During the Third Reich, German Protestant theologians, motivated by racism and tapping into traditional Christian anti-Semitism, redefined Jesus as an Aryan and Christianity as a religion at war with Judaism. In 1939, these theologians established the Institute for the Study and Eradication of Jewish Influence on German Religious Life. In The Aryan Jesus, Susannah Heschel, daughter of famed theologian Abraham Heschel, shows that during the Third Reich, the Institute became the most important propaganda organ of German Protestantism, exerting a widespread influence and producing a nazified Christianity that placed anti-Semitism at its theological center.
Based on years of archival research, The Aryan Jesus examines the membership and activities of this controversial theological organization. With headquarters in Eisenach, the Institute sponsored propaganda conferences throughout the Nazi Reich and published books defaming Judaism, including a dejudaized version of the New Testament and a catechism proclaiming Jesus as the savior of the Aryans.
Institute members--professors of theology, bishops, and pastors--viewed their efforts as a vital support for Hitler's war against the Jews. Heschel looks in particular at Walter Grundmann, the Institute's director and a professor of the New Testament at the University of Jena. Grundmann and his colleagues formed a community of like-minded Nazi Christians who remained active and continued to support each other in Germany's postwar years.
The Aryan Jesus raises vital questions about Christianity's recent past and the ambivalent place of Judaism in Christian thought.
Heschel has a remarkable story to tell. Her reliance on primary sources and her objectivity are impressive. One comes away from her account wondering how such apparently intelligent and learned Christian scholars could have been so foolish and craven.
Daniel J. Harrington,
The Aryan Jesus . . . is more than a heartbreaking story of principled Christian anti-Judaism. It is also a masterwork of patient archival research... As a history of German anti-Semitism and as an analysis of pronounced themes within Christian theology, Heschel's study is both broad and deep.
Paula Fredriksen Tablet
Susannah Heschel traces the evolution of the Institute and its various projects with great skill. . . . As an exercise in archival research it scores very highly. The detail is astonishing, and many intriguing points are made about both the origins of Nazism's Christian manifestations and the consequences of learned theologians spouting nonsense in Forties Thuringia.
Heschel tells the story of the Institute for the Study and Eradication of Jewish Influence on German Church Life, showing how politics, theology, racial ideology, and political ambition shaped Nazi-era theological scholarship at one research institute. . . . This well-researched, theologically sensitive book is an important history of a troubling, shameful chapter in Christian history and will be a very important addition for most collections.
Susannah Heschel's research is exemplary: she has followed up the careers of many theologians who took part in the attempt to rewrite Christianity. She has command over her subject without overstressing her Jewish sympathies; and this often shocking book is of considerable historical interest.
Heschel's fascinating account begins not with the Third Reich but in the middle of the 19th century, when the intellectual foundation was laid for a German Christianity without roots in Judaism.
Jewish Book World
Some may resist reading another book on the Holocaust. Reacting to the title, they may even presume that its findings would be obvious and that examining its contents is unnecessary. That would be a mistake--with regard to the general attitude about the Holocaust and how it relates to Christian identity, as well as to any misplaced assumptions linked to the phrase Aryan Jesus.
Carefully researched, tightly written, this is an important contribution to the study of Christianity in Nazi Germany. . . . This is a book that deserves our attention--whether we are biblical scholars, contextual theologians or church historians.
Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae
Heschel's work is beautifully written and densely packed with countless examples of the ways in which the institute's theologians used their own anti-Judaic theology to support the regime's antisemitic policies, to which they lent considerable support. . . . The book will be essential reading for all scholars of the Third Reich and the role of religion in the National Socialist state.
Beth A. Griech-Polelle
Heschel's Aryan Jesus is a probing and profoundly disturbing work. Its provocative conclusions invite further research into Christian anti-Semitism, Christian responses to the Holocaust, and the influence of ideology on historical Jesus studies. The text is enhanced by an extensive bibliography and illustrations of Nazi Christian art and architecture. Historians, Scripture scholars, clergy, seminarians, and advanced undergraduates will profit greatly from this outstanding study.
Peter A. Huff,
Anglican Theological Review
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