Wellhausen’s demonstration that Judaism was the inventor of νομος παρεισηλθεν—the Law that sidled in, interrupting the true spiritual development of Israel—made it unnecessary for liberal Protestant thought in Germany to reassess any traditional judgment of Judaism. Indeed, as Leo Baeck showed in his critical review of Harnack’s Das Wesen des Christentums, Judaism could continue to be for the liberal Protestant the dark background against which the incandescence of the religion of Jesus could ever more brightly shine, once it had been purged of the dross of dogma. What had been dogmatic was now scientific. Of the consequences of this I shall not write.
Lou Silberman, “Wellhausen and Judaism” (Semeia 25: 75-82), 79.
Silberman ends his article on the low note of the consequences of the result of the anti-Judaism of Wellhausen and all prior German liberal Protestant Biblical scholarship having been pronounced and perceived to be scientific fact. Voices to the contrary earlier in the nineteenth century that did speak out against such anti-Jewish beliefs were ignored or silenced, and the opportunity was lost to nip in the bud the development of a “scientific” anti-Judaism and its evil child. For within a matter of years after the publication of Wellhausen’s magnum opus, “scientific” racial antisemitism appeared and was promptly established not only as the opinion of the intellectual elites, but was eventually enshrined as law. To quote Silberman: “Of the consequences of this I shall not write.”
Those who will support the methodologies of de Wette, Graf, Wellhausen, Baur and the rest need to recognize this connection and its ethical nullity. The circular reasoning of an invented dialectic of devolving Jewish religion (and later, devolving Jews) giving rise to methods of Biblical study that are designed only to support that dialectic, which are then used to “prove” the validity of the dialectic, needs to be recognized. The ethical failure of liberal Protestantism in nineteenth and twentieth century Germany needs to be recognized. The ethical failure of ignoring these ethical failures needs to be recognized. There’s plenty of recognizing to be going on. Any truly rational person can recognize that the Germans of the eighteenth through twentieth centuries ought to be the first people in the world to be ignored when the subject came to the Jews.
And will it ever happen? No, it won’t. Maybe some very few will change. Rather, the whole perverse engine will keep rolling on, oblivious to its intellectual, ethical, and spiritual failings. Its supporters and defenders will continue to belittle any detractors as “fundamentalists” or whatever the insult du jour may be. That changes nothing. The whole of the fields of Old Testament and New Testament studes are teetering tenements of tacit denigration erected on thoroughly vile anti-Jewish, antisemitic foundations. They should be demolished, the old foundations torn out, the ground levelled, new foundations laid, and a new superstructure built.
But no, that won’t happen.
After all, it’s only Jews….