Luther Project History

Dr. Heinz Bluhm, who initiated the Index Verborum, was a philologist and widely recognized authority on Martin Luther. In his view Luther was a singularly creative master of the German language. In this respect Dr. Bluhm believed that the power of expression and sense of rhythm in Luther's prose and poetry, which for instance informed his translation of the Bible into German, were as significant as his stature as a theologian. Also, in Dr. Bluhm's opinion, Luther was always concerned in his translations or interpretations of sources with the etymology of significant words. In the course of Dr. Bluhm's studies of Luther, he had realized that all English translations, being essentially interpretations, as well as many modernized German editions of Luther's works, contained many errors. This led to his conviction that Luther's meanings or the true intent of his word usage had not always been fully understood. Hence he felt that a reference work allowing consultation of the original text was a necessary corrective tool. For Luther scholars wrestling with problems in Luther's language Dr. Bluhm's response was always, "Let them read the original." This then was the scholarly basis for this index which he devised.

    Dr. Bluhm felt that a focus on Luther's language during the historical period of 1516-1525 would especially reflect much of the transition from Middle High to Early New High German and would thus lend linguistic significance to the Index. It is noted that within Dr. Bluhm's selected critical period one finds that 1517 was the date Luther published his vernacular interpretation of the Penitential Psalm 6, which antedated his Ninety-five Theses by half a year, and that it was in 1521 that Luther decided to undertake the translation of the whole Bible. The Index Verborum not only allows comparative access to specific words and word usage, but also provides a chronological overview of such linguistic development by its form of presentation. Since the Weimar kritische Ausgabe has been the basis for the Index Verborum, it allows that the consecutive step after reference use of the Index will be research in the pertinent volumes of the WA, as with so many other similar research tools.

     It is important to recognize that, as the result of many patient years of research and effort by Dr. Heinz Bluhm, prior to his death in November 1993, this index already existed complete in a manual form, i.e. in 300 drawers of 3x5 index cards. For a number of years after 1977 the data from the manual cards has been being transferred into electronic form on computer storage. The ultimate goal was to establish the data in an accessible form heretofore not available, in order to provide a new reference tool for philological, theologcial, and historical scholars. In it's present computerized form, the ease of electronic access has increased the ability to rapidly ascertain locations and instances of any specific word, allowing ready analysis of its contextual use. This will facilitate the generation of scholarly works concerning Luther's use of language, which otherwise would have required such laborious access and time-consuming analysis as to discourage any such effort.

    In contrast to any printed type of reference work as in the past, in terms of the aspects of access, portability, and handling time, the electronic dimension of the Index Verborum will be accessible from any distance depending on the latest electronic networks available. At present the stored index data is scheduled to be transferred into a compact CD-ROM format for permanent storage and local reference use. Thereafter it is planed to place the data on a web server with a variety of search engines available. This will provide Luther or Reformation scholars a significant new research tool on an international scale, and although research activities or goals may remain much the same, their facilitation will be powerfully augmented.

     The criteria for selection of the subject matter of the Index Verborum, as well as the content and format for the index entries were determined by Dr. Bluhm. Since the basic goal of the index as a reference tool is to provide locus information for the words employed by Martin Luther, as extant in the aforementioned Weimarer Ausgabe, the listing in the Index of the number of instances of each word followed by volume, page, and line for each word has been made with the utmost simplicity. Words are listed alphabetically by letter of the alphabet, with an "average" letter of the alphabet to consist of approximately 25 - 30,000 word instances.

     It is noted that the index format utilized in the Index Verborum conforms in general to other basic word indices, for instance Heinrich J. Vogel's Cross Reference and Index to the Contents of Luther's Works (Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern PUblishing House, 1983), with its listing of source titles and locus data. Although that work is not as extensive as the Index Verborum, the interrelation of Index Verborum data to other cross referenced Luther editions in Vogel, or other similar indices, can provide an extension of its value for research.

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