The Aryan Jesus

Printer-friendly version
Friday, March 6, 2009

Susannah Heschel, Eli Black professor of Jewish studies at Dartmouth College, will present the lecture “The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany” at 5:30 p.m. March 17 at Duke Divinity School.

The lecture, based on her book of the same name, will be in Room 0016 Westbrook. The event is free and open to the public.

Heschel’s scholarship focuses on Jewish-Christian relations in Germany in the 19th and 20th centuries, the history of biblical interpretation, and the history of anti-Semitism. Her numerous publications include Abraham Geiger and the Jewish Jesus, which won a National Jewish Book Award and Germany’s Geiger Prize, as well as the recently released full-length study The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany. Heschel also serves on the Academic Advisory Committee of the Research Center of the U. S. Holocaust Museum.

The Aryan Jesus represents years of archival research. The book tells the history of the “German Christian” movement and its Institute for the Study and Eradication of Jewish Influence on German Religious Life, led by Walter Grundmann. The “German Christian” movement promoted Nazi ideology within the Protestant Church of Germany by producing anti-Semitic tracts, removing the Old Testament and Jewish expressions like “hallelujah” from Christian worship, publishing a “dejudaized” version of the New Testament, insisting on racial “purity” as a condition for church membership, and adopting a catechism proclaiming Jesus as savior of the “Aryans.” Heschel’s work on this movement raises urgent questions about Christian theology’s recent past and its persistent tendency toward anti-Semitism.

Cosponsored by Duke’s Center for Jewish Studies, this lecture marks the culmination of a series of events this year at the Divinity School in which the relationship between church and culture has been subjected to reappraisal. When are Christians called to contribute harmoniously to the societies of which they are a part? When must Christians take a stand against social norms and engage in acts of resistance? And how do Christians read the signs of the times in order to tell the difference?

“The holocaust occurred because Christian theology failed,” said Stephen Chapman, associate professor of Old Testament and one of the event’s co-organizers. “Only by studying how such a failure came about can we ensure that we do not make the same mistakes again.”

For details, contact Chapman, 919-660-3408 or Laura Lieber, 919-683-8303.