Joseph Schereschewsky vs. Martin Luther

Whew! So far, this has been a week of close battles unparalleled in Lent Madness history. On Monday Mechtild of Magdeburg defeated Odo of Cluny 52% to 48%. On Tuesday Raymond Nonnatus bested Moses the Black 51% to 49%. And yesterday Augustine of Canterbury snuck past Scholastica 51% to 49%.

This heart-pumping saintly action is enough to make you want to do some yoga. Or deep breathing exercises. Or drink some chamomile tea. Something calming! But instead, the battles just keep coming. Today it's the scrappy Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky taking on the heavyweight Martin Luther. Is an upset in the making? Another tight race? Or will a blowout break the string of hotly contested, halo-busting battles?

Note that yesterday's battle was not without controversy. The following was posted by the Supreme Executive Committee:

The SEC noticed an irregular surge of votes for Scholastica around midnight. Well over 6,000 votes were found to be cast irregularly in an attack using bots around the world. We have removed what we believe to be the correct amount of votes, and will continue to monitor this race. One person, one vote. If you break this rule, your votes will be removed and you will be cast off into the outer darkness of Lent Madness.

We are confident in the final result. But remember, Big Lent is watching.

Joseph Schereschewsky

SIJ Schereschewsky was a cleric, missionary, and renowned translator of the prayer book and Bible. He knew 13 languages, and spent the last twenty years of his life typing out his translations with the fingers he still could move. (Sources vary on whether it was one or two fingers. Either way--that sounds hard.)

First off, his last name is pronounced “Share-es-shev-ski”. Think of Duke men’s basketball’s famous head coach from that OTHER bracket game for reference.

Schereschewsky’s translation of the Bible into Mandarin was so well-done that it became the standard translation that is still in use today. It took him from 1862-1875, so all that time was clearly justified. But he didn’t stop there. He believed that people couldn’t be truly faithful without also being educated, so he founded St. John’s University at Shanghai, and then went to work translating everything also into Wenli--another Chinese dialect. It was the Wenli manuscript that he meticulously typed out using two fingers, after Parkinson’s disease left him entirely paralyzed. The disease had caused him to resign his seat as the bishop of Shanghai, but he was determined that it should not stop his ministry. He produced over 2,000 pages just by sitting in his chair, and hen-pecking.

His contemporary biographer describes him thus: "paralysed in every limb, and with his powers of speech partly gone, sitting for nearly twenty-five years in the same chair, slowly and painfully typing out with two fingers his Mandarin translation of the Old Testament and Easy Wen-li translation of the whole Bible."

Schereschewsky grew up Jewish, and until his conversion, intended to be a rabbi. This affinity for Judaism didn’t disappear after his ordination; while in China, a small group of Kaifeng Jews--a tiny minority of Jews who emigrated to central China from Persia in the Middle Ages, came to visit him. This began a friendship, and Shereschewsky gave their community the Hebrew Scriptures that he translated into Mandarin. The community termed it “The Two-Finger Bible” because of Schereschewsky’s disability. This also contributes to the longevity of his biblical translation.  Because he knew Hebrew, and understood midrash and rabbinic ideas, modern scholar Irene Eder notes that his version “can be regarded as the only Chinese Old Testament to reflect not only the traditional Jewish text but to also included elements of the Jewish exegetical tradition.”

Regarding his work, he said, “I have sat in this chair for over twenty years. It seemed very hard at first. But God knew best. He kept me for the work for which I was best fitted.”

— Megan Castellan 

Martin Luther

Martin Luther’s life was filled with quirky meanderings. The path of his life bemused even him, “I am the son of a peasant…and the grandson and the great grandson. My father wanted to make me into a burgomaster. He went to Mansfeld and became a miner. I became a baccalaureate and a master. Then I became a monk and put off the brown beret. My father didn’t like it, and then I got into the pope’s hair and married an apostate nun. Who could have read that in the stars?” (Table Talk).

When he discovered that the people living around Wittenberg were not properly schooled in the basics of the faith, he wrote the Small Catechism, proposing this learning regimen “Children should be taught the habit of reciting [the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Our Father] daily... Until they recite them they should be given nothing to eat or drink.”

Luther took his faith and work seriously, but he also loved life: “Tomorrow I have to lecture on the drunkenness of Noah, so I should drink enough this evening to be able to talk about that wickedness as one who knows by experience.”

“Whenever the devil harasses you, seek the company of men or drink more, or joke and talk nonsense, or do some other merry thing. Sometimes we must drink more, sport, recreate ourselves, and even sin a little to spite the devil, so that we leave him no place for troubling our consciences with trifles. We are conquered if we try too conscientiously not to sin at all. So when the devil says to you: do not drink, answer him: I will drink, and right freely, just because you tell me not to.” 

And, scholars throughout history have been amused, occasionally appalled, by his scatological humor and insults: “Almost every night when I wake up the devil is there and wants to dispute with me. I have come to this conclusion: When the argument that the Christian is without the law and above the law doesn’t help, I instantly chase him away with a fart.” (Table Talk)

“Perhaps you want me to die of unrelieved boredom while you keep on talking.” (Luther’s Works)

And, some things haven’t changed even 500 years after Luther so pointedly highlighted time-wasting meetings: “If you who are assembled in a council are so frivolous and irresponsible as to waste time and money on unnecessary questions, when it is the business of a council to deal only with the important and necessary matters, we should not only refuse to obey you, but consider you insane or criminals.” (Luther’s Works).

— Beth Lewis

Joseph Schereschewsky vs. Martin Luther

  • Martin Luther (52%, 4,216 Votes)
  • Joseph Schereschewsky (48%, 3,853 Votes)

Total Voters: 8,069

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326 comments on “Joseph Schereschewsky vs. Martin Luther”

    1. I love Luther's sense of humor along with the fact that he took his faith seriously and he saw the importance of teaching children to do the same by writing the Small Catechism. Luther won me over.

      1. I have to vote for Bishop Schereschewsky because my grandfather worked at St. John's University as a missionary surgeon and my great-uncle, Henry St. George Tucker (who was bishop in Japan), met Bishop Schereschewsky when he was in Japan toward the end of his death. So I feel like he helped shape my life!

    1. Me, either! He was a right lively fellow, it appears! I find myself completely enamored.

    1. I agree - both reasons to vote for Luther. But really, Luther is running behind? What are people thinking!!!!!! 🙂

      1. Luther may have had humor but he was anti-semitic and thought it was fine for peasants to be terrorized and killed.

        1. I think this is a better assessment of Katie Luther and her relationship with Martin - considered ahead of its time in some ways and positive overall by the majority of scholars I've read: (Still, I'm sure it wouldn't meassure up to standards for marriage today in many ways.) As for Martin's upset over the Peasants Revolt, this article might help briefly explain the broader theological, ecoomic and political context:'_revolt (Yes, the peasants were crushed - in many cases mercilessly - but the peasants killed many people without mercy as well. It was a horrific conflict.)

      2. We're thinking that Joseph deserves some recognition. People already know enough about Luther. I especially like Joseph's devotion to his Jewish roots. Christians know woefully little about that great faith tradition, the faith in which we have our roots.

        1. Agree, agree. Joseph's ecumenical bent won me over. In light of his devotion to his call, he shows more Christian spirit. And I think he probably had a sense of humor.

          1. Joseph was Jewish. Of Course he had a sense of humor! I voted for him because of his apparently excellent translation of the OT.

        2. I know a lot of our Jewish roots. I also understand the spiritual freedom I have because of Martin Luther's life and work. He reformed the faith into something Jesus would recognize. There'd be no Sam but for ML.

  1. I was ready to vote for Fr. S, but Beth's recounting of Luther's humor moved the dial. Our Muskegon Museum of Art is fortunate to have Cranach's portraits of Luther and "the apostate nun." I am going to visit them again today and look again at the face of the man who changed/saved/reformed Christianity.

  2. A very hard choice again (and so far, looks like another nail-biter). Luther's remarks on the enjoyment of the gifts of creation as a way to chase away the devil were attractive, but his condemnation of church councils put off this General Convention junkie. And SIJ Schereschewsky's devoted faithfulness and honoring of Jewish roots won my vote.

  3. Sorry, Lutherans, but I had to vote for Schereschewsky. As a young chorister we once had a visiting preacher at Evensong who told his story, dramatically emphasizing "Two Fingers!" by holding up the middle finger of each hand. At 13, this was hysterical.

  4. As a Chinese Chew/Zhou/Jue/Jew from a family of Christian ministers, the vote for me is clear.
    Luther's getting drunk to know how Noah felt was compelling (A Might Fortress is our G-d!). The “Children should be taught the habit of reciting … Until they recite them they should be given nothing to eat or drink” WAS NOT!
    So here is my uplifted thumbs up to one [or two fingered] Hebraic scholar of Shanghai, and hopes for an "unexpected" winner.
    May all of us remember that even if "very hard at first...G-d knew [knows] best. He kept [keeps] me for the work for which I was best fitted.”
    For those who do not know about the Kaifeng Jews - the people of the "pluck sinew religion" - it is a fascinating one.

    1. Thank you for this reminder to do some research. One encounters the most interesting people (including across time!) during Lent Madness...

  5. Having friends with MS makes me sensative to their plight and struggle to do what they want to do. So Joeseph S has my vote for all the effort he put into translating scripture for all to read.

    1. Wow! Thanks! (I have MS too.) I'm torn between the candidates and am reading the comments to help with my decision. Your insight is moving.

      Thank you also for being a good friend to your friends with MS. May their abilities outweigh their disabilities.

    2. I too was moved by Joseph S's determination in the face of great physical odds. I am continually awed by the persistance of individuals I have known who have cerebral palsy, Lou Geherig's Disease and other challenges. What a saint!

  6. Schereschewsky sounds cool, but this is Martin's big year plus I am a German Lutheran with those roots going back to the days of Martin. Next year Schereschewsky!

  7. Hmmm, Luther was all in with drinking and laughing and carrying on for himself. But he directed withholding food and drink from CHILDREN to force their rote memorization!?!
    What? If the Celebrity Blogger wanted to bias me against Luther, that was more than sufficient. I went with the patient and persistent Fr. Sam, who quietly gave people the means to know scripture in their own language - and withheld from them nothing.

    1. I made the same decision for the same reason. Luther accomplished some amazing and wonderful things, but I have a feeling that spending time with him in person might have been less fun than we would expect!

    2. I have to honor my upbringing and vote for Martin Luther. Must say I did all the memorizing, but was never threatened with the withholding of food or drink. And then there is my favorite hymn--A Mighty Fortress Is My God. How else could I vote?

  8. My Dad & Grandfather were from northern Germany & I served in the US Army for a tour in that land. Roots are of value, as was Martin's zest for life and expressing his feelings and thoughts on Christian life. Cheek out Rick Steves recent TV special on PBS: the reformation 500th anniversary. We cheer for Luther to do well.

  9. Sorry, Meghan, Coach K & Duke are no longer playing in the "Other Bracket", they are at home watching their players leave for the NBA's D(uke)-League. Carolina and Martin Luther keep fighting on. Go Tar Heels! Martin Luther for the win!

  10. I voted for Joseph because of his interesting name. And he is a great linguist, which I wanna be.

  11. Joseph. Just because. "Two fingered Bible?" Loved and accepted Jews when others did not (including Martin)! Sure Martin changed the world, and spawned the English Reformation. And Martin spent a year in Wartburg Castle translating the New Testament into German. And stage theorist Erik Erikson loved Luther's conflict with his dad enough to write a psychoanalytic study of it! But Joseph' quiet, faithful devotion to his people, with no drama, his ministry to the Chinese, his immense suffering with his disability . . . Joseph all the way to the Golden Halo!

    1. It was a delightful surprise to know that Martin Luther had a sense of humor. Who knew?? It almost swayed me, but I voted for "Two Fingers". He persevered in spite of an enormous disability.

      1. 447 went for him, too, but as of this morning it's not looking good for the man with the "greatest" name of the group. Best of luck today!

  12. Went with Joseph because of his mission work since I am a Maryknoll Lay Missioner. Also for his patience and his interfaith outreach.

    1. Hey, Debbie. I also voted for Joseph (not expecting to see him actually leading at the current time) for his missionary roots, and also for his incredible dedication spending 20+ years typing with two fingers to translate the Bible into Mandarin.

      But then again, it seems everybody today types with two fingers. Do they still teach typing in high school?

      1. Good question. I think they teach "keyboard skills" but at an earlier age and I'm not sure those include touch typing. Though many kids know their way around a keyboard much better than they can write with a pen. My children read cursive only with difficulty and I don' t think they ever write using it.

  13. I was all set to vote for Schereschewsky because of 20 years translating the Bible using one or two fingers. But then I read of Martin Luther's humor from his own writings. I'd always seen him as very stern. As someone who has to waste time in a lot of meetings his quote “If you who are assembled in a council are so frivolous and irresponsible as to waste time and money on unnecessary questions, when it is the business of a council to deal only with the important and necessary matters, we should not only refuse to obey you, but consider you insane or criminals.” (Luther’s Works). really resonated with me. So I ended up voting for Luther.

  14. I didn't like Martin's idea that children shouldn't be fed until reciting but the last quote sold me.

  15. No one can question Luther's impact on his and our world, or his sense of humor. But the fact is he was also a vicious anti-Semite. When he is up against a converted Jew who retained, respected his Jewish roots and tradition and translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Chinese despite debilitating disease, for me there is no comparison. Joseph S. gets my vote.

    1. In some glorious time in the future we will finally stop pretending that Luther was an outlier with respect to antisemitism. Indeed, his views would have been quite at home in America up to the Second World War.
      We all want to forget the people who sought refuge here and were sent back to Europe to go up the stacks of crematorium chimneys. We have little to boast of, so let us end this nonsense pretending that Luther was some kind of anomaly. He certainly was not. Doesn't make it right; makes it about par for the course among all of our ancestors.

      1. Precisely in reference to Ann Cooper's comment. Luther was a raging antisemite. Also, while some praise Luther for his wit and sense of humor - I find many of his utterances simply vulgar and self-righteous.

        1. Soon Lent Madness will end and it will be Holy Week and we will reflect upon the cross.
          The crowd says, "Crucify him."
          The one being crucified says, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
          Perhaps this tells us why we label our attempts to vote about sainthood as Madness!
          Or, perhaps we can just be what we are: forgiven yet still silly.

  16. ML sounds like the Howard Stern of his time - ML can be considered the King of all Protestants! I am a huge Howard fan so I had to vote for ML.

  17. Martin Luther! Gotta love a guy that figures going to the local pub to down a few brews is actually equivalent to researching his next sermon.

  18. Schereschewsky gets my vote! His winess reminds us all that " no arm so weak but may do service here."