- Tolerance, Anti-Judaism, and Philo-Judaism in the Pietist Periodical Bau des Reichs Gottes
This article highlights a curious and little-known chapter in the history of German Judaism, namely the obsession of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Pietists with Jews. This was the period in which Pietism arose as a religious and social reform movement to sweep through the German-speaking lands of Europe (Brecht et al.). Believing themselves together with Jews to be God’s “chosen people,” Pietists developed a strange kind of philo-Judaism – one, to be sure, built on anti-Judaic assumptions.1
According to Pietists, Jews had “gone astray,” but were nonetheless a good people, and more importantly, they had a key role to play in God’s universal plan. In their many publications, and in particular in the periodical Sammlung Auserlesener Materien zum Bau des Reichs Gottes (hereafter: Bau des Reichs Gottes), Pietists thus tried to rehabilitate Jews in the public’s eye. Pietism’s opponents, representatives of the orthodox Lutheran church, were just as concerned with influencing public opinion. In their own publications, especially the journal Unschuldige Nachrichten von Alten und Neuen Theologischen Sachen (hereafter: Unschuldige Nachrichten), orthodox Lutherans used negative stereotypes about Jews to condemn both Jews and Pietists as pollutants of church and society. In their respective periodicals, orthodox Lutherans and Pietist reformers carried on a public debate about the proper role of Jews in society, about which rights they should have, and about the appropriate kind and scope of contact between Christians and Jews.2 [End Page 301]
Although a number of scholars have focussed on ideas about Jews in various branches of Pietism, none appear to have looked at portrayals of Jews in popular religious periodicals (compare Schmidt; Vogt 118–23; Wallmann). In no other historical period were religious publications as numerous, as well distributed, and as widely read. As late as 1740 three quarters of all printed material in German was still religious in nature (Schrader, “Pietistische Literatur” 191). In particular, the publication of periodicals of all kinds boomed and led to a much more rapid transmission of ideas than had been possible in the past. The printing revolution certainly contributed to the fact that about forty percent of German Protestants adopted one form or another of Pietism in the eighteenth century (Schrader, “Probleme” 87).
Pietist and anti-Pietist publications thus served as a public forum for debating many of the most important social issues of the day, including the toleration of Jews. This article outlines Pietist positions regarding Jews in general before focussing on one especially detailed publication from the year 1733, a long article in the Pietist periodical Bau des Reichs Gottes that reveals that Pietists wanted to improve conditions for Jews, but only when Jews adhered to a particular Pietist agenda.
Pietists’ attitudes on Jews naturally varied, since “Pietism” is an umbrella term for a wide range of reformers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This variety also helps explain why scholars have not been able to agree on a definition of Pietism, its time span, or even its geographical boundaries (Strom 537–49). Although most participants were Lutheran, the broad religious and social movement also included reforms in Calvinist churches as well as spinoff separatist groups, some of which emigrated to the North American colonies to practice their beliefs. Pietism was closely related to other religious reform movements of the era, leading some scholars to subsume Pietism, Quietism, Methodism, and other movements under the rubric of a “Transatlantic Evangelical Revival Movement” (Lehmann et al.; Martin, “Female Reformers”; Ward).
Despite considerable variety, most German Pietist reformers did share certain core values: a desire for a more heartfelt religion, more lay participation in the church – while “church” was defined differently by different groups – greater emphasis on Bible study by the laity, small cells or “conventicles” of believers as a way to promote fellowship, the experience of “rebirth” (Wiedergeburt), and chiliastic tendencies. Pietists in general believed themselves to be living in the dreaded “last days” predicted in the Book of Revelations, a bleak time that would end when Christ returned to lead his kingdom on earth in a “New Jerusalem” (Revelations 21). According to Pietists...