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The Quest of the Historical Jesus

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Heinrich Eberhard Gottlob Paulus. Das Leben Jesu als Grundlage einer reinen Geschichte des Urchristentums. Heidelberg, C. F. Winter. (The Life of Jesus as the Basis of a purely Historical Account of Early Christianity.) 1828. 2 vols., 1192 pp.

Freut euch mit Gottesandacht, wenn es gewahrt euch ist,
Dem, so kurz er war, weltumschaffenden Lebensgang
Nach Jahrhunderten fern zu folgen,
Denket, glaubet, folget des Vorbildes Spur!
(Closing words of vol. ii.)

(Rejoice with grateful devotion, if unto you 'tis permitted,
After the lapse of centuries, still to follow afar off
That Life which, short as it was, changed the course of the ages;
Think ye well, and believe; follow the path of our Pattern.)

PAULUS WAS NOT THE MERE DRY-AS-DUST RATIONALIST THAT HE IS USUALLY represented to have been, but a man of very versatile abilities. His limitation was that, like Reinhard, he had an unconquerable distrust of anything that went outside the boundaries of logical thought. That wag due in part to the experiences of his youth. His father, a deacon in Leonberg, half-mystic, half-rationalist, had secret difficulties about the doctrine of immortality, and made his wife promise on her death-bed that, if it were possible, she would appear to him after her death in bodily form. After she was dead he thought he saw her raise herself to a sitting posture, and again sink down. From that time onwards he firmly believed himself to be in communication with departed spirits, and he became so dominated by this idea that in 1771 he had to be removed from his office. His children suffered sorely from a regime of compulsory spiritualism, which pressed hardest upon Heinrich Eberhard Gottlob, born in 1761, who, for the sake of peace, was obliged to pretend to his father that he was in communication with his mother's spirit.

He himself had inherited only the rationalistic side of his father's temperament. As a student at the Tubingen Stift (theological institute) he


formed his views on the writings of Semler and Michaelis. In 1789 he was called to Jena as Professor of Oriental Languages, and succeeded in 1793 to the third ordinary professorship of theology. The naturalistic interpretation of miracles which he upheld in his commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, published in 1800-1802, aroused the indignation of the consistories of Meiningen and Eisenach. But their petition for his removal from the professorship was unsuccessful, since Herder, who was president of the consistorium, used his influence to protect him. In 1799 Paulus, as Pro-rector, used his influence on behalf of his colleague Fichte, who was attacked on the ground of atheism; but in vain, owing to the passionate conduct of the accused.

With Goethe, Schiller, and Wieland, Paulus and his wife, a lively lady of some literary talents, stood in the most friendly relations.

When the Jena circle began to break up, he accepted, in 1803, an invitation from the Elector of Bavaria, Maximilian Joseph II., to go to Wiirzburg as Konsistorialrat and professor. There the liberal minister, Montgelas, was desirous of establishing a university founded on the principles of illuminism—Schelling, Hufeland, and Schleiermacher were among those whom he contemplated appointing as Docents. Here the Catholic theological students were obliged to attend the lectures of the Protestant professor of theology, as there were no Protestants to form an audience. His first course was on "Encyclopadie" (i.e. introduction to the literature of theology).

The plan failed. Paulus resigned his professorship and became in 1807 a member of the Bavarian educational council (Schulrat). In this capacity he worked at the reorganisation of the Bavarian school system at the time when Hegel was similarly engaged. He gave four years to this task, which he felt to be laid upon him as a duty. Then, in 1811, he went to Heidelberg as professor of theology; and he remained there until his death, in 1851, at the age of ninety. One of his last sayings, a few hours before he died, was, "I am justified before God, through my desire to do right." His last words were, "There is another world."

The forty years of his Heidelberg period were remarkably productive; there was no department of knowledge on which he did not write. He expressed his views about homoeopathy, about the freedom of the Press, about academic freedom, and about the duelling nuisance. In 1831, he wrote upon the Jewish Question; and there the veteran rationalist showed himself a bitter anti-Semite, and brought upon himself the scorn of Heine. On politics and constitutional questions he fought for his opinions so openly and manfully that he had to be warned to be more discreet. In philosophy he took an especially keen interest. When in Jena he had, in conjunction with Schiller, busied himself in the study of Kant. He did a particularly meritorious service in preparing an edition of Spinoza's


writings, with a biography of that thinker, in 1803, at the time when neo-Spinozism was making its influence felt in German philosophy. He constituted himself the special guardian of philosophy, and the moment he detected the slightest hint of mysticism, he sounded the alarm. His pet aversion was Schelling, who was born fourteen years later than he, in the very same house at Leonberg, and whom he had met as colleague at Jena and at Wiirzburg. The works, avowed and anonymous, which he directed against this "charlatan, juggler, swindler, and obscurantist," as he designated him, fill an entire library.

In 1841, Schelling was called to the chair of philosophy in Berlin, and in the winter of 1841-1842 he gave his lectures on "The Philosophy of Revelation" which caused the Berlin reactionaries to hail him as their great ally. The veteran rationalist — he was eighty years old — was transported with rage. He had had the lectures taken down for him, and he published them with critical remarks under the title "The Philosophy of Revelation at length Revealed, and set forth for General Examination, by Dr. H. E. G. Paulus" (Darmstadt, 1842). Schelling was furious, and dragged "the impudent scoundrel" into a court of law on the charge of illicit publication. In Prussia the book was suppressed. But the courts decided in favour of Paulus, who coolly explained that "the philosophy of Schelling appeared to him an insidious attack upon sound reason, the unmasking of which by every possible means was a work of public utility, nay, even a duty." He also secured the result at which he aimed; Schelling resigned his lectureship.

In his last days the veteran rationalist was an isolated survival from an earlier age into a period which no longer understood him. The new men reproached him for standing in the old ways; he accused them of a want of honesty. It was just in his immobility and his one-sidedness that his significance lay. By his consistent carrying through of the rationalistic explanation he performed a service to theology more valuable than those who think themselves so vastly his superiors are willing to acknowledge.

His Life of Jesus is awkwardly arranged. The first part gives a historical exposition of the Gospels, section by section. The second part is a synopsis interspersed with supplementary matter. There is no attempt to grasp the life of Jesus as a connected whole. In that respect he is far inferior to Venturini. Strictly regarded, his work is only a harmony of the Gospels with explanatory comments, the ground plan of which is taken from the Fourth Gospel.[1]

[1] A Life of Jesus which is completely dependent on the Commentaries of Paulus is that of Greiling, superintendent at Aschersleben, Das Leben Jesu van Nazareth, Ein religioses Handbuch fur Ceist und Herz der Freunde Jesu unter den Gebildeten, (The Life of Jesus of Nazareth, a religious Handbook for the Minds and Hearts of the Friends of Jesus among the Cultured.) Halle, 1813.


The main interest centres in the explanations of the miracles, though the author, it must be admitted, endeavoured to guard against this. "It is my chief desire," he writes in his preface, "that my views regarding the miracle stories should not be taken as by any means the principal thing. How empty would devotion or religion be if one's spiritual well-being depended on whether one believed in miracles or no!" "The truly miraculous thing about Jesus is Himself, the purity and serene holiness of His character, which is, notwithstanding, genuinely human, and adapted to the imitation and emulation of mankind."

The question of miracle is therefore a subsidiary question. Two points of primary importance are certain from the outset: (1) that unexplained alterations of the course of nature can neither overthrow nor attest a spiritual truth, (2) that everything which happens in nature emanates from the omnipotence of God.

The Evangelists intended to relate miracles; of that there can be no doubt. Nor can any one deny that in their time miracles entered into the plan of God, in the sense that the minds of men were to be astounded and subdued by inexplicable facts. This effect, however, is past. In periods to which the miraculous makes less appeal, in view of the advance in intellectual culture of the nations which have been led to accept Christianity, the understanding must be satisfied if the success of the cause is to be maintained.

Since that which is produced by the laws of nature is really produced by God, the Biblical miracles consist merely in the fact that eye-witnesses report events of which they did not know the secondary causes. Their knowledge of the laws of nature was insufficient to enable them to understand what actually happened. For one who has discovered the secondary causes, the fact remains, as such, but not the miracle.

The question of miracle, therefore, does not really exist, or exists only for those "who are under the influence of the sceptical delusion that it is possible really to think any kind of natural powers as existing apart from God, or to thiink the Being of God apart from the primal potentialities which unfold themselves in the never-ceasing process of Becoming." The difficulty arises from the "original sin" of dissolving the inner unity of God and nature, of denying the equivalence implied by Spinoza in his "Deus sive Natura."

For the normal intelligence the only problem is to discover the secondary causes of the "miracles" of Jesus. It is true there is one miracle which Paulus retains — the miracle of the birth, or at least the possibility of it; in the sense that it is through holy inspiration that Mary receives the hope and the power of conceiving her exalted Son, in whom the spirit of the Messiah takes up its dwelling. Here he indirectly denies the natural generation, and regards the conception as an act of the self-consciousness of the mother.


With the miracles of healing, however, the case is very simple. Sometimes Jesus worked through His spiritual power upon the nervous system of the sufferer; sometimes He used medicines known to Him alone. The latter applies, for instance, to the cures of the blind. The disciples, too, as appears from Mark vi. 7 and 13, were not sent out without medicaments, for the oil with which they were to anoint the sick was, of course, of a medicinal character; and the casting out of evil spirits was effected partly by means of sedatives.

Diet and after-treatment played a great part, though the Evangelists say little about this because directions on these points would not be given publicly. Thus, the saying, "This kind goeth not out save by prayer and fasting," is interpreted as an instruction to the father as to the way in which he could make the sudden cure of the epileptic into a permanent one, viz. by keeping him to a strict diet and strengthening his character by devotional exercises.

The nature miracles suggest their own explanation. The walking on the water was an illusion of the disciples. Jesus walked along the shore, and in the mist was taken for a ghost by the alarmed and excited occupants of the boat. When Jesus called to them, Peter threw himself into the water, and was drawn to shore by Jesus just as he was sinking. Immediately after taking Jesus into the boat they doubled a headland and drew clear of the storm centre; they therefore supposed that He had calmed the sea by His command. It was the same in the case where He was asleep during the storm. When they waked Him He spoke to them about the wind and the weather. At that moment they gained the shelter of a hill which protected them from the wind that swept down the valley; and they marvelled among themselves that even the winds and the sea obeyed their Messiah.

The feeding of the five thousand is explained in the following way. When Jesus saw the multitude an hungered. He said to His disciples, "We will set the rich people among them a good example, that they may share their supplies with the others," and he began to distribute His own provisions, and those of the disciples, to the people who were sitting near them. The example had its effect, and soon there was plenty for every one.

The explanation of the transfiguration is somewhat more complicated. While Jesus was lingering with a few followers in this mountainous district He had an interview upon a high mountain at night with two dignified-looking men whom His three companions took for Moses and Elias. These unknown persons, as we learn from Luke ix. 31, informed Him of the fate which awaited Him at Jerusalem. In the early morning, as the sun was rising, the three disciples, only half awake, looked upwards from the hollow in which they had been sleeping and saw Jesus


with the two strangers upon the higher part of the mountain, illuminated by the beams of the rising sun, and heard them speak, now of the fate which threatened Him in the capital, now of the duty of steadfastness and the hopes attached thereto, and finally heard an exhortation addressed to themselves, bidding them ever to hold Jesus to be the beloved Son of the Deity, whom they must obey. . . . Their drowsiness, and the clouds which in an autumnal sunrise float to and fro over those mountains, [1] left them no clear recollection of what had happened. This only added to the wonder of the vague undefined impression of having been in contact with apparitions from a higher sphere. The three who had been with Him on the mount never arrived at any more definite knowledge of the facts, because Jesus forbade them to speak of what they had seen until the end should come.

In dealing with the raisings from the dead the author is in his element. Here he is ready with the unfailing explanation taken over from Bahrdt that they were only cases of coma. These narratives should not be headed "raisings from the dead," but "deliverances from premature burial." In Judaea, interment took place three hours after death. How many seemingly dead people may have returned to consciousness in their graves, and then have perished miserably! Thus Jesus, owing to a presentiment suggested to Him by the father's story, saves the daughter of Jairus from being buried while in a cataleptic trance. A similar presentiment led Him to remove the covering of the bier which He met at the gate of Nain, and to discover traces of life in the widow's son. A similar instinct moved Him to ask to be taken to the grave of Lazarus. When the stone is rolled away He sees His friend standing upright and calls to him joyfully, "Come forth!"

The Jewish love of miracle "caused everything to be ascribed immediately to the Deity, and secondary causes to be overlooked; consequently no thought was unfortunately given to the question of how to prevent these horrible cases of premature burial from taking place!" But why does it not appear strange to Paulus that Jesus did not enlighten His countrymen as to the criminal character of over-hasty burial, instead of allowing even his closest followers to believe in miracle? Here the hypothesis condemns itself, although it has a foundation of fact, in so far as cases of premature burial are abnormally frequent in the East.

The resurrection of Jesus must be brought under the same category if we are to hold fast to the facts that the disciples saw Him in His natural body with the print of the nails in His hands, and that He took food in

[1] Paulus prided himself on a very exact acquaintance with the physical and geographical conditions of Palestine. He had a wide knowledge of the Literature of Eastern travel.—TRANSLATOR.


their presence. Death from crucifixion was in fact due to a condition of rigor, which extended gradually inwards. It was the slowest of all deaths. Josephus mentions in his Contra Apionem that it was granted to him as a favour by Titus, at Tekoa, that he might have three crucified men whom he knew taken down from the cross. Two of them died, but one recovered. Jesus, however, "died" surprisingly quickly. The loud cry which he uttered immediately before His head sank shows that His strength was far from being exhausted, and that what supervened was only a death-like trance. In such trances the process of dying continues until corruption sets in. "This alone proves that the process is complete and that death has actually taken place."

In the case of Jesus, as in that of others, the vital spark would have been gradually extinguished, had not Providence mysteriously effected on behalf of its favourite that which in the case of others was sometimes effected in more obvious ways by human skill and care. The lance-thrust, which we are to think of rather as a mere surface wound, served the purpose of a phlebotomy. The cool grave and the aromatic unguents continued the process of resuscitation, until finally the storm and the earthquake aroused Jesus to full consciousness. Fortunately the earthquake also had the effect of rolling away the stone from the mouth of the grave. The Lord stripped off the grave-clothes and put on a gardener's dress which He managed to procure. That was what made Mary, as we are told in John xx. 15, take Him for the gardener. Through the women, He sends a message to His disciples bidding them meet Him in Galilee, and Himself sets out to go thither. At Emmaus, as the dusk was falling, He met two of His followers, who at first failed to recognize Him because His countenance was so disfigured by His sufferings. But His manner of giving thanks at the breaking of bread, and the nail-prints in His uplifted hands, revealed to them who He was. From them He learns where His disciples are, returns to Jerusalem, and appears unexpectedly among them. This is the explanation of the apparent contradiction between the message pointing to Galilee and the appearances in Jerusalem. Thomas was not present at this first appearance, and at a later interview was suffered to put his hand into the marks of the wounds. It is a misunder- standing to see a reproach in the words which Jesus addresses to him. What, then, is the meaning of "Blessed are they that have not seen and have believed"? It is a benediction upon Thomas for what he has done in the interests of later generations. "Now," Jesus says, "thou, Thomas, art convinced because thou hast so unmistakably seen Me. It is well for those who now or in the future shall not see Me; for after this they can feel a firm conviction, because thou hast convinced thyself so completely that to thee, whose hands have touched Me, no possible doubt can remain of My corporeal reanimation." Had it not been for Thomas's peculiar


mental constitution we should not have known whether what was seen was a phantom or a real appearance of the reanimated Jesus.

In this way Jesus lived with them for forty days, spending part of that time with them in Galilee. In consequence of the ill-treatment which He had undergone. He was not capable of continuous exertion. He lived quietly and gathered strength for the brief moments in which He appeared among His own followers and taught them. When He felt His end drawing near He returned to Jerusalem. On the Mount of Olives, in the early sur. light, He assembled His followers for the last time. He lifted up His hands to fcfcss them, and with hands still raised in benediction He moved away from them. A cloud interposes itself between them and Him, so that their eyes cannot follow Him. As he disappeared there stood before them, clothed in white, the two dignified figures whom the three disciples who were present at the transfiguration had taken for Moses and Elias, but who were really among the secret adherents of Jesus in Jerusalem. These men exhorted them not to stand waiting there but to be up and doing.

Where Jesus really died they never knew, and so they came to describe His departure as an ascension.

This Life of Jesus is not written without feeling. At times, in moments of exaltation, the writer even dashes into verse. If only the lack of all natural aesthetic feeling did not ruin everything! Paulus constantly falls into a style that sets the teeth on edge. The episode of the death of the Baptist is headed "Court-and-Priest intrigues enhance themselves to a judicial murder." Much is spoiled by a kind of banality. Instead of "disciples," he always says "pupils," instead of "faith," "sincerity of conviction." The appeal which the father of the lunatic boy addresses to Jesus, "Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief," runs "I am sincerely convinced; help me, even if there is anything lacking in the sincerity of my conviction."

The beautiful saying in the story of Martha and Mary, "One thing is needful," is interpreted as meaning that a single course will be sufficient for the meal. [1] The scene in the home at Bethany rejoices in the heading, "Genially of Jesus among sympathetic friends in a hospitable family circle at Bethany. A Messiah with no stiff solemnity about Him." The following is the explanation which Paulus discovers for the saying about the tribute-money: "So long as you need the Romans to maintain some sort of order among you," says Jesus, "you must provide the means thereto. If you were fit to be independent you would not need to serve any one but God."

[1] This interpretation, it ought to be remarked, seems to be implied by the ancient reading. "Few things are needful, or one," given in the margin of the Revised Version.—TRANSLATOR.


Among the historical problems, Paulus is especially interested in the idea of the Messiahship, and in the motives of the betrayal. His sixty-five pages on the history of the conception of the Messiah are a real contribution to the subject. The Messianic idea, he explains, goes back to the Davidic kingdom; the prophets raised it to a higher religious plane; in the times of the Maccabees the ideal of the kingly Messiah perished and its place was taken by that of the super-earthly deliverer. The only mistake which Paulus makes is in supposing that the post-Maccabean period went back to the political ideal of the Davidic king. On the other hand, he rightly interprets the death of Jesus as the deed by which He thought to win the Messiahship proper to the Son of Man.

With reference to the question of the High Priest at the trial, he remarks that it does not refer to the metaphysical Divine Sonship, but to the Messiahship in the ancient Jewish sense, and accordingly Jesus answers by pointing to the coming of the Son of Man.

The importance of eschatology in the preaching of Jesus is clearly recognised, but Paulus proceeds to nullify this recognition by making the risen Lord cut short all the questions of the disciples in regard to this subject with the admonition "that in whatever way all this should come about, and whether soon or late, their business was to see that they had done their own part."

How did Judas come to play the traitor? He believed in the Messiahship of Jesus and wanted to force Him to declare Himself. To bring about His arrest seemed to Judas the best means of rousing the people to take His side openly. But the course of events was too rapid for him. Owing to the Feast the news of the arrest spread but slowly. In the night "when people were sleeping off the effects of the Passover supper," Jesus was condemned; in the morning, before they were well awake, He was hurried away to be crucified. Then Judas was overcome with despair, and went and hanged himself. "Judas stands before us in the history of the Passion as a warning example of those who allow their cleverness to degenerate into cunning, and persuade themselves that it is permissible to do evil that good may come—to seek good objects, which they really value, by intrigue and chicanery. And the underlying cause of their errors is that they have failed to overcome their passionate desire for self-advancement."

Such was the consistently rationalistic Life of Jesus, which evoked so much opposition at the time of its appearance, and seven years later received its death-blow at the hands of Strauss. The method is doomed to failure because the author only saves his own sincerity at the expense of that of his characters. He makes the disciples of Jesus see miracles where they could not possibly have seen them; and makes Jesus Himself allow miracles to be imagined where He must necessarily have protested


against such a delusion. His exegesis, too, is sometimes violent. But in this, who has the right to judge him? If the theologians dragged him before the Lord, He would command, as of old, "Let him that is without sin among you cast the first stone at him," and Paulus would go forth unharmed.

Moreover, a number of his explanations are right in principle. The feeding of the multitudes and the walking on the sea must be explained somehow or other as misunderstandings of something that actually happened. And how many of Paulus' ideas are still going about in all sorts of disguises, and crop up again and again in commentaries and Lives of Jesus, especially in those of the "anti-rationalists"! Nowadays it belongs to the complete duty of the well-trained theologian to renounce the rationalists and all their works; and yet how poor our time is in comparison with theirs—how poor in strong men capable of loyalty to an ideal, how poor, so far as theology is concerned, in simple commonplace sincerity!

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