Tag Archives: Antisemitism

The Biblical Roots of Nazi Racism

fightingwordsNot only Christian apologists but even some respected academic historians argue that Christianity had nothing to do with Nazism and that the Holocaust was inspired by atheistic, non-Christian ideologies. Not so, argues Hector Avalos, in Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence:

In fact, we shall argue that the Holocaust has its roots in biblical traditions that advocate genocide. (Kindle loc. 4093)

Avalos surveys the range of published viewpoints that argue Hitler and Nazism were driven by atheistic, anti-Christian and pro-evolutionary agendas but writes that

the main theoreticians [among Nazi ideologues] saw themselves as religious. (loc. 4158)

Cover of "The End of Biblical Studies"Hector Avalos is already renowned/notorious for The End of Biblical Studies. There he argued that the biblical texts are without any relevance today, or at least are no more relevant than any other writings from ancient times. Scholars who attempt to argue for the moral relevance of the Bible in today’s world, Avalos argues, do so by tendentiously re-interpreting selected passages out of their original contexts and arbitrarily downplaying passages that contradict their claims. Theoretically, Avalos reasons, one could take Hitler’s Mein Kampf and likewise focus on the good passages in it and insist they over-ride the bad ones, and that the negative passages should be interpreted symbolically and through the good sentiments we read into the better passages. No-one would attempt to justify the relevance of Mein Kampf by such a method. Yet Avalos points out that that’s the way scholars justify the relevance of the Bible in today’s world.

This post is based on another work by Avalos, Fighting Words, in which he analyses the way religious beliefs can and do contribute to violence. The full thesis is something I will address in a future post. Here I look at just one controversial point made in that book.

Avalos does not deny that Nazism drew upon scientific ideas of its day. But it can also be concluded that these scientific notions of race were extras added to ideas that had a deeper cultural heritage, in particular as they found expression in the holy book of Christianity. A modern and prominent theorist of race, Milford Wolpoff, traces modern ideas of racism right back to Platonic ideas of “essentialism“.

Ernst Haeckel

Plattdüütsch: Ernst Haeckel nadem he ut Italie...

Ernst Haeckel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ernst Haeckel (1834-1913) was perhaps the most influential of evolutionary theorists and writers at the turn of the twentieth century; his views were widely embraced with his book, The Riddle of the World (Die Welträtsel) having sold 100,000 copies before the turn of the century. Haeckel popularized the idea that different human races each evolved from different species of ape-men. Exterminations and exploitation of lesser races by superior ones was considered the inevitable consequence of Darwinism. The Nazi Party’s publications cited Haeckel frequently.

At the same time, Hitler saw racism as compatible with religion, as do many biblical authors. Even Haeckel, who is often maligned for supposedly introducing scientific grounds for genocide, saw himself as simply reexpressing biblical concepts in scientific language.

Note, for example, Haeckel’s comments on his vision of Utopia:

The future morality, free from all religious dogma, and grounded in a clear knowledge of nature’s law, teaches us the ancient wisdom of the Golden Rule … through the words of the Gospel: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

As in Christian and Jewish texts, “your neighbor” originally meant a fellow member of your in-group. Thus, Haeckel’s interpretation of “neighbor,” even if exegetically flawed, was based on the same concept of insider and outsider that is present in the earlier religions.

Avalos likens the Nazis to the “scientific creationists” of their day:

So from Haeckel to Hitler, Nazis did not see themselves as opposing biblical principles so much as they thought that modern science could be used to support, purify, and update those biblical principles. Nazis were often more like the scientific creationists of today who believe their pseudoscience supports the Bible. (loc. 4290-4297)

Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels & Theozoology read more »

Anti-intellectualism(?) in Jesus studies

My last post looked at Bultmann’s insights into the synoptic portrayal of the baptism of Jesus. This post looks at some disturbing and depressing reasons why at least two modern scholars appear to have rejected Bultmann’s findings. Disturbing and depressing because their reasons have nothing to do with the detail of Bultmann’s arguments. Bultmann is rejected because he came to the “wrong conclusion” and so ideological or sociological reasons are brought in to explain his “wrong conclusion”. Bultmann’s “wrong conclusion” was that too much of the Gospel narrative about Jesus was explained as Hellenistic (Greek) in origin and failed to make Jesus “Jewish enough”; in fact he concluded the Gospels did not allow us to learn much about the “real Jesus” at all.

I don’t know the field well enough to generalize but two scholars (among several) do stand out from my readings for having made particularly — I don’t know if the word “anti-intellectual” is too strong — anti-intellectual(?) rejections of Bultmann’s arguments. I can understand various objections to form criticism myself, but these scholars appear to have dumped the whole bath into the mud-pit.

James Crossley of the University of Sheffield faults Bultmann for failing to open up the application of social sciences to biblical studies and thereby explore the social setting of Christian origins — specifically a Jewish social setting for Jesus.

Bultmann emphasized an existential hermeneutic with theological truth supposedly found in the seemingly transcendent Gospel of John. (p. 4 of Why Christianity Happened)

I address a possible sinister significance of that use of “existential” later.

Crossley avoids blaming Bultmann’s for any personal anti-semitism but he that does not stop him from associating his studies with anti-semitism: read more »

The Wandering Who?

Gilad-Atzmon-The-Wandering-WHOFollowing is a review of Gilad Atzmon’s book. One part of what interests me about this sort of discussion is the inevitable comparison with any other similar experiences of losing one’s old identity and finding a new one. My own experience was in losing my identity as a Christian and becoming what many would call a secular humanist. I went through more than one iteration of Christianity (fundamentalist, liberal) but failed to appreciate the extent to which one’s identity can be entombed in such a belief at any level, until I left the “other-world” idea behind entirely. (One is constantly reminded that even “liberal Christians”, for example, can sometimes be just as arrogant in their humility, just as intolerant and hostile of other views, as the fundamentalist variety. The only difference for so many is that they change their targets or their levels of self-deception. But we are all where we are at and each of us has our own journey to follow.)

The original is at Gilad Atzmon’s blog here or on the VT site here.

Gilad struggled with the conflict between his early experiences as an Israeli Zionist and his awakening as a humanist

The Wandering WHO? navigates between thought-provoking personal experiences, historical and philosophical issues

by Paul J Balles

Gilad Atzmon, scholar, prolific writer and leading jazz saxophonist has authored the book The Wandering WHO? In it he astutely explores the identity crisis he himself experienced and one faced by many Jews.

Gilad struggled with the conflict between his early experiences as an Israeli Zionist and his awakening as a humanist.

His book reveals an innate ability to switch between the qualities of a down-to-earth artist (the successful sax player and word-smith) and the knowledgeable philosopher.

Without doubt, The Wandering WHO? will awaken many readers– pleasing some and disturbing others.

The pleased will include those who have experienced similar awakenings or resolved identity crises by continuously asking questions.

The book will also find welcome readers among those who have sought honest answers to the many contentious issues involving Jewish identity, Jewish politics and Israel.

The disturbed will include those Gilad might refer to as “separatist Jews…kind of a bizarre mixture of an SS commander and a Biblical Moses.”

Gilad will also face threats and complaints from those he calls “pro-war Zionist Islamophobes.”

He will undoubtedly find rejection from those who want “to stop proud, self-hating Jews (like Atzmon) from blowing the whistle.”

The Wandering WHO? navigates between thought-provoking personal experiences, historical and philosophical issues.

In the forward, Gilad tells the most remarkable story of his Jewish upbringing and the challenging questions raised by his early experiences as an Israeli Zionist.

In the chapters that follow, Gilad remarks that “Israel is the Jewish state and Jewishness is an ethno-centric ideology driven by exclusiveness, exceptionalism, racial supremacy and a deep inherent inclination toward segregation.”

Atzmon draws a distinction between Jews as: read more »

Understanding the Reasons for Anti-Semitism

Gilad Atzmon recommends a number of books that address underlying causes of hostility against Jews. One is The Jewish Century by Yuri Slezkine. Of Slezkine’s theory of ethnic identity the Wikipedia article explains:

Slezkine characterizes the Jews (alongside such groups as the Armenians, overseas Chinese, and Gypsies) as a Mercurian people “specializ[ing] exclusively in providing services to the surrounding food-producing societies,” which he characterizes as Apollonian. With the exception of the Gypsies, these “Mercurian peoples” have all enjoyed great economic success relative to the average among their hosts, and have all, without exception, attracted hostility and resentment. Slezkine develops this thesis by arguing that the Jews, the most successful of these Mercurian peoples, have increasingly influenced the course and nature of Western societies, particularly during the early and middle periods of Soviet Communism.

My gut reaction to reading a theory dividing people into Mercurians and Apollonians was that this is surely rubbishy oversimplification. But then I read a sample of the book . . . .


The publisher of this book makes a key sample chapter available online and I find the concepts most interesting. It appears that Slezkine has been able to understand anti-semitism much more broadly than any thesis that seeks biology or religion as an explanation. I have bolded some of the key sections for easier skimming.

There was nothing particularly unusual about the social and economic position of the Jews in medieval and early modern Europe. Many agrarian and pastoral societies contained groups of permanent strangers who performed tasks that the natives were unable or unwilling to perform. Death, trade, magic, wilderness, money, disease, and internal violence were often handled by people who claimed–or were assigned to–different gods, tongues, and origins. . . . .

All these groups were nonprimary producers specializing in the delivery of goods and services to the surrounding agricultural or pastoral populations. Their principal resource base was human, not natural, and their expertise was in “foreign” affairs. They were the descendants–or predecessors–of Hermes (Mercury), the god of all those who did not herd animals, till the soil, or live by the sword; the patron of rule breakers, border crossers, and go-betweens; the protector of people who lived by their wit, craft, and art. read more »

Taking Eddy & Boyd Seriously (4)

Continuing from Taking Eddy & Boyd Seriously (3) . . . .

Indicting “The Jews” for the murder of the Lord Jesus

Having insisted that 1 Thess 2:13-16 was indeed written by Paul, Eddy and Boyd (The Jesus Legend) must now attempt to argue that the contents of the passage are not antisemitic.

One of the slogans of antisemitism through the ages has been “the Jews killed Christ”. The author of this Thessalonians passage puts the blame for the death of Jesus squarely, solely and unequivocally on the Jews:

For you have suffered the same things from your own country-men, just as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us . . .

Birger A. Pearson (“1 Thessalonians 2:13-16: A Deutero-Pauline Interpolation” Harvard Theological Review (1971): 85) observes that in all other letters of Paul,

[Paul] never attributes the death of Jesus to the Jews. 1 Corinthians 2:8 is the best example of Paul’s own view: Jesus was brought to his death by the demonic “rulers of this age” who did not know that by doing so they would defeat themselves in the process.

(Pearson remarks in passing that Origen in his commentary on Matthew interprets “the rulers of this age” in this way.)

Eddy and Boyd’s “rebuttal” of the above

Could Paul really have accused the Jews of killing Christ? Why certainly! say E&B, but he didn’t mean to sound like he was blaming “all Jews”, or only the Jews, collectively:

There is simply no reason to suppose that Paul could not have believed that several groups — including some Jews and some secular authorities and/or spiritual powers — were responsible for bringing this event about. (213)

Note how E&B deftly convey the idea that only “some Jews” were indirectly responsible (“bringing this event about”) for the death of Christ. Only “some Jews”? That’s not what is said in 1 Thessalonians 2.

But what is the evidence E&B have that Paul did not write what he supposedly (according to E&B) believed? read more »