Wolfram Kinzig. Harnack, Marcion und das Judentum: Nebst einer kommentierten Edition des Briefwechsels Adolf von Harnacks mit Houston Stewart Chamberlain. Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 2004. 344 S. EUR 38.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-3-374-02181-9.
Reviewed by Roderick Stackelberg (Department of History, Gonzaga University)
Published on H-German (May, 2007)
Anti-Judaism and Antisemitism: Theology and Politics in Early Twentieth-Century Germany
In this closely argued book, church historian Wolfram Kinzig explores the puzzling question how Adolf Harnack (1851-1930), the most famous academic representative of liberal Protestantism (known in Germany as Kulturprotestantismus) at the turn of the century, arrived at his notorious proposal to exclude the Old Testament from the canon of the German Evangelical Church. Elevated to the hereditary nobility by Kaiser Wilhelm II after his appointment as royal librarian in 1906, Harnack made his startling recommendation in his last major work, a biography of the second-century Greek quasi-Gnostic heretic Marcion, which he published in 1921 at the age of seventy. Völkisch publicists after the First World War, including members of the Nazi-supported Deutsche Christen, frequently referred to Harnack's recommendation to justify their own rejection of the "Jewish" Old Testament, despite the fact that Harnack repeatedly disassociated himself from the antisemitic movement and criticized its doctrines of racial supremacy. While the specific focus of Kinzig's study is the genealogy of Harnack's proposal to revoke the canonical status of the Old Testament, his more general purpose is to investigate and critique Harnack's attitudes towards Judaism as a religion and towards contemporary Jewry as a people.
The book consists of three parts. The first, by far the longest and theologically most challenging part, "Harnacks Marcion," traces the evolution of Harnack's interpretation of Marcion from his prize-winning dissertation as a nineteen-year-old student of theology at the Baltic-German University at Dorpat, today Tartu in Estonia, to his 1921 biography. Harnack's 1870 Preisschrift, while sympathetic to Marcion for allegedly anticipating the Protestant doctrines of salvation by faith alone and the priesthood of believers, was much more reserved about Marcion's importance for Christian theology than his later biography. The young Harnack did not yet embrace Marcion's low opinion of the Old Testament nor his absolute differentiation between the stern creator God of the Old Testament and the good, merciful God of the New Testament. Kinzig carefully analyzes Harnack's growing valorization of Marcion as a harbinger of the sixteenth-century Reformation in his major works, the multi-volume History of Dogma (1886-89), his widely circulated Das Wesen des Christentums (translated as What Is Christianity?, 1900), and The Mission and Expansion of Christianity during the First Three Centuries (1902). Harnack became increasingly enamored of Marcion's dualistic doctrines of God versus nature, spirit versus matter, soul versus the flesh, and the gospel versus the law as pointing the way to the progressive development of Christian theology. In Harnack's evolving description Marcion took on more and more traits of Martin Luther. In his culminating biography Harnack praised Marcion for creating the New Testament canon, making the doctrine of salvation the center of Christianity rather than founding Christianity on cosmology, and going beyond Saint Paul in repudiating Judaic residues in Christianity, including the Old Testament. Harnack conceded that the second-century Old Catholic Church had been right not to have discarded the Old Testament, which furnished the necessary historical justification for Christianity in its precarious early years. He also sympathized with Luther's judgment that the Protestant Reformation could not do without the law as embodied in the Old Testament. But while Harnack insisted that the Old Testament, particularly the prophetic books and the Psalms, should continue to be read as edifying literature today, he declared that one cannot learn from it what it means to be Christian. Hence he concluded that its retention as a Protestant canonical document in the twentieth century was "the result of a religious and ecclesiastical paralysis" (p. 86).
The second part of Kinzig's book, headed "Juden und Judentum bei Harnack," is more accessible to non-theologians and will be of greater interest to historians and general readers. Kinzig first examines Harnack's attitude toward ancient Judaism before addressing his attitude toward contemporary Jewry. Harnack's assessment of ancient Judaism was based on his distinction between what he called Palestinian Judaism, which provided the historical setting for Jesus' emergence as a rebel angrily combating the authority and conventions of the Pharisees, and Hellenistic Diaspora Judaism (represented theologically particularly by Philo), which reconciled biblical teachings with Greek philosophy and prepared the ground for the Christianization of the Greeks and the religion's subsequent spread. While Harnack praised Hellenistic Judaism as a preliminary stage to the universalism of Christianity, he faulted Palestinian Judaism and its followers in the Diaspora for reverting to an exclusive "Volksreligion" (p. 164). Kinzig does not hold back in his criticism of Harnack's interpretation of ancient Judaism as a religion stunted by ritualism, legalism, and ethnocentrism, while Christianity, imbued by the Greek spirit of freedom, supposedly overcame the constraints of Judaism and allegedly democratized and popularized Judaic ethics. Kinzig illuminates the contradictions in Harnack's analysis, which at times portrayed Diaspora Judaism as a proselytizing movement in competition with Christianity, while at other times stressing its exclusiveness as the source of Christian antisemitism. Kinzig's most serious charge is that Harnack entirely neglected Jewish sources in his histories of the early Church, although he did belatedly support the introduction of Jewish Studies into the theological faculty of the University of Berlin in 1912. He was not familiar with Hebrew and provided no evidence from rabbinic literature for his characterizations of Judaism. By ignoring the works of Abraham Geiger (1810-74), the founder of the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums in Berlin in 1872, and other Jewish scholars, Harnack failed to keep abreast of the latest research in his field. Like so many other Protestant theologians of his era, he saw Jesus' teachings not in relation to, but as a contradiction of Judaism. Kinzig chides Harnack for failing to realize that a deeper knowledge of ancient Judaism might have facilitated a better understanding of early Christianity.
The indifference Harnack displayed toward Jewish scholarship also characterized his stance on the "Jewish question," increasingly propelled into the political limelight by the growing antisemitic movement in Germany in the 1880s and 1890s. While he criticized the antisemitism of Imperial Court Chaplain Adolf Stoecker (1835-1909) as a "sad scandal" and insisted that antisemitism had no place in the Church or Christian religion, he acknowledged that there might be a Jewish question in a "national or economic sense," on which, however, he disclaimed any competence to comment (p. 190). Harnack also unequivocally denied the validity of notions of racial determinism, writing in the liberal Vienna Neue Freie Presse in 1907 that in social and political affairs "there is nothing more disgusting and infuriating than the fanaticism and hypocrisy that seek to conceal egoistic claims to power and dominance under the cloak of race and religion" (cited on p. 193). Yet in insisting that unique Jewish traits were not racially determined but acquired as a result of persecution and victimization, he implicitly accepted assumptions about a negative Jewish type. Although he rejected völkisch antisemitism without reservation, he was not active in fighting against it, refusing an invitation to join the board of the Verein zur Abwehr des Antisemitismus in 1924, in contrast to his son Ernst and nephew Arvid, both of whom were executed for their resistance to Nazism during the Second World War. Like his older friend and mentor, the classical scholar Theodor Mommsen (1817-1903), Harnack advocated full Jewish assimilation, which he seems, however, to have regarded as a function of conversion to Christianity. He also shared with Mommsen a sense of resignation about the possibility of countering so populist and hateful an ideology as antisemitism with rational argument. Kinzig describes Harnack's attitude toward the Jews as "paternalistic" (p. 200), regarding them as disobedient children who have to be treated with love and discipline. On the other hand, Harnack resolutely defended the Weimar Republic, writing in the Neue Freie Presse in 1924 that reactionaries were wrong-headed to think that "the defects of the present age can be healed through parades, swastikas, and steel helmets" (cited on p. 196).
Harnack's prejudices and ambivalence, and those of Kulturprotestantismus more generally, are nowhere more evident than in the third part of Kinzig's book, "The Correspondence between Harnack and Houston Stewart Chamberlain (1855-1927)." Their acquaintance was mediated by Wilhelm II in 1901, who wanted the distinguished theologian to meet the newly celebrated author of The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century (1900). Like many other liberal Protestant theologians, Harnack had praised Foundations for its exaltation of Christianity and the Reformation while either dismissing or ignoring its racist and antisemitic content. The two writers did not exactly hit it off, each criticizing the other in letters to third parties. In 1902 Chamberlain wrote to Cosima Wagner, "Ich verehre Harnack als Gelehrten.... doch geistig fühle ich mich durch eine Welt von ihm getrennt" (cited on p. 215). To Wilhelm II Chamberlain complained about Harnack's all-too-moderate nationalism in 1903: "Er ist doch ebenso frei wie ich und hätte eine deutsche, entschiedene Sprache reden dürfen und sollen" (cited on p. 216). Between 1901 and 1912, the Harnack-Chamberlain correspondence was limited to polite but fairly perfunctory exchanges. Harnack's longest letter in 1902 contained his sometimes quite censorious corrections to Chamberlain's collection of sayings by Jesus, Worte Christi (1901), most of which Chamberlain adopted in the second edition of his pamphlet in 1903. The nature of their relationship changed abruptly in 1912 after Chamberlain sent Harnack a copy of his newly published biography of Goethe. Harnack responded with five letters of effusive praise and detailed commentary between November 13 and 21, 1912, as he voraciously read the book chapter by chapter. Again he rejected Chamberlain's antisemitism and racism (less pronounced in Goethe than in The Foundations), writing, "You are really possessed by an anti-Jewish demon that clouds your vision and disfigures your wonderful book.... I believe that we owe Isaiah, Jeremiah, the Psalms, and above all Jesus Christ himself to the Jews" (cited on p. 263). But Harnack made it clear that he would not let the issue of antisemitism get between them, cutting short his criticism of Chamberlain's racism with the words, "But enough; the Jew is not to have the last word. May he rather now disappear completely [from our correspondence] and may only the conviction of how much we have in common remain, as you have so wonderfully shown in your portrait of Goethe" (cited on p. 266). Chamberlain agreed to drop the subject--"Sie werden Ihre Meinung nicht ändern, und ich die meine ebensowenig"--(cited on p. 271) but not until after he tried to rationalize his hatred of Jews as a necessary corollary to his love of honor, nobility, reverence, and morality. "Seien Sie auch hierin generös," Chamberlain wrote, "und lassen Sie mir meinen Haß, auf das ich nicht meine Liebe verliere" (cited p. 272). They continued on good terms. Harnack gratefully acknowledged receipt of Chamberlain's war pamphlets in 1914 and 1915, and praised them highly to the Kaiser, and his Mensch und Gott. Betrachtungen über Religion und Christentum in 1921. Chamberlain reciprocated by heaping praise on publications sent by Harnack, including his Marcion in 1922. Certainly they were united in their hopes for a German victory in the First World War, in their bitter disappointment at German defeat, and in their assumption of the superiority of the German form of Protestant Christianity. Although he preached tolerance, it was Harnack who had written in 1901, "Wer diese Religion nicht kennt, kennt keine, und wer sie samt ihrer Geschichte kennt, kennt alle" (cited p. 204).
Clearly, Kinzig's purpose in including Harnack's correspondence with Chamberlain, some of which has not been published before, is to show how very different Harnack's attitudes toward Jews and racialism were from those of Chamberlain. But he concedes that their correspondence "casts a dark shadow on the biography of the church historian" (p. 231) and requires explanation. From a post-Holocaust perspective historians cannot help but question how Harnack could have maintained such friendly relations for so long with so notorious an antisemite, and Chamberlain was not the only one, as Harnack was also on excellent terms with völkisch theologian Johannes Müller (1864-1949), whose evangelical community at Schloß Elmau he visited for extended periods in the 1920s. Kinzig points out that if Chamberlain wanted to gain the approval of Germany's Bildungsbürgertum, he could not have chosen a better subject to write about than Goethe, on whom Harnack's brother Otto, a professor of literature, had also written a widely read scholarly biography. Harnack shared with the academic German elites some of their mandarin conservatism, expressed in contempt for the masses, suspicion of elected or unelected majorities, opposition to secularization, and disdain for politics, which conservatives invariably associated with the reform efforts of the left. Kinzig might have made more of anti-Catholicism as a bond among liberal and conservative German Protestants as well. From Harnack's point of view the greatest danger to Protestantism was "the progressive Catholicizing of the Protestant Churches," by which he meant a "Catholic conception of the Church, which identifies the Church of the Faith with the Church of History [and] everything that naturally goes with it--fanaticism, the despotic tendency, impatience, a mania for persecution, clerical uniform, and clerical police." True Protestantism did not treat the creed dogmatically as legal ordinances requiring obedience, as the Catholic Church supposedly did, but rather as an inner faith and feeling that pervaded every aspect of a Protestant's life. Harnack's strained relations with the evangelical church hierarchy, which had opposed his original appointment at the University of Berlin in 1888 because of his liberal views, ironically may have made him more receptive to Chamberlain's antipathy to the organized Catholic and Protestant churches as well.
Kinzig denies that the attitude of Harnack, and of Kulturprotestantismus more generally, toward Jews can be adequately understood through such polarizing categories as anti-Judaism or antisemitism. It would be more accurate to speak of an intermittently in- or decreasing distance to Judaism and Jewry on the part of Protestant theologians. According to Kinzig, Harnack's call to decanonize the Old Testament was a result of his historical research and his fascination with Marcion, not of contemporary political disputes or anti-Jewish prejudice. Although Harnack should have recognized that his attitude toward the Old Testament and ancient Judaism could be misused, he cannot be held responsible for its political instrumentalization against his will. While agreeing with Harnack's critics, above all the Israeli scholar Uriel Tal and the many scholars of various nationalities who followed his lead, that religious anti-Judaism paved the way for the more lethal racial antisemitism that followed, Kinzig argues that Harnack's disinterest in the Old Testament and ignorance of contemporary Judaism should not be defined as anti-Judaism or as antisemitism insofar as this implies a connection to völkisch antisemitism or the Holocaust. Kinzig can find no evidence in Harnack's works for Tal's assertion that because Harnack and his students understood the purpose of Jewry as providing "witness for the correctness of the Christian faith" through their suffering, they believed that after emancipation and the acquisition of full civil rights Jews had lost their "Existenzberechtigung" (p. 34). Kinzig is critical of teleological theories of antisemitism that understand the Holocaust as the culmination of nineteenth-century antisemitism or of centuries-old Christian antisemitism. "Wir stehen nach Auschwitz in der akuten Gefahr," he writes, "den deutschen Antisemitismus immer auf die Shoah hin zu lesen und möglicherweise in seiner Bedeutung innerhalb seiner eigenen Zeit überzubewerten" (pp. 204-205).
Kinzig's mildly "postmodernist" conclusion, distrustful of master narratives, should not put readers off this excellent scholarly study. His introduction also provides a useful guide through the recent literature on the attitudes of Harnack and Kulturprotestantismus toward Judaism. A key to Kinzig's own theological perspective may be found in his earlier massive study of the idea of progress in the early Christian Church. For English-speaking readers he summarized his findings as follows: "The lesson to be learned from this study is that the idea of progress, useful though it is, is highly problematic and should be abandoned." This idea, as held by the Church Fathers he studied, was not compatible with our grim historical experience after two world wars and the Holocaust. "Moreover, it is anti-Jewish, because it is based on the idea of a progressive revelation and thus leads to an instrumentalisation of the Jewish experience with God which is ethically questionable. The question as regards the right Christian interpretation of history," he concluded, "is therefore still open." His conclusion indirectly underscores the historical irony that the most significant Protestant resistance to Nazism came not from Kulturprotestanten in the rational tradition of Harnack, who prided themselves on their liberal ethics and sense of cultural progress, but from stern advocates of a spiritual Christianity, such as Karl Barth (1886-1968) or Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-45), who acted directly on the teachings of the Jewish, historical Jesus.
. Adolf von Harnack, Marcion: Das Evangelium vom fremden Gott. Eine Monographie zur Geschichte der Grundlegung der katholischen Kirche (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1921). Translated by John E. Steely and Lyle D. Bierma as Marcion: The Gospel of the Alien God (Durham: Labyrinth Press, 1990).
. Adolf von Harnack, Marcion. Der moderne Gläubige des 2. Jahrhunderts, der erste Reformator (Dorpat: Die Dorpater Preisschrift, 1870). New edition edited by Friedemann Steck (Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2003).
. See Susannah Heschel, Abraham Geiger and the Jewish Jesus (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998); and Christian Wiese, Challenging Colonial Discourse: Jewish Studies and Protestant Theology in Wilhelmine Germany, tr. Barbara Harshav and Christian Wiese (Leiden: Brill, 2005), 159-169. Both Heschel and Wiese are even more critical of Harnack than Kinzig. According to Wiese, Harnack "relentlessly made it clear that, as he saw it, the Jewish religion was completely obsolete" (p. 169).
. On Ernst von Harnack (1888-1945), see Jahre des Widerstands 1932-1945, ed. Gustav-Adolf von Harnack (Pfullingen: Neske, 1989). On Arvid Harnack (1901-42), see Shareen Blair Brysac, Resisting Hitler: Mildred Harnack and the Red Orchestra (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).
. See also Christian Nottmeier, Adolf von Harnack und die deutsche Politik 1890-1930. Eine biographische Studie zum Verhältnis von Protestantismus, Wissenschaft und Politik (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2004), especially chapter 6, "Der konservative Republikaner: Harnack und die erste deutsche Demokratie," 462-514.
. Adolf Harnack, Thoughts on the Present Position of Protestantism, tr. Thomas Bailey Saunders (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1899), 32, 35. Jews and Judaism are never mentioned in this brief book.
. Uriel Tal, Christians and Jews in Germany: Religion, Politics, and Ideology in the Second Reich, 1870-1914, tr. Noah Jonathan Jacobs (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1975), 191ff.
. Kinzig cites Tal's essay, "Theologische Debatte um das 'Wesen' des Judentums," in Juden im Wilhelminischen Deutschland 1890-1914, ed.Werner E. Mosse and Arnold Paucker (Tübingen: Mohr, 1976), 599-632.
. Wolfram Kinzig, Novitas Christiana. Die Idee des Fortschritts in der Alten Kirche bis Eusebius (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1994), p. 592.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-german.
Roderick Stackelberg. Review of Kinzig, Wolfram, Harnack, Marcion und das Judentum: Nebst einer kommentierten Edition des Briefwechsels Adolf von Harnacks mit Houston Stewart Chamberlain.
H-German, H-Net Reviews.
Copyright © 2007 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed use, contact the Reviews editorial staff at email@example.com.