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  • The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany
  • Robert A. Krieg
The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany, by Susannah Heschel. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008. 339 pp. $29.95.

A malevolent virus, which tragically afflicts Christianity, somehow impels Christians to defame Jews and Judaism. This evil is termed anti-Judaism when its focus is strictly religious, and it is called antisemitism when its conscious or unconscious motivation is racism. While the two strands may be distinct in theory, they were surely intertwined in Hitler's Germany. This entangling of anti-Judaism and antisemitism during the Third Reich becomes clear in The Aryan Jesus by Susannah Heschel, the Eli Black Professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College.

The Aryan Jesus is an analysis of the Third Reich's Institute for the Study and Eradication of Jewish Influence on German Church Life. Inaugurated on May 6, 1939, the Institute, which was located in Eisenach, Thuringia (eastern Germany), received support from seven regional associations of Protestant churches with the approval of the Reich's Ministry of Education. (These same seven ecclesiastical associations banned baptized Jews from their churches in 1941.) By 1942, the Institute claimed 600,000 members throughout greater Germany. Dedicated to the goal of eliminating Judaism from Christian belief, the Institute's scholars and pastors presented Jesus as a Gentile and St. Paul as a Jew who misrepresented Jesus and his message. Further, the Institute published both a New Testament and a hymnal from which they eliminated Jewish concepts and influences, and they also brought it about that some Protestant churches removed the Old Testament from their worship. In all of this, the instructors and church officials affiliated with the Institute saw themselves realizing Martin Luther's rejection of Jews and Judaism. It was because of this vision that they inaugurated the Institute during a ceremony at the Wartburg Castle, into which Martin Luther had moved on May 4, 1521 in order to translate the New Testament into German.

The lives and ideas of the numerous biblical scholars and theologians who participated in the Institute come to light in The Aryan Jesus. Among them is Walter Grundmann (1906–74), the Institute's academic director during its six years of existence. Born into a Lutheran family in Chemnitz (eastern Germany), Grundmann grew up during the First World War and its tumultuous aftermath [End Page 184] in Germany. Along with many religiously and politically conservative Germans, he held that the French Revolution had disrupted God's intended order for society, the state, and the church. Hence, he rejected liberalism and the Weimar Republic, on the one hand, and communism and the Soviet Union, on the other. Searching for a way to overcome the "international conspiracy" by Jews against a Christian society, he became a member of the Nazi Party on December 1, 1930, thereby emulating his dissertation director, Gerhard Kittel. Grundmann was awarded his doctorate at the University of Tübingen in 1931, served in 1932 as a vicar in the Church of Saxony, and became an assistant to the bishop of the Church of Saxony in 1933. In this role, he founded the pro-Nazi journal Christenkreuz und Hakenkreuz (Cross and Swastika). Moreover, he wrote numerous publications on the Bible and the early church that led in 1936 to his appointment as professor of New Testament at the University of Jena. As the Institute's academic director, Grundmann often declared that this center of scholarship and Protestantism had one goal: "Jewish influence on all areas of German life, including on religious-church life, must be exposed and broken." In 1940 he published his widely read book Jesus the Galilean, alleging that Jesus was a non-Jewish opponent of Judaism. Required to resign his professorship in 1945 because of his early membership in the Nazi Party, he received a teaching position at a Protestant seminary after the war. During the mid-1950s, he wrote scholarly commentaries on the gospels that became a standard resource among German-speaking Protestant pastors. By the end of his career, Grundmann had published approximately 30 books and 40 articles as well as 29 entries in the influential Theologischen...


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