Strauss’s Life of Jesus is, therefore, like Schleiermacher’s, the product of antithetic conceptions
|November 20, 2011||Posted by webmaster under All text of Schweitzer Quest Jesus, chapter eight||
A purely historical presentation of the life of Jesus was in that first period wholly impossible; what was operative was a creative reminiscence acting under the impulse of the idea which the personality of Jesus had called to life among mankind. And this idea of God-manhood, the realisation of which in every personality is the ultimate goal of humanity, is the eternal reality in the Person of Jesus, which no criticism can destroy.
However far criticism may go in providing the reaction of the idea upon the presentment of the historical course of the life of Jesus, the fact that Jesus represented that idea and called it to life among mankind is something real, something that no criticism can annul. It is alive thenceforward—to this day, and forever more.
It is in this emancipation of spirit, and in the consciousness that Jesus as the creator of the religion of humanity is beyond the reach of criticism, that Strauss goes to work, and batters down the rubble, assured that his pick can make no impression on the stone. He sees evidence that the time has come for this undertaking in the condition of exhaustion which characterised contemporary theology. The supernaturalistic explanation of the events of the life of Jesus liad been followed by the rationalistic, the one making everything supernatural, the other setting itself to make all the events intelligible as natural occurrences. Each had said all that it had to say. From their opposition now arises a new solution—the mythological interpretation. This is a characteristic example of the Hegelian method—the synthesis of a thesis represented by the supernaturalistic explanation with an antithesis represented by the rationalistic interpretation.
Strauss’s Life of Jesus is, therefore, like Schleiermacher’s, the product of antithetic conceptions. But whereas in the latter the antitheses Docetism and Ebionism are simply limiting conceptions, between which his view is statically suspended, the synthesis with which Strauss operates represents a composition of forces, of which his view is the dynamic resultant. The dialectic is in the one case descriptive, in the other creative. This Hegelian dialectic determines the method of the work. Each incident of the life of Jesus is considered separately; first as supernaturally explained, and then as rationalistically explained, and the one explanation is refuted by the other. “By this means,” says Strauss in his preface, “the incidental advantage is secured that the work is fitted to serve as a repertory of the leading views and discussions of all parts of the Gospel history.”
In every case the whole range of representative opinions is reviewed. Finally the forced interpretations necessitated by the naturalistic explanation of the narrative under discussion drives the reader back upon the supernaturalistic. That had been recognized by Hase and Schleiermacher, and they had felt themselves obliged to make a place for inexplicable supernatural elements alongside of the historic elements of the life of Jesus. Contemporaneously there had sprung up in all directions new attempts to return by the aid of a mystical philosophy to the supernaturalistic point of view of our forefathers. But in these Strauss recognises only the last desperate efforts to make the past present and to conceive the inconceivable; and in direct opposition to the reactionary ineptitudes by means of which critical theology was endeavouring to work its way out of rationalism, he sets up the hypothesis that these inexplicable elements are mythical.
In the stories prior to the baptism, everything is myth. The narratives are woven on the pattern of Old Testament prototypes, with modifications due to Messianic or messianically interpreted passages. Since Jesus and the Baptist came into contact with one another later, it is felt necessary to represent their parents as having been connected. The attempts to construct Davidic genealogies for Jesus, show us that there was a period in the formation of the Gospel History during which the Lord was simply regarded as the son of Joseph and Mary, otherwise genealogical studies of this kind would not have been undertaken. Even in the story of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the temple, there is scarcely more than a trace of historical material.
In the narrative of the baptism we may take it as certainly unhistorical that the Baptist received a revelation of the Messianic dignity of Jesus, otherwise he could not later have come to doubt this. Whether his message to Jesus is historical must be left an open question; its possibility depends on whether the nature of his confinement admitted of such communication with the outer world. Might not a natural reluctance to allow the Baptist to depart this life without at least a dawning recognition of the Messiahship of Jesus have here led to the insertion of a legendary trait into the tradition? If so, the historical residuum would be that Jesus was for a time one of the adherents of the Baptist, and was baptized by him, and that He soon afterwards appeared in Galilee with the same message which John had proclaimed, and even when He had outgrown his influence, never ceased to hold John in high esteem, as is shown by the eulogy which He pronounced upon him. But if the baptism of John was a baptism of repentance with a view to “him who was to come,” Jesus cannot have held Himself to be sinless when He submitted to it. Otherwise we should have to suppose that He did it merely for appearance’ sake. Whether it was in the moment of the baptism that the consciousness of His Messiahship dawned upon Him, we cannot tell. This only is certain, that the conception of Jesus as having been endowed with the Spirit at His baptism, was independent of, and earlier than, that other conception which held Him to have been supernaturally born of the Spirit. We have, therefore, in the Synoptists several different strata of legend and narrative, which in some cases intersect and in some are superimposed one upon the other.
Albert Schweitzer's The Quest of the Historical Jesus
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