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German Literature

Biblical and Hebraic Influences

Before the Aufklaerung (Age of Enlightenment), Jewish influences in German literature were essentially biblical and Hebraic. The medieval miracle or mystery plays, in Germany as in England and France, dramatized Old Testament themes and treated the Hebrew patriarchs with reverence, but the "passion plays" based on the New Testament made the post-biblical Jew a demonic ally of the Devil. For special historical reasons, this latter portrayal came to have serious popular repercussions. The impact of the Bible itself has been traced to the earliest contact of the Germanic tribes with missionary Christianity. In the fourth century the Gothic bishop Ulfilas (or Wulfila) wrote a Teutonic version of the Bible, from which only a few verses are extant, and, early in the 11th century, Job and the Psalms were translated into Old High German by Notker Labeo of St. Gallen (c. 950–1022), whose Psalter alone is extant. A late 11th-century prose version of the Song of Songs (c. 1065) by Williram familiarized the Germans with its traditional author, King Solomon, whose legendary wisdom, fortified by tales brought back to Europe by the crusaders, soon became a stock literary theme.


The first printed version of the Bible in High German (1466) has been traced to an anonymous 14th-century translator. Based on the Latin (Vulgate) text and printed in Strasbourg, this was the model for 13 subsequent pre-Lutheran editions. The first printed version of the Bible in Low German appeared in 1477. Both German versions, of course, conformed with Roman Catholic doctrine. By contrast, the German reformer Martin *Luther produced a complete translation of the Bible (6 vols., 1534, revised 11 times up to 1545) which was based on the original tongues, notably the Hebrew of the Old Testament. Luther's text injected the thought patterns of the Hebrew Bible into the German language, where the Hebrew simile and metaphor were speedily absorbed. His magnificent version was written in the Saxon dialect, which thus became the principal vehicle of High German language and literature. This was a somewhat curious achievement, since High German was the language of predominantly Catholic south Germany, whereas Low German was spoken in the Protestant north; but the fact that German Catholics found Luther's Bible readily accessible ensured its widespread success. The German Protestant Bible had a greater influence on the language of its readers than any other comparable work except the English Authorized Version. It became the most widely read book in the German tongue, constituted Germany's greatest literary achievement in the 16th century, and was of immeasurable significance in stabilizing the language. Although other German translations were attempted by Luther's contemporaries and successors, it was not until the 20th century that, under Jewish auspices, a comparable version of the Hebrew Bible appeared, published by Martin *Buber and Franz *Rosenzweig.


GENERAL: L. Geiger, Die deutsche Literatur und die Juden (1910), 1–24. BIBLICAL AND HEBRAIC INFLUENCES: G. Karpeles, Geschichte der juedischen Literatur, 2 (19213), 346–54; E. Tannenbaum, Philo Zitaten-Lexikon: Worte von Juden, Worte fuer Juden (1936), 17–61 (includes bibliography); F. Lehner, in: L. Finkelstein (ed.), The Jews … 2 (19603), 1472–86 (includes bibliography). IMAGE OF THE JEW: O.B. Frankl, Der Jude in den deutschen Dichtungen der 15., 16. und 17. Jahrhunderten (1905); L. Geiger, Die deutsche Literatur und die Juden (1910), 25–45. THE JEWISH CONTRIBUTION: A. Soergel and C. Hohoff, Dichtung und Dichter der Zeit, 2 vols. (1961–63), index, S.V. names of authors; G. Karpeles, Geschichte der juedischen Literatur, 2 (19213), 320–43 and index (includes bibliography); G. Krojanker (ed.), Juden in der deutschen Literatur (1926); A. Zweig, Juden auf der deutschen Buehne (1928); A. Myerson and I. Goldberg, The German Jew (1933), 119–42; A. Lewkowitz, Das Judentum und die geistigen Stroemungen des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts (1935); E. Tannenbaum, Philo Zitaten-Lexikon: Worte von Juden, Worte fuer Juden (1936), 124–44, 149–53 (includes bibliography); F.R. Bienenfeld, The Germans and the Jews (1939), 126ff.; R. Kayser, in: D.D. Runes (ed.), The Hebrew Impact on Western Civilization (1951), 556–64; C. Roth, The Jewish Contribution to Civilization (19563), 79–80, 93, 94–98, and index (includes bibliography); S. Liptzin, Germany's Stepchildren (1944, repr. 1961); A. Zweig, Bilanz der deutschen Judenheit (1961), 239–49; S. Kaznelson (ed.), Juden im deutschen Kulturbereich (19623), 1–67; H. Zohn, Wiener Juden in der deutschen Literatur (1964); H. Friedmann and O. Mann, Deutsche Literatur im 20. Jahrhundert, 2 vols. (19675), index, S.V. authors' names; H. Zohn, in: The Jews of Czechoslovakia, 1 (1968), 468–522 (includes bibliography); W. Jakob, in: Studies in Bibliography and Booklore, 6 (1962–63), 75–92 (an extensive bibliography on the subject). THE HOLOCAUST AND ITS AFTERMATH: L. Kahn, in: JBA, 24 (1966), 14–22; I. Elbogen, A Century of Jewish Life (1944), 636–74 (includes bibliography); Exil Literatur 1933–45. Eine Ausstellung aus Bestaenden der deutschen Bibliothek, Frankfurt am Main (19673), index, S.V. names of authors. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: Lexikon deutsch-juedischer Autoren. Archiv Bibliographia Judaica. Redaktionelle Leitung (1992ff.); A.B. Kilcher (ed.), Metzler Lexikon der deutsch-juedischen Literatur (2003).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.