Christianity would be a proof that the Parousia had really taken place at the time for which it was announced
|November 24, 2011||Posted by webmaster under All text of Schweitzer Quest Jesus, chapter two||
In general, however, “the theologians of the present day skim lightly over the eschatological material in the Gospels because it does not chime in with their views, and assign to the coming of Christ upon the clouds quite a different purpose from that which it bears in the teaching of Christ and His apostles.” Inasmuch as the non-fulfilment of its eschatology is not admitted, our Christianity rests upon a fraud. In view of this fact, what is the evidential value of any miracle, even if it could be held to be authentic? “No miracle would prove that two and two make five, or that a circle has four angles; and no miracles, however numerous, could remove a contradiction which lies on the surface of the teachings and records of Christianity.” Nor is there any weight in the appeal to the fulfilment of prophecy, for the cases in which Matthew countersigns it with the words “that the Scripture might be fulfilled” are all artificial and unreal; and for many incidents the stage was set by Jesus, or His disciples, or the Evangelists, with the deliberate purpose of presenting to the people a scene from the fulfilment of prophecy.
The sole argument which could save the credit of Christianity would be a proof that the Parousia had really taken place at the time for which it was announced; and obviously no such proof can be produced.
Such is Reimarus’ reconstruction of the history. We can well understand that his work must have given offence when it appeared, for it is a polemic, not an objective historical study. But we have no right simply to dismiss it in a word, as a Deistic production, as Otto Schmiedel, for example, does; it is time that Reimarus came to his own, and that we should recognise a historical performance of no mean order in this piece of Deistic polemics. His work is perhaps the most splendid achievement in the whole course of the historical investigation of the life of Jesus, for he was the first to grasp the fact that the world of thought in which Jesus moved was essentially eschatological. There is some justification for the animosity which flames up in his writing. This historical truth had taken possession of his mind with such overwhelming force that he could no longer understand his contemporaries, and could not away with their profession that their beliefs were, as they professed to be, directly derived from the preaching of Jesus.
What added to the offence was that he saw the eschatology in a wrong perspective. He held that the Messianic ideal which dominated the preaching of Jesus was that of the political ruler, the son of David. All his other mistakes are the consequence of this fundamental error. It was, of course, a mere makeshift hypothesis to derive the beginnings of Christianity from an imposture. Historical science was not at that time sufficiently advanced to lead even the man who had divined the fundamentally eschatological character of the preaching of Jesus onward to the historical solution of the problem; it needed more than a hundred and twenty years to fill in the chasm which Reimarus had been forced to bridge with that makeshift hypothesis of his.
In the light of the clear perception of the elements of the problem which Reimarus had attained, the whole movement of theology, down to Johannes Weiss, appears retrograde. In all its work the thesis is ignored or obscured that Jesus, as a historical personality, is to be regarded, not as the founder of a new religion, but as the final product of the eschatological and apocalyptic thought of Late Judaism. Every sentence of Johannes Weiss’s Die Predigt Jesu vom Reiche Gottes (1892) is a vindication, a rehabilitation, of Reimarus as a historical thinker.
Even so the traveller on the plain sees from afar the distant range of mountains. Then he loses sight of them again. His way winds slowly upwards through the valleys, drawing ever nearer to the peaks, until at last, at a turn of the path, they stand before him, not in the shapes which they had seemed to take from the distant plain, but in their actual forms. Reimarus was the first, after eighteen centuries of misconception, to have an inkling of what eschatology really was. Then theology lost sight of it again, and it was not until after the lapse of more than a hundred years that it came in view of eschatology once more, now in its true form, so far as that can be historically determined, and only after it had been led astray, almost to the last, in all its historical researches by the sole mistake of Reimarus—the assumption that the eschatology was earthly and political in character. Thus theology shared at least the error of the man whom it knew only as a Deist, not as an historian, and whose true greatness was not recognised even by Strauss, though he raised a literary monument to him.
 Otto Schmiedel, Die Hauptprobleme der Leben-Jesu-Forschung. Tübingen, 1902.
Albert Schweitzer's The Quest of the Historical Jesus
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