Thursday, October 31, 2013

I don't know if anyone else out there has read Luther Blissett's book, Q. I have, and I absolutely love the book.

"Luther Blissett" is the nom de plume of a group of Italian writers who engage in "communal" writing. Their work is highly subversive, incredibly well-researched, and contains excellent prose.

Q is about an unnamed German college student who comes under the sway of a number of radical Protestant theologians. The story begins in 1524, seven years into the Protestant Reformation. The unnamed protagonist is witness to some of the early theological debates between Andreas Karlstadt (the conservative head of the newly-established University of Wittenberg who became a radical Protestant theologian), Philipp Melanchthon (who, unlike Martin Luther, did not initially preach rebellion against the princes), Hans Denck (an Anabaptist -- or adult baptism-only -- leader who preached about "inner light"), and Thomas Muntzer.

Muntzer is the key to the book. The father of liberation theology, he preached rebellion against immoral secular authority, redistribution of wealth, and various simplifications of Christian doctrine (most of which are embraced today). Enthralled by Muntzer's increasingly radical calls for the overthrow of the nobility and clergy, our unnamed protagonist participates in the "Peasants' War" of 1524-1525, during which half of Germany attempted to throw off its Catholic rulers. The war concludes with the seizure of the city of Mühlhausen and the Battle of Frankenhausen, in which 3,000 troops led by Landgrave Philip I of Hesse wiped out more than 10,000 lightly armed peasants. Muntzer was tortured repeatedly for weeks, renounced Protestantism, and was eventually beheaded. His body and head were places on spikes and set before the city.

The protagonist escapes, and falls in with Anabaptist preachers in The Netherlands and Westphalia in 1533. He travels with the Anabaptist preacher Melchior Hoffman (who first developed most of modern Baptist theology). He manipulates Hoffman by pretending to be one Lienhard Jost, a merchant. Jost and another woman, who took the name Ursula Jost and pretended to be his wife, come up with wacky apocalyptic visions which Hoffman takes to heart and has published. (The Josts were real, but almost nothing is known about them except that they had a number of prophetic, apocalyptic visions which proved influential among the people of the area. Hoffman really did write down their visions, and publish them. The book has survived to this day. Q sneaks the unnamed protagonist into the story by having him adopt the persona of "Lienhard Jost" and pretend to have prophetic visions in order to sway Hoffman.)

Hoffman then converted the Haarlem baker, Jan Matthys, to radical Christianity. With Jan Bockelson (aka John of Leiden), a Matthys convert), he traveled to the city of Münster. Bockelson was a pimp and actor, but he soon converted local Lutheran minister Bernhard Rothmann and two local guild leaders, Bernhard Knipperdolling and and Bernhard Krechting, to Anabaptist millenialism as well. They soon seized the town of Münster, expelling Prince-Bishop Franz von Waldeck. They managed to hold off Waldeck's forces for 18 months. The seige tightened and starvation set in, but Matthys himself arrived and was able to reach the city. Believing that all nonbelievers should be executed, Matthys had half the city's population beheaded and the skulls set atop the city walls. On Easter 1534, Matthys -- believing himself to be a "second Gideon" and unstoppable -- walked out of the city and into Waldeck's lines alone. He was promptly killed. His body was dismembered and tossed over the city walls in a basket via catapult.

Knipperdolling was named "King" of the city, and instituted polygamy, orgies, feasts, and more. Three young children were set up as judges, and determined the guilt and innocence of people accused of sin with a thumbs-up or thumbs-down on the spur of the moment. Waldeck's forces captured the city in July 1535, and Knipperdolling, Bockelson, and Krechting were tortured for nearly six months before being beheaded in the town square. Their bodies were displayed in cages from the tower of St. Lambert's Cathedral.

Fifty years later, their bones were removed -- but the cages remain to this day.

The plot moves to... But I get ahead of myself. It's an enthralling book. I've re-read it many times. Since nearly all of the book's people are real and events are real, it has this electric emotional edge which really draws the reader in.

I was re-reading the book for the umpteenth time on my plane trip home. I decided to look up some of the people and places in the novel online.

I discovered that the Church of St. Lambert in Münster still has the cages which contained the wrecked, mutilated bodies of Bockelson, Knipperdolling, and Krechting hanging from its steeple


Can you imagine living there, with those things hanging over the city's head every day? *shudder*

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