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Dogmen- und Theologiegeschichte
Deines, Roland, Leppin, Volker u. Niebuhr, Karl-Wilhelm [Hrsg.]
Walter Grundmann. Ein Neutestamentler im Dritten Reich.
Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt 2007. 386 S. gr.8° = Arbeiten zur Kirchen- und Theologiegeschichte, 21. Geb. EUR 48,00. ISBN 978-3-374-02476-6.
Walter Grundmann was professor of New Testament at the University of Jena 1938–1945. He was a member of the NSDAP since 1930 and a supporting member of the SS since 1934. He was also one of the leading figures in the »Institut zur Erforschung des jüdischen Einflusses auf das deutsche Kirchliche Leben« founded in 1939.
The aim of this book is to understand Grundmann historically, not to excuse him, and to explain why he erred in his deepest convictions. Its twelve articles go back on a series of papers presented at the theological faculty of the University of Jena in summer 2005.
The three first contributions discuss Grundmann in relation to previous theological studies. Otto Merk investigates Paul de Lagarde in view of Grundmann’s claim that Lagarde was a predecessor of his own position and shows that Lagarde’s influence was limited and ambiguous. Roland Deines treats Grundmann’s conviction that Jesus was a Galilean and, as such, not a real Jew and traces it back to Armand Kaminka, indicating how Galilee is a multifaceted concept in the Bible and illustrating the bond between science and a particular racist ideology evident in the work of Grundmann and others before him. Roland Liebenberg depicts the emergence of Paul Althaus’ theocentric theology of experience and points to Althaus’ experiences during World War I and his theology about the fighting and majestic God, which was aimed to meet the ideals of the returning German soldiers.
The next two articles discuss Grundmann in the context of the Thüringen Church and the University of Jena. Ernst Koch argues that the situation in Thüringen 1936–1945 was complex and that the radical adherence of the evangelical Church to the political ideology of the time emerged only gradually. Uwe Hossfeld gives an account of the ambiguous situation at the University, pointing to the appointment in 1930 of Hans F. K. Günther – the so-called »Rasse-Günther« – as professor of social anthropology, in addition to other members of the »Rassen-Quadriga« in Jena, but also to the fact that Grundmann’s conception of race and religion had no wide acceptance at the University.
Two further articles address Grundmann’s idea of a theology for the German nation. Volker Leppin traces the development of the theology of the young Grundmann, from his »Gott und Nation« authored in 1930 and published in 1933, through his defense of the German Christian ideology in the 28 theses of 1934, to his appointment as teacher at the University of Jena in 1936 and professor of New Testament in 1938. Leppin concludes that Grundmann’s theological focus on creation (rather than Christology) and salvation emerged not as opportunistic adaptations to prevailing tendencies, but as sincere attempts to theologically confront the political upheavals of the time. Tobias Schüfer discusses Grundmann’s programmatic development of »Gott und Nation« in the 1937 publication »Völkische Theologie«, detecting a reduction of theology to anthropology, and points to the »Jenaer Denkschrift zur Studienreform« from 1938 as an attempt to implement at the University a theology that accorded with the ideology of national socialism and racism.
Karl-Wilhelm Niebuhr deals with Grundmann as a New Testament scholar, comparing Leonhard Thiel’s notes from Grund-mann’s lectures on New Testament theology in 1937–1938 with his book Die Geschichte Jesu Christi from 1957. Although there are several differences between the lectures as reflected in Thiel’s notes and the book, even to the extent that the book downplays Grundmann’s earlier caricature of Jewish piety and lacks the introductory six paragraphs on Jewish religion, Niebuhr detects no significant changes in Grundmann’s understanding of Jesus’ relationship to the Judaism of his day. According to Niebuhr, these similarities in the thinking of the young and the old Grundmann have to do with the influence of dominating paradigms of the Jesus research in Germany after World War II.
Two articles give attention to the activities of the Eisenach Institute. Ulrich Hutter-Wolandt, after describing the situation of the theological faculty at the University of Breslau during World War II, portrays the involvement of its New Testament professor and Dean Herbert Preisker in the Institute and points to Preisker’s close collaboration with Grundmann from its foundation in 1939 to his escape from Breslau and appointment as professor in Jena in 1945. Anders Gerdmar describes the contacts between the Institute and Sweden, in particular with Hugo Odeberg, the New Testament professor at Lund University, and Douglas Edenholm, a doctor of theology from Jena and a priest in the Swedish Lutheran Church. Gerdmar depicts the influence of Odeberg’s lecture »Die Muttersprache Jesu als wissenschaftliche Aufgabe« at the conference of the Institute in June 1942 and the continued Swedish attendance at a further conference the same year. At this conference Odeberg’s lecture »Hellenismus und Judentum. Verjudung und Entjudung der antiken Welt« was seen as a scientific corner-stone of anti-Jewish sentiments. Edenholm’s deliberations »Germanskt och kristet«, originally a lecture in Sweden, indicates his alliance with the Institute and, with Gerdmard’s words, »dass es für einen Hauptvertreter der Reformtheologie durchaus möglich war, eine Ideologie des Germanentums mit dem Akzent auf einer nordisch-germanischen Rassenessenz in einem schwedischen reformtheologischen Kontext vorzustellen« (345–346).
The book closes with two articles which discuss Grundmann after the war. Thomas A. Seidel depicts Grundmann’s failed attempts to find a position in the Church after his denazification in October 1945 and points to Grundmann’s ambivalent reaction to the official statement of regret of Siegfried Leffler – Leffler was his former collaborator at the Institute and in Thüringen – in December 1947 and his attempt to defend the work of the Institute. Although Grundmann was accepted as »Hilfspfarrer« and »Pfarrer« in 1949 and 1950, and four years later became »Rektor« of the theological seminar in Thüringen partly on the basis of testimonies of his regrets, it remains unclear, according to Seidel, if he actually renounced from his previous convictions. Hans Mikosch, in the last article of the book, tells with appreciation of his attendance at Grundmann’s teaching in the seminar in 1964–1966 and indicates that Grudmann rarely revealed his political inclinations but also, at the end, left several questions open.
This book is a reliable source for understanding Grundmann and the situation in Jena during and just after World War II. Only a few queries should be noted. The articles concerning Lagarde and Althaus, though interesting in themselves, fail to show how Grund-mann interacted with or was dependent on them. One wonders also why Grundmann’s relationship to his own teachers is left out of consideration. It is only occasionally indicated (e. g. 197.220–222). I have noted only a few inconsistencies. Did Grundmann become a member of the NSDAP on November 1 (222) or December 1 (192), 1930? I believe the latter is correct. Was his monograph »Die Geschichte Jesu Christi« available in 1956 (242)? It was published in 1957.
All in all, the book reveals the admirable desire of the University in Jena to clarify the dark sides of its past without excusing it and presenting openly the history of one of its most prolific professors. The primary value is that it points to the complexity of the situation in Thüringen and Jena during the war. To be sure, for a New Testament scholar it leaves a sense of unease over the attention given to a person whose scholarly results have been superseded and whom we remember mainly because of his theological and political errors. However, it also contributes to the awareness of the ethical responsibility of scholarly work and relates to vital hermeneutical issues of today. I am not certain that I have fully understood why Grundmann erred. It is impossible, it seems, to decide if he, at least as a young person, was an ambitious opportunist or not. Nonetheless, the book, in particular as it suggests that Grundmann acted out of conviction, shows that academic study is a part of the cultural and political landscape of the various nations where it is conduced and indicates that the broader responsibility of Biblical studies must remain an issue of mutual and on-going discussion across the barriers of races and nations.