But no sooner had Strauss opened up the way than he closed it again, by refusing to admit the priority of Mark
|November 20, 2011||Posted by webmaster under All text of Schweitzer Quest Jesus, chapter eight||
But the decision between John and the Synoptists is not based solely upon their representation of the facts; the decisive consideration is found in the ideas by which they are respectively dominated. John represents a more advanced stage of the mythopoeic process, inasmuch as he has substituted for the Jewish Messianic conception, the Greek metaphysical conception of the Divine Sonship, and, on the basis of his acquaintance with the Alexandrian Logos doctrine, even makes Jesus apply to Himself the Greek speculative conception of pre-existence. The writer is aware of an already existing danger from the side of a Gnostic docetism, and has himself an apologetic Christology to propound, thus fighting the Gnostics as a Gnostic of another kind. That he is free from eschatological conceptions is not, from the historical point of view, an advantage, but very much the reverse. He is not unacquainted with eschatology, but deliberately transforms it, endeavouring to substitute for the expectation of the Second Coming of Christ, as an external event of the future, the thought of His inward presence.
The most decisive evidence of all is found in the farewell discourses and in the absence of all mention of the spiritual struggle in Gethsemane. The intention here is to show that Jesus not only had a foreknowledge of His death, but had long overcome it in anticipation, and went to meet His tragic fate with perfect inward serenity. That, however, is no historical narrative, but the final stage of reverent idealisation. The question is decided.
The Gospel of John is inferior to the Synoptics as a historical source just in proportion as it is more strongly dominated than they by theological and apologetic interests. It is true that the assignment of the dominant motives for Strauss’s criticism mainly a matter of conjecture. He cannot define in detail the attitude and tendency of this Gospel, because the development of dogma in the second century was still to a great extent obscure. He himself admits that it was only subsequently, through the labours of Baur, that the positions which he had taken up in 1835 were rendered impregnable. And yet it is true to say that Johannine study has added in principle nothing new to what was said by Strauss. He recognised the decisive point. With critical acumen he resigned the attempt to base a decision on a comparison of the historical data, and allowed the theological character of the two lines of tradition to determine the question. Unless this is done the debate is endless, for an able man who has sworn allegiance to John will always find a thousand ways in which the Johannine data can be reconciled with those of the Synoptists, and is finally prepared to stake his life upon the exact point at which the missing account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper must be inserted into the narrative.
This changed estimate of John carries with it a reversal of the order in which the Gospels are supposed to have originated. Instead of John, Luke, Matthew, we have Matthew, Luke, and John—the first is last, and the last first. Strauss’s unsophisticated instinct freed Matthew from the humiliating vassalage to which Schleiermacher’s aesthetic had consigned him. The practice of differentiating between John and the Synoptists, which in the hands of Schleiermacher and Hase had been an elegant amusement, now received unexpected support, and it at last became possible for the study of the life of Jesus to go forward.
But no sooner had Strauss opened up the way than he closed it again, by refusing to admit the priority of Mark. His attitude towards this Gospel at once provokes opposition. For him Mark is an epitomising narrator, a mere satellite of Matthew with no independent light. His terse and graphic style makes on Strauss an impression of artificiality. He refuses to believe this Evangelist when he says that on the first day at Capernaum “the whole town” (Mark i. 33) came together before Peter’s door, and that, on other occasions (Mark iii. 20, vi. 31), the press was so great that Jesus and His disciples had no leisure so much as to eat. “All very improbable traits,” he remarks, “the absence of which in Matthew is entirely to his advantage for what else are they than legendary exaggerations?” In this criticism he is at one with Schleiermacher, who in his essay on Luke speaks of the unreal vividness of Mark “which often gives his Gospel an almost apocryphal aspect.”
 Dr. Fr. Schleiermacher, Über die Schriften des Lukas. Ein kritischer Versuch. (The Writings of Luke. A critical essay.) C. Reimer, Berlin, 1817.
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