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40 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A shameful story
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...
Published on December 28, 2008 by Ralph Blumenau

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0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Academic
I found this book initially interesting but for me it became too academic and dry to continue reading. A lighter treatment would have given the book a greater readership for an important lesson from history.
Published 16 months ago by Chris from Oz


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40 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A shameful story, December 28, 2008
By 
Ralph Blumenau (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany (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. What was new was that 19th century racists were troubled by the idea that Jesus was Jewish, and they invented a theory that, as an Aramaic-speaking Galilean, he was probably racially descended from the `Aryan' Assyrians who had conquered and populated Galilee in the 8th century BC; that his true Aryan teaching, which now found its culmination in Nazi Germany, had been corrupted by the Jewish writers of the Gospels and by the Jewish St Paul to suggest that Christianity was the fulfilment of prophesies in the Old Testament. It was therefore essential not only to exclude the Old Testament from the Bible, but to purge the New Testament, prayers, psalms etc from all Jewish material. Moreover, Christians who were of Jewish ancestry had to be purged from the Church: the teaching that baptism is sufficient to make someone a Christian was rejected. Nor did they stop at calling for the `purification' of the Church: they also espoused the physical destruction of the Jews. One would have thought that they would have found it easier to abandon all pretence of being Christians and whole-heartedly to embrace a völkisch paganism, as some Nazis of course did.

In 1940 the Institute published a `Volkstestament', its own version of the New Testament. The three Synoptic Gospels were amalgamated into one, in the process cutting much of Matthew, the most pro-Jewish of the Gospels, as well as the genealogy of Jesus, his circumcision and all references to his Messiahship. Out went references to his meekness; instead he is presented as a fighter. St Paul was too important to Lutherans to be excluded altogether, but his Epistles were stripped of all autobiographical references to himself as a Jew. Prayer books were purged of concepts like contrition and hope for forgiveness; the expression Divine Service was replaced by Divine Celebration; 1,971 our of 2,300 hymns had Jewish-influenced expressions removed - even from Luther's `A Mighty Fortress is our God' - and more `virile' and militaristic texts were substituted in a new hymnal of 1941. A new catechism in 1941 included such injunctions as `keep the blood pure' and `honour the Führer'.

There was of course some opposition to the `German Christians', most notably from the Confessing Church to which some 20% of Protestant pastors belong (as opposed to `between a quarter and a third' who adhered to the `German Christians'). These would not give racism priority over baptism. But very many of the Confessing Church members were as antisemitic as the `German Christians'. Some wanted to keep the Old Testament because the OT prophets almost always denounced the vices of the Jews. Some defended St Paul's teaching as a sharp refutation of the `Jewish-pharisaic spirit'; some worried that the attack on the roots of the New Testament might turn into an attack on Christianity itself.

For it is interesting how reluctant the Nazi leaders were to give the Institute the whole-hearted backing it had expected - not, of course, because they disapproved of its attack on Judaism, but because they were wary of the churches anyway, and Alfred Rosenberg, the Nazi ideologue, was actively hostile to Christianity. The Institute was never formally an organ of the Nazi Party, and some Nazis even mocked it for still being Christian at all; and the display of the swastika or other Nazi emblems inside the churches was prohibited.

All this gave many of its members the possibility to argue after the war that their work had been purely academic and not political, and that they had been loyal members of the Church rather than of the Party which some of them had the effrontery to claim they had opposed - the most they had done was to oppose Nazi paganism. The anti-Judaism of their writings, they said, was after all a classic Christian motif.

Not the least shameful aspect of the whole story is that most of them got away with it: after briefly losing their positions, their academic and pastoral careers in post-war Germany, both East and West, resumed or were even enhanced by promotions. Some of them were helped by even such famous opponents of Nazism as Pastor Niemöller. In 1954 Grundmann was appointed Rector of the seminary in Eisenach, and in 1956 he revenged himself against his former opponents in the Confessing Church, many of whom were now in authority, by becoming a Stasi informer against them. In his voluminous post-war writings, he continued to portray Jesus as an enemy of a Judaism devoid of morality, although we hear nothing more of an Aryan Jesus.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Two Kinds of Nazi-Era German Protestants, October 23, 2009
By 
Werner Cohn (Brooklyn, NY USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany (Hardcover)
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. The result is a chilling story of distinguished clergymen and professors of theology who, in pursuit of their eagerness to please the Nazi movement, discovered and in some cases invented sophisticated speculative arguments to bolster a case for a non-Jewish, indeed an anti-Semitic Jesus. The author is particularly strong in showing how academic careerists -- of a type that would nowadays be called academic "operators" -- combined vanity, ideology, and egotism to secure acclaim and high position. In some cases these advantages were retained long into the post-war period.

The great villain of the piece is a certain Reverend Walter Grundmann, the evil genius behind the German Christians' Institute for the Study and Eradication of Jewish Influence in German Church Life. Grundmann was the author of many learned volumes on the evil of Judaism, but also on complicated issues of New Testament theology. And guess what: after the war, living in the Communist German Democratic Republic, the Rev. Grundmann became a secret agent of the Stasi, the Communist secret police.

I do have some minor reservations about this book. While the author makes it clear that the German Christians contained a great number of influential Protestant leaders, there is no systematic effort to gauge its precise strength as opposed to that of the Confessing Church. Another lack that I found is that the author, though very good in discussing previous work on wartime German churches, fails to mention the indispensable work of Klaus Scholder. Finally, the publisher must be faulted for an inadequate index (Martin and Wilhelm Niemöller are treated as if they were the same individual), and also with poor proofreading of German text. But these minor shortcomings in no way detract from the seminal importance of this important work.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The nuts and bolts of a Nazi religion, January 13, 2011
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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. Heschel does the heavy lifting of demonstrating the role that the Institute had in "dejudaizing" the Protestant German Christian churches by such expedients as publishing a bible without the Old Testament and which removed other indications of Christ's Jewish origins, publishing hymnals in which old hymns were made "Teutonic" and holding conferences dedicated to proving that Galilee, and therefore, Jesus were Aryan.

An issue which seemed to concern Heschel is, how important were the activities of the Institute? The Institute was closely identified with the German Protestant Church of Thuringia, rather than with a national body, and it never achieved its dream of becoming the agency which officially mediated Nazism to Christianity and Christianity to Nazism. In fact by the end of its short life (essentially 1939 to 1944), the Nazis had distanced themselves from Christianity, such as by refusing to permit Nazi regalia from being used in Christian services, or allowing the Institute to identify its journal with the Nazi party, and the leaders of the Institute, including Walter Grundmann, had been drafted to serve as soldiers in the German army.

The issue of significance remains somewhat open for me. I think that Heschel made her case by pointing out the large number of "German Christian" (i.e., pro-Nazi) local churches and the control of the German Christian "sect" over various state churches as compared with the Confessing Churches (i.e., those local churches that resisted a full Nazi take-over of the Protestant German Church.) The Institute seems to have been a pillar of support for the German Christian sect and, so, a significant player in what might have been a significance development in Christian theology, and one which certainly shows how a significant development in Christianity - i.e., liberal Christianity - could go so very wrong.

I felt that Heschel was not very helpful in explaining how Protestant Christians of any sort could be persuaded to jettison the Old Testament and otherwise tamper with the language of the Bible. Heschel devotes a few pages to a kind of psychological/sociological explanation of anti-semitism in order to explain that the German Christians really weren't that different from earlier Christian Germans, but this goes nowhere near to explaining how a substantial number of Protestants could be persuaded to adopt a proposal rejected by Christianity during the Second Century when Marcion first raised the idea. I would have been interested in hearing about the roots of the "History of Religions" school - from which the Institute theologians drew their academic background - in order to see if things like the elimination of the Old Testament were a radical departure from their intellectual foundations and, if not, how they justified that move.

Heschel also pointed out the effect "race science" had on the German study of the Bible during the Institute years. I wanted to understand what these people thought they were doing. For us moderns the very idea of "race science" is "crazy" and those who are engaged in "race science" ought to be institutionalized. Obviously, this is a temporally parochial attitude - those scholars didn't think they were crazy. They thought they were using cutting edge science, just like a modern liberal Christian might think that incorporating the findings of physics into their interpretation of the Bible isn't crazy. Unfortunately, apart from being opportunistic Anti-Semites, I never got a real feel for how these scholars justified themselves.

The theme of opportunism seems to be the conclusion that lies just under the book's surface. Heschel points out how certain of the Institute theologians were second-rate or otherwise not properly qualified for their positions, but were advanced because they had the correct attitudes. In a particularly fascinating section on the post-Nazi history of the Institute's theologians, Heschel points out how comfortable Grundmann was with turning into a spy for the Communists in Communist East Germany, albeit while retaining his anti-Semitic prejudices. In fact, the post-war history is almost the most interesting part of the book - or, perhaps, horrifying is a better word - as Heschel points out that the Institute's Nazi theologians were able to avoid censure, but in fact were able to retain their positions. As she points out, often pro-Nazi theologians and pastors were preferred by their former adversaries in the Confessing Church because they could be "controlled" better because of their Nazi associations.

I was originally going to give this book three stars, but after a conversation with someone about Deitrich Boenhoffer, I realized how much the book had taught me about the Confessing Church's adversaries, and, so, I am giving it four stars.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Much needed book, January 4, 2011
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Susannah Heschel, daughter of the late Rabbi Joshua Heschel, has added a much needed investigation into the role of German Protestants and their willingness to embrace the ideology of the Nazi's and their desire to eradicate the Jewish people. Many books have sought to place all the blame on Catholics while ignoring the millions of German Protestants who willingly joined Hitler in his blood lust.
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5.0 out of 5 stars invaluable, April 30, 2014
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an invaluable resource for anyone that wants to better understand how the Holocaust could have happened in a Christian nation.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Heschel has done it again!, December 22, 2012
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Riveting and amazing! Not depressing ... more informative. A good source for anyone in search of the truth about the Shoah.
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0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Academic, February 28, 2013
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I found this book initially interesting but for me it became too academic and dry to continue reading. A lighter treatment would have given the book a greater readership for an important lesson from history.
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19 of 92 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Dishonest, February 26, 2009
This review is from: The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany (Hardcover)
This is a fundamentally dishonest work, in that it creates the illusion that somehow the "Nazis" invented the concept of an "Aryan Jesus" who was at odds with Judaism and the Old Testament itself. But, any casual look at the past of Christianity will demonstrate that these beliefs were quite common in its past. Pre-Christian (BC) religious communities like the Mandeans and Hellenistic Gnostics already considered the practice of the Hebrews (and their god) to be the works of the Devil himself, while early Christians in the likes of Valentinians, Manicheans, and Cathars viewed Jesus as the antithesis of the Hebrew god of Genesis and as its enemy. In fact, modern research (and most honest study of the historical reality of Judea at the time) has come to the conclusion that it is indeed very difficult to know if Jesus was a Hebrew, although they can CLEARLY affirm that he was NOT a Judean but a Galilean (which were actually descendants of Roman Gauls). In fact, if you read both Greek sources for the New Testament, the term "Jew" never appears (it would be impossible since this is a "modern" term), instead, the term Judeans and Hebrews is utilized (Judean was the same as saying 'New Yorker'). Even a superficial read of the synoptic gospels will help you realize that even within the context of Pauline Christianity, Jesus viewed the Pharisees as the developers of modern Judaism and fought them tooth and nail until getting crucified for his attempt.

Nonetheless, the point I am making is not whether or not Jesus was a "Semitic Judean" or not but the fact that this author attempts to create the illusion that the Third Reich invented these philosophical and religious perspectives, even though they are in fact one of the oldest strands of Christian thought (Gnosticism). Of course, the Nag Hammadi library was discovered after the Third Reich's existence, so their sources and perspectives must have been influenced by Cathar literature and other Gnostic tendencies at the time (which some may even confuse with 'occultism').

But it is clearly insulting to read a blatantly ignorant (or devious) work which tells people that any Gnostic or Manichean (or someone that rightly affirms that Jesus was NOT a part of the Old Testament) is now suddenly the creation of Hitler.
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The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany
The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany by Susannah Heschel (Hardcover - November 3, 2008)
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