Elimination of the Jews in Nazi Germany was not confined to the Holocaust. It also took the form of rewriting the New Testament to ‘dejudaize’ it, i.e. to remove references to Judaism and to recast Jesus as an Aryan, generating what has been called the ‘Nazi Bible’. This has been the subject of some sensational and substantially erroneous claims, including that the project was Hitler’s brainchild.
So what are the facts? This article is based on the bookThe Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany by Susannah Heschel.1 Professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College. Page numbers in brackets in this article refer to her book.
The German Church in the 1930s
In 1930s’ Germany, the ‘German Christians’ (Deutsche Christen) movement arose. These were theologically liberal Protestant churches and theologians who were enthusiastically pro-Nazi, calling Hitler the ‘Führer Jesus’ and ‘God’s agent in our day’ (p. 67). Politically ambitious and anti-Semitic, they wanted a faith without anything Jewish in the Bible, and without converted Jews in the Church. Their ultimate membership of 600,000 constituted about 30 percent of German Protestants (p. 3).
In opposition to this, the so-called ‘Confessing Church’ (Bekennende Kirche) movement arose, ultimately attracting some 20 percent of Protestant pastors. It included notable opponents of Hitler such as Karl Barth, Martin Niemöller, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. However, some of its members were inclined to take other liberties with the plain meaning of the biblical text, and some were even ideologically anti-Semitic, despite wanting to retain Christian Jews in the church.
The research arm and propaganda organ of the ‘German Christians’ movement was its Institute for the Study and Eradication of Jewish Influence on German Church Life (Institut zur Erforschung und Deseitigung des jüdischen Einflusses auf das deutsche kirchliche Leben).2 This served Nazi anti-Semitism by a program of dejudaizing the Bible, and giving anti-Semitic theological training to clergy and laity via lectures, seminars, scholarly books, and popular pamphlets.
Its founding visionary and Academic Director was Walter Grundmann (1906–76), a member of the Nazi party from 1930. Though Hitler did personally sign the 1938 appointment of Grundmann to Jena University as Professor of New Testament, there is no evidence (despite some sensationalized claims to the contrary) that Hitler ordered the ‘Nazi Bible’ project….
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