The Paroikos Bible Blog exists as a resource to those interested in Biblical studies and Koine Greek. It is hoped that this blog will simultaneously provide food-for-thought to the reader while pointing him or her in the direction of valuable resources, both in print and on the internet, that will further help his or her studies in the Word.

Aug 8, 2019

Book Recommendation: James Edwards' Between the Swastika and the Sickle

I'll confess that one of my pet peeves in books is "hagiographies," those types of biographies that paint an unrealistic, un-human portrayal of Christian leaders and pioneers as saints who never have the same struggles as us mere "mortal" Christians. (As a side-note, may I suggest that Christian leaders generally speaking should not write auto-biographies, precisely because we Christians are not capable of honestly portraying our own faults and failures?!) A better model for biography is provided in inspired Scripture. When  James refers back to the story of Elijah to encourage us, he does not say, "Elijah was a super-Christian who never made mistakes, so watch and learn!" To the contrary, James states, "Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are . . ." and then goes on to state what Elijah accomplished despite his flaws (James 5:17-18). Whether it be David or Jehoshaphat, Jephthah or Moses, Scripture does not gloss over the (often tragic) failings of its heroes. Consequently, the Lord is glorified even more: "Behold what I can accomplish," He declares, "with even flawed men and women!"

Enter the story of Ernst Lohmeyer, Protestant New Testament scholar in Nazi-era Germany. Lohmeyer provides a model of conservative scholarship that simultaneously opposed Hitler and the Nazi regime, contested the popular liberal theology of his time, and also befriended and stood up for Jews (such as Martin Buber) at the risk of academic persecution and even personal harm. He was arrested on trumped-up charges and executed after WWII's end by the Soviet NKVD (precursor to the KGB), tragically leaving behind a wife and daughter.

Yet on the other hand, Lohmeyer's life provides a cautionary tale of what happens when scholarship, even conservative scholarship, becomes an end in of itself, an idol. Lohmeyer's marriage and spiritual life suffered as a result of his academic devotion, and as Edwards' book makes clear, Lohmeyer was not able to fully come to grips with his failing until shortly before his execution. Lohmeyer's story is both inspirational and cautionary, and thus very human.

When I first began teaching Hebrew History at Baptist College of Ministry, I found an excellent quote by Lohmeyer (of whom I really did not know much about at the time): "The Christian faith is only Christian so long as it has in its heart the Jewish faith," a quote which I incorporated into my Hebrew History syllabus and even study guide. 

Yet now I have just finished reading James R. Edwards' excellent book Between the Swastika and the Sickle: The Life, Disappearance, and Execution of Ernst Lohmeyer, and I now have a better context for that quote I include in my Hebrew History syllabus.

I highly recommend the book (click here for the Amazon link). James R. Edwards was professor for many years at Whitworth University and has written an influential commentary on Mark (in the Pillar series), as well as Is Jesus the Only Savior?, an excellent defense of the exclusivity of Christianity's claims in a post-modern world.

Between the Swastika & the Sickle is mostly about Lohmeyer's life, but also devotes significant portions to Edwards' own attempts to pierce the veil of forced obscurity that had descended down upon Lohmeyer's legacy due to the work of the Soviet NKVD. Consequently, Edwards' book is one part biography, one part a gripping story of research in once sealed-archives, and one part reclamation of a legacy, both the exemplary and the cautionary elements of that legacy.

The exemplary side of his legacy is illustrated by Lohmeyer's friendship of, and defense of, his Jewish friends and colleagues. For example, when Gerhard Kittel published his The Jewish Question, supporting Nazi ideology, he sent a copy of it with an open-letter to Jewish scholar Martin Buber. In response, on August 19th 1933, Lohmeyer sent a letter to Buber expressing his solidarity with, and support of, Buber against Kittel and Nazi ideology in general. Edwards well notes that "Lohmeyer's letter was one of the earliest and most definitive protests against Nazi anti-Semitism to be heard in Germany" (121).

Another example of the positive: Lohmeyer strongly rejected Rudolf Bultmann's theological "demythologizing" of Scripture; indeed, he called it an "existential philosophy that is no more than a secularized form of Christian theology" [trans. R. H. Fuller], and thus a threat to true Christianity (192).

The cautionary side of his legacy can be illustrated by Lohmeyer's relationship to his wife and his devotion to academia at the expense of his marriage (see especially ch. 17). Lohmeyer himself, in his last days before his execution, came to the following [radical!] conclusion: "It is now clear to me that for more than twenty years I have followed the wrong course" [trans. Edwards; p. 268] Lohmeyer, in his last letter, further admits to how his devotion to scholarship caused his love for his wife to be relegated to "second place," all the while immersed in a "stony bitterness." As Edwards writes, "His work became not merely the first thing in his life but virtually the only thing, separating him from other things, including Melie [his wife]." His arrest by the NKVD thus functioned as a spiritual wake-up call, one that allowed him to see his failures and reach out in love once more to his wife.

Edward's book Between the Swastika & the Sickle is a solidly-researched, well-written story, sad yet stirring, of a lesser-known New Testament scholar. For all his comparative obscurity, though, the tale of Ernst Lohmeyer has a lot to teach us about both academic courage and academic obsession.

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