On the Shopping List

I’m very excited by this book by Anders Gerdmar: Roots of Theological Anti-Semitism: German Biblical Interpretation and the Jews, from Herder and Semler to Kittel and Bultmann (Brill, 2009). As Brill books are so expensive, I’d recommend using AddAll to find discounted copies.

Here’s the blurb:

As Adolf Hitler strategised his way to power, he knew that it was necessary to gain the support of theology and the Church. This study begins two hundred years earlier, however, looking at roots of theological anti-Semitism and how Jews and Judaism were constructed, positively and negatively, in the biblical interpretation of German Protestant theology. Following the two main streams of German theology, the salvation-historical and the Enlightenment-oriented traditions, it examines leading exegetes from the 1750s to the 1950s and explores how theology legitimises or delegitimises oppression of Jews, in part through still-prevailing paradigms. This is the first comprehensive analysis of its kind, and the result of the analysis of the interplay between biblical exegesis and attitudes to Jews and Judaism is a fascinating and often frightening portrait of theology as a servant of power.

Not just “theology as a servant of power” but as a servant of insanity and inhumanity. I’ve been waiting for a book like this to come along for a number of years now (mostly so I wouldn’t have to write it myself!). There is a persistent antisemitism present throughout the authors and works lying at the foundations of modern critical Biblical Studies. Even when an author is known to have been a rabid antisemite, this is typically shrugged off as of little account, as though such a mentality let loose at Jewish materials (that is, the Old and New Testaments) could be trusted to maintain an academic, critical objectivity. Such objectivity is, of course, a myth, and such a downplaying one might call poppycock, except poppycock is too charming a word. Rather, something like “filthy, evil, collaborationism” comes to mind as a better alternative. Just about ten years ago, the problem was brought into the spotlight by Maurice Casey, “Some Anti-Semitic Assumptions in the ‘Theological Dictionary of the New Testament” (Novum Testamentum 41.3 [Jul 1999], 280-291). Casey describes the full-blown antisemitism, and Nazi and even SS support of editor Gerhard Kittel and various authors of articles in the Theologische Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament, in English translation, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. This work is still considered “[o]ne of the most widely-used and well-respected theological dictionaries ever created” and “one of the few agreed upon standard reference works in the area of New Testament studies” (see here, in the blurb for an electronic version). Though various articles about Kittel and his ilk had appeared on the subject elsewhere, they were hard to track down, generally in festschrift editions and more obscure journals. The appearance of Casey’s article in such an accessible and well-respected journal as Novum Testamentum brought the problem to light for many who otherwise would not have known of it. The Gerdmar volume mentioned above looks like it will be following in detail the trend of antisemitism throughout the work of two centuries which established what are now considered the unquestionable foundations of Biblical Studies. I suspect, and indeed hope, that readers of Gerdmar’s book will start questioning those foundations, for the motivations that lie behind them.


    1. Thanks, Chaim! Very nice! This Schechter article is from 1915, before the entire academy rolled over to have its intellectual belly rubbed by Wellhausen and his ilk. It’s shocking how much of their ideas, rooted in poison, have been transplanted to flower even within Jewish schools.

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