The Aryan Jesus
By Susannah Heschel
Princeton University Press,
Reviewed by Randall Radic
“Jesus loves me, this I know… because the Institute for the Study and Eradication of Jewish Influence on German Church Life tells me so.” Anyway, that’s what they were singing in Germany in 1939. And the reason Jesus loved them was because they were Aryan. Just like Jesus.
Susannah Heschel, who is Professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College, has written an exceptional and necessary book. It’s called The Aryan Jesus, and it tells the squalid, true story of a group of German theologians who called themselves the ‘German Christians.’ In reality, they were scholars, liars and wastrels in equal parts. Their job, as Heschel points out, was to “de-Judify Jesus,” which is a nice-nellyism for “make Jesus Aryan.” And that’s what they did.
They sanitized the Gospels of the stink of Judaism. Of course, to do this they had to prove that Jesus was not a Jew. No problem. They simply reminded everyone that the Assyrians had conquered Galilee 800 years before Jesus was born. Which meant Jesus was not Jewish he was Assyrian. And, since Assyrians are Aryans, then it follows that Jesus is Aryan too. Moreover, those rascally Jews – the ones that wrote the Gospels, along with the Apostle Paul, who was a Jewish dude—had deliberately stolen and perverted the Aryan teachings of the Aryan Jesus!
A Jewish taint lay across the whole Bible. The stench transcended all ordinary degrees of fetor. And the only way to get rid of it was to toss out the Old Testament, which was full Jewish venality, and purify the New Testament of anything remotely Jewish. Fortunately for the German people, the Institute – a paragon of gentility – was there to cleanse Holy Scripture of this pervasive, Jewish arrogance.
Thank you, Jesus!
The Institute fulfilled their divine destiny. They published a “People’s Bible” in 1940. In this de-Judified version of the Bible, the sayings of the Aryan Jesus included such stirring phrases as “keep the blood pure” and “honor the Fuhrer.”
The architect of the Institute was Walter Grundmann, who, along with his cohorts, decided that to get along, they needed to go along. So they sold their souls to the Nazi Devil. The funny thing about the Devil, though, is that he has his own agenda. The Nazis never officially recognized or sponsored the Institute, because the Nazis found Christianity distasteful. The Nazis were Occultists, who much preferred Odin and Thor and paganism.
When the war ended, the Institute rats were the first to jump ship. They temporized and made excuses and maintained that – really – they were trying to preserve Christianity by what they did. If they hadn’t hedged, the Nazis surely would have declared Christianity a nuisance, which ultimately must be abated. There would have been no Christian Church at all. Really, then, the fellows of the Institute were heroes.
All in all, The Aryan Jesus is an enormously profitable read. The reviewer had only one complaint. Professor Heschel is a veritable fount of knowledge. She is so erudite it takes the reader’s breath away. Her voice is safe – the voice of didactic reflection. She is a writer without vice – in short, her writing style is boring, the most torpid style imaginable. Do all these professors attend the same graduate writing classes? Where they are taught to write only for other brainiacs? If so, their lives must be very grim.
The reviewer contends that if Professor Heschel had jazzed her story up a little, dropping the formality and the sedentary presentation of data and the mechanical concluding statements at the end of each chapter, this book would be on the bestseller lists. Because for all its dryness, it’s a wonderful and very engaging story. All it needs is an injection of spice, a splash of opera, a dash of melodrama.
That being said, don’t let the reviewer’s caviling prevent potential readers from enjoying an excellent book.