For the historical study of the life of Jesus the first landmark which it offers is the work of Hess, which appeared in 1768
|November 24, 2011||Posted by webmaster under All text of Schweitzer Quest Jesus, chapter three||
The temporal limits of this half-and-half rationalism are difficult to define. For the historical study of the life of Jesus the first landmark which it offers is the work of Hess, which appeared in 1768. But it held its ground for a long time side by side with rationalism proper, which failed to drive it from the field. A seventh edition of Hess’s Life of Jesus appeared as late as 1823; while a fifth edition of Reinhard’s work saw the light in 1830. And when Strauss struck the death-blow of out-and-out rationalism, the half-and-half rationalism did not perish with it, but allied itself with the neo-supernaturalism which Strauss’s treatment of the life of Jesus had called into being; and it still prolongs an obscure existence in a certain section of conservative literature, though it has lost its best characteristics, its simple-mindedness and honesty.
These older rationalistic Lives of Jesus are, from the aesthetic point of view, among the least pleasing of all theological productions. The sentimentality of the portraiture is boundless. Boundless, also, and still more objectionable, is the want of respect for the language of Jesus. He must speak in a rational and modern fashion, and accordingly all His utterances are reproduced in a style of the most polite modernity. None of the speeches are allowed to stand as they were spoken; they are taken to pieces, paraphrased, and expanded, and sometimes, with the view of making them really lively, they are recast in the mould of a freely invented dialogue. In all these Lives of Jesus, not a single one of His sayings retains its authentic form.
And yet we must not be unjust to these writers. What they aimed at was to bring Jesus near to their own time, and in so doing they became the pioneers of the historical study of His life. The defects of their work in regard to aesthetic feeling and historical grasp are outweighed by the attractiveness of the purposeful, unprejudiced thinking which here awakens, stretches itself, and begins to move with freedom.
Johann Jakob Hess was born in 1741 and died in 1828. After working as a curate for seventeen years he became one of the assistant clergy at the Frauminster at Zurich, and later “Antistes,” president, of the cantonal synod. In this capacity he guided the destinies of the Church in Zurich safely through the troublous times of the Revolution. He was not a deep thinker, but was well read and not without ability. As a man, he did splendid work.
His Life of Jesus still keeps largely to the lines of a paraphrase of the Gospels; indeed, he calls it a paraphrasing history. It is based upon a harmonising combination of the four Gospels. The matter of the Synoptic narratives is, as in all the Lives of Jesus prior to Strauss—with the sole exception of Herder’s—fitted more or less arbitrarily into the intervals between the Passovers in the fourth Gospel.
In regard to miracles, he admits that these are a stumblingblock. But they are essential to the Gospel narrative and to revelation; had Jesus been only a moral teacher and not the Son of God they would not have been necessary. We must be careful, however, not to prize miracles for their own sake, but to look primarily to their ethical teaching. It was, he remarks, the mistake of the Jews to regard all the acts of Jesus solely from the point of view of their strange and miraculous character, and to forget their moral teaching; whereas we, from distaste for miracle as such, run the risk of excluding from the Gospel history events which are bound up with the Gospel revelation.
Albert Schweitzer's The Quest of the Historical Jesus
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