From Judaism it was to take the belief in one sole, spiritual, perfect God; from Christianity the requirement of brotherly love to all men.
|November 17, 2011||Posted by webmaster under All text of Schweitzer Quest Jesus, chapter twelve||
The confession of faith of the primitive Christian community was the simplest conceivable: Jesus the Messiah had come, not as a temporal conqueror, but as the Son of Man foretold by Daniel, and had died for the sins of the people. In other respects they were strict Jews, kept the Law, and were constantly in the Temple. Only the community of goods and the brotherhood-meal are of an Essene character.
“The Christianity of the original community in Jerusalem was thus a mixture of Zealotism and Mysticism which did not include any wholly new element, and even in its conception of the Messiah had nothing peculiar to itself except the belief that the Son of Man predicted by Daniel had already come in the person of Jesus of Nazareth . . . that He was now enthroned at the right hand of God, and would again appear as the expected Son of Man upon the clouds of heaven according to Daniel’s prophecy.” Jesus, therefore, had triumphed over the mystical party who desired to make use of Him in the character of Messiah the son of Joseph—their Messiah, the heavenly Son of Man, had not come. Jesus, in virtue of what He had done, had taken His place both in heaven and in earth.
How much of Venturini’s plan is here retained? Only the “mystical part” which serves the purpose of setting the action of the drama in motion. All the rest of it, the rationalistic part, has been transmuted into an historical conception. Miracle and trickery, along with the stage-play resurrection, have been purged away in the fires of Strauss’s criticism. There remains only a fundamental conception which has a certain greatness—a brotherhood which looks for the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven appoints one of its members to undergo as Messiah an atoning death, that the coming of the Kingdom, for which the time is at hand, may not be delayed. This brotherhood is the only fictitious element in the whole construction—much as in the primitive steamengine the valves were still worked by hand while the rest of the machinery was actuated by its own motive-power. So in this Life of Jesus the motive-power is drawn entirely from historical sources, and the want of an automatic starting arrangement is a mere anachronism. Strike out the superfluous role of Joseph of Arimathea, and the distinction of the two Messiahs, which is not clear even in the Rabbis, and substitute the simple hypothesis that Jesus, in the course of His Messianic vocation, when He thinks the time for the coming of the Kingdom has arrived, goes freely to Jerusalem, and, as it were, compels the secular power to put Him to death, in order by this act of atonement to win for the world the immediate coming of the Kingdom, and for Himself the glory of the Son of Man—make these changes, and you have a life of Jesus in which the motive-power is a purely historical force. It is impossible to indicate briefly all the parts of which the seemingly complicated, but in reality impressively simple, mechanism of this Life of Jesus is composed. The conduct of Jesus, alike in its resolution and in its hesitation, becomes clear, and not less so that of the disciples. All far-fetched historical ingenuity is dispensed with. Jesus acts “because His hour is come.” This decisive placing of the Life of Jesus in the “last time” (cf. 1 Peter i. 20 ???????????? ?? ?? ??????? ??? ?????? ?? ????) is an historical achievement without parallel. Not less so is the placing of the thought of the passion in its proper eschatological setting as an act of atonement. Where had the character and origin of the primitive community ever been brought into such clear connexion with the death of Jesus? Who had ever before so earnestly considered the problem why the Christian community arose in Jerusalem and not in Galilee? “But the solution is too simple, and, moreover, is not founded on a severely scientific chain of reasoning, but on historical intuition and experiment, the simple experiment of introducing the Life of Jesus into the Jewish eschatological world of thought”—so the theologians replied, or so, at least, they might have replied if they had taken this curious work seriously, if, indeed, they had read it at all. But how were they to suspect that in a book which seemed to aim at founding a new Deistic Church, and which went out with the Wolfebüttel Fragmentist into the desert of the most barren natural religion, a valuable historical conception might be found? It is true that no one suspected at that time that in the forgotten work of Reimarus there lay a dangerous historical discovery, a kind of explosive material such as can only be collected by those who stand free from every responsibility towards historical Christianity, who have abandoned every prejudice, in the good sense as well as in the bad—and whose one desire in regard to the Gospel history is to be “spirits that constantly deny.” Such thinkers, if they have historical gifts, destroy artifical history in the cause of true history and, willing evil, do good—if it be admitted that the discovery of truth is good. If this negative work is a good thing, the author of the “Letters to the German People” performed a distinguished service, for his negation is radical. The new Church which was to be founded on this historic overcoming of historic Christianity was to combine “only what was according to reason in Judaism and Christianity.” From Judaism it was to take the belief in one sole, spiritual, perfect God; from Christianity the requirement of brotherly love to all men. On the other hand, it was to eliminate what was contrary to reason in each: from Judaism the ritual system and the sacrifices; from Christianity the deification of Jesus and the teaching of redemption through His blood. How comes so completely unhistorical a temperament to be combined with so historical an intellect? His Jesus, after all, has no individuality; He is a mere eschatological machine.
 “Ich bin der Geist, der stets verneint.”—Mephistopheles in Faust.
Albert Schweitzer's The Quest of the Historical Jesus
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