the criticism of Strauss, of Baur, of Reuss, of Colani.
|November 17, 2011||Posted by webmaster under All text of Schweitzer Quest Jesus, chapter thirteen||
The essay on the sources of the Life of Jesus with which it opens is itself a literary masterpiece. With a kind of effortless ease he makes his readers acquainted with the criticism of Strauss, of Baur, of Reuss, of Colani. He does not argue, but simply sets the result vividly before the reader, who finds himself at once at home in the new world of ideas. He avoids any hard or glaring effects; by means of that skilful transition from point to point which Wagner in one of his letters praises as the highest art, everything is surrounded with atmosphere. But how much trickery and illusion there is in this art! In a few strokes he indicates the relation of John to the Synoptists; the dilemma is made clear, it seems as if one horn or the other must be chosen. Then he begins by artful touches to soften down the contrast. The discourses of John are not authentic; the historical Jesus cannot have spoken thus. But what about the statements of fact? Here Renan declares himself convinced by the graphic presentment of the passion story. Touches like “it was night,” “they had lighted a fire of coals,” “the coat was without seam,” cannot have been invented. Therefore the Gospel must in some way go back to the disciple whom Jesus loved. It is possible, nay certain, that when as an old man he read the other Gospels, he was displeased by certain inaccuracies, and perhaps vexed that he was given so small a place in the history. He began to dictate a number of things which he had better means of knowing than the others; partly, too, with the purpose of showing that in many cases where Peter only had been mentioned he also had played a part, and indeed the principal part. Sometimes his recollection was quite fresh, sometimes it had been modified by time. When he wrote down the discourses, he had forgotten the Lake of Gennesareth and the winsome words which he had listened to upon its shores. He was now living in quite a different world. The events of the year 70 destroyed his hopes of the return of his Master. His Jewish prejudices fell away, and as he was still young, he adapted himself to the syncretistic, philosophic, gnostic environment amid which he found himself in Ephesus. Thus even Jesus’ world of thought took on a new shape for him; although the discourses are perhaps rather to be referred to his school than to himself. But, when all is said, John remains the best biographer. Or, to put it more accurately, while all the Gospels are biographies, they are legendary biographies, even though they come down from the first century. Their texts need interpretation, and the cine to the interpretation can be supplied by aesthetic feeling. They must be subjected to a gentle pressure to bring them together, and make them coalesce into a unity in which all the data are happily combined.
How this is to be done Renan shows later in his description of the death of Jesus. “Suddenly,” he says, “Jesus gave a terrible cry in which gome thought they heard ‘Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit,’ but which others, whose thoughts were running on the fulfilment of prophecy, reported as ‘It is finished.'”
The authentic sayings of Jesus are more or less self-evidencing. Coming in contact with one of them amid the welter of heterogeneous traditions, you feel a thrill of recognition. They leap forth and take their proper place, where their vivid power becomes apparent. For one who writes the life of Jesus on His native soil, the Gospels are not so much sources of information as incentives to revelation. “I had,” Renan avows, “a fifth Gospel before my eyes, mutilated in parts, but still legible, and taking it for my guide I saw behind the narratives of Matthew and Mark, instead of an ideal Being of whom it might be maintained that He had never existed, a glorious human countenance full of life and movement.” It is this Jesus of the fifth Gospel that he desires to portray.
In looking at the picture, the reader must not allow the vexed question of miracle to distract him and disturb the proper frame of mind. The author refuses to assert either the possibility or the impossibility of miracle, but speaks only as an historian. “We do not say miracle is impossible, we say only that there has never been a satisfactorily authenticated miracle.”
In view of the method of treatment adopted by Renan there can, of course, be no question of an historical plan. He brings in each saying at the point where it seems most appropriate. None of them is passed over, but none of them appears in its historical setting. He shifts individual incidents hither and thither in the most arbitrary fashion. For example, the coming of Jesus’ mother to seek Him (in the belief that He is beside Himself) must belong to the later part of Jesus’ life, since it is out of tone with the happy innocence of the earlier period. Certain scenes are transposed from the later period to the earlier, because they are not gloomy enough for the later time. Others again are made the basis of an unwarranted generalisation. It is not enough that Jesus once rode upon an ass while the disciples in the intoxication of joy cast their garments in the way: according to Renan, He constantly rode about even in Galilee, upon a mule, “that favourite riding-animal of the East which is so docile and sure-footed and whose great dark eyes, shaded by long lashes, are full of gentleness.” Sometimes the disciples surrounded Him with rustic pomp, using their garments by way of carpeting. They laid them upon the mule which carried Him, or spread them before Him on the way.
Scenes of little significance are sometimes elaborately described by Renan while more important ones are barely touched on. “One day, indeed,” he remarks in describing the first visit to Jerusalem, “anger seems to have, as the saying goes, overmastered Him; He struck some of the miserable chatterers with the scourge, and overthrew their tables.” Such is the incidental fashion in which the cleansing of the temple was brought in. In this way it is possible to smuggle in a miracle without giving any further explanation of it. The miracle at Cana is brought, by means of the following unobtrusive turn of phrase, into the account of the period of success in Galilee. “One of His miracles was done by Jesus for the sole purpose of increasing the happiness of a wedding-party in a little country town.”
Albert Schweitzer's The Quest of the Historical Jesus
|Also in print from Barnes and Noble
As an E-book at: