatening Luther with excommunication. [Primarily over the indulgences dispute.] Reuchlin's scholarly reputation remained unimpaired, however. He accepted a position at the University of Tuebingen, where he taught Greek and Hebrew until his death in 1522. It is unknown whether Reuchlin paid the fine before he died. Maximillian's successor was Charles V, during whose reign the flame that Reuchlin kindled and Luther fanned to grew into a raging inferno in which "the Talmud and the Reformation, were merged into each other." 151
[In his booklet On the Jews and Their Lies, not written until 1543, the Talmud becomes Luther’s primary target. But there is no doubt Luther was for a long time friendly to the Jews. However the cause of the Talmud for most of the humanists was not necessarily to support Jews, but to end Catholic suppression of any literature, as we have seen Erasmus express a desire for the end of obscurantism from the beginning of the Reuchlin controversy, which even Jones in this chapter has recorded.]
Pfefferkorn passed from the scene in 1521, one year before Reuchlin. In his unofficial last will and testament, Ein mitleidliche Clag, he held Reuchlin responsible for the revolutionary disorder sweeping Germany. Like the Jews, Reuchlin was a threat to the inner peace of the Germanies; the disorders which followed his judaizing could be construed as divine punishment, because "you have stolen God's honor and his good name, to cover up what you were doing with the Jews and the devil. Because of that you are not worthy to eat bread with dogs, much less consider yourself a member of the body of Christ. Instead you should take up your abode under the naked sky. Drawn and quartered on four stakes hammered into the ground; that would be your just deserts." 152
Yet, even though another revolutionary movement took its place on the main stage of history, the occult tradition continued on the foundation Pico and Reuchlin had established. Cornelius Agrippa of Nettesheim published his ruminations on magic in 1533 as De occulta philosophia, inspired by Reuchlin's De verbo mirifico. Agrippa abandoned Reuchlin's professions of orthodoxy, returning instead to the medieval tradition of magic Reuchlin abhorred and repudiated. When Agrippa's book appeared, Reuchlin had been dead for 11 years. Gradually, people like Erasmus pulled back from their erstwhile allies in the fight against the viri obscuri, largely because they feared that magic, the occult, and its rituals threatened to "judiaize" Christianity." 153 Ultimately, Reuchlin was no humanist, but by the time Erasmus recognized that fact, it was too late to stop what Erasmus had unwittingly promoted.
John Dee, Elizabeth's astrologer, helped spread the Caballah and its occult practices to England, but it was only in the 17th Century that Caballah studies were pursued with zeal. In England the enthusiasm for Caballah re-emerged on the other side of the Reformation as Freemasonry. Albert Pike traces Freemasonry to 1717. William Thomas Walsh claims it existed at the time of Elizabeth, who stumbled upon the first lodges and made a deal with the Masons: if they would initiate her into their secrets, she would allow their secret society to continue. By tracing Freemasonry to the Cecils and Elizabeth, Walsh links it with the judaizing anti-Catholic conspiracy that swept Germany in the wake of the Reuchlin/Pfefferkorn controversy.
[Here we must agree with Jones, and this links the mentality between Reuchlin’s interest in the Kabbalah, the spurious claims of Pico, and the Secret Societies of the 19th century, out of which emerged the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. The Jews took full advantage of the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church, the dissent against the Church, and the end of obscurantism to poison all of the intellectual wells of Europe, and usher themselves in as their own Messiah. But there were many other factors involved, and the Reformation itself cannot be blamed for the resulting evil. The fact that the Lutheran Church maintained Christian tradition, rather than embracing any Jewish ones, discredits the notion that Lutheranism by itself was a judaizing force. However Jones’ bias is that of the ever-faithful papist.
Caballah and Freemasonry tend "toward spiritual perfection, and the fusion of the creeds and Nationalities of Mankind." 154 Freemasonry was linked with the Caballah, and Reuchlin had a place of honor in its annals. In his exoteric history of Freemasonry, Morals and Dogma, Albert Pike claims ''All truly dogmatic religions have issued from the Kabalah and return to it; everything scientific and grand in the religious dreams of all the illuminati, Jacob Boehme, Swedenborg, Saint-Martin, and others, is borrowed from the Kabalah; all the Masonic associations owe to it their Secrets and their Symbols." 155 Pike echoes Reuchlin on the magical words of the Hebrew languages. Once the adept, presumably the higher degree Mason, penetrates "into the sanctuary of the Kabalah," he discovers
The necessary union of ideas and signs, the consecration of the most fundamental realities by the primitive characters; the Trinity of Words, Letters, and Numbers; a philosophy simple as the alphabet, profound and infinite as the Word; theorems more complete and luminous than those of Pythagoras; a theology summed up by counting on one's fingers; an Infinite which can be held in the hollow of an infant's hand; ten ciphers, and twenty-two letters, a triangle, a square, and a circle, - these are all the elements of the Kabalah. These are the elementary principles of the written Word, reflection of that spoken Word that created the world! 156
[For his information on Albert Pike, Jones cited Francis Bacon, The Advancement of Learning and New Atlantis, published by Oxford’s Clarendon Press in 1974.]
The idea that there are mystical secrets in the language of Scripture, at the expense of the plain word of Scripture, is probably a lot older than the Kabbalah, and continually manifests itself in society, for example, in the much more recent so-called “Bible Code”. True Christians should cast these ideas aside, because even if there is something to them, they cannot negate or permute the plain word of Yahweh our God, His Gospel and His law.
Here in this chapter, we have witnessed the systematic Jewish bribery of German nobles in order to persuade their opinions in cases. We have also seen the manner in which Jews readily cooperate with one another and organize themselves in support of their causes.
We have witnessed the absolute naivete of Johannes Reuchlin, supposedly the second-most notable scholar in Europe, to believe the claims of the Jews regarding the Old Testament and the Kabbalah, and for readily handing over the responsibility of librarians and interpreters of our sacred texts to Jews, where he had the bold audacity to claim that “the Jews are our archivists, librarians and antiquarians, who preserve books that can serve as witnesses to our faith”.
We must, of course, ask whether Reuchlin was bribed. Jones sought to make the accusation, but could not prove it and repeated Reuchlin’s own denials as well as those of his supporters. However Jones did show that Reuchlin expected cooperation and even quid pro quo favors from certain Jews for the task which he had undertaken on their behalf, and namely from the Pope’s Jewish physician.
We have also witnessed the rather crude simplicity of Jewish theological arguments, and the rather crude manner in which Jewish aspirations, especially Messianic aspirations, were expressed by Jews themselves. The blunt language was very much similar to the same arguments as they were produced in the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion three centuries later. There are frequent attempts to deny the authenticity of the Protocols based on their crude language, but we have seen much the same language used by Jews to profess their aspirations here in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Most importantly we witnessed to some degree the eagerness of the German humanists, most of whom were pagans, to support the cause of Reuchlin on behalf of the Jews, and to ally themselves with Jews to the detriment of all of Christendom. However it is true, that for different reasons the Reformers were also friendly to the Jews and their cause.
The consequence of this, as we believe that we have seen E. Michael Jones correctly conclude, was that the Kabbalah would survive and the interest it generated among German Christians would give rise to Masonry and the secret societies through which later revolutions, which were largely Jewish in nature, would be launched. From these societies, as we have already demonstrated from the works of Nesta Webster, came the fundamental ideas found in the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion.
When we do return to our series on Martin Luther in Life and Death, where we are approaching the time of the Peasants’ War, we will observe Jones’ remarks on the events covered by our primary source for those presentations, which is Johannes Janssen.
Next, we hope to make a brief discussion of Manasseh ben Israel, another Messianic Jew, who had the Puritan Oliver Cromwell under his spell.