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Anti-Judaism and Bach’s Cantata BWV 4
By Richard A. Goodman (July 3, 2001)




Anti-Judaism and antisemitism

Why make this analysis?

An Introduction to Cantata BWV 4

The Doctrine of Supersessionism

Supersessionism in Luther’s Text

Luther’s Attitudes Toward Jews and Judaism

Bach’s Theology

Bach’s Attitude Towards Jews and Judaism

The interaction of Bach’s Music and Luther’s Words


Original German Text and English Translation




In Cantata BWV 4, Bach used as his libretto the seven verses of Luther’s chorale, Christ Lag in Todes Banden.” Neither the cantata nor the chorale on which it is based is explicitly antisemitic or anti-Judaic; both chorale and cantata, however, proceed from the assumption that Christianity has made Judaism obsolete. This doctrine, which technically is known as supersessionism, is a direct cause of theological anti-Judaism and is an indirect causes of secular antisemitism. [1]

Luther’s theology was vehemently anti-Judaic. There is no evidence, however, that Bach shared those sentiments. Nonetheless, supersessionism, which is a form of anti-Judaism, appears to have been an intrinsic part of Bach’s theology.

What attitude should we, as contemporary choristers and listeners, take as to the supersessionism in this cantata? The most common approach is simply to ignore entirely the words and treat the cantata as absolute music. This approach, however, inhibits the comprehension and undermines the performance of sacred choral music, especially that of Bach. Retranslation modification and censorship all are unsatisfactory alternatives. The best answer, therefore, is to analyze and discuss the implications of the theology expressed in this chorale and the context in which it appeared.



The study of anti-Judaism in music is in its infancy. Although the literature on Bach is vast, [2] only one of his major choral works, Bach’s St. John Passion (BWV 245), has been analyzed with regard to its possible anti-Jewish language and implications. [3] This is not surprising since the Christian roots of anti-Judaism have been systematically studied and debated only in the last thirty years. [4] In this article, I will examine whether the text of Bach’s Cantata BWV 4 espouses any anti-Jewish sentiment, and, if so, whether Bach’s music appears to enhance or undermine that sentiment. Finally, it also will consider ways in which anti-Judaism in choral music in general and this cantata in particular can be mitigated.

Since all discussions of religion, including those regarding anti-Judaism and antisemitism, are affected by the personal beliefs of the author, regardless of whether they are disclosed, [5] I will reveal my background and biases at the outset. I am an attorney by profession and a musician (primarily a chorister) by avocation. I have no advanced degree (other than in law) and no scholarly training in musicology, theology or history. By birth and affiliation, I am Jewish; by belief, I am agnostic. My general worldview is secular humanist and my methodology is rationalist and empiricist.


Anti-Judaism and antisemitism

At the outset, it is important to understand the distinction between “antisemitism.” [6] and “anti-Judaism” (which is alternatively referred to as “theological antisemitism.”) [7] Anti-Judaism is frequently defined as “theologically driven hatred of Judaism and people presumed to be of the Jewish faith.” [8] Anti-Judaism dates back at least to the beginnings of Christianity. [9] As discussed below, and Martin Luther and virtually all of the Church fathers were theologically anti-Jewish without being antisemitic.

Antisemitism, by contrast, is “hostility to Jews based on ethnic origins without reference to faith or beliefs.” [10] Although antisemitism is rooted in anti-Judaism, [11] the two categories are not co-extensive. Antisemitism does not appear to predate the Spanish Inquisition. [12] The Nazis were antisemitic in classifying for extermination persons deemed Jewish by birth, without regard to their religious beliefs. [13]

Let me state at the outset that there is no trace of antisemitism in Bach’s music, writing or theology. The sole issue, therefore, is whether his music expresses anti-Judaic sentiments.


Why make this analysis?

One legitimately can ask why one should even bother to analyze the potential anti-Judaic implications of this or any other choral work. After all, most choristers sing and most audiences listen to Bach’s sacred choral music as “absolute” music. [14] Doing so permits everyone to avoid confronting issues which can unleash intense emotions and even latent antisemitism. Marissen, for example, acknowledges that:

“Several musicians have made remarks such as, “What is it with Jews anyway? The whole point of great music is that it transcends anything you can put into words… .” [15]

Scholars seem to be particularly reluctant to confront this issue with regard to Bach. Marissen reports that he has, “…encountered remarkably strong resistance to the idea that Bach’s music even might be associated with antisemitism.” [16]

Notwithstanding these pitfalls, there are important reasons for undertaking this investigation. First, doing so forces singers and listeners to gain the acquaintance with Bach’s theology which is widely believed to be essential for the performance of Bach’s sacred choral music. For example, Helmuth Rilling, an eminent Bach conductor, has stated that, “Anyone seeking a basic orientation for the interpretation of Bach’s music cannot ignore [Bach’s] self-concept [as a church musician] and the priority he evidenced in his life’s work.“ [17] Masaaki Suzuki, another Bach specialist, goes further, averring that his Christian faith enhances his interpretive abilities:

“Who can be said to approach more nearly the spirit of Bach: a European who does not attend church and carries his cultural heritage mostly on a subconscious level, or an Asian who is active in his faith although the influence of Christianity on his national culture is small?…If you are going to perform Bach cantatas, you must have a knowledge of the Bible…if you are living a Christian life it is much easier to understand and express the text. And it becomes very natural to express such feelings through Bach’s music.” [18]

Equally important, investigating this issue can help both Jews and Christians to become more sensitized to each others’ needs and concerns. Jews, for example, frequently underestimate the significance of Easter for many Christians. [19] Conversely, non-Jews often are oblivious of the ominous overtones that sacred choral music has for many Jews. [20] Many non-Jews are even unaware of the relationship between Christianity and antisemitism in general [21] and the Holocaust in particular. [22] and of the persistence of antisemitism, even today. [23]

For several reasons, Cantata BWV 4 is ideally suited for this investigation. First, it is short; [24] the scope of analysis, therefore, can be narrowly delimited. Second, this cantata does not contain direct scriptural quotation; accordingly, the question of whether the New Testament itself is anti-Judaic need not be addressed. [25] Third, the chorale upon which Cantata BWV 4 is based text was written entirely by a single person whose theology and attitudes are well documented. [26] Fourth, this cantata already has been the subject of extensive historical and musicological analysis. [27]

The last, and perhaps most important reason for analyzing this particular cantata is that is that it is seemingly so innocuous. Its text is celebratory. It contains no Judas, no betrayal, no high priest, no conspiracy and no trumped up charges. There is no crowd scene, no one yelling, “crucify, crucify” or “His blood be on us and on our children. [28] In fact, this cantata does not refer at all either to Jews or to Judaism.


An Introduction to Cantata BWV 4

Cantata BWV 4 (Christ Lag in Todesbanden”) is one of Bach’s most widely performed cantatas. One reason for its popularity undoubtedly is its modest instrumental requirements. [29] Another is the familiarity of its closing chorale. Significant, as well, is the awesome ingenuity with which Bach interweaves strands from the chorale into each prior movement, including the opening sinfonia. [30] Probably the most important factor, however, is that, as an Easter cantata, it stirs deep sympathies for many Christian choristers and music directors.

Although this cantata long was thought to have composed in 1724, [31] it now is believed to have been written for Easter 1707, when Bach was 22 years old, possibly for his audition for a new position in Mühlhausen. [32] The original last movement has been lost and Bach himself replaced it with the four part setting that is used today. [33]

The sacred cantata was a musical genre which developed during Bach’s life and declined after his death. In the Lutheran service of Bach’s time, a cantata was performed in the middle of the service, between the gospel reading and the sermon. [34] Its function was to, “…assist the exposition of the Gospel topic.” [35] Accordingly, “…the cantata was performed to a libretto as closely based on the Gospel text as the Sermon which followed it.” [36] Bach’s cantatas were ‘…not intended to be works of music or art on their own, but to carry on, by their own means, the work of Luther, the preaching of the Word and of nothing but the Word.” [37]

The chorale on which this cantata is based consists of a text written by Martin Luther, which, in turn, was based on Victimae Paschali Laudes [38] The melody ostensibly was written by Waltier but it actually dates back to the twelfth century [39] The cantata consists of a sinfonia followed by seven movements, each of which takes as its text a single verse of the chorale:

· Verse 1 celebrates the victory of life over death resulting from the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. In this verse, God is praised and thanked because Jesus was “given for our sins.” His resurrection, therefore, brings us new life.

· Verse 2 avers that, before the crucifixion, no one could master death because no one was innocent; death came to all because death is the inevitable concomitant of sin.

· Verse 3 tells us that Jesus removed our sin and deprived death of its power, leaving only “its outward form.”

· Verse 4 recounts the “marvelous war” which was waged between life and death. The crucifixion, however, gave life the victory (i.e. “one death devoured the other.”)

· Verse 5 announces that Jesus, “broiled in hot love,” became the “paschal lamb” sacrificed by God’s command, and that his “blood marks our doors.”

· Verse 6 tells us that, in commemoration, the “high feast” (i.e. Easter) is celebrated.

· Verse 7, finally, calls Jesus the “true Easter bread,” and states that faith in Jesus is sufficient to “feed the soul.” Indeed, it promises that “the old leaven shall not be with the word of grace.” [40]

Rather than celebrating the resurrection of Christ, this Easter cantata focuses on the crucifixion, an event for which Jews have been wrongly held responsible for 2000 years. [41] Its text is non-narrative: there is no mention of the trial of Jesus and no assignment of blame. Although it makes no direct reference either to Jews or to deicide, the text of Cantata BWV 4 is anti-Judaic because its underpinning is Christian supersessionism.


The Doctrine of Supersessionism

Supersessionism, a basic tenet of Christianity for most of the last 2000 years, has been defined as consisting of, “…three pivotal, interrelated claims:
(1) The New Testament fulfills the Old Testament;
(2) The Church replaces the Jews as God’s people;
and (3) Judaism is obsolete, its covenant abrogated.” [42]

Supersessionism results from the Christian appropriation of the Jewish Bible, [43] Jewish symbols [44] and the very identity of the Jews. “When the new movement went to the Bible to find support for its Messianic beliefs, it found numerous texts that appeared to provide it.” [45] Soon, supporters of the new sect made, “…Christological assertions about Jesus, supported by Biblical texts designed to show that everything of importance was foreseen by God and predicted in the Scriptures.” [46] Thus, the early Christians interpreted the Jewish Bible typologically, [47] turning it:

“…into a new book that had never existed before: the Old Testament, a book about Jesus. Not only the Prophets, but any part of the Hebrew Scriptures was subject to being reinterpreted for reference to Jesus.” [48]

Topological interpretation of the Jewish Bible opened a chasm between Judaism and early Christianity that remains today, for, “…if Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, his life and death and subsequent resurrection had to be predicted in the Scriptures. If they were, Jews do not know how to read their own Bible.” [49]

In addition to appropriating the Jewish Bible, early Christians appropriated and reinterpreted the most important symbols of Judaism. Thus, Jesus became the paschal (or Passover) lamb and the communion of the last supper replaced Passover [50]. Christianity rendered other symbols obsolete allegorically, as where Jesus warns his followers, “Beware the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” [51] Christianity’s appropriation of Jewish symbols led ultimately to its appropriation of the covenant with God, the very essence of Jewish identity. “The heart of the conflict between Jew and Christian even today…lies in the Christian claim to be the ‘true Israel’ which defines the old Israel as apostate and ‘divorced’ by God.” [52]

Jews, however, refused to acknowledge that their religion had been superseded or had become obsolete and very few voluntarily converted to Christianity. Both the earliest Christians and the Church fathers (the leaders of the Church from approximately 100-600, were puzzled at first and then became indignant at this behavior, [53] lashing out invective and diatribe that grew ever more virulent:

“How can Christians dare ‘have the slightest converse’ with Jews, ‘most miserable of all men’…men who are ‘…lustful, rapacious, greedy, perfidious bandits.’ Are they not ‘inveterate murderers, destroyers, men possessed by the devil’ whom ‘debauchery and drunkenness have gthem the manners of the pig and the lusty goat. They know only one thing, to satisfy their gullets, get drunk, to kill and maim one another…’Indeed ‘they have surpassed the ferocity of wild beasts, for they murder their offspring and immolate them to the devil…Jews worship the devil; their rites are ‘criminal and impure;’ their religion is ‘a disease’ (3:I). Their synagogue, again, is ‘an assembly of criminals…a den of thieves…a cavern of devils, an abyss of perdition.’… God hates the Jews and always hated the Jews….” [54]

Christianity’s hatred of Jews and Judaism developed its ferocity because:

“Hatred between groups who have no stake in a common stock of religiously sanctioned identity symbols can scarcely be as virulent as hatred between groups whose relations express a religious form of ‘sibling rivalry’ … the closer the relationship, the more intense the conflict…The appearance or existence of an alternative symbolic universe poses a threat because its very existence demonstrates empirically that one’s own universe is less than inevitable.” [55]

Until quite recently, Christian scholarship has had a distinctly anti-Jewish bias and, accordingly, has refused to see supersessionism as a problem. “… the dismal picture of Judaism in Christian history…is a beast that will not be slain. Like the proverbial phoenix, it constantly re-emerges from its own ashes, so deeply is it imbedded in the structures of Western civilization.” [56]


Supersessionism in Luther’s Text

Cantata BWV 4, like Christianity itself, appropriates the Jewish Bible, Jewish symbols and Jewish identity. Through its Christological reinterpretation of the Jewish Bible, its text implicitly invalidates Jewish identity. The very first image in the cantata, “todesbanden” (death’s bonds or cords) alludes to the Psalmist’s giving thanks to God for saving him when, “The ropes of death encompassed me…the ropes of Sheol (i.e. Hell) wrapped about me.” [57] In the cantata, however, the “todesbanden” of the Psalmist are transformed into bonds figuratively ensnarling Jesus at his crucifixion. [58] Similarly, the cantata appropriates and reinterprets the central moment in Jewish history, the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt. [59] The story of the exodus becomes nothing more than a prefiguring of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, the “Easter Lamb which God commanded.” [60]

The same is true of the central symbols of the exodus: the Paschal (or Passover) lamb [61] and the Passover celebration; [62] The paschal lamb of the Jewish Bible here prefigures Jesus, “…the Easter-lamb which God commanded,” who is “broiled in hot love,” and whose “blood marks our door.” Similarly, the festival of Passover becomes the “high feast” (communion of the Last Supper), and the “old leaven” [63] is replaced by the true “Easterbread.” [64]

The final verse of cantata BWV 4 announces that the “…old leaven shall not be with the “word of grace,” a phrase which is used twice in Acts: In its first usage, the “unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and made their minds evil affected against the brethren” [i.e. the Christians], and that these brethren “spoke boldly in the Lord, which gave testimony unto the word of his grace…” [65] Later, in Paul’s farewell to the Ephesians, he states:

“And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” [66]

Thus, the “old leaven” (i.e. the Law, associated by Luther with Judaism) is ineligible for the “word of grace,” (i.e. the possibility of salvation). Luther’s use of this type of language was just a foretaste of his later vituperations against the Jews.


Luther’s Attitudes Toward Jews and Judaism

Luther’s consistently rejected Judaism as a way to salvation:

“…Luther interpreted the Old Testament Christologically and saw all promises by God in the Old Testament as referring to Christ. Hence the saintly Jews of the Old Testament were part of the true church, living by faith in God’s promise. But the New Testament revealed how most Jews had rejected their promised messiah, crucified him, and persecuted his followers. With these actions they had drawn down upon themselves God’s wrath. The history of postbiblical Jewry was for Luther the history of God’s implacable wrath over a rejected and forsaken people.” [67]

Nonetheless, early in his career, he seemed to be conciliatory toward the Jews. In fact, in 1523, three years prior to penning “Christ Lag in Todesbanden,” Luther wrote a treatise critical of traditional Christian attitude toward Jews:

“For our fools, the popes, bishops, sophists, and monks – the gross asses’ heads – have treated the Jews to date in such fashion that he who would be a good Christian might almost have to become a Jew. And if I had been a Jew and had seen such oafs and numbskulls governing and teaching the Christian faith, I would have rather become a sow than a Christian. For they have dealt with the Jews as if they were dogs and not men. They were able to do nothing but curse them and take their goods.” [68]

Clearly, Luther hoped that most (or at least many) Jews would convert to his new version of Christianity. [69] By 1543, however, when it was clear that this would not happen, Luther’s attitude underwent a seismic shift. That year, he wrote three further treatises in which:

Luther recounted…some of the crudest charges traditionally lodged against the Jews: that they poisoned wells, and that they kidnapped children, pierced them with nails, and hacked them into pieces. He believed them guilty in thought and deed of shedding the blood of the messiah and his Christians…Luther swung immediately into a series of harsh recommendations to secular authorities on how to deal with the Jews. Their synagogues and schools should be burned and whatever would not burn should be buried. Their homes should be destroyed. All their prayer books and Talmudic writing should be taken from them. Their rabbis should be forbidden to teach. Their safe-conducts on highways should be revoked. Their usury should be forbidden and their money taken from them…they should be expelled after a portion of their wealth had been confiscated.” [70]

Even more chillingly, Luther wrote that, “…we are at fault for not slaying them.” [71]

Luther’s language has been explained (or rationalized) in several ways. One is that it arose from his belief that the world was in the final desperate stages of the struggle referred to in Verse 4 of Cantata BWV 4:

“…Luther’s anti-Jewish polemics cannot be understood properly apart from his apocalyptic beliefs. Luther believed that he was living on the eve of the Last Judgment, that with the establishment of the Reformation and exposure of the papal antichrist within the church the devil had unleashed his last, most violent attack on the true church. The devil’s servants in this final assault were the papists, the fanatics, the Turks, and the Jews. Luther saw it as his duty in this apocalyptic struggle to attack the devil with all the vehemence at his command and to defend the church against all the devil’s thrusts. His attacks on the Jews…cannot be underproperly apart from his apocalyptic context.” [72]

Alternatively, Luther has been viewed as having been preoccupied by:

“…the challenge posed by Jewish exegesis of the Old Testament. Luther believed his Christological interpretation of the Old Testament and his Christian interpretation of various messianic Old Testament passages to be of vital importance to his theology. Jewish exegetes challenged both…He attacked the exegesis itself, using historical, scriptural, and theological arguments. But he also employed his rhetorical skills to attack its source: the Jews themselves. To discredit the message it helps also to discredit the messenger.” [73]

A third explanation is that Luther simply reflected existing attitudes toward Jews rather than espousing new ones.

“…Luther…inherited a tradition, both theological and popular, of hostility toward [Jews]… He lived within a larger community, Western Christendom, which saw the Jews as a rejected people, guilty of the murder of Christ, and capable of murdering Christian children for their own evil purposes. And he lived within a local community that had expelled its Jews some ninety years earlier.” [74]

Indeed, it has been widely noted that Erasmus, that paragon of the Enlightenment, quipped, “If to hate Jews is the proof of genuine Christians, then we are all excellent Christians.” [75]

The rationalizations and excuses are endless. Some scholars point out that Luther used similar language to characterize all of his enemies, real and imagined. [76] Others minimize Luther’s Jew hatred because it was theologically based and because he (apparently) bore no animus toward Jews who converted to Christianity. [77] Others claim that Luther’s polemics arose entirely from his missionary zeal. [78] Still others see his late writings as the raving of a madman. [79]

Regardless of the reason for Luther’s ravings (and there may well be several bases for it), his polemics played a role in the subsequent development of modern antisemitism, although the extent of that role has been hotly debated. [80] For our purposes, however, I shall merely note that:

“Julius Streicher, the Third Reich’s self-appointed ‘destroyer of the Jews’…defended himself against the charge of genocide at the Nuremberg Trials by appealing to Luther: ‘Dr. Martin Luther would be sitting today in my place in the dock…’ Karl Jaspers agreed…when he exclaimed that the entire program of the Hitler period already existed in Luther’s tract.” [81]


Bach’s Theology

Bach was a devout Lutheran [82] who composed all of his music for the glory of God. [83] His personal library contained numerous theological works. [84] Bach’s formal Lutheran affiliation, his heavy reliance on Lutheran hymns and his ownership of books by Luther and other Lutheran theologians establishes, at a minimum, that, “Bach was an orthodox trinitarian in his theology.” [85] At least one commentator views Bach’s theology in a distinctly darker light:

“The essential Bach was…a violently anti-enlightened…temper. His music was a medium of truth, not beauty. And the truth he served was bitter. His works…revealed to us…that the world is filth and horror, that humans are helpless, that life is pain, that reason is a snare.” [86]

Bach, however, was no theological clone of Luther. For one thing, a clear pietistic streak [87] is evident throughout the cantatas. [88] Furthermore, it is highly unlikely that Bach shared Luther’s virulent anti-Catholicism: “Bach’s Magnificat and his Mass in B Minor both manifest an ‘evangelical catholicity’ that would be difficult to square with an authoritarian and anti-Catholic confessional orthodoxy.” [89] This “evangelical catholicity,” in turn, appears to put Bach in partial sympathy with the Aufklärung, or German Enlightenment. [90]


Bach’s Attitude Towards Jews and Judaism

Just as Bach did not entirely share Luther’s theology, there are several reasons why it is unlikely that Bach embraced Luther's Judeophobia:

· Bach had few, if any personal dealings with Jews. [91]

· Bach never wrote about Jews, nor is there any record of his expressing an attitude toward them. [92]

· Bach’s music does not show Jews as being allied with the devil in the cosmic battle with God. [93] In fact, in several places, Bach not only identifies Jesus as being a Jew but does so in a positive manner. [94]

· Most intriguingly, of the many composers who wrote a St. John Passion (BWV 245) based upon the poem by Brockes, [95] only Bach’s setting lack the sections of the poems that were especially vitriolic toward Jews and Judaism. [96]

· Bach’s personality was far different than that of Luther. Although he could be pugnacious, as shown by his many conflicts with employers, he was not polemical and seems to have steered clear of theological quarrels. [97]

· Finally, his “evangelical catholicity” [98] indicates a tolerance of spirit which could well have extended to Jews and Judaism.

There is little doubt that Bach was thoroughly supersessionist in outlook. [99] However, in an age of religious warfare, supersessionism was a doctrine that Christians of every stripe—Catholics, Lutherans, Pietists, Calvinists, Zwinglians and Anabaptists—agreed upon. [100]


The interaction of Bach’s Music and Luther’s Words

Does the music which Bach composed for Cantata BWV 4 give any clues as to his theology or as to his attitude toward Jews? There are numerous obstacles to answering this question. first, passages in which Bach’s music seems to support or promote the words is unlikely to help in this regard. In that case, Bach may simply have been composing music he deemed appropriate to the words, regardless of how he felt them. Thus, only passages in which the music seems to undermine the words are likely to give us reliable information in this regard.

In addition, what the music projects depends heavily upon how the music is performed. Since there has been an explosion of Bach interpretations in recent years

First, we must decide whether Bach tried to express specific, as opposed to non-specific, emotions.

The question of what music is capable of expressing has been debated since Aristotle. [101] Many theoreticians, including Hanslick, Langer, Gurney, Storr and Kivy have argued that music can be expressive only in a nonspecific sense.” [102] Others, including Wagner and Schopenhauer, have argued that music can express identifiable human emotions. [103] Luther apparently subscribed to the latter school, [104] as did Mattheson, an influential theoretician of Bach’s era. [105] Many scholars contend, therefore, that Bach believed it poto express particular moods and emotions in music [106]

At one extreme, Schweitzer believed that Bach engaged in such extensive tone painting as to virtually have preceded Wagner in the use of lietmotifs. [107] Not surprisingly, Schweitzer heard “exuberant joy” in verse 3 and a “marvelous struggle” in verse 4. [108]. Similarly, Herz [109] detects a great variety of moods in this cantata. He opines, for example, that the triple stretto in verse 1 “…flows into… garlands of joy at the word “joyful” (fröhlich).” [110] and that “…Bach breaks into an exhilarating alla breve that sweeps everything before it.” [111] He describes verse 3 as “…a song of jubilation….” [112] and characterizes the hallelujah in the final verse as “overpowering joyous.”

Other commentators are far more circumspect. For example, Spitta, who was Bach’s first great biographer, describes the mood of this cantata as more uniformly somber:

“If we listen to the cantata all through…the effect is at first somewhat monotonous, in consequence of the persistency of the chorale melody and of the key of E minor, and from the uniformly low and gloomy pitch of feeling throughout.” [113]

In the same vein, Pirro characterizes the entire cantata as “austere and profound.” [114]

Singing this cantata and listening to several recorded versions of it has led me to the following conclusions:

· The cantata is equivocal in mood and seems to vacillate repeatedly between sorrow and joy.

· Bach’s tone painting is sometimes quite specific. In the Sinfonia, for example, the gloomy image evoked is strikingly tomb-like. Furthermore, the continuo’s slow descent of a full octave can only represent the descent of Christ into the grave. In like manner, the fourfold repetition of “ein Spott” (a mockery) in verse four readily evokes that very mockery. Similarly, the four repetitions of “nicht” in verse 5 certainly are intended to emphasize the specific sentiment that, “The murderer can harm us no longer.”

· The “Hallelujah” portions of verses 2-6 are extremely restrained and the “Hallelujah” portion of Verse 1, even with its alla breve section, is far less exuberant than is the “Hallelujah Chorus” in Händel’s Messiah. [115]

· The mood of verse 4 is more playful than one would expect if Bach fully shared Luther’s apocalyptic views of the battle between God and the devil. To me, the music evokes a pretend battle rather than a serious one.

· The gentle tone of Bach’s music undercuts the severity of the two stark images of Verse 5: “in heisser Lieb gebratten” (burned with fierce love) and “das Blut zeichnet unser Tür” (the blood marks our door.)

· In verse 5, the words, “Würger kann uns nicht schaden.” does not conjure Luther’s dark and deadly serious image of the devil. In fact, the words, “der Würger” (the destroyer) are sung on a high E which is sustained for five full measures while the continuo plays in E major. These measures seem to celebrate the devil until we hear the rest of the line, in which we find that he no longer can harm us!

· The lovely duet in verse 6, and, in particular, the extended lines of doubled triplets indicates a sense of harmoniousness and calm even beyond that called for by the words themselves.



Although the text of Cantata BWV 4 does not directly disparage Jews or Judaism, it clearly rests upon the doctrine supersessionism and freely appropriates Jewish symbols. The music which Bach composed for this cantata indicates that he had a less rigid and dogmatic temperament than Luther, but seems to abide fully with his supersessionism.

What is the appropriate response to the supersessionism in this cantata? It certainly should not be ignored as supersessionism has played too large a role in history of anti-Judaism and antisemitism. Retranslation, which has been widely proposed to remedy the anti-Judaic language in the New Testament, can cause the offensive language to be conveniently forgotten. Suppression of works such as this cantata is utterly inconsistent with the ideal of the free flow of ideas.

The answer, then, must be education, which can enable us to place the theology of this cantata in its proper context At the same time, it can provide a springboard for truly ecumenical discussion:

“A thoughtfully organized performance… can provide for some people the initial impetus for discussion not only of religious anti-Judaism but also of cultural, social and political antisemitism…Bach’s extended musical commentary may be helpful in accomplishing a sort of redemptive work that…moves forward from the original sectarian and liturgical purposes” [116]

If analysis and discussion of this cantata can accomplish even part of those objectives, it will have been truly worthwhile.


Original German Text and English Translation

1. SATB Chorale

Christ lag in Todesbanden [117]
für unser Sünd gegeben [118]
Der ist wieder erstanden
und hat uns bracht das Leben
Des wir sollen fröhlich sein
Gott loben und ihm dankbar sein
Und singen Halleluja. Halleluja!

Christ lay in the bonds of death
given for our sin.
He is arisen again
and has brought us Life;
Therefore we should be happy,
praise God and be thankful to him
and sing Hallelujah. Hallelujah.

2. SA Duet

Den Tod niemand zwingen kunnt
bei allen Menschenkindern,

das macht alles unser Sünd, [119]
kein Unschuld war zu finden.
Davon kam der Tod so bald
und nahm über uns Gewalt,
hielt uns in seinem Reich gefangen. Halleluja.

Death could not be overcome
by all the children of mankind
who all sinned, there was
no guiltlessness to be found.
From this death came quickly
and took power over us.
and held us captive in his kingdom. Hallelujah.

3. T Chorale

Jesus Christus, Gottes Sohn,
an unser Statt ist kommen
Und hat die Sünde weggetan, [121]
damit dem Tod genommen
all sein Recht und sein’ Gewalt,
da bleibet nichts denn Tod’s Gestalt,
den Stach’l hat er verloren. Halleluja.

Jesus Christ, God’s son.
has taken our place
and has taken away [our] sins,
from which Death took
all its privilege and its power;
there remains nothing but Death’s form;
Death has lost its sting. Hallelujah.

4. SATB Chorale

Es war ein wunderlicher Krieg, [122]
da Tod und Leben rungen [123]
das Leben behielt den Sieg,
es hat den Tod verschlungen
Die Schrift hat verkündiget das.
wie ein Tod den andern fraß [125]
ein Spott aus dem Tod ist worden.

It was an strange battle
that Death and Life fought;
Life triumphed in the victory
and swallowed Death;
The Scripture has proclaimed
how one Death devoured the other,
a mockery was made of Death. Hallelujah.

5. B Aria

Hier ist das rechte Osterlamm, [126]
davon Gott hat geboten;
das ist hoch an des Kreuzes Stamm,
in heisser Lieb gebraten
das Blut zeichnet unser Tür, [128]
das hält der Glaub dem Tode für, [129]
der Würger kann uns nicht schaden.

Here is the true Easter Lamb
which God offered;
[the lamb] is high on the cross’s trunk
burned with fierce love;
the blood marks our door,
and faith shows it to approaching death;
the destroyer can not harm us. Hallelujah.

6. ST Duet

So feiern wir das hohe Fest [130]
mit Herzensfreud und Wonne
das uns der Herre scheinen läßt.
Er ist selber die Sonne,
der durch seiner Gnaden Glanz
erleuchtet unsre Herzen ganz,
der Sünden Nacht ist veschwunden. Halleluja!

Therefore we celebrate the high feast
with in our hearts, and gladness
that the Lord was revealed to us.
He himself is the sun
who through the brilliance of his grace
illumines our whole hearts
the dark night of sin has disappeared. Hallelujah.

7. SATB Chorale

Wir essen und leben wohl
im rechten Osterfladen [132]
der alte [133] Sauerteig nicht soll
sein bei dem Wort der Gnaden
Christus will die Koste sein
und speisen die Seel allein,
der Glaub will keins andern leben. Halleluja!

We eat and live well
in the true Passover
the old leaven shall not exist
together with the word of grace,
Christ alone will be the nourishment
and will feed the soul;
faith wants nothing else to live. Hallelujah.



[1] Supersessionism has been called “the seedbed of Christian anti-Judaism. Kee, “Removing Anti-Judaism From the New Testament” (1998) at 94.

[2] A (relatively) complete bibliography can be found at:

[3] Marissen, “Lutheranism, Anti-Judaism and Bach’s St. John Passion.”

[4] A seminal work was Rosemary Radford Ruether’s, “Faith and Fratricide: The Theological Roots of Antisemitism,” New York: Seabury Press 1974. Among the best subsequent works on this subject are Davies, (ed.) “Antisemitism and the Foundations of Christianity” New York: Paulist Press, 1979; Evans and Hagner, (eds.) “Antisemitism and Early Christianity” 1983; Farmer (ed.), “Anti-Judaism and the Gospels” 1999; Gager, “The Origins of Antisemitism: Attitudes Towards Judaism in Pagan and Christian Antiquity,” New York and Oxford: O.U.P.1983; and Smiga, “Pain and Polemic,” 1992 Paulist Press, New York.

[5] Langmuir, History, Religion and Antisemitism,”

[6] It has becomingly increasingly common in scholarly publications not even to dignify antisemitism with capitalization or hyphenation.

[7] Some scholars discount the importance of making distinctions between these categories: “…the conceptual distinction between an anti-Judaic argument and antisemitic prejudice might be lost in the hatred that both attitudes tend to exacerbate.” Chilton in Evans & Hagner:40.

[8] Rensberger, “Anti-Judaism and the Gospel of John” in Farmer, supra at 120. “Anti-Judaism has to do with words and their objective effects whether or not the people who speak them subjectively hate Jews.” Gaston in Davies, supra, at 50.

[9] There is substantial evidence of the existence of anti-Judaism in the Greek and Roman worlds. The extent that anti-Judaism and its role in the formation of Christian anti-Judaism is hotly disputed. See Gager, supra, at 9.

[10] Hellwig in Davies, supra at 133, note 2. Alternatively, “…use of the term ‘antisemitism’ should be reserved for socially significant hostility involving the attribution of unreal characteristics to ‘Jews.’ “ Footnote 55, Langmuir quoted in Marissen:20.

[11] “Theological anti-Judaism is the fundamental root of later cultural and political antisemitism.” Gaston in Davies, supra, at 50.

[12] “Threatened by the sudden influx of ex-Jews (Conversos) into the higher levels of Spanish society, the Church promulgated a series of statutes which purged the great religious orders of ‘new Christians’ because of their supposed tendency to slide into infidelity…these statutes…can be considered the ‘ancestor’ of the Nazi Nuremberg laws.” Davies in Davies, supra, at 198

[13] Hellwig in Davies, supra, at __.

[14] “…most of those who listen to Bach today…find it impossible to resonate to his sacred music except as nonprogrammatic music, for which the chorales…are at best irrelevant and at worst distracting...” Pelikan, “Bach Among the Theologians,” 1986, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, at 133. See also Marissen, supra at ix: “Most of today’s listeners pay no attention to the libretto of Bach’s St. John Passion, in large part because they uncritically assume that notes, tone colors, and rhythms are all that really matter.”

[15] Marissen, supra, at __. This remark also illustrates that casual anti-Judaism may be submerged but definitely has not been buried. For another example, see footnote __.

[16] Marissen, supra, at ix.

[17] Unger, “Handbook of Bach’s Sacred Cantata Texts” (1996): xii.

[18] Fanfare Magazine interview, volume 26, page 7.

[19] Marissen acknowledges that:

“…I have also heard Christian listeners say things like, ‘What they [i.e., Jews] don’t understand is that Good Friday [the liturgical occasion for which the St. John Passion was originally conceived] is our Holocaust.’” Marissen, supra, at ix.

[20] Although it provides only anecdotal evidence, a personal experience of the author is relevant here. I recently was a chorister in a performance of Mendelssohn’s St. Paul. I discussed with several choral directors and with numerous fellow choristers the apparent anti-Judaism of its text. Most of the Jews were both offended and troubled by it; very few of the non-Jews, however, comprehended the issue, even after I pointed out that the oratorio contained passages such as the following:

“they of the Synagogue…suborned men who were false witnesses…they ran upon him (i.e., Stephen) … and cast him out of the city, and stoned him…” and

“… when the Jews saw the multitudes…assembled to hear what Paul delivered… they were filled with envy, and spoke against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming…they laid wait for Paul…that they might kill him….”

[21] “I have encountered some readers who recognize and are upset by anti-Judaic readings [of Matthew]. But I have known other readers – for example some students in a Protestant seminary context, and members of various ‘mainline’ Protestant churches – who neither at first or subsequent glances have thought this gospel to be severely, mildly, or even slightly anti-Judaic. They are genuinely puzzled when I mention anti-Judaism.” Carter in Farmer, supra, at 58. Rosemary Ruether, one of the severest critics of Christian anti-Judaism, states that, “Facts about the long history of Christian persecution of the Jews, well known to their Jewish neighbors, are unknown to Christians…When Christians first begin to absorb some of this hidden history, there is at first a great incredulity. It seems impossible that all this could have happened so long, and we have never heard about it! Our history books did not mention it!” Ruether in Davies, supra, at 230.

[22] “Christian thinkers on the whole agree that while Christianity bears no direct responsibility for the Nazi dream of world dominance and Jewish death, the Church’s negation of Jewish existence before God has created symbols and produced an atmosphere in which it was possible for Hitler to make the Jews a scapegoat for the ills of society, and count on much popular support for his antisemitic campaign.” Baum in Davies, supra, at139.

[23] “…The Anti-Defamation Leagues…study [in 1981]…concluded that only 34% of the nation’s non-Jews were antisemitic, a perceived improvement over 1964. Translated into numbers, the “good news,” 34% extrapolated, means that 70 million men, women and children in our country are anti-Semites.” Perlmutter, “Antisemitism in America” (1982) at 102. Another analyst concludes that: “Most non-Jewish Americans are not highly antisemitic. But a substantial proportion are, and equally generous proportions are either mildly antisemitic or neutral.” Tobin, “Jewish Perceptions of Antisemitism” (1988) at 53.

[24] Performance times are in the neighborhood of 20 minutes, as compared with approximately 100 minutes for the St. John Passion and 150 minutes for the St. Matthew Passion.

[25] For detailed analysis of this issue, see the references cited in footnote 3, above.

[26] “More has been written about Luther than about any modern person except for Napoleon and Darwin.” Durant, “The Story of Civilization—The Reformation,” volume __, page __.

[27] These works include: Boyd, “The Oxford Companion to Bach,” 1999, Oxford University Press, Oxford; Chafe, “Analyzing Bach Cantatas,”; Herz, “Cantata No. 4,” 1967, W.W. Norton, New York; Robertson, “Church Cantatas of J.S. Bach,”; Spitta, “J.S. Bach,”; Schweitzer, “J.S. Bach,” 1966 Dover, New York; Terry, “The Music ofBach,” 1933; Westrup, “Bach Cantatas,”; Whittaker, “Bach’s Cantatas,”; Woolf, “Johann Sebastian Bach,” 2000, W.W. Norton, New York; Woolf (ed.), “The World of the Bach Cantatas,” volume 1, 1995 W.W. Norton, New York; and Young, “The Cantatas of J.S. Bach: An Analytical Guide,”;

[28] By contrast, each of these elements is to be found in the St. John Passion or the St. Matthew Passion or both.

[29] Although it is scored for cornett, 3 trombones, violin I, violin II, viola I, viola II and continuo the trombones and cornet rarely are used in modern performances.

[30] This cantata is analyzed in detail in Herz, supra.

[31] Spitta first proposed this date in his monumental biography, “J. S. Bach,” supra, at 393

[32] Wolff, supra, at 103 The stylistic evidence used in dating this cantata is discussed in Wolff, supra, at 168.



[35] Terry, supra at 64

[36] Terry, supra, at 64

[37] Smend, cited in Pelikan, supra, at 26.


[39] Spitta, supra, at __.

[40] According to Professor Marissen, this tracks the wording of 1 Corinthians 5:8 (“Lasset uns Ostern Halten nicht in alten Sauerteig…”) in Luther’s translation of the NT.

[41] Nicholls, “Christian Antisemitism: A History of Hate,” 1993, at __.

[42] Boys, in Efroymson, “Within Context: Essays on Jews and Judaism,” at 4.

[43] Nicholls, supra, at 87. The Jewish Bible is also referred to herein as the “Hebrew Bible” or the “Hebrew Scriptures. It is similar but not identical to what Christians call the Old Testament.

[44] “…Jesus takes to himself a wide variety of Jewish symbols, values, beliefs, and institutions. In this process he not only fulfills their traditional meaning but also brings them a new meaning. He is thus made not only the realization but the transcendence of Jewish traditions and expectations, all of which become concentrated in him...their meanings are taken up into his meaning, where they are given a new relevance.” Rensberger in Farmer, supra, at 144-145.

[45] Nicholls, supra, at 121

[46] Gager, supra, at 148

[47] Topology is the use of the Hebrew Bible for the purpose of finding prophecies and portents of Jesus. Thus interpreted, virtually every passage in the Hebrew Bible is deemed to prefigure the life and the sufferings of Jesus.

[48] Helms, “Gospel Fictions” (1988) at 28


[50] Corinthians 5:7-8

[51] Mathew 16:11

[52] Ruether, in Davies, supra, at 233.

[53] “The challenge Judaism posed did not become fully apparent until the Synagogue regained its vitality and influence after the disaster of A.D. 70 and 135. The people the Church claimed to have supplanted continued to co-exist and, more important, laid claim to the same sources of faith, asserting its anteriority and its title to the Old Testament…the Church had to prove to the gentiles – and to the Jews – that it was the true Israel, that Judaism was a pretender that refused to abdicate a lost kingdom…” Flannery, “The Agony of the Jews,” 1965, Macmillan, New York, at 35.

[54] Flannery, supra, at 48, quoting John Chrysostom, one of the Church Fathers.

[55] Gager, supra, at 21

[56] Gager, supra, at 32-3. Charlotte Klein, a Catholic theologian, has documented the sorry record of much twentieth century New Testament scholarship in “Anti-Judaism and Christian Theology,” London: SPCK 1978.

[57] Psalm 18:4-5

[58] Whether a certain cantata text alludes to a particular biblical verse frequently is a matter of scholarly disagreement. Unger, supra, purports to identify the appropriate allusions for each verse of every cantata. His procedure, however, has been called into question:

“…Because Bach’s ‘biblical themes’ and present-day topics may not be the same, to accept Unger’s ‘conceptual allusions’ as valid we must trust that they have been selected in the framework of eighteenth-century theology of some appropriate stripe. Unfortunately I do not see any evidence in Unger’s work that this is the case. His biblical references are thus more relevant to the application of twentieth-century theology to Bach’s cantatas than they are for an understanding of their meanings at the time the texts and music were written… Melamed, book review in “Music and Letters” 1998 at 117-118.

Even Melamed, however, acknowledges that, “…some allusions are extremely clear and nearly indisputable,” which seems to be the case here.

[59] Exodus:12

[60] “Images of sacrifice appear throughout the gospel of John, and some particulars of John’s passion narrative differ from the other canonical gospels, probably in part to promote the idea of Jesus as the ‘Passover lamb.’” Marissen, supra at 10.

[61] Before sending the angel of death to slay each first born Egyptian, God instructed the Israelites to roast a paschal lamb and to smear its blood on their houses so as to enable the angel of death to “pass over” their houses and spare their first born sons. Exodus 12:11-13 Marissen believes that Luther’s image refers to the sacrificial goat of the Day of Atonement, as well. Marissen, supra, at 10

[62] Passover is the annual feast celebrating the exodus from Egypt. Exodus 12:14

[63] The Schirmer edition of this cantata tips its supersessionist hand by erroneously translating , “Alte Sauerteig” as “evil leaven” instead of “old leaven.” The image alludes to Paul’s farewell to the Corinthians, in which he says:

“Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” 1 Cor. 5:7-8.

[64] Although the term “Easter-bread” does not appear in the New Testament, use of this term clearly alludes to John 6:48-51, where Jesus says:

“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from Heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from Heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

[65] Acts 14:2-3

[66] Acts 20:32

[67] Edwards, “Luther’s Last Battles” at 123-4.

[68] Edwards, supra at 121.

[69] “It was his hope…that if the Jews were dealt with in a friendly fashion and were instructed carefully from the Holy Scripture, ‘many of them would become true Christians and would return to the faith of their fathers, the prophets and patriarchs.’ To reject their beliefs so absolutely, allowing nothing to remain, and to treat them solely with arrogance and scorn, frightened them away from true Christianity.” Edwards, supra, at 122.

[70] Edwards, supra at 131. “Luther counseled ‘sharp mercy to see whether we might save at least a few [Jews] from the glowing flames. We dare not avenge ourselves. Vengeance a thousand times worse than we could wish them already has them by the throat. I shall give you my sincere advice.’ His well-known ‘sincere advice’ was to burn down their synagogues, destroy their homes, take away all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, forbid rabbinic teaching, abolish safe-conduct for Jewish travel, prohibit usury, and force Jews into manual labor.” Lindberg, “Tainted Greatness” in Harrowitz (ed.) “Tainted Greatness,” 1994, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, at 18.

[71] cited in Marissen, supra, at 25.

[72] Edwards, supra at 142

[73] Edwards, supra at 142“There is a consensus among contemporary Luther scholars that ‘Luther’s late anti-Jewish writings were attempts to defend and maintain theologically and exegetically the Christian sense of the Hebrew Bible and to refute competing Jewish exegesis.” Lindberg:19.

[74] Edwards, supra, at 121“The examples could go on, literally ad nauseam, to argue that Luther was just a child of the times and in comparison with others not such an enfant terrible after all. Thus, in spite of Luther’s rejection of major aspects of the medieval legacy, he shared and advocated the most repulsive aspects of medieval cultural and theological anti-Jewishness.” Lindberg:17.

[75] “cited in Lindberg, supra at 16. Lindberg goes on to say that, “Erasmus was not just describing contemporary anti-Jewish hatred; he shared it. Erasmus had a ‘deeply rooted, unbounded hatred for Jews.”[75] ibid.

[76] Edwards, supra, at 141.

[77] “Luther does not see ‘a race’ when he looks at the Jews, nor are baptized and unbaptized Jews for Luther the exponents of an ethnic, racial unit. Baptized Jews belong unqualifiedly to the people of God, just as do baptized Germans, the Gentiles.” Lindberg:20. “Luther identified a Jew by his religious beliefs, not by his race…If a Jew converted to Christianity, he became a fellow brother or sister in Christ…Luther’s writings against the Jews are part of his larger corpus of writings against those he perceived advocating salvation by works: heretics, papists, Turks, and Jews.” Lindberg:21.

[78] “A third variation of the effort to explain away Luther’s anti-Jewish polemics is to argue that our two examples from 1523 and 1543 do not exemplify a change in Luther’s attitude but rather are consistent expressions of his missionary zeal to bring the Jews into evangelical Christianity.” Lindberg:19.

[79] Lindberg:18.

[80] “Luther’s writings…served to provide retrospective legitimacy to modern anti-Semitism.” Lindemann, “Esau’s Tears,” 1997, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge at __.

[81], Lindberg at 15.

[82] “Following the discovery of Bach’s heavily annotated personal Bible, the sincerity of his religious beliefs can no longer be readily dismissed.” Marissen, supra, at . “Before taking up his duties in 1723 he was successfully tested on his knowledge of and commitment to Lutheran theology and the Bible by Johann Schmid…and, separately, by Salomon Deyling… .” Marissen:7.

[83] “That his church music was designed to deepen the worship of God and to embellish His service need not be emphasized. Bach expressed his attitude clearly enough by regularly inscribing his scores of sacred music with the letters J.J. (Jesu, Juva: ‘Jesus, help’) at the beginning, and S.D.G. (Soli Deo Gloria: ‘to God alone the glory’) at the end. Even in an unpretentious little volume of pieces…he opened the first page of music with the letters I. N. J. (In Nomine Jesu: ‘in the Name of Jesus’).” Hans T. David and Arthur Mendel, eds., The New Bach Reader, revised and enlarged by Christoph Wolff, 1998, Norton, New York, at 16.

[84] “…Bach … assembled an extensive scholarly collection of theological literature with emphasis on Lutheran classics, in particular two editions of Martin Luther’s complete works...These works, especially those relating to the Calov Bible, which shows heavy underlining, annotations, and many other traces of regular use, shed light on Bach’s reading habits and on his study of biblical exegesis in preparation for his own settings of scriptural texts and sacred poetry.” Wolff, supra, at 334. A list of the theological books included in the 1750 inventory of his estate is set forth in David and Mendel, supra, at pp. 279-80.”

[85] Pelikan, supra, at 124

[86] Taruskin, “Text and Act” at 310

[87] Pietism was a strain of Lutheran theology which:

“...urged that it was time to issue a serious call to a devout and holy life…[It held that] …Protestant Germany…had fallen into attitudes of neglect toward the word of God and of indifference toward its moral imperatives…the way the clergy were being trained…laid too much emphasis on their ability to engage in theological controversies, at the cost of their ability to engage their hearers in a serious confrontation with the earnestness of the Christian message…” Pelikan, supra, at 57-59

[88] “[The recitatives and arias]…sound all the themes of eighteenth-century Pietism: all the intense subjectivity, the moral earnestness, and the rococo metaphors of Pietist homiletics, devotion, and verse.” Pelikan, supra, at 57.

[89] Pelikan, supra, at 55

[90] “…the impulse to religious toleration, for which the enlightenment marched in the vanguard, professed to find all polemical language, even that against Roman Catholicism, offensive…” Pelikan, supra, at 50-51

[91] “In writing the St. John Passion, Bach cannot have been well-acquainted personally with Jews, for Jews were then permitted in Leipzig only at its trade fairs... It is possible that he knew Christians from formerly Jewish families; Johann Abraham Birnbaum, who in the 1730s published a defense of Bach’s music, may have been from such a family … Marissen:22, footnote 58. Of course, antisemitism can flourish in the absence of personal contacts with Jews, as shown by modern Japan.

[92] Several major composers, including Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann and Liszt, are known to have made caustic comments about Jews. Wagner, of course, was vociferous in his rabid antisemitism.

[93] At least two other cantatas—BWV 44 and 183—also refer to this apocalypse. See Marissen, supra at 24, footnote 67.

[94] “Bach’s Easter Oratorio (BWV 249) and his church cantatas Nun komm, der Herr nicht bei uns hält (BWV 178), and Erwünschtes Freudenlicht (BWV 184)…[identify] Jesus as a Jew.” Marissen:28, footnote 89.

[95] Those composers include Handel and Telemann.

[96] Bach scholarship should be indebted to Marissen for his determination that the verses of Bach’s libretto, “…do not contain the egregiously anti-Jewish remarks found in their well known source… The last line of Bach’s version is not found in Brockes. Bach’s line appears in the place of the second half of Brockes’s number, which begins, ‘Look how his murderers [Mörder] plough his back, how deep, how cruelly deep they cut their ridges…’ Within Brockes’s continuously poetic version, soldiers (Kriegsknechte) are identified as Jews whom Jesus had taught in the synagogue, and soldiers are the ones who cut Jesus’ back. In the biblical text within Bach’s St. John Passion, this brutal action is attributed to Pilate…” Marissen, supra, at 28. As Professor Marissen has pointed out, however, we do not know whether it was Bach or someone else who wrote the libretto Bach used.


[98] See text accompanying footnote __.

[99] Marissen acknowledges that the St. John Passion, “…does next to nothing to eliminate the sense that Jews’ understandings of the Torah have been entirely superseded by belief in Christ.” Marissen, supra, at

[100] Anabaptists, Quakers and Mennonites, however, believed in freedom of worship.


[102] “…music which wears a definable [emotive] expression to one person, does not wear it or wears a different one to another, though the music may be equally enjoyed by both.’ The musical purist assumes that there is universal disagreement over which emotive description correctly characterizes any given musical theme or composition.” Gurney The Power of Sound, cited in Kivy:6-7.

[103]: “…there is widespread consensus between listeners about the emotional content of different pieces of music even when these pieces are unknown to, or not identified by, the different listeners. That is, whether a piece of music is considered poignant, wistful, elegiac, boisterous, rustic and so on does not depend upon previous knowledge of the piece in question… .” Storr, 29-30

[104] “Music rouses all the emotions of the human heart; nothing on earth is so well suited to make the sad merry and the merry sad, to give courage to despairing, to make the proud humble, to lessen envy and hate, as music.” cited in Cole, “Music and Morals,” 1993, at 89

[105] Kivy, supra, at 46

[106] Bach …strove sedulously to vest his texts with the most intense, appropriate music…He carefully suited his music to the mood and meaning of the text…Bach frequently used descriptive musical patterns… Bach’s own pictorial devices…usually…form a close bond betweethe text and the music, and often they not only illustrate the words but add great depth to the expression of their Affect.” David and Mendel __.


[108] Ibid.

[109] Parenthetically, Herz’s analysis reveals his personal supersessionism, as he asks rhetorically, with regard to verse 5, “Did Bach perhaps intend to characterize an Old Testament thought by music that is melodically and rhythmically rigid and motivically redundant?” Herz, supra at 108. Although such a remark should not invalidate his entire analysis, it is sobering to recognize in musicology the same bias that for so long has tainted New Testament scholarship.

[110] Herz, supra, at 91

[111] Herz, supra, at 92

[112] Herz, supra, at 98

[113] Spitta, supra, Volume II at 397

[114] Pirro, “J.S. Bach” (1957) at 102

[115] Because of the joyousness of its music, practically no one (including this author) is offended by Handel’s Messiah:

“There is certainly enough … in Messiah to offend the nonbelieving listener, not to say the listener for whom the Hebrew Bible is the primary Scripture rather than only the first part of Scripture; nevertheless it is far easier to treat it as a concert piece, whose theological content, while never irrelevant to the interpretation, need not get in the way of the performance.” Pelikan, supra, at 77.

[116] Marissen, supra, at 36.






[122] According to Professor Marissen, the adjective used, “wunderlicher” is an archaic form of “wunderbar.”













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