Gerhard Kittel: Was He The Nazi Devil So Many Presume?
Kenny Smith has a great piece in the Religion Bulletin which one and all ought to read. Especially noteworthy-
[Given his connection with Nazi-ism], scholars of religion face important questions as to how Kittel’s scholarship should be regarded and (perhaps most crucially) whether it ought to be used at all. Although Kittel never supported extermination of the Jews, and never, as did other Nazi Christian groups like the Deutsche Christen, suggested that Jesus was anything but Jewish in blood and culture, or sought the removal of the Old Testament from the Christian Bible, his ideological work is imbricated with Nazi politics. Kittel, for instance, commonly referred to assimilated German Jews as “refuse,” a poison and corruption which “eats at the marrow of a Volk.” It is therefore worth inquiring as to the relationship between his politics and his scholarly work.
That is an interesting question. Does one’s work become less valuable because of one’s political views? What views make one’s work useless? From whose perspective? According to whose judgment?
Kittel was a Nazi devil. Does that mean his scholarship is completely worthless? What about the scholarship of other far-right academics? Or far left? Must one be centrist in order to be acceptable to the scholarly community? Whose center?
Let’s be fair for a moment. Kittel was a jerk. A completely disgusting human being. Wagner was a jerk too who ran out on his creditors and lived like a vagabond beggar. Does that mean his music has no value? Are people’s works so intricately connected with their personalities that we can’t value their good contributions while damning their bad?
Are we really willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater?