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Seize the Book, Jail the Author

Johann Lorenz Schmidt and Censorship in Eighteenth-Century Germany

by Paul Spalding

Publication Year: 1998

Under the patronage of two south German nobles, Johann Lorenz Schmidt published an annotated translation of the Bible's opening books in 1735. The story of the controversy the work aroused and of its eventual suppression sheds light on many aspects of the eighteenth century, as well as the nature of censorship in our time.

Published by: Purdue University Press

Front Matter

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pp. ix-x

List of Abbreviations and Selected English Renderings

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pp. xi-xiii


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pp. xiv-xvii

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Introduction. The Imperial Thunderbolt: The Day the Emperor Attacked Schmidt's Book

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pp. 1-13

As communications become increasingly global through the printed word, television, film, and the Internet, old questions arise with renewed insistence. What are appropriate and beneficial forms of participation in the exchange of ideas? What are not? What strategies prove powerless...

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1. A Daniel in the Lions' Den: The Early Life and Destiny of Johann Lorenz Schmidt

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pp. 14-29

Like the fireworks that enjoyed so much popularity at ·the larger courts of his time, Johann Lorenz Schmidt burst onto the skies of literary Germany with deafening sound and brilliant color, only to fade swiftly into the night. Preceding and following his moment of fame and infamy was a...

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2. Fighting in the Shadow of the Ruins: Wertheim County before Publication

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pp. 30-52

Local conditions and initiatives always conditioned and often frustrated the application of imperial law. Despite all the legal definitions of the empire aimed at preventing the appearance of innovative religious writing, the political circumstances of Wertheim County and the persistent...

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3. This Nonsense with the Word of God: Publication and Critique

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pp. 53-73

On the first Sunday after Easter ("Quasimodo geniti"), April 17, 1735, officials of the imperial city of Frankfurt am Main hoisted the municipal flag and had the church bells rung to signal the opening of the busy eight days of the spring fair. Sellers and their employees rushed through the...

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4. To Cull a Mangy Sheep from the Flock: The Struggle in Wertheim County, 1735-36

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pp. 74-95

The Wertheim Bible's publication aroused the leading opponents of Schmidt's project in Wertheim County to take up their cause anew. The ranking county cleric, SuperintendentJakob Firnhaber, applied the power of persuasive argument. Count Ludwig von Hohenlohe-Langenburg...

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5. Now That It's Happened, Who Can Change It? The Bans Begin

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pp. 96-116

Although the comital brothers had managed to frustrate enemies of Schmidt's book within the Wertheim County government itself, they were unable to prevent initiatives to suppress the book from imperial judicatories and estates outside the county. County opponents of the book took at...

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6. Not Permitting Any Godless People: The Prussian Ban

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pp. 117-130

The kingdom of Prussia was fast becoming the premier continental Protestant state. It included the electoral principality of Brandenburg and several other territories, most of them in northern Germany. Although it was still a few years away from attaining the status of a great European...

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7. A Most Clement Rescript: The Imperial Ban

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pp. 131-150

An imperial estate determined to unleash national forces of suppression against the Wertheim Bible project could choose either of two avenues of appeal: through the emperor or through fellow estates of the empire. In the former case, the emperor's aulic council in Vienna heard the appeal. ...

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8. A Hasty Departure: Schmidt's Escape

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pp. 151-172

Schmidt finally escaped after a year of imprisonment in the spring of 1738.1 Two parallel developments made this possible. Locally, the Wertheim prince became fed up with the inconvenience and cost of incarcerating him. On the Franconian and national levels, the...

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9. Whether It's Well to Live in Obscurity: Undercover in Hamburg-Altona

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pp. 173-193

By September 1738, Schmidt had arrived in the greatest, most colorful metropolitan center of eighteenth-century Germany: Hamburg. Piercing the sky above its walls were the steeples of the ecclesiastical institutions that oversaw its public religious life. They included, most famously, five...

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10. To the Blessed Domiciles: Refuge in Wolfenbüttel

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pp. 194-212

Persistence in seeking patronage finally bore fruit. Shortly after his last petition to Friedrich II, Schmidt obtained a position under somewhat mysterious circumstances in the retinue of another major prince: Karl I, Duke of Braunschweig-Wolfenbuttel Cr. 1735-80). Schmidt found in the...

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Epilogue. The Lightning Rod: Schmidt's Exposure of the Censors' Power

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pp. 213-218

Schmidt's Bible aroused the imperial machinery of religious and intellectual control as no earlier book had since the Westphalian Peace, and as no later one could until the end of the empire. Later observers noted that the vehemence of theological debate and the unity of public support...


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pp. 219-315


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pp. 317-336


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pp. 337-347

Image Plates

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E-ISBN-13: 9781612490540
E-ISBN-10: 1612490549
Print-ISBN-13: 9781557531162
Print-ISBN-10: 1557531161

Page Count: 376
Publication Year: 1998

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Germany -- Church history -- 18th century.
  • Bible. O.T. Pentateuch -- Criticism, interpretation, etc. -- Germany -- History -- 18th century.
  • Schmidt, Johann Lorenz, 1702-1749 -- Censorship.
  • Censorship -- Germany -- History -- 18th century.
  • Bible. O.T. Pentateuch. German -- Versions -- Schmidt.
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