Henry Knight reviews "The Aryan Jesus" by Susannah Heschel in the current issue of The Christian Century.
In penetrating detail, Heschel recounts how the ideological prejudices of Nazi Germany consumed the historical person named Jesus and replaced him with a figure totally at odds with his own Jewish identity, in which and from which he expressed his distinctive perspective on God's ways with the world. The same dynamics are at work when white supremacists replace the Galilean Jesus with a white, European image of their own prejudices. But the historical reality that cannot be ignored is that Jesus of Nazareth was a Galilean Jew in critical dialogue with his own culture, people and times at the same time that he was directly challenging the culture of empire that was oppressively present in his world. Ironically, that latter discontinuity was mocked by the institute's resolute attempts to demonstrate Jesus' continuity with the ideology that informed the Third Reich.
The Jewish world in which Jesus lived and acted was culturally, politically and religiously diverse. Any conflict he experienced with it could never have been with the Jews as a whole or with a monolithic Judaism, though he clearly did have conflict with particular Jews over things Jewish and with Romans over matters dangerously political. For the reader who believes that these historical touchstones in the life of Jesus can be safely presumed, Heschel's steadfast engagement with the Eisenach institute and its teachings is an unsettling reminder that this assumption is false.