Martin Luther: Importance

Excerpts from The Hammer: How Martin Luther Changed the World, by New Yorker critic-at-large Joan Acocella (The New Yorker, 30 October 2017)

The crucial text is his Bible: the New Testament, translated from the original Greek and published in 1523, followed by the Old Testament, in 1534, translated from the Hebrew. Had he not created Protestantism, this book would be the culminating achievement of Luther’s life.

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Luther very consciously sought a fresh, vigorous idiom. For his Bible’s vocabulary, he said, “we must ask the mother in the home, the children on the street,” and, like other writers with such aims — William Blake, for example — he ended up with something songlike. He loved alliteration — Der Herr ist mein Hirte (“The Lord is my shepherd”); Dein Stecken und Stab (“thy rod and thy staff”) — and he loved repetition and forceful rhythms.

*     *     *

The books also featured a hundred and twenty-eight woodcut illustrations, all by one artist from the Cranach workshop, known to us only as Master MS.

*     *     *

The three-thousand copy first edition of the New Testament, though it was not cheap (it cost about as much as a calf), sold out immediately.

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