|The 1967 Table Talk of Fortress Press (Volume 54 of Luther’s Works), the only major English version, includes just 10 percent of the 1.5 million words in the German and Latin Weimarer edition (D. Martin Luthers Werke). Naturally a reader wonders about the missing 90 percent in the English version.|
Theodore G. Tappert
How did the late editor/translator Theodore G. Tappert select his material?
First, editor Tappert omitted all of Johann Aurifaber’s Tischreden (Table Talk), which is so heavily doctored by Aurifaber himself.
Second, if two or more writers recorded the same conversation, editor Tappert included only the one he deemed best.
Further, Tappert endeavored to include as much as possible of Luther’s autobiographical material: his early home, parents, education, monkhood, etc. He also selected material to enlighten us about Luther's character and temperament.
Tappert proceeded not to edify the reader but to reveal the man Martin Luther. Thus, he included representative expositions on Holy Scripture but omitted voluminous similar expositions. Other subjects, so often discussed by Luther and his colleagues, were likewise ‘high-graded’. These included remarks about lawyers, aspects of marriage, and university activities.
Editor Tappert deliberately included embarrassing table talk that opponents of Luther have gloated over. This includes superstitions of the time that seem to later observers ridiculous but especially includes the coarse language and invectives of the time which Luther used to the fullest. There are numerous harangues against the pope and his allies. Nor did Tappert ignore Luther’s frequent venomous attacks against those inclined to agree with him (but not completely enough) like Zwingli, Bucer and especially Erasmus.
Lastly, note that Tappert claimed he did NOT avoid Luther’s derogatory, prejudiced comments about peasants, women and Jews – views most disturbing to Luther’s later readers (as well as 21st century readers).
Many recordings were not actually Table Talk but recorded on walks and journeys. If relevant, Tappert nevertheless considered them. He also tried to reproduce the comments in their entirety. There are no extractions as there have been by other scholars.
There seems no reason to believe this 10 percent of the original material represents a deliberately biased abridgement of the original material.
The larger problem is the interpretation of what the blustery Luther intended. Was he being sarcastic? Was he joking? Was he mocking someone else that everyone at the table knew? Was he positing conversations against his own views? Did his recorder realize this intent? This potential problem of Luther’s intent is inherent in the entire 1.5 million words. A second problem is the ‘macaroni’ (mixed German and Latin) spoken by Luther and his colleagues. There is a clear case of one recorder (Cordatus) not comprehending Latin well enough to convey the actual conversation.
Q. Assurances aside, won’t the missing 90 percent of the Weimarer German and Latin material always leave doubt that the material has been whitewashed?
Next blog: What do scholars think of Table Talk as a source?