Gerhard Kittel

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Gerhard Kittel was a Protestant theologian and an ardent anti-Semite
Gerhard Kittel was a Protestant theologian and an ardent anti-Semite

Gerhard Kittel (September 23, 1888, Breslau - July 11, 1948) was a German Protestant theologian and an ardent anti-Semite.[1] Kittel was named as an official theologian by the Nazi party and the Nazi's often appealed to some of his works as an excuse for their anti-Semitic eugenic policies.


Early Life

Kittel was the son of Old Testament Professor Rudolf Kittel, who was an expert on Judaism of the Old Testament Period, instructor and, later, a rector of the University of Leipzig (1917 - 1919).[1] He attended the König Albert-Gymnasium in Leipzig from 1907 to 1912 where he studied Theology and oriental languages. He also studied in Tübingen, Berlin and Halle. He received his doctorate in 1913 in Kiel.

During World War I, Killel served as a Navy chaplain. In 1917 he taught privately in Leipzig[1] until 1921 when he became an associate professor. During the course of 1921, he was called to become a professor at Greifswald in the New Testament department, where he stayed until 1926.[2] He later took over the chair of Adolf Schlatter in Tübingen. While at Tübingen, he conducted several studies and published articles covering research comparing the history and religion of ancient Judaism and Palestinian early Christianity. At that time, he expressed that he was less interested in the racial or political questions but rather in the religious relationship between Israel, Judaism and Christianity.[3] In 1933 he took over the new edition of the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament from Hermann Cremer and Julius Kögel.

Nazi Involvement

The Book Theologians Under Hitler, is critical of Kittel saying "Kittel produced a body of work between 1933 and 1944 filled with hatred and slander toward Jews…"
The Book Theologians Under Hitler, is critical of Kittel saying "Kittel produced a body of work between 1933 and 1944 filled with hatred and slander toward Jews…"

He joined the Nazi Party in May of 1933[1] when they seized power. With the publication of his article "The Question of the Jews" in 1933, Kittel became involved with the Nazi exclusion policy of the Jewish population to the voiced disagreement from both Jewish and Christian leaders, Martin Buber and Ernst Lohmeyer, respectively.

In 1935, Kittel became one of the founding fathers of the Reichsinstituts für Geschichte des Neuen Deutschland (The Government Institute for the History of the New Germany)[1], a supposedly scientific body charged with the justification of the Nazi regime's antisemitic policies. He was an active contributor to the work of the sector involved with the Jewish question (Forschungsabteilung Judenfrage)[1]. In 1936 he also worked for the Munich branch of the Institut zur Erforschung der Judenfrage (Research Institute of the Jewish Question). From the autumn of 1939 to April 1943 he held the chair of the Theology department in Vienna.

Hermann Sasse, professor of Theology at Erlangen, characterized Kittel and his work in a note to Bravarian bishop Hans Meiser in 1944 with the following words: "As a collaborator on his dictionary for over a year, I learned that Kittel is one of the most cunning theological businessmen of our time. His pacts with the Deutsche Christen in all respects has been a difficult challenge for us.... This lecture documents his activity in the Reichsinstitut Für Geschichte des Neuen Deutschlands" and has served as scientific underpinnings for the present policies toward the Jews. Kittel has thereby helped these policies and, therefore, made the evangelical theology partly liable therefore."[4]

He wrote Nazi-influenced articles about Christianity and until his disclosure of or conversion to anti-Semitism, he had been a well respected scholar. He was so well-respected that secular and Christian Liberals within the academy denied or obscured his Third Reich work until Robert P. Ericksen's published work on Kittel, Theologians Under Hitler, in 1985 made such liberal denialism no longer possible.

Herbert Lowewe, a Cambridge University professor, wrote this to Kittel in August 1933:

“ It gives me great pain to find that so great an authority and leader of thought should give expression to such views. I have read your previous books with pleasure and profit, and I have learned much from them. ... your present pronouncement is quite incompatible with your previous teaching, and it is as unjust to Christianity as it is to Judaism. ... It is a grievous disillusionment to find that one's idol has feet of clay.

Hitler wanted Kittel to make a new German Bible translation to replace Martin Luther’s Bible, which at that time most German’s still used at that time. After the Second World War, Kittel was jailed for his Nazi war crimes. During his war crimes trial, Kittel claimed that his acts were “imposed on him by God,” and Gerhard Kittel argued that “agreement with the State and with the Fuhrer was obedience towards the law of God.”

Jailed for War Crimes

While in prison, pastors both from France and the United States, concerned with his continued work as editor of the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, since the fifth and final volume of this work had yet to be finished [5], petitioned the French military government for his release.[1]

In 1946 he was released with strict travel restrictions. After his release, he worked in a library at the monastery in Beuron and served as a pastor to a small group of Lutherans.

The French lifted his travel restrictions, permitting him to return to Tübingen in 1948, to whence he returned to live with his wife. [1] Kittel died on July 11, 1948.[1], shortly before the Spruchkammerverfahren, lay trial procedings held during the denazification of Germany, took place.

Here are important excerpts from R. P. Ericksen's Theologians under Hitler (Yale U. Press, 1985), Chapter II:

"One clue is that [Kittel] was a National Socialist. ...Kittel was a charter member [of the Nat. Inst. for the History of the New Germany], and he gave his expertise and reputation to the [Research Section on the Jewish Question] from 1936 onward.
In 1947...J.R. Porter (Theology) praises Kittel's "profound biblical scholarship" with no reference at all to his unseemly politics. ... German historians have shown little interest in Kittel. [But] his self-proclaimed role as theological expert on the 'Jewish Question' make him an important figure, especially under [the Nazi] regime.
...[Historian] L. Siegele-Wenschkewitz (1978) makes several mistakes; discuss 'Gerhard Kittel and the Jewish Question' and ignore his increasingly harsh work after 1933 is at best misleading. ...[she] also ignores much of the harshness of Die Judenfrage, harshness which Kittel himself acknowledged and justified, pleading with [German] Christians not to become sentimental or soft.
She says, 'From a sympathizer of the presumably moderate Fuhrer, he became an opponent of the National Socialist politics of destruction.' ...It seems clear that after a short time Kittel saw the error of his ways. she concludes that Kittel's chief error was to misunderstand Hitler and his real attitude towards Christianity. [Yet] there is very little evidence that Kittel experienced a change of heart prior to 1945, despite the abundant evidence [available to him] to correct his misunderstanding.
Kittel produced a body of work between 1933 and 1944 filled with hatred and slander towards Jews and warmly supportive of National Socialist anti-Jewish policies (Siegle-Wenschkewitz has acknowledged this more recently).
...He took an evil stance. It may or may not have been proper to try, convict and imprison Kittel in 1945. ... But it is relatively easier to conclude that Kittel was wrong, whether or not he was criminally guilty. ...
He was linked to the single most objectionable aspect of Hitler's reign, the Jewish policy. On both counts Kittel was singularly and distinctly wrong. ...
(Ericksen, p. 28-31)

Biblical literature

Kittel and his father Rudolf, are responsible for what have become the two most eminent works in Theology over the past century, the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, which is a retranslation of the Old Testament Hebrew, parting from the traditional Masoretic Text.

OT Biblia Hebraica is the foundation of every Modern Bible Translation, coupled with the Nestle-Aland Greek, including even the Jewish New Testament.

Kittel wrote a 10 volume Biblical Greek Lexicon Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the NT. The first 7 volumes were written while Kittel was Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, while the last three volumes of his Biblical Greek Lexicon were done while he was in jail for his War Crimes.

Literary works

  • Die Oden Salomos überarbeitet oder einheitlich, 1914
  • Jesus und die Rabbinen, 1914
  • Jesus als Seelsorger, 1917
  • Rabbinica; Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1920
  • Das Religionslehrer-Seminar in Leipzig. Aufbau und Ziele im Auftrag des Christl. Volksdienstes dargestellt; Berlin: Reuther & Reichard, 1921
  • Die religiöse und die kirchliche Lage in Deutschland. Dörffling & Franke, Leipzig 1921
  • Seelsorge an jungen Mädchen, 1925
  • Die Probleme des palästinensischen Spätjudentums und das Urchristentum, 1926
  • Urchristentum, Spätjudentum, Hellenismus, 1926
  • Jesus und die Juden; Berlin: Furche, 1926
  • Die Religionsgeschichte und das Urchristentum, 1932
  • An editor of the "Theologisches Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament", 5 vols., after 1933
  • Die Judenfrage, 1933
  • Ein theologischer Briefwechsel mit Karl Barth, 1934
  • Christus und Imperator, 1939
  • Die historischen Voraussetzungen der jüdischen Rassenmischung, 1939
  • Dichter, Bibel und Bibelrevision, 1939
  • Zus. mit Eugen Fischer: Das antike Weltjudentum. Tatsachen, Texte, Bilder; Forschungen zur Judenfrage des "Reichsinstituts zur Geschichte des Neuen Deutschlands von Walter Frank, Forschungsabteilung Judenfrage, Band 7; Hamburg: Hanseatische Verlagsanstalt, 1943
  • Meine Verteidigung. Neue, erweiterte Niederschrift, 1946
  • Der Jakobusbrief und die Apostolischen Väter. Aus dem Nachlaß veröffentlicht von Karl Heinrich Rengstorf; in: ZNW 43 (1950/51), S. 54-112


  • 1. Ericksen, Robert P. 1987. Theologians Under Hitler. Yale University Press.
  • 2. 1
  • 3. Gerhard Friedrich in: ThLZ 74 (1949), 171-175
  • 4. Röhm, Eberhard u. Jörg Thierfelder: Juden, Christen, Deutsche 1933 - 1945, 4/2, 1941-1945, Stuttgart 2007 (Calwer Taschenbibliothek 104), S. 353.

External links

Online works


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