Saturday, November 08, 2014

Hugo Odeberg and Nazi Germany

Hugo Odeberg, professor of theology at the University of Lund in Sweden from 1933-1964, is of interest to those who study early Jewish mysticism because in 1928 he published the first edition and translation into English of a Hekhalot text. This is a text known in several of the manuscripts as Sefer Hekhalot, but which he called 3 Enoch, as if it proceeded in a linear fashion from 1 Enoch and 2 Enoch. His publication of Sefer Hekhalot brought the knowledge of this work into the scholarly world, and it continues to be influential up until today in the study of the Hekhalot literature. (Philip Alexander published another English translation of the work in James Charlesworth's Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, volume 1, published in 1983. He used Odeberg's critical edition as the basis for his translation). 

Notwithstanding Odeberg's importance for the history of modern scholarship of the Hekhalot literature, I think we need to take another aspect of his career into consideration when we continue to use his work. 

In the 1930s Odeberg became a sympathizer with the Nazis, and he worked together with antisemitic German theologians in the later 1930s and 1940s. This aspect of his career is finally being revealed by current research on the involvement of Swedish scholars and theologians in the Nazi movement. Should this influence our use of Odeberg's work in contemporary research on the Hekhalot literature? I think that at the very least it should be mentioned when we cite his research. Odeberg also wrote on the Gospel of John, and his scholarship is still used also by some researchers.

An article by Andreas Åkerlund provides some information on Odeberg’s Nazi sympathies.[1] The article is about another Swedish scholar, Åke Ohlmarks, who founded an institute on the science of religions at the University of Greifswald in 1944. Åkerlund mentions Odeberg because he helped Ohlmarks find a position at the University of Greifswald in Germany.

In 1937, the “Swedish-Germany Society” was founded by “academics who wanted to support the new Germany. Chairman was the professor of theology in Lund, Hugo Odeberg, an expert on Jewish mysticism and, according to himself, a ‘competent antisemite.’”[2] Odeberg had many contacts in Germany, especially with German Christian theologians (who wanted to found Christianity on Nazi racist principles). “Ohlmarks also belonged to a research group on Old Norse religion called ‘Odal’ founded by Odeberg.” Odeberg was also an active member of the “Institut zur Erforschung und Beseitigung des jüdischen Einflusses auf das deutsche kirchliche Leben” (Institute for the Study and Eradication of Jewish Influence on German Church Life”) in Eisenach.[3] Odeberg had also invited another member of the institute to give lectures in Lund in 1941, Wolf Meyer-Erlach, who was a professor of theology in Jena. Odeberg and Meyer-Erlach helped Ohlmarks get a position at Greifswald in 1941.[4]

The article asks the interesting question of “why German theologians aiming to free Christianity from the ‘Jewish impact’ support a scholar specialized in Old Norse religion?”[5] The German Christians “did not see Christianity and National Socialism as opposing forces.” These German Christian theologians used the term “Religionswissenschaft” for their own work, in part to protect theological faculties at universities from plans by the Ministry of Education of the Third Reich to remove them,[6] and also because it “justified an expansion of the theological work field to include pre-Christian, Indo-Aryan, or Germanic religions as well. The academic program of such a voelkish and Christian science of religion was to free Aryan Christianity from all oriental-Jewish influences. In 1938 German Christians were discussing the set-up of an academic institute to carry out this work. The debate led to the ‘Institute for the Study and Eradication of Jewish Influence on German Church Life” in Eisenach, which opened on May 6, 1939.”[7]

According to Susannah Heschel in, “When Jesus was an Aryan: The Protestant Church and Antisemitism,” the Institute “built an alliance with faculty and students in Scandinavia, led by Hugo Odeberg, a distinguished scholar of Judaica at the University of Lund.”[8] In 1941, the academic director of the Institute, Walter Grundmann, and Meyer-Erlach, “formed a working group Germanentum und Christentum, which brought Scandinavian theologians and writers to participate in two annual conferences in Germany. Odeberg took the initiative among the Scandinavians, inviting thirty academics, students, and writers from Sweden, Norway, and Denmark to lecture at the conferences, which were held in Weissenfels and in Eisenach. Impressed by the high quality of scholarship practiced by Institute members, Odeberg sent seven Scandinavian students to Jena to write doctoral dissertations under Grundmann.”[9] Heschel also writes about the membership of the Institute that “It is worth noting that precisely those scholars who trained in early Judaism during the 1920s became active members in the Institute: Paul Fiebig, Hugo Odeberg, Georg Bertram, and Georg Beer, among others.”[10]

In another article, Heschel reports on a paper presented by Odeberg at one of the Institute’s conferences, in 1942. The topic was whether Jesus’ mother tongue was really a Semitic language.[11]

Sverker Oredsson’s book on Lunds universitet under andra världskriget (Lund University during World War II) also reported on Odeberg’s activities. A notice of the book, published in the “Lund University Reports, No. 6, 1996,” written by Solveig Ståhl, reports of Odeberg in this way: “Hugo Odeberg, however, was Nazi-friendly and never left that position. In 1937, he spoke of the Jewish question in the National Students Club and showed great understanding of the ethnic cleansing that started in Germany. “A nation should not find themselves in an unauthorized Jewish influence.” 
(This article was accessed on November 8, and the URL is  http://www3.lu.se/info/lum/LUM_06_96/LUM6_03_lundanazism.html. Translation from Swedish provided by Google Translate).

Jesper Svartik presented a paper at the SBL in 2006 on "Hugo Odeberg's Pharisaism and Dejudaized Christianity Anno 1943." An abstract of the presentation can be found on the SBL website. Unfortunately, I only found out about the talk after it had already been given.
Hugo Odeberg's Pharisaism and Dejudaized Christianity Anno 1943  
Program Unit: Bible and Cultural Studies 
Jesper Svartvik, Lund University 
Dr. Hugo Odeberg, Professor of Biblical Studies at Lund University in Sweden 1933-64, wrote in 1943 the notoriously influential book Pharisaism and Christianity. The purpose of the book, which has been translated into Danish, Norwegian, Finnish and English, was to describe the essential difference between two religious types. His book has influenced Jewish-Christian relations in Scandinavia during the last century more than any other theological work. Odeberg has gone down to posterity as a foremost connoisseur of Semitic languages, Jewish texts and Jewish mysticism. Therefore, this book has often been thought of as an objective presentation of the factual difference between “Pharisaism” and Christianity — wie es eigentlich gewesen. However, at the time of his writing this book during the Second World War, Odeberg was the President of a pro-Nazi Swedish-German Society. This paper examines its theology in the light of a number of lectures which Odeberg held at conferences in the Third Reich, published in the series of the Institute zur Erforschung und Beseitigung des jüdischen Einflusses auf das deutsche kirchliche Leben. The paper seeks to demonstrate that Odeberg during the early 1940’s was so heavily engaged in a pro-Nazi construal of a dejudaized Christianity that it must affect our understanding of the book Pharisaism and Christianity. Whereas his political affiliation has been known for some time — although its extent has not been recognized hitherto —, this paper will also expose that Odeberg actually plagiarized a German anthology published in the 1920’s with ancient and modern Jewish sources translated from Aramaic and Hebrew into German. This embarrassing piece of information explains some of the inconsistencies in the book. A critical examination of Pharisaism and Christianity helps us understand the impediments which the study of Judaism and Jewish-Christian relations in Scandinavia are still facing.

This is the relevant portion on Odeberg:
The “forgotten” sympathisants – Odeberg and Stadener 
The case of Hugo Odeberg, who had been a priest in the south of Sweden before he took over the chair of exegetics in Lund after Erling Eidem in 1933, is a good example of how recent research has changed the official picture of a person. Odeberg was an internationally renowned expert on Jewish mysticism and one of the first Swedish theologians to point out the importance of Jewish sources for the understanding of Early Christianity.  
Odeberg showed strong sympathies for the “new Germany” in the late 1930s and early 40s. In 1941 he took over as chairman of the Swedish-German Association, which had been founded in 1937.[12] The association had the outspoken aim to “promote understanding for the new Germany” in Sweden. Odeberg was also founder of a Research Group on Old Norse Religion in Lund called “Odal”, which collaborated with the German “Institute for the Study and Eradication of Jewish Influence on German Church Life" in Eisenach.[13] A member of this institute, the professor of theology in Jena, Wolf Meyer-Erlach, had held lectures at the University of Lund in 1941, invited by Odeberg.  
Odeberg participated in a number of conferences in Nazi Germany during the years 1941-1943 arranged by the institute and also sent some of his doctoral students to study for Meyer-Erlach in Jena. Odeberg also kept in contact with the Pro-Nazi theologian Gerhard Kittel, from “Forschungsabteilung Judenfrage” in Munich which Odeberg also visited.  
Recent investigations have also drawn attention to the strong anti-Semitic bias of Odeberg’s book “Pharisaism and Christianity”, first published in Swedish in 1943 and course literature on the priest seminars of the Swedish Church until the 1970s. The article on Odeberg in the Swedish Biographical Lexica, written by Tryggve Kronholm, professor in Semitic languages at the University of Uppsala, in the early 1990s however, does not mention any of the facts I just mentioned. What it does say is that Odeberg was accused of being a Pro-Nazi Anti-Semite during the war, but that his friendship with a number of Jews “speaks another language”.[14] A conclusion which is not only weak, but obviously a lie considering the facts mentioned above. This is a rhetoric figure with the one and only aim to excuse Odeberg’s Anti-Semitism as well as his work for the Swedish-German Association during the war.
Selected publications by Odeberg:

3 Enoch, or The Hebrew Book of Enoch. New York: Ktav, 1973 (reprint of the 1928 edition together with a prolegomenon by Jonas B. Greenfield).

The Fourth Gospel: Interpreted in its Relation to Contemporaneous Religious Currents in Palestine and the Hellenistic-Oriental world. Uppsala, 1929.

"Hellenismus und Judentum. Verjudung und Entjudung der antiken Welt," in Die völkische Gestalt des Glaubens, ed. by Walter Grundmann. Liepzig: Georg Wigand, 1943. This was one of the publications of the “Institute for the Study and Eradication of Jewish Influence on German Church Life."

"Die Muttersprache Jesu als wissenschaftliche Aufgabe,” in Walter Grundmann, ed., Germanentum, Christentum, und Judentum: Studien zur Erforschung ihres gegenseitigen Verhältnisses: Sitzungsberichte der dritten Arbeitstagung des Instituts zur Erforschung des jüdischen Einflusses auf das deutsche kirchliche Leben vom 9. bis 11. Juni 1942 in Nürnberg. 3 volumes; Liepzig: Georg Wigand, 1943. Vol. 3, pp. 69-82.

Pharisaism and Christianity. St Louis: Concordia, 1943 (translated from Swedish).


[1] "Åke Ohlmarks in the Third Reich: A Scientific Career Between Adaptation, Cooperation, and Ignorance," pages 553-575 in Horst Junginger, The Study of Religion Under the Impact of Fascism (Leiden: Brill, 2008).
[2] Ibid., 560. Another article, however, says that Odeberg became head of the society only in 1941: Håkan Bengtsson, "Hugo Odeberg, Kännare av Judendom och Nazist?", p. 2.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid., 560-61.
[5] Ibid., 562.
[6] Ibid., 566.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Omer Bartov and Phyllis Mack, eds., In God’s Name: Genocide and Religion in the Twentieth Century (Berghbahn Books, 2001), 84 (79-105).
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid., 80.
[11] Susannah Heschel, “Reading Jesus as a Nazi,” p. 30 (27-41), in Tod Linafelt, ed., A Shadow of Glory: Reading the New Testament After the Holocaust (Routledge, 2013).
[12] Oredsson, Sverker, Lunds universitet under andra världskriget. Motsättningar, debatter och hjälpinsatser, Lund 1996, pp. 113.
[13] Heschel, Susannah, “Theologen für Hitler”, in Leonore Siegele-Wenschkewitz (ed.), Christlicher Antijudaismus und Antisemitismus, Frankfurt am Main 1994, pp. 125-170.
[14] Kronholm, Tryggve, ”Odeberg, Hugo” in: Svenskt biografiskt Lexikon 28, Stockholm 1992-1994, pp. 1-5, p. 2.

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