Weisse is not blind to the fact that this hypothesis of a Johannine basis in the Gospel is beset with the gravest—one might almost say with insuperable—difficulties
|November 20, 2011||Posted by webmaster under All text of Schweitzer Quest Jesus, chapter ten||
These tentative “essays,” not originally intended for publication, came, after the death of the apostle, into the hands of his adherents and disciples, and they chose the form of a complete Life of Jesus as that in which to give them to the world. They, therefore, added narrative portions, which they distributed here and there among the speeches, often doing some violence to the latter in the process. Such was the origin of the Fourth Gospel.
Weisse is not blind to the fact that this hypothesis of a Johannine basis in the Gospel is beset with the gravest—one might almost say with insuperable—difficulties. Here is a man who was an immediate disciple of the Lord, one who, in the Synoptic Gospels, in Acts, and in the Pauline letters, appears in a character which gives no hint of a coming spiritual metamorphosis, one, moreover, who at a relatively late period, when it might well have been supposed that his development was in all essentials closed (at the time of Paul’s visit to Jerusalem, which falls at least fourteen years after Paul’s conversion), was chosen, along with James and Peter, and in contrast with the apostles of the Gentiles, Paul and Barnabas, as an apostle of the Jews—”how is it possible,” asks Weisse, “to explain and make it intelligible, that a man of these antecedents displays in his thought and speech, in fact in his whole mental attitude, a thoroughly Hellenistic stamp? How came he, the beloved disciple, who, according to this very Gospel which bears his name, was admitted more intimately than any other into the confidence of Jesus, how came he to clothe his Master in this foreign garb of Hellenistic speculation, and to attribute to Him this alien manner of speech?But, however difficult the explanation may be, whatever extreme of improbability may seem to us to be involved in the assumption of the Johannine authorship of the Epistle and of these essential elements of the Gospel, it is better to assent to the improbability, to submit to the burden of being forced to explain the inexplicable, than to set ourselves obstinately against the weight of testimony, against the authority of the whole Christian Church from the second century to the present day.”
There could be no better argument against the genuineness of the Fourth Gospel than just such a defence of its genuineness as this. In this form the hypothesis may well be destined to lead a harmless and never-ending life. What matters for the historical study of the Life of Jesus is simply that the Fourth Gospel should be ruled out. And that Weisse does so thoroughly that it is impossible to imagine its being done more thoroughly. The speeches, in spite of their apostolic authority, are unhistorical, and need not be taken into account in describing Jesus’ system of thought. As for the unhappy redactor, who by adding the narrative pictures created the Gospel, all possibility of his reports being accurate is roundly denied, and as if that was not enough, he must put up with being called a bungler into the bargain. “I have, to tell the truth, no very high opinion of the literary art of the editor of the Johannine Gospel-document,” says Weisse in his “Problem of the Gospels” of 1856, which is the best commentary upon his earlier work.
His treatment of the Fourth Gospel reminds us of the story that Frederic the Great once appointed an importunate office-seeker to the post of “Privy Councillor for War,” on condition that he would never presume to offer a syllable of advice! The hypothesis which was brought forward about the same time by Alexander Schweizer, with the intention of saving the genuineness of the Gospel of John, did not make any real contribution to the subject. The reading of the facts which form his starting-point is almost the exact converse of that of Weisse, since he regards, not the speeches, but certain parts of the narrative as Johannine. That which it is possible, in his opinion, to refer to the apostle is an account, not involving any miracles, of the ministry of Jesus at Jerusalem, and the discourses which He delivered there. The more or less miraculous events which occur in the course of it—such as, that Jesus had seen Nathanael under the fig-tree, knew the past life of the Samaritan woman, and healed the sick man at the Pool of Bethesda—are of a simple character, and contrast markedly with those which are represented to have occurred in Galilee, where Jesus turned water into wine and fed a multitude with a few crusts of bread. We must, therefore, suppose that this short, authentic, spiritual Jerusalem-Gospel has had a Galilaean Life of Jesus worked into it, and this explains the inconsistencies of the representation and the oscillation between a sensuous and a spiritual point of view.
This distinction, however, cannot be made good. Schweizer was obliged to ascribe the reports of a material resurrection to the Galilaean source, whereas these, since they exclude the Galilaean appearances of Jesus, must belong to the Jerusalem Gospel; and accordingly, the whole distinction between a spiritual and material Gospel falls to the ground. Thus this hypothesis at best preserves the nominal authenticity of the Fourth Gospel, only to deprive it immediately of all value as a historical source.
 Alexander Schweizer, Das Evangelium Johannis nach seinem inneren Werte md seiner Bedeutung für das Leben Jesu kritisch untersucht. 1841. (A Critical Examination of the Intrinsic Value of the Gospel of John and of its Importance as a Source for the Life of Jesus.) Alexander Schweizer was born in 1808 at Murten, was appointed Professor of Pastoral Theology at Zurich in 1835, and continued to lecture there until his death in 1888, remaining loyal to the ideas of his teacher Schleiermacher, though handling them with a certain freedom. His best-known work is his Glaubenslehre (System of Doctrine), 2 vols., 1863- 1872; 2nd ed,, 1877.
Albert Schweitzer's The Quest of the Historical Jesus
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