Strauss does not scruple even to assert that John introduces imaginary characters
|November 20, 2011||Posted by webmaster under All text of Schweitzer Quest Jesus, chapter eight||
That, however, was only to be expected. Who ever discovered a true principle without pressing its application too far?
What really alarmed his contemporaries was not so much the comprehensive application of the mythical theory, as the general mining and sapping operations which they were obliged to see brought to bear upon the Gospels.
In section after section Strauss cross-examines the reports on every point, down to the minutest detail, and then pronounces in what proportion an alloy of myth enters into each of them. In every case the decision is unfavourable to the Gospel of John. Strauss was the first to take this view. It is true that, at the end of the eighteenth century, many doubts as to the authenticity of this Gospel had been expressed, and Bretschneider, the famous General Superintendent at Gotha (1776-1848), had made a tentative collection of them in his Probabilia. The essay made some stir at the time. But Schleiermacher threw the aegis of his authority over the authenticity of the Gospel, and it was the favourite Gospel of the rationalists because it contained fewer miracles than the others. Bretschneider himself declared that he had been brought to a better opinion through the controversy.
After this episode the Johannine question had been shelved for fifteen years. The excitement was, therefore, all the greater when Strauss reopened the discussion. He was opposing a dogma of critical theology, which, even at the present day, is wont to defend its dogmas with a tenacity beyond that of the Church itself.
The luminous haze of apparent circumstantiality which had hitherto prevented men from recognising the true character of this Gospel is completely dissipated. Strauss shows that the Johannine representation of the life of Jesus is dominated by a theory, and that its portraiture shows the further development of the tendencies which are perceptible even in the Synoptists. He shows this, for example, in the case of the Johannine narrative of the baptism of Jesus, in which critics had hitherto seen the most credible account of what occurred, pointing out that it is just in this pseudo-simplicity that the process of bringing Jesus and the Baptist into the closest possible relations reaches its limit. Similarly, in regard to the call of the first disciples, it is, according to Strauss, a later postulate that they came from the Baptist’s following and were brought by him to the Lord. Strauss does not scruple even to assert that John introduces imaginary characters. If this Gospel relates fewer miracles, the miracles which it retains are proportionately greater; so great, indeed, that their absolutely miraculous character is beyond the shadow of doubt; and, moreover, a moral or symbolical significance is added.
Here, therefore, it is no longer the unconscious action of legend which selects, creates, or groups the incidents, but a clearly-determined apologetic and dogmatic purpose.
The question regarding the different representations of the locality and chronology of the life of Jesus, had always been decided, prior to Strauss, in favour of the Fourth Gospel. De Wette makes it an argument against the genuineness of Matthew’s Gospel that it mistakenly confines the ministry of Jesus to Galilee. Strauss refuses to decide the question by simply weighing the chronological and geographical statements one against the other, lest he should be as one-sided in his own way as the defenders of the authenticity of the Fourth Gospel were in theirs. On this point, he contents himself with remarking that if Jesus had really taught in Jerusalem on several occasions, it is absolutely unintelligible how all knowledge of this could have so completely disappeared from the Synoptic tradition; for His going up to the Passover at which He met His death is there represented as His sole journey to Jerusalem. On the other hand, it is quite conceivable that if Jesus had only once been in Jerusalem there would be a tendency for legend gradually to make several journeys out of this one, on the natural assumption that He regularly went up to the Feasts, and that He would proclaim His Gospel not merely in the remote province, but also in the capital.
From the triumphal entry to the resurrection, the difference between the Synoptic and Johannine narratives is so great that all attempts to harmonise them are to be rejected. How are we to reconcile the statement of the Synoptists that the ovation at the triumphal entry was offered by Galilaeans who accompanied him, with that of John, according to which it was offered by a multitude from Jerusalem which came out to welcome Jesus—who, moreover, according to John, was not coming from Galilee and Jericho—and escorted Him into the city. To suppose that there were two different triumphal entries is absurd.
 Probabilia de evangeii et epistolarum Ioannis Apostoli indole et origine cruditorum iudiciis modeste subjecit C. Th. Bretschneider. Leipzig, 1820.
Albert Schweitzer's The Quest of the Historical Jesus
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