Johannes Reuchlin and the Campaign to Destroy Jewish Books

David Price

Research output: Book/Report/Conference proceedingBook


This book reconstructs the history of a major crisis in Christian-Jewish relations: the attempt to confiscate and destroy all Jewish books in Renaissance Germany. This unprecedented effort to end the practice of Judaism throughout the empire was challenged by Jewish communities and also, unexpectedly, by Johannes Reuchlin, the founder of Christian Hebrew studies. Reuchlin had revolutionized the Christian study of the Bible with his Hebrew grammar (1506), and, on 6 October 1510, published an impassioned defense of Jewish writings and Jewish legal rights against the confiscation mandate and the campaign's anti-Jewish propaganda. Josel of Rosheim, the leader of German Jewry, would later acclaim the scholar's intervention on behalf of the Jews as a "miracle within a miracle." The fury that greeted Reuchlin's defense of Judaism resulted in protracted inquisitional trials that polarized Europe for a decade, ultimately even fostering a favorable environment for Martin Luther's nascent Reformation movement. The legal and theological battle over charges that Reuchlin's opinions were "impermissibly favorable to Jews,"-a conflict that elicited intervention on both sides from the most powerful political and intellectual leaders throughout Renaissance Europe-formed a new context for Christian reflection on the status of Judaism. Important new Christian discourses on Judaism and anti-Semitism emerged from the clash of Renaissance humanism with this potent anti-Jewish campaign. The book also features an innovative analysis of Luther's virulent anti-Semitism in the context and aftermath of the Reuchlin Affair. Johannes Reuchlin (1455-1522), often called "Germany's first humanist," wrote the books that contain the first pages in the modern history of German-Jewish relations. His writings and the massive chain reaction they set off mark the beginning of an important and complex development in European history-Christians acquiring accurate knowledge of Judaism and its history.

Original languageEnglish (US)
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages370
ISBN (Electronic)9780199894734
ISBN (Print)9780195394214
StatePublished - Nov 3 2010


  • Anti-Semitism
  • Catholic Church
  • Censorship
  • Christian-Jewish relations
  • Humanism
  • Johannes Reuchlin
  • Judaism
  • Martin Luther
  • Reformation
  • Renaissance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)

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