בית הספר להיסטוריה
האגודה ללימודי ימי הביניים והרנסאנס
10 מאי 2012
אודיטוריום הספריה החדשה (146)
High and Low Conversion:
Conversion from Judaism to Lutheranism in Late 17th-Century Gotha
Anke Költsch, M.A.
Until now most research on conversion in early modern times has been based on the published biographies of learned converts and other printed materials. My PhD-project concentrates more on manuscript sources by — and about — converts to Lutheranism, whose authors had highly varied backgrounds and which tell a story far more complex than the one which the published sources reveal.
These published sources more often than not convey — by design — theological commonplaces. The sources I am using reveal the converts as individuals in their complex path from one culture to another amid the ever changing social and cultural worlds of early modern Germany. They also open a curtain onto a stage where these converts were both viewed and dealt with on a day to day basis.
What is more, learned Jewish converts, the principal authors of published works, often had reasons not to integrate fully into Christian society. As has been shown by the work of historians such as Johannes Graf, Elisheva Carlebach and Gesine Carl, these converts sought to vindicate themselves, and, accordingly, their writings emphasize the triumph of the Christian religion. Their aim was also to enhance their professional reputation, for many of these converts pursued careers as teachers of Hebrew or as authors of (what today are called) ethnographic studies about Judaism.
Converts who were not learned or had no ambitions to be professional scholars —including a number of those I will study — were able to lay down their Jewish origins more easily than learned converts. They integrated more smoothly into Christian community, not the least, because it was easier for them to receive help in finding employment, whether in their previous professions or following vocational training. The problem in following the lot of the non-learned is that many left almost no written traces, such as autobiographies, and their only written memory is that is found in church and administrative records.