Gerhard Von Rad: State Interference and Unflappable Belief in Nazi Germany

Bernard M. Levinson, Professor and Berman Family Chair of Jewish Studies & Hebrew Bible at the University of Minnesota Law School, has recently re-posted Reading the Bible in Nazi Germany: Gerhard von Rad’s Attempt to Reclaim the Old Testament for the Church (read the full text here).  The article, which first appeared in Volume 62 of Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology (2008), explores Gerhard von Rad’s (1901–71) staunch adherence to Old Testament studies despite the challenge of Nazi elements within his theological and intellectual milieu.  Levinson also draws a direct connection between von Rad’ s hermeneutic and the historical circumstances under which he worked, painting a powerful portrait of religious and intellectual conviction in defiance of a totalitarian state.

Levinson chronicles National Socialism’s grip on academia and—through control of university theological study—churches.  In 1934, just as von Rad took a post teaching theology at the Friedrich Schiller University of Jena, the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (“NSDAP”) was taking universities and churches into its ideological grip.  This substantial transformation coincided with—or caused—the ascendance of the Deutsche Christen (“German Christians”) and the more radically nationalist German Christian Church Movement (“KDC”) (I have already written upon the opposition of the protestant, anti-Nazification Bekennende Kirche—“Confessing Church”—here).

The University of Jena was a nucleus of this shift, and its Faculty of Theology became an organ for National Socialist, German Christian ideology.  (It is worth mentioning that, in addition to the Jena Faculty of Theology’s intellectual move toward National Socialism, the Faculty of Medicine became more concretely an NSDAP body:  It used Buchenwald to train students in pathology and its medical-clinics participated in some 14,000 forced sterilizations before 1943.  [See the New York Museum of Jewish Heritage‘s account of the unimaginable atrocities at Buchenwald here.]  The appointment of S.S. Obersturmbannführer Karl Astel as Jena’s rector in 1939 completed the university’s National Socialist transformation.)

For more on Levinson’s description of the Nazification of German protestant churches and von Rad’s resistance to Nazification through his writing and teaching, please follow the jump. Continue reading

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