Susannah Heschel – The Aryan Jesus
Episode: The story of German Christian anti-Semitism of the Nazi era is still being told. Susannah Heschel’s book The Aryan Jesus brings to light the archives of the ‘Institute for the Study and Eradication of Jewish Influence on German Religious Life,’ and tells the story of how German churches found common cause with Nazi’s over their shared anti-Semitic commitments. In this episode we discuss Susannah Heschel’s remarkable upbringing, her journey into studying the ‘pathologies of biblical scholarship,’ and her research on The Aryan Jesus.
Guest: ‘Susannah Heschel is the Eli Black Professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College. Her scholarship focuses on Jewish-Christian relations in Germany during the 19th and 20th centuries, the history of biblical scholarship, and the history of anti-Semitism. Her numerous publications include Abraham Geiger and the Jewish Jesus (University of Chicago Press), which won a National Jewish Book Award, and The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany (Princeton University Press). She has also taught at Southern Methodist University and Case Western Reserve University.’ [from the Dartmouth website]
Heschel tells the story of her childhood and relationship with her father Abraham Joshua Heschel in a beautifully written piece called ‘My Father, Myself.’ Abraham Joshua Heschel is the author of The Sabbath, The Prophets, and many other highly influential books. In her piece, Susannah tells the story of her father’s escape from Poland in 1940, including his involvement in the civil rights movement. Abraham Heschel famously marched with MLK from Selma to Montgomery, an experience that he describes thus: ‘When I marched in Selma, I felt like my legs were praying.’ She also describes her father’s support of her feminism and scholarship.
Book: In The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany (Princeton University Press, 2008), Susannah Heschel traces the redefinition of Jesus as an Aryan opponent of the Jewish people during the Nazi era. German Christian theologians and biblical scholars aligned themselves with the Nazis (and many became Nazis) via their shared anti-Semitism and formed the ‘Institute for the Study and Eradication of Jewish Influence on German Religious Life.’ Heschel digs into the archives of this institute to tell its story, and to set it in the wider context of Christian anti-Semitism during the Third Reich. The members of this institute include some of the most influential biblical scholars of the time. Heschel then follows the post-war career ‘success’ of the institute’s members as they found jobs in universities, seminaries, and churches in East and West Germany. The book raises troubling but important questions about Jewish-Christian relationships.