It was only with Johannes Weiss that theology escaped from the influence of Christian Hermann Weisse
|November 20, 2011||Posted by webmaster under All text of Schweitzer Quest Jesus, chapter ten||
His conception of the Messiahship was therefore fully formed when He began to teach in Capernaum; but He did not allow the people to see that He held Himself to be the Messiah until His triumphal entry. It was in order to avoid declaring His Messiahship that He kept away from Jerusalem. “It was only in Galilee and not in the Jewish capital that an extended period of teaching and work was possible for Him without being obliged to make an explicit declaration whether He were the Messiah or no. In Jerusalem itself the High Priests and Scribes would soon have put this question to Him in such a way that He could not have avoided answering it, whereas in Galilee He doubtless on more than one occasion cut short such attempts to question Him too closely by the incisiveness of His replies.” Like Strauss, Weisse recognises that the key to the explanation of the Messianic consciousness of Jesus lies in the self-designation “Son of Man.” “We are most certainly justified,” he says, with almost prophetic insight, in his “Problem of the Gospels,” published in 1856, “in regarding the question, what sense the Divine Saviour desired to attach to this predicate?—what, in fact, He intended to make known about Himself by using the title Son of Man?—as an essential question for the right understanding of His teaching, and not of His teaching only, but also of the very heart and inmost essence of His personality.”
But at this point Weisse lets in the cloven hoof of that fatal method of interpretation, by the aid of which the defenders of the Marcan hypothesis who succeeded him were to wage war, with a kind of dull and dogged determination, against eschatology, in the interests of an original and “spiritual” conception of the Messiahship supposed to be held by Jesus. Under the obsession of the fixed idea that it was their mission to defend the “originality” of Jesus by ascribing to Him a modernising transformation and spiritualisation of the eschatological system of ideas, the defenders of the Marcan hypothesis have impeded the historical study of the Life of Jesus to an almost unbelievable extent.
The explanation of the name Son of Man had, Weisse explains, hitherto oscillated between two extremes. Some had held the expression to be, even in the mouth of Jesus, equivalent to “man” in general, an interpretation which cannot be carried through; others had connected it with the Son of Man in Daniel, and supposed that in using the term Jesus was employing a Messianic title understood by and current among the Jews. But how came He to employ only this unusual periphrastic name for the Messiah? Further, if this name were really a Messianic title, how could He repeatedly have refused Messianic salutations, and not until the triumphal entry suffered the people to hail Him as Messiah?
The questions are rightly asked; it is therefore the more pity that they are wrongly answered. It follows, Weisse says, from the above considerations that Jesus did not assume an acquaintance on the part of His hearers with the Old Testament Messianic significance of the expression. “It was therefore incontestably the intention of Jesus—and any one who considers it unworthy betrays thereby his own want of insight—that the designation should have something mysterious about it, something which would compel His hearers to reflect upon His meaning.” The expression Son of Man was calculated to lead them on to higher conceptions of His nature and origin, and therefore sums up in itself the whole spiritualisation of the Messiahship.
Weisse, therefore, passionately rejects any suggestion, however modest, that Jesus’ self-designation, Son of Man, implies any measure of acceptance of the Jewish apocalyptic system of ideas. Ewald had furnished forth his Life of Jesus with a wealth of Old Testament learning, and had made some half-hearted attempts to show the connexion of Jesus’ system of thought with that of post-canonical Judaism, but without taking the matter seriously and without having any suspicion of the real character of the eschatology of Jesus. But even these parade-ground tactics excite Weisse’s indignation; in his book, published in 1856, he reproaches Ewald with failing to understand his task.
The real duty of criticism is, according to Weisse, to show that Jesus had no part in those fantastic errors which are falsely attributed to Him when a literal Jewish interpretation is given to His great sayings about the future of the Son of Man, and to remove all the obstacles which seem to have prevented hitherto the recognition of the novel character and special significance of the expression. Son of Man, in the mouth of Him who, of His own free choice, applied this name to Himself. “How long will it be,” he cries, “before theology at last becomes aware of the deep importance of its task? Historical criticism, exercised with all the thoroughness and impartiality which alone can produce a genuine conviction, must free the Master’s own teaching from the imputation that lies upon it—the imputation of sharing the errors and false expectations in which, as we cannot deny, owing to imperfect or mistaken understanding of the suggestions of the Master, the Apostles, and with them the whole early Christian Church, became involved.”
This fundamental position determines the remainder of Weisse’s views. Jesus cannot have shared the Jewish particularism. He did not hold the Law to be binding. It was for this reason that He did not go up to the Feasts. He distinctly and repeatedly expressed the conviction that His doctrine was destined for the whole world. In speaking of the parousia of the Son of Man He was using a figure—a figure which includes in a mysterious fashion all His predictions of the future. He did not speak to His disciples of His resurrection, His ascension, and His parousia as three distinct acts, since the event to which He looked forward is not identical with any of the three, but is composed of them all. The resurrection is, at the same time, the ascension and parousia, and in the parousia the resurrection and the ascension are also included. “The one conclusion to which we believe we can point with certainty is that Jesus spoke of the future of His work and His teaching in a way that implied the consciousness of an influence to be continued after His death, whether unbrokenly or intermittently, and the consciousness that by this influence His work and teaching would be preserved from destruction and the final victory assured to it.”
The personal presence of Jesus which the disciples experienced after His death was in their view only a partial fulfilment of that general promise. The parousia appeared to them as still awaiting fulfilment, Thought of thus, as an isolated event, they could only conceive it from the Jewish apocalyptic standpoint, and they finally came to suppose that they had derived these fantastic ideas from the Master Himself.
In his determined opposition to the recognition of eschatology in Strauss’s first Life of Jesus, Weisse here lays down the lines which were to be followed by the “liberal” Lives of Jesus of the sixties and following years, which only differ from him, not always to their advantage, in their more elaborate interpretation of the detail of Mark. The only work, therefore, which was a conscious continuation of Strauss’s, takes, in spite of its just appreciation of the character of the sources, a wrong path, led astray by the mistaken idea of the “originality” of Jesus, which it exalts into a canon of historical criticism. Only after long and devious wanderings did the study of the subject find the right road again. The whole struggle over eschatology is nothing else than a gradual elimination of Wiesse’s ideas. It was only with Johannes Weiss that theology escaped from the influence of Christian Hermann Weisse.
 Geschichte Christus‘ und seiner Zeit. (History of Christ and His Times.) By Heinrich Ewald, Göttingen, 1855, 450 pp.
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