Prof. Dr. Martin Przybilski

University of Trier

Curriculum Vitae

Prof. Dr. Martin Przybilski is a literary historian and cultural scientist. Following his studies in both Paderborn and Würzburg, he received his doctorate in 1999 with a piece on The Clan and the Sulee. Kinship as a Pattern for Interpretation in Wolframs von Eschenbach’s ‘Willehalm.’ He subsequently worked as a freelance researcher at the Jewish Culture Museum Veitshöchheim’s Genisa Project and as a research associate at the University of Leipzig. Martin Przybilski also lectured on Older German Philology and Yiddish Studies at the University of Würzburg. From 2001 to 2003, he received a stipend for his habilitation from the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft). He then acted as a junior professor for Older German Philology at the University of Trier, where he was offered a permanent professorship for Medieval Literature in 2009. From 2009 to 2015, he additionally served as Managing Director of Trier’s History and Cultural Sciences Research Center (HKFZ). Furthermore, from 2015 to 2019, he was the University of Trier’s Vice President for Studies, Teaching, and Further Education.

From October 2019 to March 2020, Prof. Dr. Martin Przybilski was a Fellow at the Käte Hamburger Center for Advanced Study in the Humanities “Law as Culture” in Bonn.

Research Project

“Law and Polemics. Religious Demarcation and Cultural Contact Between Jews and Christians”

In contrast to Christianity, normative Judaism has defined itself since antiquity by its very nature as a cultic legal community that is subject to a specific, divinely revealed, and legitimized nomos. The discussion and codification of religious legal traditions is thus understood as a constant further development in the so-called ‘oral doctrine.’ Without any at-length discussion, the spoken tradition was finally put into writing in late antiquity in the form of the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmud – with the later quickly regarded as the binding version. This was due to the fact that, in comparison to the older Jerusalem Talmud, conditions surrounding its formation were originally linked to the Jewish people’s defining form of existence since the second century AD – the Diaspora.    

From the perspective of Jewish cultic law, the status of the entire Jewish people is first of all that of servants of the Holy in this world – while members of other ethnic and/or cultural groups should ideally not play any role in the history of the past or present. However, as the historical reality of Judaism in late antiquity, the Middle Ages, and early modern times unfolded under consistently different conditions – and being Jewish, a diasporic experience, thus meant always seeing one’s own existence as an interdependent category in relation to non-Jewish groups – large parts of Talmudic and non-Talmudic legal discussions are devoted to differentiating between oneself and ‘others’. Here, rhetorical polemics are used rather evidently as a medium to draw the clearest of boundaries. This also applies in particular to the Middle Ages and early modern times, which had a lasting influence on Central European, or so-called Ashkenazic, Judaism: Jews both recognized the historical reality of a dominant non-Jewish culture that marginalized and suppressed legally and socially and aimed to offset this by returning to their own legal tradition, which was seen as superior in the history of salvation. Although the noministic existence of the Jewish people therefore depended upon a non-Jewish nomos – in this case Christianity – it could at the same time be threatened by it. Liked or not, this meant that in that historical moment, the dominant culture’s claim to authority was recognized – while the religious legitimacy of that very culture had to be rejected in order to preserve one’s own noministic culture of solidarity and demarcation. To explain their own history at present, which has been ultimately perceived as an imponderable task due to constant threats of conversion, expulsion, or annihilation, rabbinical authorities in Ashkenazic Judaism again looked to patterns of interpretation found in the Babylonian Talmud as developed in late antiquity. And as the Talmudic discussion about the cultic-legal implications of the other’s existence had preferred polemic exaggeration, religious polemics also became a preferred form of discourse in dealing with Christianity and its adherents.

However, an awareness of the fact that the Jewish community always saw this specific form of polemics in relation to religious-legal discussions – meaning that in the end it represented a mode of legal debate within the halachah and thus aimed less at disparaging the non-Jewish character and more at clarifying lines of argument – became lost in the Christian reception of the Talmud that began in the 13th century. Aside from a few instances in the early Middle Ages, such as with Lyon bishops Agobard and Amulo, such a reception began in 1240 with the so-called Paris Talmud Process. Over the course of this, Talmudic passages were translated into Latin for the first time, and these were viewed by Christian theologians involved in the process as having incriminated content. In other words, they thus deemed the passages unnatural, blasphemous, or fundamentally anti-Christian. The immense popularity and reach of this textual genre – known as “Exerpta Talmudica” – within the scholarly Latin collection of Talmudic passages, which was also available in plain language for a Christian audience beginning in the 14th century, led to ongoing disproportionality in the respective Jewish and non-Jewish modes of reception: Within the Jewish community, polemics against non-Jews continued as a legitimate form of legal discourse; outside of the Jewish community, the same polemics were interpreted simply as a strategy for disparagement and as proof of Jewish malice. These rivaled understandings by no means disappeared at the end of the Middle Ages or at start of modernity: With Martin Luther in the 16th century, Johann Jacob Schudt’s proto-ethnographic studies in the 17th century, numerous anti-Semitic “classics” in the 20th century, and anti-Jewish world conspiracy theories in the age of Internet, the Talmudic polemic is repeatedly cited – all while Jewish apologists have worked to defuse the concerned passages in a historicizing way since the 19th century.       

Publications (selected)

Monographs and Editorial Work

  • Konversion in Räumen jüdischer Geschichte, Wiesbaden 2011. (Trierer Beiträge zu den historischen Kulturwissenschaften 11). [edited with Carsten Schapkow].
  • Orts-Wechsel: reale, imaginierte und virtuelle Wissensräume. Wiesbaden 2011. (Trierer Beiträge zu den historischen Kulturwissenschaften 10). [edited with Ulrich Port].
  • Orte - Ordnungen - Oszillationen. Raumerschaffung durch Wissen und räumliche Struktur von Wissen. Wiesbaden 2011. (Trierer Beiträge zu den historischen Kulturwissenschaften 4). [edited with Natalia Filatkina].
  • Studien zu ausgewählten Fastnachtspielen des Hans Folz. Struktur - Autorschaft - Quellen. Wiesbaden 2011.
  • Kulturtransfer zwischen Juden und Christen in der deutschen Literatur des Mittelalters. Berlin 2010 (Quellen und Forschungen zur Literatur- und Kulturgeschichte 61).
  • sippe und geslehte. Verwandtschaft als Deutungsmuster im ‘Willehalm’ Wolframs von Eschenbach. Wiesbaden 2000 (Imagines Medii Aevi 4).


  • Jüdische Körper als Subjekte und Objekte des kulturellen Transfers in der Vormoderne. In: ‘Rasse’ und Raum. Topologien zwischen Kolonial-, Geo- und Biopolitik: Geschichte, Kunst, Erinnerung. Edited by Claudia Bruns. Wiesbaden 2017, pp. 61-77.
  • Ludwik Flecks Denkkollektiv und die historischen Kulturwissenschaften. In: Zyklos 3 (2017), pp. 53-70. [with Birgit Ulrike Münch].
  • Preußen als heiliges Schlachtfeld. Die Sakralisierungsstrategien in der ‘Kronike von Pruzinlant’. In: Zeitschrift für deutsche Philologie 135 (2016), pp. 367-381. [with Hanna-Myriam Häger].
  • Zwischen den Kulturen? Überlegungen zu den von Juden und Christen geteilten literarischen Horizonten in der Vormoderne. In: Aschkenas 25 (2015), pp. 11-28.
  • Konversion als Form und Möglichkeit des Kontakts und Austausches zwischen Juden und Christen im europäischen Mittelalter. In: Konversion in Räumen jüdischer Geschichte. Edited by Martin Przybilski and Carsten Schapkow. Wiesbaden 2014. (Trierer Beiträge zu den historischen Kulturwissenschaften 11), pp. 5-20.