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The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany Paperback – October 3, 2010

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Editorial Reviews


"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, America

"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

"Heschel's book will rank as an important work of intellectual history, one that provides a penetrating analysis of the mind-set of the institute and its supporters in the ranks of the German Christians."--Mark E. Ruff, Catholic Historical Review

"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."--Catholic Herald

"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."--A.W. Klink, Choice

"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."--Margaret Pawley, Church Times

"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."--Henry Knight, Christian Century

"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."--Anthony Egan, 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, H-Net Reviews

"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

"Every good book should provoke and The Aryan Jesus does not disappoint. Heschel's book should spark debate, which no doubt will center on her depiction of the Confessing Church. . . . Heschel's mixture of meticulous scholarship and intellectual provocation will hopefully be read widely and, thus, stimulate more discussion of complicity and false martyrdom."--Kevin Ostoyich, German Studies Review

"Original, compelling, and deeply disturbing, this book also dispels several ingrained post-1945 West German myths. . . . [T]he account raises pressing questions concerning the difference between Catholic and Protestant theology and church history with regard to race and the history of the study of Judaism after the war."--Amos Morris-Reich, Journal of Religion

"Heschel's long-anticipated contribution to this historiography is a work that is not only of immense importance and insight empirically but also one that attempts analytically and conceptually to break away from prior narratives."--Richard Steigmann-Gall, American Historical Review

"The Aryan Jesus is a worthy, indeed essential addition to [the] body of scholarship. Heschel has written a dense and multifaceted study."--Christopher R. Browning, Studies in Contemporary Jewry

"Aryan Jesus is not only a clear demonstration of the Christian legitimization of the Nazi Holocaust, but also a provocative entrance into the current debates about the relationship of Nazism and Christianity and the identification of Nazism as a political religion."--Kyle T. Jantzen, Journal of Church History

"In addition to her contributions to Jewish-Christian dialogue, Heschel provides important insights into the collaboration of the professions during the Third Reich. Indirectly, her work also has much to add to the emerging discussion on the religious inflection of German nationalism."--Shelley Baranowski, The Historian

"Historian Susannah Heschel was 'the first American, the first Jew, and the first person with a laptop' to enter the Institute's archives at Eisenach. She did not emerge empty-handed."--Leslie Jones, Quarterly Review

"[T]his is a valuable, sobering contribution to historical scholarship regarding the role of the German church during the Holocaust. The story it tells can serve as a warning for all who value the integrity of the church and its message."--Darrell Jodock, Lutheran Quarterly

"The book is impressive both in the richness of the archival work reflected in its pages and in the new light it sheds on the careers of Institute members both during the Third Reich and in the post-war era. . . . Heschel has provided an engrossing and enlightening book that appreciably enhances our understanding of the anti-Judaic and anti-semitic work of the German Christian movement within the Protestant church during the Third Reich."--Christopher Probst, Patterns of Prejudice

From the Back Cover

"Susannah Heschel's The Aryan Jesus is a brilliant and erudite investigation of the convergence between major trends in German Protestantism and Nazi racial anti-Semitism. By concentrating on the history of the Institute for the Study and Eradication of Jewish Influence on German Religious Life, Heschel describes in forceful detail the Nazification of all aspects of Protestant theology, including the Aryanization of Jesus himself. This is a highly original and important contribution to our understanding of the Third Reich."--Saul Friedlander, University of California, Los Angeles

"Susannah Heschel's fascinating, well-documented study not only reveals how and why German theologians during the Nazi period sought to dejudaize the church; it also exposes a perverted exegesis and theology that is still found, tragically, in pulpit, pew, and classroom."--Amy-Jill Levine, author of The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus

"Based on mostly unknown archival material, this pathbreaking book digs deep into the most sensitive areas of Nazi Germany's treatment of the Jews. There can be no doubt that The Aryan Jesus will raise discussion and controversy, and receive a lot of attention."--Michael Brenner, University of Munich

"Widely relevant, The Aryan Jesus is an erudite and thoughtful book based on a massive amount of work and a staggering amount of research. Heschel's sound scholarship makes a valuable and significant contribution to religion and theology, as well as history. This is an important book with a strong--even urgent--sense of purpose."--Doris L. Bergen, University of Toronto


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (October 3, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691148058
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691148052
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #561,091 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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44 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Ralph Blumenau on December 28, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The `German Christians', founded in 1932, were a movement inside the Protestant Church of Germany to promote the Nazi ideology within Christian teaching. They eventually set up the `Institute for the Study and Eradication of Jewish Influence on German Church Life'. This book is the detailed story of the academics associated with it. Its list of sources runs to 34 pages, and there is much repetition in the content; but from it a sordid story emerges clearly.

The twisted `scholarship' of Protestant theologians from bishops through university professors down to pastors, plumbed depths in a racial antisemitism (as distinct from theological anti-Judaism) whose origins can be traced to the 19th century, and which was strongly entrenched in theological faculties and student bodies, especially at the University of Jena even before the Nazis came to power. The academic director of the Institute, Walter Grundmann, was appointed Professor at Jena in 1938 (though the Institute, founded in 1939, was never formally a part of the University).

For these people it was essential to deny that Christianity evolved out of Judaism, and that it had been from the very beginning the very opposite of Judaism. Most Christians down the ages had seen Jesus as an opponent of Judaism, or, rather, taking their lead from St John's Gospel, had seen `the Jews' as an enemy of Jesus.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Werner Cohn on October 23, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Unlike the Communist movement in Stalin's time, the Nazi movement never achieved a totally uniform party line, not even in its attitudes toward Jews. It can be said that, in general, any view of Jews was permitted, as long as it amounted to rabid anti-Semitism.

Within the Nazi-era German Protestant Church, there were two major competing views of Jews:

a) The "Confessing Church," including famous names like Martin Niemöller, held that present-day Jews are evil, but that the Old Testament, with its Jewish origins, forms a permanent part of the Christian religion. These CC pastors were generally supportive of "non-Aryan" Christians, i.e. Jews who had undergone the Christian baptism.

b) The "German Christians" embraced a more "racial" anti-Semitism. They agreed that Jews are evil, but, in addition, also held that Jesus was not a Jew, and that those portions of the New Testament that say otherwise need to be revised. These pastors of the GC were more enthusiastic supporters of Hitler (although, generally, the Confessing clergy, including Niemöller despite his imprisonment at a certain stage, lost few opportunities to declare their loyalty to the regime). One of the more comical aspects of the story is how each side accused the other of being less anti-Semitic than it should be.

Although the broad outlines have been known for a long time, this remarkable book is the first to study the German Christians in detail, basing itself on archival material that nobody else has studied before.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Peter S. Bradley on January 13, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Susannah Heschel's "The Aryan Jesus" makes a nice complement to other recent books on the Nazi Christian phenomenon, such as The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity, 1919-1945 by Richard Steigman-Gall and Catholicism and the Roots of Nazism: Religious Identity and National Socialism by Derek Hastings. All three books discuss the Nazi relationship with Christianity. The Hastings and Steigman-Gall books demonstrate that Nazi approach to Christianity was to incorporate a particular strand of post-modern or liberal Christianity. As is typical of post-modern or liberal Christianity, the Nazi approach to religious identity identified the Jesus it wanted to discover - an Aryan fighter against the Jews - and then used the techniques of modern scholarship to find that Jesus. From Steigman-Gall and Hastings, we learned that insofar as the Nazis were Christian, their Christianity was essentially a heretical version of Christianity that would have been unrecognizable in its Marcion-like willingness to amputate such "Jewish" aspects of Christianity as the Old Testament.

Heschel's book offers a nuts and bolts view of how that amputation took place under the Nazi regime. Her focus is on the Institute for the Study and Eradication of Jewish Influence on the German Church and its academic director Walter Grundmann.
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