Susannah Heschel on The Nazi Jesus of German Biblical Scholarship

Two lectures are available on YouTube from Susannah Heschel, Dartmouth College’s Eli Black professor of Jewish Studies, and author of The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany (Princeton University Press, 2010), on the developments which led to the construction of a Nazi or Aryan Jesus in mid-twentieth-century German biblical scholarship.

1. “From Rabbi to Nazi: The Vicissitudes of Jesus in Modern Theology,” The Krister Stendahl Memorial Lecture, Nov 7, 2011, Ersta Konferens, Bringsalen, Erstagatan 1K, Stockholm.

Both Christian and Jewish theologies developed in the modern period within a European context, shaped by intellectual currents of Enlightenment, romanticisim, and historicism, but also by political movements of imperialism, racism, and nationalism. These two theological movements – and here I will focus primarily on the Protestantism and Judaism of Germany from the late 18th century through World War II – developed with careful attention to each other. Indeed, each was shaped by the claims and concerns of the other: reforms of the synagogue, for example, followed traditions of the church (organ, weekly sermon, music), while Protestants wrestled with the (non)distinctiveness of Jesus from first-century Judaism. Demonstrating the independence and autonomy of each religion, and preserving its “unique” message became increasingly difficult in light of the blurred boundaries between the two religions. Interestingly, Jewish thinkers turned to Islam as a template for defending Judaism’s ethical monotheism, while Christians in Germany turned to India to discover the original “Aryan” soul, and increasingly in the early twentieth century found affinities with racial theory.
My talk will outline the history of these developments in order to demonstrate the roots of our contemporary conflicts over religious tolerance. I will not propose a constructive theology for the future, but I will instead demonstrate some of the pitfalls of several approaches, ranging from liberal to Orthodox. The goal is not simply to seek paths of coexistence and tolerance of several religious faiths in one society, but to find ways in which the existence of other faiths not only influence, but enhance and deepen our own.

2. “The Aryan Jesus in Nazi Germany: The Bible and the Holocaust,” The Kripke Center for the Study of Religion, Project Interfaith and the Institute for Holocaust Education, Creighton University, April 23, 2013.

This lecture is also available in an mp3 version.