Robert B. Marks (garwulf) wrote,
Robert B. Marks

Outrage culture and toys...

So, I found this in my morning woolgathering over the Internet, and it needed immediate comment.  For those who don't want to follow the link, a Playmobil toy of Martin Luther, put out to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, has come under fire for being antisemetic.  Now, for those who haven't followed my column on the Escapist, I am a Russian Jew, and my family has no shortage of horror stories from the old country of murderous antisemitism...and I really think this is the stupidest thing I have read all week.

Some comments about points in the article:

All was apparently going fine until Micha Brumlik, a retired Frankfurt University education professor and respected Jewish commentator, wrote last June that the popular toy was “anti-Jewish, if not even anti-Semitic.”

The problem, he said, was the inscription on the open pages of the Bible that the Playmobil Luther holds. On the left is written in German: “Books of the Old Testament. END” while the right page says “The New Testament, translated by Doctor Martin Luther.”

Why was the word “END” written so prominently, Brumlik asked. “Theologically, there can be no other reason than that the ‘Old Testament’ and its validity should be seen as ended and superseded,” he wrote in the Berlin newspaper tageszeitung.

“Is the Old Testament, the Scripture of the people of Israel common to Jews and Christians, outdated and overtaken, as many Nazis — the so-called German Christians — wanted to see it, or is it just as important as the Gospels for Christian denominations?”

To start with, perhaps it's written in a different sized typeface to differentiate it from the title of the book, and in a larger font size to minimize dead space and balance out the text at the top of the page (as a publisher, I do this sort of thing all the time).  Observant readers will note that the "Translated by" text on the alternate page of the little toy Bible is also in a different font size, and both pages are done in such a way that they have a sense of vertical symmetry and balance.  This is not antisemitism - this is good graphic design.

Second, perhaps the word "END" is written at the end of the Old Testament title because Martin Luther did not translate the Old Testament by himself, while he did translate the New Testament by himself.  This differentiates the translation credit so that it does not look like he translated the entire thing.  This too is not antisemitism - this is accuracy.

Third, the answer to the question "Is the Old Testament, the Scripture of the people of Israel common to Jews and Christians, outdated and overtaken?" is quite easy to find if you sit down and read the New Testament, and that answer is "YES."  The New Testament is quite explicit that it represents a new covenant with God that supercedes and replaces the old one.  Jesus even states up-front that the only way to be saved is to follow his teachings and become a Christian.  This IS antisemitism, but it's Roman Empire-era antisemitism baked into the New Testament centuries before this toy came out - and the toy makes no comment on it (because it's a TOY).

In his article, Brumlik reminded his readers that Luther was “one of the founding fathers of modern anti-Semitism” and author of the infamous book “On the Jews and Their Lies,” in which the former Catholic monk urged his followers to burn down Jews’ homes and synagogues and confiscate their money.

And, two comments on this.  First, Christians had been doing this to Jews in Europe since the First Crusade - antisemitic propaganda had been around for a long time before Luther's book.  Second, all of Europe at the time was antisemitic to a nasty and even homicidal degree.  For all intents and purposes, the only historical figures that don't have an antisemitic streak from this time are Jewish.

One of the most important lessons in the study of history is that you must take historical figures in their context, not yours.  The fact that Martin Luther shares the violent antisemitism of his time simply makes him a man of his time.  While this is certainly a matter for discussion, it is not justification to denounce a toy version of him celebrating one of his achievements that helped shape the history of the whole of European Christianity.

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Tags: outrage culture, religion, stupidity

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