Wellhausen and Schürer repudiate the results arrived at by the eschatological school
|November 8, 2011||Posted by webmaster under All text of Schweitzer Quest Jesus, chapter sixteen||
The belief in the presence of the Kingdom was, it seems, only a phase in the development of Jesus. When confronted with growing opposition He abandoned this belief again, and the super-earthly future character of the Kingdom was all that remained. At the end of His career Jesus establishes a connexion between the Messianic conception, in its final transformation, and the Kingdom, which had retained its eschatological character; He goes to His death for the Messiahship in its new significance, but He goes on believing in His speedy return as the Son of Man. This expectation of His Parousia as Son of Man, which only emerges immediately before His exit from the world—when it can no longer embarrass the author in his account of the preaching of Jesus—is the only point in which Jesus does not overcome the inadequacy of the Messianic idea with which He had to deal. “At this point the fantastic conception of Late Judaism, the magically transformed world of the ancient popular belief, thrusts itself incongruously into Jesus’ great and simple consciousness of His vocation.”
Thus Wernle takes with him only so much of Apocalyptic as he can safely carry over into early Christianity. Once he has got safely across, he drags the rest over after him. He shows that in and with the titles and expressions borrowed from apocalyptic thought, Messiah, Son of God, Son of Man, which were all at bottom so inappropriate to Jesus, early Christianity slipped in again “either the old ideas or new ones misunderstood.” In pointing this out he cannot refrain from the customary sigh of regret—these apocalyptic titles and expressions “were from the first a misfortune for the new religion.” One may well ask how Wernle has discovered in the preaching of Jesus anything that can be called, historically, a new religion, and what would have become of this new religion apart from its apocalyptic hopes and its apocalyptic dogma? We answer: without its intense eschatological hope the Gospel would have perished from the earth, crushed by the weight of historic catastrophes. But, as it was, by the mighty power of evoking faith which lay in it, eschatology made good in the darkest times Jesus’ sayings about the imperishability of His words, and died as soon as these sayings had brought forth new life upon a new soil. Why then make such a complaint against it?
The tragedy does not consist in the modification of primitive Christianity by eschatology, but in the fate of eschatology itself, which has preserved for us all that is most precious in Jesus, but must itself wither, because He died upon the cross with a loud cry, despairing of bringing in the new heaven and the new earth—that is the real tragedy. And not a tragedy to be dismissed with a theologian’s sigh, but a liberating and life-giving influence, like every great tragedy. For in its death-pangs eschatology bore to the Greek genius a wonder-child, the mystic, sensuous, Early-Christian doctrine of immortality, and consecrated Christianity as the religion of immortality to take the place of the slowly dying civilisation of the ancient world.
But it is not only those who want to find a way from the preaching of Jesus to early Christianity who are conscious of the peculiar difficulties raised by the recognition of its purely Jewish eschatological character, but also those who wish to reconstruct the connexion backwards from Jesus to Judaism. For example, Wellhausen and Schürer repudiate the results arrived at by the eschatological school, which, on its part, bases itself upon their researches into Late Judaism. Wellhausen, in his “Israelitish and Jewish History,” gives a picture of Jesus which lifts Him out of the Jewish frame altogether. The Kingdom which He desires to found becomes a present spiritual entity. To the Jewish eschatology His preaching stands in a quite external relation for what was in His mind was rather a fellowship of spiritual men engaged in seeking a higher righteousness. He did not really desire to be the Messiah, and in His inmost heart had renounced the hopes of His people. If He called Himself Messiah, it was in view of a higher Messianic ideal. For the people His acceptance of the Messiahship denoted the supersession of their own very differently coloured expectation. The transcendental events become immanent. In regard to the apocalyptic Judgment of the World, he retains only the sermon preserved by John about the inward and constant process of separation.
 Israelitische und jüdische Geschichte, 1st ed., 1894, pp. 163-168; 2nd ed., 1895, pp. 198-204; 3rd ed., 1897; 4th ed., 1901, pp. 380-394. See also his Skizzen (Sketches), pp. 6, 187 ff. See also J. Wellhausen, Das Evangelium Marci, 1903, 2nd ed., 1909; Das Evangelium Matthäi, 1904; Das Evangelium Lucae, 1904. Julius Wellhausen, now Professor at Göttingen, was born in 1844 at Hameln.
Albert Schweitzer's The Quest of the Historical Jesus
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