All entries for Wednesday 25 January 2006

January 25, 2006

Hans Jürgen Goertz – The Anabaptists

The main thesis of Hans Jürgen Goertz’s The Anabaptists is to rewrite the history of Anabaptism on a more objective, dispassionate grounding. Goertz argues that ‘… polarised views [of Anabaptism] are explained by the confessional or denominational bias which used to dominate the history of Anabaptism’ and aims to set straight some parts of the metanarrative style of history telling which (deliberately or unnoticingly) took selective sources.

Most importantly, Goertz points out three theses previously held as true by historiography which he then deconstructs to retell a more pluralistic history of Anabaptism. First of all, he points out, that rather than being an organised movement, Anabaptism came into existence at several places, although around the same period, independently from each other. Secondly, upon closer inspection, Goertz finds that the “characteristic” nonviolence of the Anabaptists is not at all universal. ‘Anabaptism [can] no longer be depicted as possessing a consistent core theology’ (p. 4). Third point is that, according to Goertz, even at the high-time of Anabaptist success, it was not realistic to speak of a movement united through leadership, programme or theology.

The Anabaptists is a quite comprehensive work incorporating much of the history-writing on Anabaptism up to its date of publication. Goertz’s thesis comes across as very credible. One problem about the book is its chapter division. The titles of the chapters can make it difficult to find exactly what you want to know about certain aspects of the several Anabaptist movements without immediately having to dive into the book as a whole.

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