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Loss to scholarship

21 October 2016

John Arnold considers a learned and brave victim of the KGB

The Case for Ernst Lohmeyer
J. W. Rogerson
Beauchief Abbey Press £19*



LOHMEYER is a two-fold hero: first, as a brilliant New Testament scholar, often going against the stream of contemporary German biblical scholarship, and, second, as a disciple of Jesus Christ and member of the Confessing Church, persecuted by the Nazis and executed by the Soviets. We are indebted to Professor Rogerson for this spirited and successful attempt to rescue him from undeserved obscurity and to persuade English-speaking readers to reconsider his work “and especially the philosophical thinking that characterised it”.

The main influences were the philosopher Richard Hönigswald and the poet Stefan George, who together led Lohmeyer to think and write in a quite different way from other theologians. He anticipated by sixty years scholarly interest in the social setting of Early Christianity; and he applied what he had learnt from the Bible to the situation in Germany, notably in his Rectoral Address at the prestigious Breslau University in 1930, in which he credited Israelite religion with the development of the idea of a people (Volk).

This alarmed and alerted the rising Nazi party, which in 1935 removed him from Breslau to provincial Greifswald, academically comparable to the self-inflicted move of Professor Ratzinger from Tübingen to Regensburg in 1969.

It is, however, his exegetical work that is most likely to vindicate Rogerson’s championing. It is characterised by close attention to the Greek text, underpinned by Hönigwald’s philosophy and full of imaginative and inspiring insights. Because of the war, his monumental commentary on Matthew is an Unfinished Symphony; and so is his most seminal work, a critique of Bultmann in his 1944 lecture on “The Right Interpretation of the Mythological”.

Rogerson ends by describing an imaginary conversation between Bultmann and Lohmeyer, which serves to highlight the tragedy of his early death in 1946. A continued conversation between these two in real life would have enriched post-war theology beyond all imagining. We may be thankful that Lohmeyer completed The Lord’s Prayer, which places prayer at the centre of the life of every Christian, including himself.


The Very Revd Dr John Arnold is a former Dean of Durham.


*This title can be obtained from www.lulu.com.

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