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256 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 



The 28th of September, 1509 was a day of consternation 
to the Jews of Frankfort-on-the-Main. They had probably 
risen on that morning with the expectation of spending 
a few days in rest and rejoicing, for it was the eve of the 
feast of Tabernacles. It was a busy day alike for Jews 
and Jewesses, for it was a Friday, and preparations had 
to be made both for the Sabbath and the festival. The 
men and boys were busily engaged in the fitting up and 
the decoration of the tabernacles, in the binding up of the 
lulab (palm-branch), and the selecting of the best ethrog 
(citron). The women had their domestic duties to attend 
to, to prepare the food, to arrange their trinkets and their 
finery, to see whether the holiday attire of their husbands, 
sons, and brothers was in good repair, whether here and 
there a stitch was not wanted, whether the yellow badge 
which every Jew was compelled to wear was properly 
fastened. The holiday feeling was all the keener for the 
oppression under which they were always bent ; for they 
knew no tranquillity at home or abroad. They were 
assailed in the streets by insulting language, they were pelted 
and assaulted, not only by the young, but also by grown 
up people. They were confined to a narrow, dark street, 
which from their sufferings they used to call New Egypt. 
On the inner wall of the gate of the bridge leading into the 
town, there was a picture in derision of the Jews, which 
roused against the inhabitants of the Ghetto the hatred and 
contempt of all passers by. Their right of domicile had to 
be renewed at short intervals, every three years, or even 
annually. This proved so profitable a business to the 
town, that the conditions were constantly modified, and it 

John Pfefferkorn and the Battle of the Books. 257 

was altogether a fertile source of oppression, extortion, and 
degrading restrictions. Thus, for example, in the year 
1433 the Jews of Frankfort were forbidden to buy beef 
except in the four weeks between the 28th of October and 
the 25th of November. The rest, the enjoyment, the con- 
solation afforded them by their religious holidays, must 
under such circumstances, have been all the more intensely 
felt, must have all the more keenly affected the inner 
recesses of their hearts, and have given them the courage 
again to encounter the innumerable slights and wrongs 
that met them in their daily life. They must have re- 
joiced, therefore, on this particular Friday at the prospect 
of a comparatively happy and quiet holiday ; but they had 
counted without Johann Pfefferkorn. 

On the day of which we speak, there appeared in their 
synagogue three priests, two town councillors, and Johann 
Pfefferkorn. The latter produced a mandate of the 
Emperor Maximilian, to the effect that the Jews should 
deliver to him, Pfefferkorn, all books which contained 
anything against the Christian faith or against the Penta- 
teuch and the Prophets. By force of this mandate, 
Pfefferkorn was to be the sole judge of what was to be 
considered pernicious or otherwise, and his authority in 
this respect was to extend throughout the German Empire. 
He entered the synagogue, and in spite of the protests of 
the Jews, he took away indiscriminately as many books as 
he could lay hands on, and forbade the Jews, in the name 
of the Emperor, to pray in their synagogue. The day was 
too short to search the private houses for books, and he 
appointed the following day for this purpose. But the 
protestations of the Jews were so vigorous, that the priests 
who accompanied Pfefferkorn refused to disturb them on 
their Sabbath, and the second day of the festival being 
a Sunday, the confiscation was adjourned till the following 
Monday. The books already taken were meanwhile 
deposited with the town council. 

The Jews were not slow in comprehending the impor- 

258 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

tance of the measure. Not only the slight put upon them, 
not only the monetary value of the books, which was con- 
siderable, not only the attachment they felt for the religious 
works, on which hands were thus ruthlessly laid — it was 
not this alone that stirred the Jews of Frankfort to activity, 
but it was the danger to life and limb, which, as they 
justly feared would follow this outrage. But who was 
this Pfefferkorn? We have just seen that he was the 
bearer of a mandate of the Emperor Maximilian, that he 
was the Emperor's representative in the battle of the 
books, that he was to be the sole arbiter of what con- 
stituted blasphemy against the Christian religion, and the 
judge of what conflicted with the religion of the Jews 
themselves. For although the mandate ordered the presence 
of priests and magistrates at every search, this was a mere 
matter of form, Pfefferkorn being the man commissioned 
to summon them to these duties, and all this, as the Imperial 
decree expressed it, because of his learning and knowledge 
of the Jewish faith. 

Johann Pfefferkorn's name had once been Joseph. At 
that time he was a Jew, by trade a butcher. When in 
that station of life he was once caught in the act of 
committing a burglary. He was put in prison, and would 
most certainly have been executed had not his friends 
ransomed him. Afterwards he was baptised, assumed the 
came of Johann, and like many another convert, did all 
he could to inflict injury on his previous co-religionists. 
For this purpose he wrote several pamphlets, and by his 
attacks on the great German Humanist, Johann Reuchlin, 
he raised a storm which vibrated all over Europe, and 
reached wherever people interested themselves in the 
learning and religion of the time. Pfefferkorn was pro- 
bably nothing more than a willing and energetic accessory 
in a conspiracy of the Dominicans of Cologne against 
Jewish wealth. As such he was regarded by his con- 
temporaries and by most of the authors who subsequently 
treated the subject. As the most conspicuous among the 

John Pfefferkorn and the Battle of the Books. 259 

Dominican enemies of the Jews at Cologne, I mention 
Ortvinus Gratius, the Grand Inquisitor Jacob von Hoch- 
straten, and Arnold von Tungeren. The baptised Jew and 
priest, Victor von Carben, seems to have played only a 
secondary part in the affair. But Pfefferkorn has not 
escaped the fate of those who have made themselves in- 
famous in history, the fate of being subjected to a thorough 
process of whitewashing. Ludwig Geiger, in his life of 
Reuchlin and in pamphlets scattered in various magazines, 
was at particular pains to remove any stains that might 
undeservedly stick to the reputation of Pfefferkorn. L. 
Geiger denies that Pfefferkorn had been either a butcher 
or a burglar, or that his conversion and his subsequent 
persecutions of the Jews were prompted by mercenary 
motives. He maintains that Pfefferkorn was not a tool in 
the hands of the Dominicans, but that the action of the 
latter was the consequence of Pfefferkorn's representations. 
He is of opinion that Pfefferkorn, a man of violent 
fanaticism, attempted to convert the Jews to Christianity 
by writings and persuasion, and that he became violent, 
abusive, and outrageous after he had been irritated by 

These opposing views of Pfefferkorn's character will be 
considered in the course of this narrative. The first shot 
that was launched at the Jews under the name of Pfeffer- 
korn, was a book of which two German editions entitled 
Joedenspiegel and a Latin edition called Speculum 
Exhortationis appeared in the year 1507. Pfefferkorn's 
avowed purpose in this, as in all his other writings, was to 
convert the Jews to Christianity. He tries to show in the 
Joedenspiegel how unreasonable it was of the Jews to 
decline to adopt the doctrines of Christianity, to go on ex- 
pecting the Messiah and to refuse their assent to the belief 
that he had already come ; that it was particularly wicked 
of them that they refused to believe in Mary in the same 
way as the Christians did. The Jews did not in his opinion 
reject Christianity because they could not, but because 

260 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

they would not believe in it. They would not believe in it 
even if an angel came down from heaven to announce its 
truth. Their unbelief arose entirely out of the stubborn- 
ness of their hearts and their obstinacy. He therefore 
modestly presumed to advise the princes, because he was 
acquainted with the three causes of the pertinacity of the 
Jews and with the means to shake it. The first cause was 
that they were permitted to practise usury. This should 
not be tolerated, in spite of the many advantages accruing 
therefrom to a great number of Christians. He counsels 
the princes who had not yet expelled the Jews, to abstain 
from doing so. This apparent mildness, which Pfefferkorn 
did not repeat in any of his subsequent works, was how- 
ever rendered nugatory by the advice he tendered on the 
second point. For, as the second cause why the 
Jews clung to their faith, he assigns the fact that 
they were not compelled to visit the churches to hear 
Christian sermons. He therefore counsels the princes not 
to tolerate any Jews in their territories unless the latter be 
forced to go to church, and hear Christianity preached to 
them. As the third impediment to their conversion he 
mentions their books. These must be taken away, they could 
not possibly be left to them. They were the storehouses 
of everything wicked and irreligious ; they did the greatest 
harm to the Christian Church, against which they were 
directed in every point. Nothing should be left the Jews, 
(no festival prayer book, no daily prayer book), nothing 
except the text of the Bible. 

Graetz here gives Pfefferkorn credit for a virtuous in- 
tention, which, in my opinion, he was far from pos- 
sessing. Graetz thinks that Pfefferkorn, for the sake 
of gaining over the Jews to his opinions, was in this 
pamphlet rather kinder to the Jews, and that he there- 
fore denied that the blood accusation, so often raised 
against the Jews, had any foundation. But we all know 
that the blood accusation is a monster with many heads. 
None of these heads has any brains, each of them is 

John Pfefferkom and the Battle of the Books. 261 

provided with sharp venomous teeth. The most notorious 
form of that dangerous accusation is this, that the Jews 
made use of blood in their Passover rites. On this phase 
of the accusation Pfefferkom does not touch in his 
pamphlet at all. But another form of the same accusation 
is, if possible, still sillier, still more repulsive, and not less 
dangerous. It was pretended that every Jew suffered by 
nature from a loathsome disease, the effects of which could 
only be cured by the use of human blood. It is of the 
accusation in this shape that Pfefferkom acquits the Jews. 
The reason why he did so is obvious. In acquitting the 
Jews he acquits himself of ever having suffered in similar 
manner. He says, " I must defend the Jews in this instance, 
not however without a distinction. It is credible that 
there may have been and that there still are Jews who 
secretly kill Christian children. But not for the sake of 
having their blood, but only because of vengeance and 
hatred." Surely a defence couched in such terms was 
little calculated to gain over the Jews by kindness. 

I have dwelt at some length on this first pamphlet of 
Pfefferkom to give a specimen of the arguments, the malice, 
and the depravity of their author. But was Pfefferkom 
the sole author of the book ? Geiger says that the charge 
set forth by Pfefferkorn's enemies, that he was not the 
author of his works, and which they based on his ignorance 
of Latin, cannot be sustained, because the originals were 
always written in German, the Latin editions being mere 
translations. The fact is that the German and Latin editions 
of this book appeared almost simultaneously, so that it is 
difficult to say which of the two was the original. But 
granted even that the pamphlet was conceived and written 
in German by Pfefferkom, it nevertheless remains a fact 
that the translation was made almost as soon as the work 
was written ; a. fact which goes far to prove that he acted 
from the first in collusion with others. Provided always 
that Pfefferkom had since his conversion acquired sufficient 
knowledge of German to write in that language, for that 

VOL. iv. s 

262 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

he should have been able to do so when still a butcher is 
out of the question. Pfefferkorn afterwards denied that 
he had ever been a butcher or a burglar. Now there is no 
harm in being a butcher, but in his case it would imply- 
that he was a totally illiterate, a profoundly ignorant man. 
Why he did not fancy the idea of being called a burglar is 
obvious. L. Geiger takes Pfefferkorn's word for it against 
that of his accusers, even of Reuchlin, and especially because 
Pfefferkorn produced in one of his writings a certificate of 
good conduct. But that Pfefferkorn had been both a butcher 
and a burglar has since been established by irrefragable 
documentary evidence, first communicated by Graetz in his 
magazine in 1875. It is therefore impossible to assume 
that Pfefferkorn acted by himself even in his first attack 
on the Jews. 

In the pamphlet that appeared in 1508 under the 
title of " Confessions of the Jews," he ridicules the Jewish 
rites during the penitential days and the Day of Atone- 
ment. The character of such calumnies is well known. 
Trifles, to which some people might object, are repre- 
sented as being the gist and quintessence of the cere- 
monies ; the real origin and meaning of the latter, which 
neither stand nor fall with such disputable points, are 
ignored, and thus the ceremonies themselves are ridiculed 
and condemned. In this case the whole pamphlet seems 
to me to be an enlarged edition of about two chapters taken 
from an anti- Jewish work by Victor von Carben, which had 
appeared a few years before, except that some new false- 
hoods and some fresh misrepresentations are added; for 
instance, that the Jews confess their sins to cocks and 
fishes, after which they eat their confessors. General 
incriminations and venomous denunciations in Pfefferkorn's 
usual style are not wanting. The book is dated "in the 
year 1508 on St. Valentine's day." No valentine ever was 
more scurrilous and vulgar. Two High German, two Low 
German, and two Latin editions of this book appeared in 
the same year. 

John Pfefferkorn and the Battle of the Books. 263 

His treatment of the Passover rites in his next pamphlet 
gives evidence of the progress of his malice. He considers 
the rites as symbols of Christianity, 1 and yet he asserts 
that the Jews, in performing them, were heretics against 
their own law. As a specimen of his mode of reason- 
ing I quote the following argument. He says that the 
Jews instead of having a whole lamb, no bone of which 
should be broken, take only a piece in which there is 
a broken bone. For this they should be put to death 
according to their own law, for the man who gathered 
sticks on the Sabbath was stoned to death, because he had 
not observed the law. Therefore the Jews are worthy of 
death for their ceremonies on the Passover. 

His next pamphlet (1509) he called " The Enemy of the 
Jews." A Latin translation appeared in the same year, and 
in this the Dominicans of Cologne for the first time publicly 
avowed their connection with Pfefferkorn. An anti- Jewish 
poem was printed on the title page, composed by Ortvinus 
Gratius, a man who virulently hated the Jews, and who had 
already gained his golden spurs as Jew-baiter. The book 
is a considerable advance on its predecessors in malice and 
misrepresentation. It contains a calculation of the sum to 
which a small coin amounts by usury in thirty years. The 
author repeats old accusations with fresh bitterness. He 
prints correctly in Hebrew a few lines of the prayer 13'ON 
133ba, but translates them according to his convenience. 
They should have been translated thus : " Our Father, our 
King ! annul the designs of those who hate us. Frustrate 
the counsel of our enemies. Cause to cease pestilence, 
sword, famine, captivity, destruction and plague from the 
children of thy covenant." PfefFerkorn's translation runs 
thus : " May God destroy the thoughts and counsels of our 
enemies by massacre, and sword, and famine, and pestilence, 
and various plagues, and may this happen for our sake." 

1 A convert and missionary of a different stamp, Dr. Paulus Cassel, in 
a pamphlet entitled Aletheia, recently attempted the same kind of sym- 


264 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

He declares that all Jews were perjurers, and that no Jewish 
physicians, of whom a great number existed at that time, 
could be trusted, because they intentionally killed Christians. 
He maintains that the Jews must not be suffered to practise 
usury, nor must they be allowed to amass wealth in any 
other way. They must either be expelled, or the lowest 
work must be assigned to them, such as sweeping the 
streets, sweeping chimneys, removing filth, clearing out 
dog-kennels, and the like. The Talmud must be taken 
away and no book left them save the Bible. 

Thus far Pfefferkorn and the Dominicans had fought 
against the Jews with the pen only. They scattered their 
pamphlets broadcast, and many editions appeared within a 
short period. I do not doubt that the Jews must both 
indirectly and directly have suffered from these machina- 
tions. But this was not enough. The firebrands of Cologne 
wanted some more signal effects, some riot, some expulsion, 
some wholesale confiscation. Their instigation of the 
princes of Germany had so far produced no results. They 
resolved to effect their purpose with the Emperor himself. 
The Emperor Maximilian was at that time encamped before 
Padua. Thither Pfefferkorn betook himself. On his way 
he halted at Munich to visit Maximilian's sister Cunigund, 
who was Abbess in a convent at that place. She was only 
too happy to be able to assist in such pious doings, and she 
gave Pfefferkorn letters to her brother, in which she implored 
the latter to comply with Pfefferkorn's desires. Thus he ob- 
tained from the Emperor a mandate, which authorised him 
to inspect, in presence of a priest and two magistrates, all 
books possessed by the Jews, and to suppress such as he 
found to contain anything against the Christian faith. 
Armed with this mandate he returned, but before putting it 
into execution he visited the celebrated German Humanist, 
Johann Reuchlin, at Stuttgard, whom he invited to ride 
with him to the Rhine, and to assist him in carrying out 
the mandate against the Jews. Various reasons are sug- 
gested why Pfefferkorn took this step ; among others that 

John Pfefferkorn and the Battle of the Books. 265 

his object was to disarm in advance any objections against 
the enterprise by making it appear that it was made under 
the auspices of a man like Reuchlin. At the same time 
the party of Cologne wanted Reuchlin to commit himself, 
because they were displeased with him for having intro- 
duced amongst Christians the study of Hebrew. This is 
the opinion of Graetz. 

Geiger thinks that Pfefferkorn wanted Reuchlin's as- 
sistance as a lawyer, for the latter had been for a 
long time the legal adviser of the Dominicans; or, 
possibly, that he wanted to give a scientific colour to 
the matter by the co-operation of the first authority in 
Hebrew. I do not think that the Dominicans, in asking 
for Reuchlin's assistance, had any sinister designs against 
him. They only thought of harming the Jews, and they 
were under the impression that Reuchlin was the proper 
person to assist them in their enterprise. In the first place, 
they did not think that anybody hated the Jews less than 
they did themselves. Of such sentiments of rectitude, jus- 
tice, disinterested love of knowledge, as animated Reuchlin, 
they had no idea. They knew that six years before he 
had written a few pages in answer to the question, " Why 
the Jews are so long in misery," which question he 
answered by the trite arguments of their sin against the 
founder of Christianity, of their persistence in that sin, and 
the like. He mentioned in terms of condemnation three 
books of the Jews written against the Christians. He 
must therefore have been considered by the Dominicans as 
a zealous antagonist of the Jews and their doctrines, and 
this, in a different sense, he really was. But these people 
had no eyes for the sparks of humanity that lurk in 
Reuchlin's anti-Jewish pamphlet, for the germs of tolerance 
which are disseminated over these few pages. They con- 
sidered Reuchlin as one of them. When we add to this 
that he was their regular legal adviser, and that his know- 
ledge of Hebrew particularly qualified him to a business 
like the present, it is plain that it did not occur to them 

266 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

for a moment to doubt that he would eagerly grasp at the 
opportunity of assisting in such a holy enterprise. 

Let us try to picture to ourselves this meeting between 
Pfefferkorn and Reuchlin. There can be no question that 
Pfefferkorn must have been greatly elated by his pre- 
liminary successes. To be made much of by a set of men 
whom he probably considered as the first men of his age ; 
to have been graciously received by the Emperor's sister, 
by the Emperor himself ; to be called in an Imperial decree 
the Emperor's faithful Johann Pfefferkorn ; to be appointed 
the sole agent in a momentous affair — he must have felt as 
if he had the world at his feet. How must Reuchlin have 
regarded him ? When Pfefferkorn had introduced himself 
to Reuchlin, had told him all he had to tell, had spoken of 
his designs against the Jewish books, had revealed as much 
of himself as it was in his interest to reveal, I imagine 
Reuchlin to have muttered to himself: "There he is, 
Sergius in the flesh ! " 

About thirteen years previously Reuchlin had written 
a comedy in Latin under the title of " Sergius," in which 
the character of the person who now stood before him 
was sketched with remarkable accuracy. If we were not 
so well informed about the date at which this comedy was 
written, one could imagine that Pfefferkorn had sat for 
the portrait of Sergius. Reuchlin is said to have directed 
his satire against the man whom he held for the chief 
cause that he was obliged to flee from Wurtemberg, 
the monk Holzinger. He chastises the latter as Sergius, a 
native of Arabia, a man of the greatest impudence and 
of the most corrupt morals. He had been a monk in a 
convent, but the crimes he had committed were so numerous 
that it was in vain that his brother monks tried to correct 
his evil ways. Impatient at their constant rebukes he left 
the convent, assumed the Mohammedan faith, and became 
the fiercest persecutor of the Christians. The picture of 
the apostate is painted by Reuchlin in the most vivid 
colours. Such a person it was who now stood before him. 

John Pfefferkorn and the Battle of the Boohs. 267 

Of course Reuchlin could not then have known in how far 
this Pfefferkorn answered to the Sergius of his fancy, but 
we may presume that he understood at first sight what 
manner of person he had to do with. The Dominicans of 
Cologne imagined that they would derive help from 
Reuchlin, but never did men fall into a greater mis- 
calculation. Reuchlin excused himself from responding to 
Pfefferkorn's summons by pleading the stress of other 
affairs. He approved of the suppression of books which 
reviled Christianity, but was of opinion that the mandate 
had some formal defects. Pfefferkorn asked Reuchlin to 
point out to him wherein these defects consisted, and the 
latter tore a scrap off a piece of paper and noted them 
down. Pfefferkorn, however, nothing daunted, put into 
execution the confiscation of Jewish books in Frankfort on 
Friday, 28th September, 1509, and this initial step was 
followed by other confiscations at Mayence, Bingen, Lorch, 
Lahnstein, and Deutz. 

We have seen that at Frankfort Pfefferkorn could not 
complete his search on the Friday mentioned. The clergy- 
men who accompanied him interceded, and the examination 
was adjourned till Monday. The Jews of Frankfort sent 
a deputy to Worms on Friday to endeavour to stop the 
outrage by the interference of the High Court, the 
Kammergericht. On Saturday they despatched a messenger 
to the Elector and Archbishop of Mayence, Uriel of 
Memmingen, to whose jurisdiction Frankfort belonged. 
Uriel was a man of culture, had studied law, was of a mild 
nature, and was not unfriendly to the Jews. The Jews 
hoped to persuade the Archbishop to forbid his priests to 
participate in the affair. Their success was complete. On 
Monday Pfefferkorn and his companions again put in an 
appearance. The Jews had recovered from their surprise, 
and resolved on a line of action. They received Pfefferkorn 
with energetic protests, for they were anxious to gain time 
for the messenger to Uriel to return. They said they 
would appeal to the Emperor before the search should be 

208 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

proceeded with, and they persuaded the priests and the 
councillors to let the matter stand over till Tuesday, in 
order that the council might decide whether they had a 
right to appeal to the Emperor or not. The council gave 
it as their opinion that they could appeal only after they 
had complied with the terms of the mandate. The confis- 
cation was to be resumed in the afternoon, but before that 
time letters arrived from the Archbishop, in which he 
ordered the priests not to have anything more to do with 
the affair, and in which he expressed his dissatisfaction at 
their having committed themselves at all. This caused the 
councillors to withdraw also, for, according to the terms of 
the mandate, the presence of a priest was essential. Thus 
Pfefferkorn was baffled for the moment. 

The Jews sent a deputy to the Emperor, and summoned 
other Jewish communities to appoint delegates to a meeting 
in Frankfort in the following month. The books that had 
been taken away were deposited with the council. The 
Archbishop, who may have resented the inauguration of 
the business in his diocese, without his consent being asked, 
wrote to the Emperor to the effect that it had never come 
to his knowledge that the Jews in his diocese possessed any 
books of the character described in the mandate. He said 
that Pfefferkorn was not clever enough for such an investi- 
gation ; that he was not even sufficiently read in Holy Writ ; 
that it was his (Uriel's) duty to inform the Emperor of this 
in case Pfefferkorn should apply for further powers. He 
suggested that the Emperor should appoint a person better 
acquainted with Jewish matters, in which case he would 
give his assistance. The Archbishop also wrote to his 
representative at the Imperial coui't to exert himself that 
no further authority might be conferred on Pfefferkorn, 
and to interest himself in favour of the Jews. 

Pfefferkorn meanwhile again visited the Emperor to 
obtain a fresh mandate, purged this time from all formal 
defects. He again armed himself with a letter of recom- 
mendation from Cunigund. Thereupon commenced a series 

John Pfefferkorn and the Battle of the Booh. 269 

of intrigues at the court of the Emperor between Pfeffer- 
korn and the Jewish delegates. It is true the Jews had 
some recommendations from powerful protectors, but 
Pfefferkorn had, besides this, something that was better 
still. He was plentifully supplied with money. The Jews 
had no money ; they were obliged to borrow some at the 
ruinous rate of two hundred per cent. The consequences 
were deplorable. They fought, however, bravely ; they 
appealed to their privileges, which were inquired into and 
found to be legally of force. They presented a certificate 
from the Lord of Gutenstein, proving that Pfefferkorn had 
committed a burglary, and that he had narrowly escaped 
the gallows. But Pfefferkorn's representations prevailed. 
His audacity knew no bounds. He slandered the Jews ; he 
bullied them in the presence of the Emperor, taking ad- 
vantage of his brand new Christianity. The Jews could 
answer nothing; they fell on their knees before the 
Emperor, who afterwards sent his marshal to assure them 
that no harm would befall them. 

Pfefferkorn obtained a second mandate, dated Roveredo, 
10th November, 1509. The mandate complied apparently 
with the suggestions of the Archbishop Uriel. Scholars 
of the universities of Cologne, Mayence, Heidelberg, and 
Erfurt, were to meet at an appointed time to examine 
the books in the presence of Jewish Rabbis. The com- 
mittee of inquiry was also to comprise "Jacob von 
Hochstraten of the Dominicans, doctor-of-law and grand 
inquisitor ; the most learned Johannes Reuchlin, doctor- 
of-law, well grounded and versed in Hebrew writings, 
and Victor von Carben, formerly a Rabbi and now a 
priest." The whole affair was committed to the charge 
and supervision of Pfefferkorn (zu Lob una" Ere, A 7a). 
Pfefferkorn was thus included as a member of the com- 
mittee, but this could hardly be said to have been in 
formal opposition to Uriel's wishes, since so many other 
scholars, and even the Rabbis, were to be present. Uriel's 
suggestions were adopted in letter, but not in spirit, and 

270 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

the machinations of the Dominicans of Cologne had pro- 
duced the results for which they had intrigued ever since 
they had launched the Joedenspiegel two years before. In 
that pamphlet they had demanded (Spec. Exh. B 3a ed. 
1508) that honest men should be consulted, men of sound 
doctrine, of perfect faith, and of spotless life ; this demand 
was now responded to beyond expectation. 

Fresh confiscations of books were now undertaken. The 
Jews of the larger congregations had not readily responded 
to the summons of those in Frankfort, but the new 
activity of Pfefferkorn stirred them into action. The 
council of Frankfort, who had hitherto remained in a 
position of passive indifference, and had, though not very 
zealously, obeyed the decrees of the Emperor, now joined 
the Jews in their protests. They called attention to the 
privileges of the Jews ; they pointed out at the Reichstag 
at Worms that the literature of the Jews was useful for 
the spread of Christianity. These feelings in favour of the 
Jews were strengthened by the fact that Pfefferkorn sought 
to lay his hands also on the goods of foreign Jews, who 
had come to Frankfort to sell their books at the fair: 
this involved a breach of ancient privileges, and might 
embroil the city with a number of princes and lords who 
had given the Jews letters of safe conduct for their persons 
and their property. At any rate, the conference of scholars 
ordered by the Emperor never took place. On the con- 
trary, the Emperor issued a third decree, directing the 
restoration to the Jews of all the confiscated books, on the 
condition that they would employ them in their synagogues, 
houses, and schools, but that they would not make any 
other use of them. 

Pfefferkorn and his friends had not been idle in the 
meantime. A new pamphlet, commencing, "In honour 
and glory of the Emperor Maximilian," was written, and 
appeared at the beginning of the year 1510. A kind 
of historical survey is given of the whole business — 
of the mandates obtained, of the Emperor's zeal for 

John Pfefferkorn and the Battle of the Books. 271 

Christianity, of the recommendations of Cunigund. It 
contains also a list of the confiscated books, and of those 
the Jews were allowed to keep. The latter list is only an 
enumeration of the books of the Hebrew Bible. The Jews 
are threatened, the Emperor incited against them ; exquisite 
cruelty and malice are stamped on every page. Pfefferkorn 
also published an appeal to the ecclesiastical and secular 
authorities, in which the wickedness of the Jewish books 
is again emphasized, and in which he declares that the 
Jews had attempted to bribe him to abstain from further 
proceedings ; that he had resisted the temptation, but that 
some other Christians had not been so disinterested, but 
were corrupted by the Jews. Certainly the fanatics of 
Cologne were not easily silenced. Hardly two months 
after the third mandate a fourth appeared, which enjoined 
on the Archbishop of Mayence to collect the opinions of 
the Universities of Cologne, Mayence, Erfurt and Heidel- 
berg, as also the opinions of Hochstraten, Reuchlin, Victor 
von Carben, and other men who were acquainted with 
Hebrew literature and were not Jews, as to the advisability 
of destroying the Jewish books. Pfefferkorn was nominated 
by the Emperor as the agent (sotticitator) in this matter, 
whose duty it was to send the various opinions to the 

Pfefferkorn figures here only as a kind of messenger, not 
as a scholar, who himself was asked for his opinion. The 
protestations of his antagonists as to his ignorance appear 
at last to have prevailed. For the rest, the scheme of the 
people of Cologne seemed again to prove successful. The 
same persons and universities were again consulted, and 
the collection of separate opinions must have appeared a 
task much easier to execute than that of assembling dele- 
gates at a certain time and a certain place. The design 
of bringing about such a meeting had already been ship- 
wrecked, and this new plan was started. But the hopes 
they had entertained of Reuchlin were deplorably frus- 
trated. Whatever his frame of mind when he published 

272 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

his anti-Jewish letter, he harped now on quite a different 
string. He wrote his opinion, in which he actually de- 
fended the Jewish books, except such as contained direct 
blasphemies against Christianity. Of the latter class, how- 
ever, he said that he knew only of two books, which the 
Jews themselves held to be apocryphal. The opinion 
contains also some sharp hits against Pfefferkorn. The 
experienced lawyer who was competent to judge about the 
legal aspect of the affair — the only man among all those 
whose opinions had been solicited who possessed real 
knowledge of Hebrew and Jewish lore, who as a Humanist 
enjoyed European fame — that man had forsaken the side 
of the Dominicans. Their fury can be imagined. A new 
book by Pfefferkorn appeared, the Handspiegel — " Hand- 
glass " — as bitter this time against Reuchlin as against the 
Jews. Reuchlin is called in it an enemy of Christianity, 
an apostate, a heretic, who was bribed by the Jews, who 
contradicted his own opinions. His knowledge of Hebrew 
was a fiction, his Hebrew Grammar and Dictionary were 
written by others — the impostor had only printed it. He 
favoured and defended the Jews ; he loved them instead of 
hating them. He could read Hebrew when the pronuncia- 
tion was given in Latin or German characters. He was as 
quick at reading Hebrew as an ass that is hurriedly driven 
up a staircase. These were the accusations made, this the 
tone assumed against Reuchlin. But how did Pfefferkorn 
become acquainted with the contents of Reuchlin's opinion ? 
The latter, who had sent it under seal to the Archbishop of 
Mayence, maintained that Pfefferkorn had no right what- 
ever to read it. He certainly had no right to make it the 
subject of an attack upon Reuchlin — to turn to private use 
a document destined for the Emperor's eye, before the 
Emperor's pleasure about it was known, even before the 
Emperor had seen it. Pfefferkorn and his wife openly 
hawked this pamphlet in a booth at the fair of Frankfort. 

Reuchlin travelled to the Emperor, and when he saw him 
at Reutlingen, on the 29th of April, 1511, he showed him 

John Pfefferkorn and the Battle of the Books. 273 

Pfefferkorn's libel. The Emperor was displeased with it, 
and promised to refer the case for decision to the Bishop of 
Augsburg. But this was never done, and Reuchlin, know- 
ing full well that nothing could be gained by waiting any- 
longer, wrote his Augenspiegel — " Spectacles, Eyeglass." In 
this he relates the whole story, gives a copy of the opinion 
sent by him to the Archbishop, repudiates the charge of 
unduly favouring the Jews ; palliates, often sophistically 
enough, some of the statements made by him, and re- 
proaches Pfefferkorn with having written in his Handglass 
not less than thirty-four falsehoods. 

The publication of the Augenspiegel was a turning point 
in the life of Pfefferkorn. Thus far the whole of the 
intrigues, malignings, incitations to violence, the produc- 
tion of venomous incriminations, and of falsehoods were all 
on his side — at least, went under his name. But from 
the time of the Augenspiegel all that was changed ; he had 
no longer the game all to himself. Reuchlin's friends and 
admirers took the defence of the latter into their own 
hands, and they pilloried Pfefferkorn as a liar, as an im- 
postor, who had traded with a knowledge of which he was 
totally destitute. They declared that he was the willing 
tool of the Dominicans in a conspiracy against the Jews 
and their money. Now, the question arises, Is this charge 
against Pfefferkorn and the Dominicans, that they wanted 
to gain money by a judiciously managed persecution of the 
Jews, founded on fact ? Can we trust to the mere assertion 
of the Reuchlinists ? Were the latter the kind of men who 
would do justice to an opponent — who, whilst blaming bad 
actions, would acknowledge possible good intentions ? I 
must say that, perhaps with one exception, that of Reuch- 
lin himself, none of the adversaries of the Dominicans can 
be credited with this chivalry of literary warfare. With 
the exception of Reuchlin, they reached in respect to insinu- 
ations and misrepresentations — aye, in respect to deli- 
berate falsehoods — the lowest level of even a Pfefferkorn 

274 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

It is on this point that I must call attention to the dif- 
ferent methods of Ludwig Geiger and of Graetz, neither 
of whom has, in my opinion, been able to keep the 
balance even. Geiger deviates too much to the side of 
the Dominicans ; Graetz inclines too much to the side of 
the Reuchlinists. When we say that the Reuchlinists — 
always excepting Reuchlin himself — could not be trusted 
in their estimate of the motives of their opponents, that 
their insinuations and charges required corroboration, this 
does not mean that their accusations could not possibly 
be true. They were capable of making false accusations ; 
are, therefore, all their accusations necessarily false ? This 
were an illogical inference, yet I cannot help thinking that 
Geiger occasionally drew his inferences in some such 
fashion. He says that Pfefferkorn had no motives except 
the ardour of a renegade, and perhaps a good dose of 
natural malignity. But what about the accusations flung 
at him by his enemies ? Geiger declares them to be false. 
What he should have asserted is that they wanted corrobora- 
tion. Geiger often accepts the statements of Pfefferkorn 
and his friends in the face of conflicting evidence. I do not 
think this to be just. If the Reuchlinists fancied an occa- 
sional falsehood when it suited their purposes, the party of 
Cologne were certainly not less addicted to the same 
pastime. But is it then true that the accusations of the 
Reuchlinists are altogether without corroboration ? Does, 
then, the testimony of Reuchlin himself count for no- 
thing ? It is true, he considered himself to be the attacked 
party ; he was subsequently driven to exasperation by his 
enemies, and was often most vehement in his invective. 
But he is acknowledged by all as a man in whom the love 
of truth was interwoven with his very existence, for whom 
it would have been an utter impossibility wilfully to mis- 
represent even an opponent. 

Now, when a quarrel is driven to the point of em- 
bitterment which the Reuchlin-Pfefferkorn strife reached, 
even such a pure love of truth may sometimes be involun- 

John Pfefferkorn and the Battle of the Books. 275 

tarily tainted in points of minor importance. Never- 
theless a man like Reuchlin, unless fully convinced of 
the fact, would not have persisted as he does in his 
books and in his letters in accusing the Cologne party of 
having nothing in view but Jewish money, in asserting 
that Pfefferkorn was as ignorant of Hebrew as a Jew could 
possibly be ; that he was an illiterate butcher, who, having 
been obliged by his misdeeds to avoid the Jews, turned 
against the latter ; that he was a willing instrument in the 
hands of the Dominicans of Cologne in their plot against 
the books and purses of the Jews. Such assertions, re- 
peatedly brought forward by a man like Reuchlin, go very 
far to serve as a corroboration of the otherwise untrust- 
worthy sallies of his adherents. At most we could say 
that they in their turn require further confirmation, but 
they are certainly not to be set aside in the way Geiger 

And do they really lack this confirmation? Is not 
common-sense in their favour ? Would Pfefferkorn have 
been able, without assistance from others, to gain the know- 
ledge of the existence of Cunigund ; would he himself 
have been able to understand her importance for the matter 
on hand ; would he on his own motion have gone to her to 
solicit a letter of introduction to her brother; and would 
he have ventured on his own responsibility to molest the 
Emperor, who had at that time quite other affairs to attend 
to ? Whence was he to obtain the money for his travels 
and for securing the necessary backstairs influence at Court 
— he who, when his first confiscation had been cut short 
by the interference of the Archbishop, prayed the council 
of Frankfort for a contribution, and was fain to pocket 
the prodigious remuneration of two florins ? 

Geiger says that Pfefferkorn was not mercenary; let 
us see how he proves it. He says that Pfefferkorn did 
not embrace Christianity from mercenary motives, for — 
he did not from the same motives revert to Judaism. 
The question is, was any money ever offered him by the 

276 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

Jews to bring him back to his former religion ? No 
mention is made of such a thing. Pfefferkorn only 
says that the Jews offered him money for discontinu- 
ing the confiscations. Perhaps this is true, and perhaps 
not; we have only Pfefferkorn's word for it. If true he 
refused, either because he was not mercenary or because he 
was too deeply implicated. But even if Geiger's assump- 
tion were founded on fact, it would first have to be 
proved, entwined as his career was with the doings of the 
Dominicans, and after the prominence he had gained for 
himself as a zealot for the propagation of Christianity, 
that he would have been able to become a Jew again with- 
out danger to his person. And how does Geiger know that 
the berth he had obtained at Cologne as master of the 
hospital and measurer of salt (Spitalmeister und Salzmesser) 
and a certain position of respectability was not enough to 
counterbalance any Jewish offer, which, according to 
Geiger's notion, was made to him ? Geiger strenuously 
denies that Pfefferkorn had even been a butcher or a 
burglar, considering, as has been previously remarked, the 
latter 's assertions to the contrary and some certificates of 
good conduct produced by him stronger than the unanimous 
evidence of all his opponents, Reuchlin included. That 
Pfefferkorn's assertions on this point are false has been 
established beyond doubt by additional evidence which 
was discovered in Rosenthal's library in Amsterdam, and 
communicated by Graetz in his magazine in 1875, after 
Geiger's work had appeared. 1 Geiger asks what motive can 
the Dominicans have had in concealing themselves at first 
behind Pfefferkorn ? The answer is clear. They knew 
that the shafts launched at the Jews would pierce all the 
better if discharged by one of their own kin. It was their 
policy to show that the storm which broke over the Jews 
had been brewing in their own midst. 

1 Comp. Dr. Joseph Perles' Beitrage zur Geschichtc der Hebrdiichen und 
Aramaischen Studien, p. 29. 

John Pfefferkorn and the Battle of the Books. TI7 

Geiger says of the Handspiegel, the first book directly- 
turned against Reuchlin, that nobody but Pfefferkorn was 
responsible for it, that it was not a manifesto of the Domini- 
cans of Cologne, for Pfefferkorn asserts most solemnly (in 
1516, thus five years later), that the Handglass was neither 
written nor printed in Cologne but in Mayence. But who 
had furnished him with allegations from books which it 
was impossible for him to read ? Pfefferkorn answers 
readily, that they were furnished to him by the three 
members of the Commission appointed by the Emperor to 
report upon the opinions. Nobody except Pfefferkorn ever 
mentions such a Commission ; that, as Pfefferkorn says, Hie- 
ronymus Baldung should have belonged to it was already 
doubted by Graetz, because he proved afterwards to be a 
great friend of Reuchlin ; the report of the Commission as ad- 
duced by Pfefferkorn being altogether opposed to Reuch- 
lin. But I have reasons to believe that, if not the whole 
report, certainly Baldung's signature, can be proved to be a 
forgery. The signature, given by Pfefferkorn, runs thus : — 
" Hieronimus de leonibus dictus Baldung sacrae theologiaB 
professor, artium et medicinarum doctor, etc.:" Baldung, 
professor of theology, doctor of arts and medicine. Where, 
besides this signature, which Geiger follows (p. 238), was 
Baldung ever called a theologian ? It is well known that 
he was a lawyer, and had been professor at Freiburg, not 
of theology, but of law (Booking, Hutten, Supplem. II., p. 
301 (303) ). Is it not suspicious that Baldung, when signing 
his name on a report for the Emperor, should have for- 
gotten that he was a lawyer, and made himself a theologian 
instead ? And why, in signing so important a document, 
should he have subscribed himself Hieronymus instead of 
Pius Hieronymus, which was his real name ? It appears 
that the manufacturers of the document in question 
thought " Pius " to be, not one of his names, but a title 
given him for his piety. This was enough to stamp him in 
their eyes as a theologian, for what layman would have 
been honoured by the title Pius ? Accordingly they 


278 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

omitted it in signing his name for him. No wonder, there- 
fore, that, in one of the Epistolce Obscurorum Virorum, ii. 18, 
the Doctor of Theology, Simon Saussage, reports that 
somebody asked who were these three commissioners ? 
And the answer was, I do not know, but I think they 
were the three men who appeared to Abraham as men- 
tioned in Genesis. 

Another point of consideration is the amount of Pfeffer- 
korn's Hebrew, Rabbinical and general knowledge. Here, 
again, Geiger breaks a lance on behalf of his client. He 
says Pfefferkorn was no scholar, but when Erasmus called 
him a pure idiot (promts idiota), this expression might be 
too strong ; nor was he in Hebrew as ignorant as Graetz 
tried to make him out. He knew as much as an ordinary 
Jew of that time. Pfefferkorn said that he translated the 
Gospels into Hebrew, and there was no reason to doubt the 

Now it is my opinion that Pfefferkorn stood in every 
branch of knowledge on the lowest step, and that in 
respect to Hebrew the term prorsus idiota is, if possible, 
hardly strong enough. Reuchlin, when exposing the thirty- 
four falsehoods with which he charges Pfefferkorn, says, 
concerning the sixth falsehood that the baptised Jew had 
learned in his youth the Pentateuch, according to the 
custom of the Jews, and, perhaps, some lessons out of the 
Bible, called Haphthoras, which they must read every week 
throughout the year. In this, says Reuchlin, he was perhaps 
skilled and ready from habit like a nun in the psalter, for 
he had received for this severe thrashings at school 
(dann man hatt in dick in der schule darumb geschlagen)- 
For the rest he did not know anything thoroughly. And 
regarding the twenty -fifth falsehood Reuchlin says : " When 
he was in my library I put before him a Talmudical work 
called Mordechai. He thereupon confessed that he had only 
learned the Bible, and did not understand any such books." 
Geiger speaks of exaggeration on the part of Reuchlin ; 
but the statement of the latter of what happened in his 

John Pfefferkorn and the Battle of the Books. 279 

library is the barest statement of fact, and cannot be 
doubted ; and where are the signs of exaggeration in that 
other statement that Pfefferkorn was beaten at school ? 
Jacob von Hochstraten wrote a book against Petrus 
Ravennas because the latter disapproved of the custom of 
hanging a young lad for a petty theft, but we do not find 
that anybody objected in the fifteenth century to a school- 
boy being thrashed. At any rate, Pfefferkorn knew no 
Hebrew ; if he had ever known any he had forgotten it. 
His own writings prove it. Graetz gives some examples of 
his ignorance, but these refer to Talmudical knowledge 
only. But he was even ignorant of the Hebrew names of 
the books of the Bible. I have already mentioned a list 
given by him of the books he had allowed the Jews to keep. 
In that list the names of the books are given in Hebrew ; 
over every Hebrew word the name of the book is placed 
in Latin, underneath every Hebrew word the pronuncia- 
tion of such word is given. I make the printer respon- 
sible for false spelling, but what must we think of an 
enumeration like this : d'OVD *oba PP-DT "Oil JT3B2 pipasn 
D"PN "bwa, the pronunciation underneath is also given as 
Malachias, Xovim, Mischle, Iyoeff, but the Latin names on 
the top are Malachias, Psalterium, Parabole, Job, etc. It 
is evident that he did not know that the Hebrew name for 
the Psalms was trbnn, that he took the word COIfD 
written on the flyleaf, a name denoting all the Hagiographa 
from the Psalms to the Chronicles inclusive, to mean only 
the Psalms. 

In his Enemy of the Jews he quotes verses 11 — 15 of 
the first chapter of Isaiah, with the pronunciation in 
black letters on the top and the translation under each 
word. In verse 12, DD") D3TD i"INT tPpD "»», the word 
DD~i (remos) is printed DDT (demom). Considered as a 
misprint this would be pardonable enough /_ i and '~\, 'D and 
'D being easily confounded. But in the pronunciation on 
the top of the word we find in black letter also the word 
demom. This first chapter of Isaiah is particularly well 

T 2 

280 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

known to Jews, because it is read as Haphtora on the 
Sabbath before the fast of Ab, and it is chanted in the 
same way as the Lamentations of Jeremiah on that fast. 
It is, therefore, prominent among the Haphtoras, and if 
Pfefferkorn had had the slightest recollection of what he 
had learned when a youth, and he had found in the copy 
he consulted the word DOT, he would have been able to 
correct such a glaring blunder, which is found both in the 
German and Latin edition. It appears, therefore, that 
Pfefferkorn, after his conversion, did not look into any 
Hebrew book, that he forgot even the scanty amount of 
Hebrew that was thrashed into him at school, and of 
which he was once perhaps possessed. 

As has already been indicated above, the appearance of 
Reuchlin's Augenspiegel marked the turning point in the 
career of Pfefferkorn. Before that book was written, 
Pfefferkorn 's attack had been unprovoked. He had under- 
taken to destroy the books of the Jews, to do the latter all 
possible harm, he had made private use of a document de- 
stined for the eye of the Emperor, and was the ostensible 
libeller. The publication of the Augempiegel changed the 
whole complexion of affairs. Henceforth Pfefferkorn is 
not so much engaged in making as in repelling attacks. 
He writes with increasing bitterness not only against the 
Jews but also against Reuchlin and his friends. He would 
probably have done so if his opponents had contented them- 
selves with calling him by his right name, with showing 
him and the world who and what he really was. In that 
case he would have been at pains to show that he had 
neither been a butcher nor a burglar, that his intentions 
were pure, that he was not an Abecedarian in Hebrew and 
worse than an Abecedarian in everything else. But when 
we see him, Pfefferkorn, illtreated as meanly as he treated 
others, when we see his enemies adopt tactics against him 
such as one would not use even against one's Pfefferkorn, 
then it is idle to be surprised that in his subsequent writings 
he tried to outdo his own previous efforts and the attacks 

John Pfefferkorn and the Battle of the Books. 281 

of his adversaries. It is idle to expect a Pfefferkorn to 
turn a saint when treated after his own fashion. This it is 
that Graetz seems to have expected. Graetz has no word 
of disapproval for the enormities of the false accusations, 
for the ruthless, cowardly, murderous blows flung at the 
head of Pfefferkorn ; but all his indignation is reserved 
for Pfefferkorn, who wards off these blows with similar 

Pfefferkorn's latest pamphlets, the Burning Glass, the 
Alarm Bell, the Defences, the Mitleydige Clacg are more 
venomous than the previous emanations from his pen, but 
this virulence is explicable, however much it is to be con- 
demned. His enemies had preferred a charge against him 
which was untrue, which, consequently, served his turn. 
The charge was so atrocious, the concoction so easily re- 
futed, Pfefferkorn so readily cleared on this count, that, 
with some people, it must have procured him credit even 
for his falsehoods. The attack fell chiefly to the charge of 
the famous Ulrich von Hutten. Towards the end of 
September, 1514, a man called Pfaff Rapp was condemned 
to death, some said his name was also Pfefferkorn. There 
is a probability that Ulrich von Hutten was one of the 
judges at the trial. It is not certain that this delinquent 
was born a Jew at all. It is not certain what his crime 
was or whether he had committed one; but he was justly 
condemned according to the notions of that time; for 
torture had extracted from him a confession of a number of 
possible and impossible offences. Among other crimes, he 
confessed to having tortured and stabbed part of a Host 
till the blood flowed out of it, to having received a hundred 
florins from Jews to poison the Duke of Magdeburg, his 
brother and their court, to having promised the Jews to 
poison all the country people in the Dioceses of Magdeburg 
and Halberstadt. For this lengthy catalogue of offences, 
the man's flesh was torn from him with red-hot pincers, 
after which he was roasted to death. 

The Reuchlinists invented the story that this man was 

282 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

Johann Pfefferkom, who had attacked Eeuchlin. A poem 
was composed, most probably by Hutten, in which the 
poet says that Germany could never have produced 
such a monster. It were better not to baptize any 
Jews, for this man had committed crimes which surpass 
those of the monsters of mythology, which are enume- 
rated at length. The alleged crimes are mentioned, 
and emphasis is given to the monstrosity of torturing 
a Host and of causing the blood to flow from it, and 
the praises of Albert of Magdeburg are sung, whose good 
fortune it was so signally to punish him. Now, it is 
quite clear that the authors of this mystification knew 
better or could have known better if they had chosen. 
That Hutten's indignation was got up for the occasion is 
justly pointed out by Strauss. Hutten was the last man 
to believe in the bleeding of the Host ; he would have 
laughed to scorn such a notion if it had been adduced by 
an opponent. The falsehood was so tenaciously adhered to, 
that, as PfefFerkorn says, when he proved to be alive, his 
enemies said that the other PfefFerkorn was his brother, 
and when he showed that he had no brother, they said it 
was his cousin. We see from this that the adherents of 
Keuchlin were not very particular in choosing the weapons 
with which they fought, they were not troubled by high- 
toned scruples of chivalrous warfare. Their arms did not 
improve in morality in the course of time, but they gained 
considerably in wit, keenness, and effectiveness. 

They unmasked their batteries and bombarded the 
positions of their enemies with one discharge after 
another of satirical letters, which hit with such deadly 
effect that their adversaries were unable to lift their 
heads. It is true, the latter tried to retaliate, but, although 
equalling their opponents in malignity and surpassing 
them in mendacity and unscrupulousness, yet they were 
destitute of the caustic wit and the ideal perfection of 
satirical spirit of a Crotus Rubianus and an Ulrich von 

John Pfefferkom and the Battle of the Books. 283 

Hutten, as exemplified in the Epistolce Obscurorum Virorum, 
the " Letters of the Unknown Men." 

Reuchlin, in order to show that he had the greatest 
intellects of the age on his side, had published a series of 
letters written by the celebrities of the time to himself, 
under the title of Epistolce Clarorum Virorum, " Letters of 
Famous Men." Crotus Rubianus, who was most probably 
the author of the first series of the satirical letters, chose 
therefore for the title of his satire " Letters of Obscure or 
Unknown Men." To translate Epistolce Obscurorum Virorum 
by "Letters of Obscurantists," "Briefe von Dunkelman- 
nern," is translating according to the Drash, not according 
to the Pshat. As the Epistolce Clarorum Virorum were 
written to Reuchlin, the satirical letters were pre- 
tended to be written to Ortvinus Gratius, one of the 
most conspicuous members of the Cologne party. Whether 
all or any of the charges, preferred against the latter are 
true or not, whether he is really the sainted man, whom 
his enthusiastic apologist, D. Reichling, tried to depict, 
I shall not attempt to decide. Why he should have 
been selected as the target against which the shafts of 
the satirists were particularly directed ; whether it was 
really because one of the chief co-operators in the manu- 
facture of that famous satire, Hermann von dem Busche, 
had a personal spite against him, it is enough to know 
that he was an inveterate enemy of the Jews, as he had 
shown on more than one occasion; that he was one of 
the principal protectors of Pfefferkorn, some of whose 
works he had translated into Latin, if not entirely com- 
posed. About the moral character of these satirical 
productions I can only admit the justice of the description 
given of them by Sir William Hamilton in an article of 
the Edinburgh Review of March, 1831 (vol. liii.), part of 
which was reprinted in a life of Reuchlin written by 
Barham. Sir W. Hamilton says: "Morally considered 
this satire is an atrocious libel, which can only be 
palliated on the plea of retaliation, necessity, the im- 

284 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

portance of the end, and the consuetude of the times. 
Its victims are treated like vermin, hunted without law 
and exterminated without mercy." 

That the accusations made in these letters cannot he all 
true I readily admit, but not that they must be necessarily 
false because they are contained in these lampoons. Many 
of them are otherwise fully confirmed. The tone of these 
letters is in the highest degree indecent, the expressions 
most irreverent whether considered from a catholic or from 
a humanistic, certainly from a Jewish point of view. Bible 
texts and even the name of God are freely used for the 
sake of illustrating some filthy and obscene sally. The 
language in which they are couched is a caricature of the 
dog-Latin in vogue with the monks of those days, and its 
drollery cannot be described. To what point of perfection 
satirical art is raised in these letters is manifest from the 
fact, that even great and unprejudiced men have admira- 
tion only for the art with which the attacks are executed, 
and have no eyes for the wickedness which this art embel- 

The impression they produced in Germany was electric. 
Even the scruples of the more sober friends of Reuchlin 
had to struggle with the inclination to smile produced 
by that which was ludicrous in them, and laughter 
soon drove every other emotion before it. I said before 
that many, if not most of the acccusations contained in 
the letters are only too true, and the frivolity prevalent 
in them may have had some good results. Looking only 
upon the results, what does it matter then that the 
authors were themselves as deeply steeped in the vices 
which they laid to the charge of their enemies ? When 
we consider the results only, what does it matter, if the 
persons named in the letters were partly or altogether free 
from the vices imputed to them, since the attacks were 
directed against a class of persons, namely the monks, 
rather than against this or that individual ? That the 
monks were portrayed in life-like resemblance is evident 

John Pfefferkom and the Battle of the Books. 285 

from the fact that the monks in Belgium and England did 
not at first notice the satire at all, and really thought that 
one of their midst had written these letters as a satire 
against Reuchlin and in favour of the Dominicans. This 
fact is not without importance in respect to the trust- 
worthiness of the accusations made in the letters. A 
doctor of theology at Louvain went even so far as to buy 
twenty copies for distribution among his friends. These 
facts are related by Erasmus, of whom it is said, that he 
laughed so much at one of these letters, that an abscess 
in his throat opened and he was cured. These facts are 
however very inconvenient to those who would fain declare 
all accusations in the Epistolce Obscurorum Virorum to be 
malicious inventions ; and the afore-mentioned apologist 
of Ortvinus Gratius says (page 8) that he does not hesitate 
to consider the whole narrative as a bad joke. This is 
easy, but the statement of Erasmus is confirmed by Sir 
Thomas More, who wrote in 1516, that is before Erasmus, 
that the Epistolce Obscurorum Virorum pleased everybody in 
a most remarkable manner. They pleased the scholars as a 
jest ; they pleased the ignorant people also ; for when the 
latter laughed, they intended only to laugh at the style, 
which they did not want to defend, but which in their 
opinion was compensated for by the gravity of the 
contents. I take this quotation from the article in 
the Edinburgh Review, in which it is also stated that 
these letters have always been a stumbling block to 
English critics and historians. Of the examples adduced 
there I shall only eite that of the Essayist Richard 
Steele, who says in the Tatler (1710), " It seems this is 
a collection of letters, which some profound blockheads, 
who lived before our time, have written in honour of 
each other and for their mutual information in each 
others' absurdities." What does it matter in the result if 
Ortvinus Gratius was really the saint, and Arnold von 
Tungeren the still purer saint, as the apologist, D. Reich- 
ling, describes them ? For let us not forget that one of the 

286 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

proofs of Reichling for the purity of the morals of A. 
von Tungeren consists in this, that the latter was the 
author of a book against what ? — against those very vices 
of the monks for which the latter were so unmercifully 
pilloried in the Epistolce Obscurorum Virorum (p. 61, n. 4). 
Can we say after this that the reproaches in these 
letters are devoid of all corroboration ? It would be 
interesting, perhaps, to give some specimens from the 
letters themselves, but as I should be obliged to confine 
myself to extracts bearing on Pfefferkorn, and as the re- 
flections on him are almost invariably made in a very 
coarse tone, I think it is rather my duty to be silent. A 
most interesting survey of the letters can be found in the 
Life of Ulrich von Hutten, by Strauss, translated into 
English by Mrs. Sturge. 

But enough has been said to show that we cannot 
expect Pfefferkorn to be gentle in his expressions after 
attacks of this kind. It is difficult to understand 
Graetz's indignation against Pfefferkorn for the last 
pamphlet the latter is known to have written. If ever 
Pfefferkorn's virulence was excusable, it was in this 
case. It is true that Pfefferkorn, as Geiger says, attacks 
Reuchlin (" Eine mitleydliche Claeg uber alle Claeg an 
unsern allergnaedlichsten Kayser, etc.") in terms which 
would be too strong for the worst criminal, and when we 
wish to have an idea of the height to which his anger 
against the Jews ascends, we must add together all expres- 
sions of violence ever before uttered by him (p. 435). This 
cannot be defended, but it is not unnatural. The book has 
a picture of Reuchlin, quartered and hanged. Reuchlin, who 
despises God, should be cut up into four pieces and hung 
on the high roads. Pfefferkorn calls Reuchlin the chief 
coiner of wickedness, a master of lies, a blasphemer of the 
Church, a falsifier of Holy Writ, a deceiver and seducer of 
the Christian people, a patron of the perfidious Jews, Dr. 
Woodenspoon, Dr. Piggyspoon, and a whole catalogue 
more. But these expressions are no more than a strongly 

John Pfefferkorn and the Battle of the Books. 287 

reflected echo of the vituperations hurled at his own head. 
He wants Reuchlin to be quartered and hung. No doubt, 
very unfriendly of him; but what did the Reuchlinists 
want to be done to him ? In their indignation and resent- 
ment against the party at Cologne, some of them, namely, 
Hermann v. d. Busche, and U. von Hutten, composed a 
poem, " Triumphus Capnionis," in honour of Reuchlin, in 
which the latter is described as triumphing over his 
enemies. The pageant is described, in which the trium- 
phant Reuchlin is led about in the imagination of the 
poets, and his enemies are dragged along in chains. To 
Pfefferkorn the following words are devoted (v. 704-735) : 
" Call two hangmen, bring all your tools, the cross, the 
noose, and the hook with the ropes. Now, ye hangmen, do 
this. Put him in such a position that his face is turned 
towards the earth, his knees upwards, that he may not 
look to heaven, nor contaminate us with his eyes. Make 
him bite the soil with his slanderous lips and eat some of 
the dust. Do not delay, tear his tongue, that first origin of 
evil, out of his mouth, or else he will say something 
wicked at the procession. Tear off his nose and both his 
ears, put the hook into his feet, and drag him thus, face 
and chest downward to sweep the earth. Scatter about 
his teeth, so that nothing remain in the mouth to hurt, and 
although his hands are tied on his back, yet cut off the tips 
of his lingers," and so on. Graetz gives a translation of this 
part of the poem without a single word of disapprobation ; 
and then he is surprised and indignant at the terms which 
Pfefferkorn afterwards applies to Reuchlin and the Jews ! 
I have not quoted the whole passage, how this torture 
excites commiseration in nobody, and only rouses the 
derision of boy and man, of married and unmarried 
women. All laugh at and applaud the sight. Again, a 
description follows of Pfefferkorn's position in all its 
sickening details. The poet cannot leave the mutilated 
body alone ; a few verses after he again cards him, and 
scourges him, and cudgels him, and makes him slowly 

288 The Jetcish Quarterly Review. 

breathe his last under these tortures. The honest and 
truly impartial Booking, in spite of the veneration he feels 
for his hero, von Hutten, observes that the author relapses 
here into the same foaming acerbity which sullies his de- 
clamation against the Pseudo-Pfefferkorn. Booking is 
surprised that such details can please anybody who is not 
a professional executioner ; that the author did not under- 
stand that such exquisite cruelty can have only one effect, 
namely, that of rousing in humane readers some feelings in 
favour of Pfefferkorn. I, myself, am obliged to agree for 
once with D. Reichling, that the original of the enormities 
found in Pfefferkorn 's last pamphlet is contained in that 
poem, and that the imitation leaves its model far behind. 

No, it if not his last pamphlet which condemns Pfeffer- 
korn, but the books published at the beginning of his 
career, those that were issued before 1511, and the activity 
he displayed during the same period. It is certainly 
doubtful how many of these infamous distortions of the 
truth, how many of these downright falsehoods must be 
attributed to him. But whoever hides under the naine of 
Pfefferkorn, the books are witnesses of the lowest impulses 
of human nature, made more repulsive by the fact that 
they profess to be inspired by motives of religion. Nor 
would Pfefferkorn 's memory be rescued from well-merited 
obloquy, even if his malignant efforts were inspired by a 
sense of duty, by an intense and fanatical self-deception.