Maccabees on the Baltic: the Biblical apologia of the Teutonic Order

Maccabees on the Baltic: the Biblical apologia of the Teutonic Order

Jencks, Alden

Thesis, Ph.D., University of Washington, (1989)


This study examines the religious and historical literature of the Teutonic Order, the brotherhood of warrior-monks whose northern crusade subdued and converted the eastern Baltic region during the late Middle Ages.Chapter One presents the background against which the Teutonic Knights produced their Biblically-inspired works. It establishes that the early years of the 14th century were a time of crisis for the Order.Chapter Two focuses on the Rule of the Teutonic Order and the Biblical foundation upon which its statutes rested. It was to this Rule that the Knights turned in their “generation of crisis,” and it was from this Rule that their Order drew its stubborn will to survive. The Rule rekindled in the warrior-monks a sense of Biblical mission and it inspired them to defend themselves not only with the sword, but also with the written word.Chapter Three provides an overview of the Order’s crisis-born literature; Deutschordensliteratur is defined and circumscribed according to specific documents, authors and themes.

A work by work survey pays special attention to Biblical translations.The Order’s German rendering of I and II Maccabees is the subject of Chapter Four. The Makkabaerbuch receives thorough treatment as the work best typifying the literary efforts of the brothers. On the basis of this exemplary piece, the chapter’s focus then broadens to accommodate general remarks about all Order writing.Chapters Five and Six analyze the two major chronicles of the Order’s Baltic crusade: Peter von Dusburg’s Chronicon Terrae Prussiae and Nicolaus von Jeroschin’s Kronike von Pruzinlant. Selected passages demonstrate that both Peter and Nicolaus brought to bear Biblical imagery which earlier brothers had developed in their translations. Peter and Nicolaus thus transferred a mature sense of Scriptural legitimacy to their Order and to their Order’s mission in Prussia.A concluding Chapter Seven argues that the literature of the Teutonic Order fulfilled its function well. It both inspired and recorded the Order’s successful emergence from its years of crisis. Furthermore, the vernacular translation begun by the Teutonic Order pointed the way to Martin Luther’s German Bible two hundred years later.


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