Conversion and Translation from Jerome to Luther
This chapter argues that the ideological stakes for what has been called “the invisible theory of translation,”—the assumption that languages are neutral media for a separable “content”—can be read in the controversy that pitted the Christian Hebraist and New Humanist Johannes Reuchlin against the Jewish apostate Johannes Pfefferkorn at the dawn of the Reformation. In taking the side of Reuchlin over Pfefferkorn and in recommending that translators go to the Jews for the Hebrew grammar and to the [Christian] theologians for the sense, Martin Luther separated the (Jewish) body of the Hebrew letter from its (Christian) spirit and laid the groundwork for a Protestant approach to the Hebrew Bible unmediated by either the Jews or Rome. The invisibility of the translator, from this perspective, is no historical accident—it is a politically and religiously overdetermined erasure. The absence of the Jew, as both privileged and suspect interpreter of Hebrew sources, is not only necessary for the Christian appropriation and German domestication of the Bible, but is also paradoxically central to the development of modern translation in the West.
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