The transfiguration had to find a place in the life of Jesus, because of the shining of Moses’ countenance.
|November 20, 2011||Posted by webmaster under All text of Schweitzer Quest Jesus, chapter eight||
The repetition of the story of the feeding of the multitude arouses suspicion regarding the credibility of what is narrated, and at once invalidates the hypothesis of the apostolic authorship of the Gospel of Matthew. Moreover, the incident was so naturally suggested by Old Testament examples that it would have been a miracle if such a story had not found its way into the Life of Jesus. An explanation on the analogy of an expedited process of nature, is here, as in the case of the miracle at Cana also, to be absolutely rejected. Strauss allows it to be laughed out of court. The cursing of the fig-tree and its fulfilment go back in some way or other to a parable of Jesus, which was afterwards made into history.
More important than the miracles heretofore mentioned are those which have to do with Jesus Himself and mark the crises of His history. The transfiguration had to find a place in the life of Jesus, because of the shining of Moses’ countenance. In dealing with the narratives of the resurrection it is evident that we must distinguish two different strata of legend, an older one, represented by Matthew, which knew only of appearances in Galilee, and a later, in which the Galilaean appearances are excluded in favour of appearances in Jerusalem. In both cases, however, the narratives are mythical. In any attempt to explain them we are forced on one horn of the dilemma or the other—if the resurrection was real, the death was not real, and vice versa. That the ascension is a myth is self-evident.
Such, and so radical, are the results at which Strauss’s criticism of the supernaturalistic and the rationalistic explanations of the life of Jesus ultimately arrives.
In reading Strauss’s discussions one is not so much struck with their radical character, because of the admirable dialectic skill with which he shows the total impossibility of any explanation which does not take account of myth. On the whole, the supernaturalistic explanation, which at least represents the plain sense of the narratives, comes off much better than the rationalistic, the artificiality of which is everywhere remorselessly exposed.
The sections which we have summarized are far from having lost their significance at the present day. They marked out the ground which is now occupied by modern critical study. And they filled in the death-certificates of a whole series of explanations which, at first sight, have all the air of being alive, but are not really so. If these continue to haunt present-day theology, it is only as ghosts, which can be put to flight by simply pronouncing the name of David Friedrich Strauss, and which would long ago have ceased to “walk,” if the theologians who regard Strauss’s book as obsolete would only take the trouble to read it. The results so far considered do not represent the elements of the life of Jesus which Strauss was prepared to accept as historical. He sought to make the boundaries of the mythical embrace the widest possible area; and it is clear that he extended them too far.
For one thing, he overestimates the importance of the Old Testament motives in reference to the creative activity of the legend. He does not see that while in many cases he has shown clearly enough the source of the form of the narrative in question, this does not suffice to explain its origin. Doubtless, there is mythical material in the story of the feeding of the multitude. But the existence of the story is not explained by referring to the manna in the desert, or the miraculous feeding of a multitude by Elisha. The story in the Gospel has far too much individuality for that, and stands, moreover, in much too closely articulated an historical connexion. It must have as its basis some historical fact. It is not a myth, though there is myth in it. Similarly with the account of the transfiguration. The substratum of historical fact in the life of Jesus is much more extensive than Strauss is prepared to admit. Sometimes he fails to see the foundations, because he proceeds like an explorer who, in working on the ruins of an Assyrian city, should cover up the most valuable evidence with the rubbish thrown out from another portion of the excavations.
Again, he sometimes rules out statements by assuming their impossibility on purely dialectical grounds, or by playing off the narratives one against another. The Baptist’s message to Jesus is a case in point. This is connected with the fact that he often fails to realise the strong confirmation which the narratives derive from their connexion with the preceding and following context.
 2 Kings iv, 42-44.
Albert Schweitzer's The Quest of the Historical Jesus
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