we have not the materials for a complete Life of Jesus, but only for a picture of His public ministry
|November 24, 2011||Posted by webmaster under All text of Schweitzer Quest Jesus, chapter one||
The personal character of the study is not only due, however, to the fact that a personality can only be awakened to life by the touch of a personality; it lies in the essential nature of the problem itself. For the problem of the life of Jesus has no analogue in the field of history. No historical school has ever laid down canons for the investigation of this problem, no professional historian has ever lent his aid to theology in dealing with it. Every ordinary method of historical investigation proves inadequate to the complexity of the conditions. The standards of ordinary historical science are here inadequate, its methods not immediately applicable. The historical study of the life of Jesus has had to create its own methods for itself. In the constant succession of unsuccessful attempts, five or six problems have emerged side by side which together constitute the fundamental problem. There is, however, no direct method of solving the problem in its complexity; all that can be done is to experiment continuously, starting from definite assumptions; and in this experimentation the guiding principle must ultimately rest upon historical intuition.
The cause of this lies in the nature of the sources of the life of Jesus, and in the character of our knowledge of the contemporary religious world of thought. It is not that the sources are in themselves bad. When we have once made up our minds that we have not the materials for a complete Life of Jesus, but only for a picture of His public ministry, it must be admitted that there are few characters of antiquity about whom we possess so much indubitably historical information, of whom we have so many authentic, discourses. The position is much more favourable, for instance, than in the case of Socrates; for he is pictured to us by literary men who exercised their creative ability upon the portrait. Jesus stands much more immediately before us, because He was depicted by simple Christians without literary gift.
But at this point there arises a twofold difficulty. There is first the fact that what has just been said applies only to the first three Gospels, while the fourth, as regards its character, historical data, and discourse material, forms a world of its own. It is written from the Greek standpoint, while the first three are written from the Jewish. And even if one could get over this, and regard, as has often been done, the Synoptics and the Fourth Gospel as standing in something of the same relation to one another as Xenophon does to Plato as sources for the life of Socrates, yet the complete irreconcilability of the historical data would compel the critical investigator to decide from the first in favour of one source or the other. Once more it is found true that “No man can serve two masters.” This stringent dilemma was not recognised from the beginning; its emergence is one of the results of the whole course of experiment.
The second difficulty regarding the sources is the want of any thread of connexion in the material which they offer us. While the Synoptics are only collections of anecdotes (in the best, historical sense of the word), the Gospel of John—as stands on record in its closing words—only professes to give a selection of the events and discourses.
From these materials we can only get a Life of Jesus with yawning gaps. How are these gaps to be filled? At the worst with phrases, at the best with historical imagination. There is really no other means of arriving at the order and inner connexion of the facts of the life of Jesus than the making and testing of hypotheses. If the tradition preserved by the Synoptists really includes all that happened during the time that Jesus was with his disciples, the attempt to discover the connexion must succeed sooner or later. It becomes more and more clear that this presupposition is indispensable to the investigation. If it is merely a fortuitous series of episodes that the Evangelists have handed down to us, we may give up the attempt to arrive at a critical reconstruction of the life of Jesus as hopeless.
But it is not only the events which lack historical connexion, we are without any indication of a thread of connexion in the actions and discourses of Jesus, because the sources give no hint of the character of His self-consciousness. They confine themselves to outward facts. We only begin to understand these historically when we can mentally place them in an intelligible connexion and conceive them as the acts of a clearly defined personality. All that we know of the development of Jesus and of His Messianic self-consciousness has been arrived at by a series of working hypotheses. Our conclusions can only be considered valid so long as they are not found incompatible with the recorded facts as a whole.
It may be maintained by the aid of arguments drawn from the sources that the self-consciousness of Jesus underwent a development during the course of His public ministry; it may, with equally good grounds, be denied. For in both cases the arguments are based upon little details in the narrative in regard to which we do not know whether they are purely accidental, or whether they belong to the essence of the facts. In each case, moreover, the experimental working out of the hypothesis leads to a conclusion which compels the rejection of some of the actual data of the sources. Each view equally involves a violent treatment of the text.
Albert Schweitzer's The Quest of the Historical Jesus
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