The project focuses on two topics: The history of the foundation established in Hamburg in 1667 by the Orientalist Esdras Edzard, aimed at converting Jews to the Lutheran faith, and the history of the conversion of Jews to Christianity in this city. The emphases of ‘mission to the Jews’ and ‘conversion’ thus serve to focus topics that are not only important as aspects of the history of Christian-Jewish relations in Hamburg, but also – in a changed form – continue to be relevant today. This is shown by debates in the media, for example, about the activities of evangelical circles as missionaries to the Jews or about the potential terrorist threats posed by converts to Islam.
Edzard’s foundation, which still exists today under the name of Edzardi Foundation, is an exception among the early modern missionary institutes directed at Jews, most of which were closed again in the course of the eighteenth century. Despite its supra-regional importance, the history of this institution, which was rooted in Christian Jewish missionary theology – and thus in an ideology hostile to Jews – is still largely unknown.
Following the departure from the “ecclesiastical view” (Rotraud Ries) in conversion research, the early modern Jewish-Christian changes of faith in Hamburg will be examined primarily in their social dimensions. The extensive collection of data on converts, covering the period from the seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth century and compiled in connection with the project, presents a stocktaking based on the source tradition. It provides answers to questions concerning quantitative, social and gender-specific circumstances in the historical conversion process and thus sheds light on social conditions in both Christian and Jewish society in Hamburg. In addition, the sources allow us to trace the individual lives of male and female converts and therefore the specifics of such life paths in the border zone between Judaism and Christianity.