Archeologists have uncovered Martin Luther’s household waste, including beer mugs, toy marbles and a child’s crossbow. The find is being shown in a new exhibition that casts the religious reformer’s private life in a new light. Brother Martin, a stout man, was sitting on the toilet in the Wittenberg Monastery, wearing the black robe of the Augustinian Order, when he was suddenly struck with the fundamental concept of his reformist body of thought. Martin Luther himself noted, in two after-dinner speeches (Nos. 1681 and 3232b), that Protestantism was born in the sewer: “The spiritus sanctus imparted this creation to me on dis cloaca.” [sic] … Excavations in the Wittenberg Monastery have uncovered not only the remains of Luther’s old study, but “a small pit latrine with a lid” in the cellar below, as archeologist Mirko Gutjahr reports. … The digs exposed toys and food remains, broken dishes and grain (dated to the year 1500, using the C-14 method). The archeologists also found his wife’s wedding ring and a hoard of 250 silver coins. The German State Museum of Prehistory will unveil the exhibition of Luther’s personal effects this Friday, to coincide with Reformation Day. The catalogue describes the content of the exhibition as “sensational,” noting that it enables us to reexamine “entire chapters in human life.”
“Now that’s fun!,” saith Jim. But wait a second! How do we know that the “wedding ring” they found in the garbage (!) belonged to Luther’s beloved Katie, any more than we know that the so-called “Seal of Gedaliah” belonged to the character named in II Kings 25:22-26? And for that matter, how do we know that this newly-uncovered latrine is the exact place where, according to popular (i.e., wrong1) belief, Luther had his epiphany, any more than we know that the so-called “Palace of David” was the actual residence of the biblical king? To me this is simply another example of archaeological fudging and journalistic sensationalism, methodologically indistinguishable from fanciful reports of successful excavations of Noah’s Ark and the Garden of Eden—unless there exist, shall we say, different evaluative standards for biblical and Reformation archaeological finds. But, as Marion Cotesworth-Hay of Marblehead once put it, “that is a different foxhunt altogether, isn’t it?”
N.B.– Among other things, this post is my shameless attempt to gain access to the above mentioned Guild of Biblical Minimalists by demonstrating that, on odd days and depending on the phases of the moon, I can have sharper minimalistic reactions than Jim West. At the very least I deserve to be included among Those Barely Tolerated by the Guild, though I’m not sure that I wish to be associated with Anson Rainey. Also, this post is a direct response to the Irreverend Mr Ker’s gratuitous accusation that I haven’t “blogged anything of substance in weeks” (!).
1Cf. Steven Ozment (The Age of Reform (1250-1550): An Intellectual and Religious History of Late Medieval and Reformation Europe [New Haven: Yale, 1980], 230): “In the late Middle Ages, the descriptions of oneself as being in cloaca, in stercore, or in latrina were common religious rhetoric, actually derived from the Bible and connoting a state of utter humility and dependence of God. When Luther described his Reformation insight as occurring ‘in cloaca,’ he was saying no more than that he received his understanding of the righteousness of God after a long period of humble meditation in the tower room–actually the library– of the monastery.” But note that Luther (and his medieval forebears and contemporaries) did mean a bit more than what Ozment suggests here: as David William Kling has succinctly put it, “He was, in the parlance of friars, in cloaca, literally in the toilet, or down in the dumps, tormented with Achfentungen” (The Bible in History: How the Texts Have Shaped the Times [New York: Oxford University Press, 2004], 128).