(D2-9) Thomas Müntzer’s reception of the Book of Daniel

Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the four world empires in Daniel, chapter 2, with its doctrine of the translatio imperii, has become a key text of European history and served both as a religious legitimation and as a challenge of rule.

Following up on preliminary studies on the topic (Rüdiger Schmitt, Der „Heilige Krieg“ im Pentateuch und im deuteronomistischen Geschichtswerk: Studien zur Forschungs-, Rezeptions- und Religionsgeschichte von Krieg und Bann im Alten Testament, AOAT 381, Münster 2011), the project investigates the attempt at accounting for the use of force and at delegitimising and overthrowing the existing social order by using biblical texts, particularly the narrative of the four kingdoms in the Book of Daniel, in situations of political, social and religious conflict. Thomas Müntzer, as a representative of the radical reformation, is a particularly suitable example here because his theological development and his radicalisation are, on the one hand, exceptionally well documented in the corpus of his writings, and on the other hand, Müntzer repeatedly recurred to Old Testament texts of war and the Book of Daniel in particular in his writings. The project focuses on Müntzer’s reception of the doctrine of the four world empires and its reinterpretation that is critical of rule. Müntzer’s “Sermon to the Princes” is of particular importance for his work in this respect as this text, like no other, reflects Müntzer’s self-image as a heaven-sent prophet and “new Daniel” whose assignment it was to admonish the rulers to “true fear of God”. Convinced that the end of days had begun, Müntzer not only saw himself as a prophet but also as a catalyst of the Last Judgment, which (in contrast to Martin Luther) was regarded as an immediately present event in which the “chosen ones” had to play a part. Müntzer’s criteria for legitimate and illegitimate rule and for the legitimation of violence against the prevalent Church and secular order will be analysed in particular, also in comparison with his antipode, Luther. Based on an exegetic, particularly tradition historical analysis, the study will also investigate the exegetic traditions of Daniel, chapter 2, from the time of the Maccabees to the Early Modern Age, which influenced Müntzer’s specific exegesis or from which he distanced himself, respectively, and it will investigate the reception of Müntzer’s “Sermon to the Princes” itself. After all, Müntzer became a key figure for the so-called “early bourgeois revolution” in the historiography of the GDR.