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Johann Andreas Eisenmenger

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Johann Andreas Eisenmenger (born in Mannheim, 1654; died in Heidelberg December 20, 1704) was a German Orientalist, now best-known as the author of the antisemetic polemic, Entdecktes Judenthum (Judaism Unmasked).

Studies rabbinical literature

The son of an official in the service of the Elector of the Palatinate Charles I Louis (who had, in 1673, offered Spinoza a chair in philosophy at Heidelberg), Eisenmenger received a good education, despite the early loss of his father to plague when he was 12 years old. He distinguished himself at the Collegium Sapientiæ at Heidelberg by his zeal for Hebrew studies and Semitic languages. He eventually mastered Hebrew, Arabic and Aramaic. He was sent by the Elector to England and Holland to pursue his studies there, and in Holland established amicable relations with figures like Rabbi David ben Aryeh Leib of Lida[1], formerly of Lithuania, and then head of the Ashkenazi community in Amsterdam. An intended sojourn in Palestine was interrupted by the death of his sponsor in 1680, who died in August of that year.

Later scholars cite two episodes during his sojourn in Amsterdam, which may or may not be apocryphal, to account for the formation of his anti-Judaic outlook. It is said that he was a shocked witness, in 1681, to blasphemous tirades against Jesus Christ by a senior Rabbi there, identified by some as David Lida[2] and that he grew indignant on finding that three Christians he met had had themselves circumcised and converted to Judaism.[3].

As a devout Christian he was further scandalized by encountering anti-Christian references in rabbinical sources, material which fueled his hostility to Judaism. For nineteen years he studied rabbinical literature assisted by Jews, first in Heidelberg and afterward in Frankfort-on-the-Main, pretending, according to some accounts, that he desired to be converted to Judaism.

His Entdecktes Judenthum

Having collected citations from 193 Hebrew books and rabbinical tracts, he published his Entdecktes Judenthum (Judaism Unmasked), which has remained the arsenal for detractors of Talmudic literature down to the present day. The work, in two large quarto volumes, appeared in Frankfort in 1700, and the Elector, Prince Johann Wilhelm, took great interest in it, appointing Eisenmenger professor of Oriental languages in the University of Heidelberg.

The book was designed not only to reveal to Christians the existence of elements in Jewish rabbinical thought which Eisenmenger thought injurious to the Christian faith, but also to appeal to a free-thinking secular public, and to enlightened Jews whom he wished to shock by his revelations. In particular he hoped to use his evidence in order to promote the conversion of 'honest Jews' to his own faith. As a recent critic puts it:-



'Eisenmenger proceeded to amass quotations from the Talmud and other Hebrew sources revealing to all how the Jewish religion was barbarous, superstitious, and even murderous. All this was done in an apparently scholarly and reasonable way that belied the author's evident preoccupation (like Luther) with tales of Jewish ritual murder of Christian children and poisoning of wells. While piously insisting that the Jews must not be converted by cruel methods, Eisenmenger blithely recommended abolishing their present 'freedom in trade,' which was making them 'lords' over the Germans. He demanded too an immediate ban on their synagogues, public worship, and communal leaders and rabbis.'[4]


Influential Jewish members of the Court of the House of Habsburg, fearing that the book's publication would give additional strength to the prejudice against them, denounced it as a malicious libel. Only a year previously riots against the Jews had occurred in the diocese of Bamberg, and that in the same year (July 21) a mob had, with the Court's permission, sacked the house of the Jewish Factor (agent) (Hoffaktor) to the Court in Vienna, Samuel Oppenheimer. The aim of the riot was to pressure him over huge debts the Court had contracted for his services in financing the Habsburgs.[5]. Oppenheimer succeeded in procuring an order of confiscation from the emperor, who commanded that the whole edition of 2,000 copies be placed under lock and key. However, the State refused to honour its debts to him. With him others worked for the same end, including Juspa van Geldern[6] the great-grandfather of Heinrich Heine's mother[7]. The Jesuit order, according to Hartmann, also complained about the book on the grounds that it slandered Catholicism. The anecdote perhaps is intended to suggest that the success of the Jewish request for the book's suppression depended on its association with the Jesuits' criticism[8]

According to one report written some decades later, the Jews had offered Eisenmenger the sum of 12,000 florins if he would suppress his work; but he was rumored to have demanded 30,000 florins, ostensibly in compensation for the considerable outlay from his own savings which the publication of the book had caused him to pony up. If any such proposed transaction was negotiated, nothing came of it.[8]. Eisenmenger died suddenly of apoplexy, some say induced by grief over the suppression of his book[9] in 1704.

Meanwhile two Jewish converts to Christianity in Berlin had brought charges against their former co-religionists of having blasphemed Jesus. King Frederick William I took the matter very seriously, and ordered an investigation. Eisenmenger's heirs applied to the king; and the latter tried to induce the emperor to repeal the injunction against the book, but did not succeed. He therefore ordered in 1711 a new edition of 3,000 copies to be printed in Berlin at his expense, but as there was an imperial prohibition against printing the book in the German empire, the title page gave as the place of publication Königsberg, which was beyond the boundaries of the empire. Almost forty years later the original edition was released.

Of the many polemical works written by non-Jews against Judaism, Eisenmenger's has remained the most thoroughly documented one. Precisely because of its extensive citations of original sources, in the original Hebrew with facing translations, it has long furnished antisemitic journalists and pamphleteers with their main arguments. Eisenmenger undoubtedly possessed a great deal of knowledge. Jacob Katz writes:-



‘Eisenmenger was acquainted with all the literature a Jewish scholar of standing would have known ... [He] surpassed his [non-Jewish] predecessors in his mastery of the sources and his ability to interpret them tendentiously. Contrary to accusations that have been made against him, he does not falsify his sources." [10]


There is no serious challenge to the authenticity of the sources Eisenmenger cited. What are often challenged are the many inferences he made from these texts, his tearing of citations from their context, the correctness of specific interpretations and, more importantly, his use of a relatively small number of texts within the huge chain of rabbinical commentary to characterise Judaism as a whole. In regard to the first two points, Siegfried, for one, argued that:-


'Taken as a whole, it is a collection of scandals. Some passages are misinterpreted; others are insinuations based on one-sided inferences; and even if this were not the case, a work which has for its object the presentation of the dark side of Jewish literature can not give us a proper understanding of Judaism.'[11]


In regard to the third point, G.Dalman wrote that:-



'it could no more be called a faithful representation of Judaism than an indiscriminate collection of everything superstitious and repulsive within Christian literature could be termed characteristic of Christianity'[12]


The Catholic theologian August Rohling, in his influential antisemitic polemic Der Talmudjude (1871) harvested much of his material directly from Eisenmenger. The Lutheran biblical scholar Franz Delitzsch subjected Rohling's book to a close examination and found that he not only drew on Eisenmenger, but introduced many significant distortions. Rohling's book however coincided with a rise in antisemitism and often influenced humanist critics and/or antisemites, who often cite him, rather than Eisenmenger's own voluminous treatise. One such example is afforded by Sir Richard Francis Burton, who, in his antisemitic volume The Jew, Gypsy, and El Islam 1898, relied in part on Rohling's text. In recent decades the kind of material from rabbinical sources which Eisenmenger exploited to attack Judaism in general has been often discussed in contextualising certain extremist currents in modern Jewish fundamentalism, of the kind observed in religious-political movements like those associated with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Meir Kahane, Abraham Isaac Kook and his son Zvi Yehuda Kook, such as Kach and Gush Emunim[13].

Much earlier an English adaptation of Eisenmenger's volumes had been made by J. P. Stekelin under the title The Traditions of the Jews, with the Expositions and Doctrines of the Rabbins, etc., 2 vols., 1732-34. A new edition of the Entdecktes Judenthum was published by F. X. Schieferl, Dresden, 1893.

Eisenmenger edited with Leusden the unvocalized Hebrew Bible, Amsterdam, 1694, and wrote a Lexicon Orientale Harmonicum, which to this day has not been published.

References

  1. Michael L.Rodkinson History of the Talmud (1903) New Talmud Pub.Co., New York 1918. Vol.1, Ch.XVI p.104
  2. Gotthard Deutsch, 'Eisenmenger, Johann Andreas', at http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com
  3. Anton Theodor Hartmann, Johann Andreas Eisenmenger und seine jüdischen Gegner(1834) cited by Jens Koch, 'Johann Andreas Eisenmenger: sein Werk und dessen Wirkung', Projekt in der Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel, 1997 p.10
  4. Paul Lawrence Rose, Revolutionary Antisemitism in Germany: From Kant to Wagner, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey 1990 pp.8f.
  5. Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews(1987) Phoenix, London 1996 pp.256-8
  6. Not von Geldern, as is often printed. In his Memoirs,Heine calls them de Geldern to hint at noble origins. See S. S. Prawer, Heine's Jewish Comedy, (1983) Clarendon Press, Oxford pb.1985 p.674, and occasionally elsewhere von Geldern, for similar reasons.cf.Jeffrey L.Sammons,Heinrich Heine:A Modern Biography, Carcanet, Manchester, 1979 p.17. Sammons gives 'Juspa' not 'Jospa' as the correct name
  7. Heine himself once asked a friend to loan him a copy of Eisenmenger's book to see how he fitted into its antisemitic stereotyping. See S.S.Prawer, Heine's Jewish Comedy,ibid.p.745
  8. 8.0 8.1 Anton Theodor Hartmann, Johann Andreas Eisenmenger und seine jüdischen Gegner(1834) cited by Jens Koch, 'Johann Andreas Eisenmenger: sein Werk und dessen Wirkung', Projekt in der Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel, 1997 p.14
  9. Léon Poliakov, The History of Antisemitism. From the Time of Christ to the Court Jews. Schocken Books, New York 1965 p.243
  10. Jacob Katz, From Prejudice to Destruction. Antisemitism, 1700-1933. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1980 p.14
  11. (Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, s.v. "Eisenmenger")
  12. G.Dalman,'Eisenmenger, Johann Andreas' in The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, vol.4 p.100-101, p.101
  13. (1)Ian S.Lustik,For The Land and The Lord, Council on Foreign Relations, Washington (1988)2nd.ed. 1994; (2)Israel Shahak, Norton Mezvinsky,Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel,Pluto Press, London, (1999) 2nd.ed.2004

Bibliography

  • Johann Jakob Schudt, Jüdische Merckwürdigkeiten, i. 426-438, iii. 1-8, iv. 286
  • Heinrich Grätz, Gesch. 3d ed., x. 276
  • Löwenstein, in Berliner's Magazin, 1891, p. 209
  • Kaufmann, Aus Heinrich Heine's Ahnensaal, p. 61
  • Eckstein, Gesch. der Juden im Fürstbistum. p. 42
  • Bamberg, 1898 Herzog-Hauck, Real-Encyc., s.v. Wetzer and Welte
  • Kirchenlexikon; Allg. Deutsche Biographie.

From a polemical point of view:

  • Franz Delitzsch, Rohling's Talmudjude Beleuchtet, Leipzig, 1881
  • J. S. Kopp, Aktenstücke zum Prozesse Rohling-Bloch, Vienna, 1882
  • A. Th. Hartmann, Johann Andreas Eisenmenger und Seine Jüdischen Gegner, Parchim, 1834
  • Constantin Ritter Cholewa von Pawlikowski, Hundert Bogen aus Mehr als Fünfhundert Alten und Neuen Büchern über die, Juden Neben den Christen, Freiburg, 1859.

References

This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia, a publication now in the public domain.

Deutsch, Gotthard (1901-1906). "EISENMENGER, JOHANN ANDREAS" (http). Jewish Encyclopedia. http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=99&letter=E. Retrieved February 16, 2006. 

Zvi Avneri, "Eisenmenger, Johann Andreas," Encyclopaedia Judaica, 2nd ed. (2007)

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