Sunday, November 28, 2010

The germ of an article

While looking through Andreas Engel's 1597 Bericht von Johann Hilten, I noticed that Engel describes Hilten as Martin Luther's teacher, and has Hilten prophesying various dramatic things for the years 1516, 1546, 1584, 1600, and 1606. It struck me as curious that Hilten didn't appear in print before 1550 if he had any connection to Luther, so I started searching for other editions. Caspar Füger published a compilation of prophecies for the years 1584-1588 attributed to Hilten, Lactantius, and various biblical passages, and in Füger, Hilten's prophecies are for the years 1580, 1582, 1584, and 1588. In addition to the divergent dates, Engel and Füger attribute different prophecies to Hilten. Several pamphlets attributed to Hilten were later published in 1628-1629 that update the relevant time period but otherwise follow Füger.

So: There's a widely divergent prophetic tradition attributed to someone who had died nearly a century earlier. This seems a bit curious. That's ingredient one.

A first pass through the bibliography finds several references to Johann Hilten in secondary literature, but the most recent article about him looks to be from 1928. Marjorie Reeves has a note referring to Hilten as obscure. The go-to source on 16th and 17th-century Lutheran apocalypticism, Robin Barnes's Prophecy and Gnosis, also mentions Hilten only briefly.

So: Hilten is relevant to studies of Martin Luther and apocalypticism, but there doesn't appear to be significant literature about him. There might be a need for a fresh look at Hilten. That's ingredient two.

Ingredients three and four are luck and time. To untangle the textual history of Johann Hilten, you'd need to find some more sources, and there's no guarantee that they exist. Hunting them down will take some time looking in all the usual places (and, inevitably, some unusual ones as well).

Of course, the place to start is Interlibrary Loan. It's entirely possible that the article from 1928 answers every question anyone might have. It wouldn't be the first time that I've been 80 years late to the game. The other possibility is that the article I can imagine writing was published in 2008. That also wouldn't be the first time.

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