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The Quest of the Historical Jesus

* VI *


Karl August Hase. Das Leben Jesu zunachst fur akademische Studien. (The Life of Jesus, primarily for the use of students.) 1829. 205 pp. This work contains a bibliography of the earliest literature of the subject. 5th ed., 1865.

Friedrich Ernst Daniel Schleiermacher. Das Leben Jesu. 1864. Edited by Riitenik. The edition is based upon a student's note-book of a course of lectures de- livered in 1832.

David Friedrich Strauss. Der Christus des Glaubens und der Jesus der Geschichte. Eine Kritik des Schleiermacher'schen Lebens Jesu. (The Christ of Faith and the Jesus of History. A criticism of Schleiermacher's Life of Jesus.) 1865.

IN THEIR TREATMENT OF THE LIFE OF JESUS, HASE AND SCHLEIERMACHER are in one respect still wholly dominated by rationalism. They still cling to the rationalistic explanation of miracle; although they have no longer the same ingenuous confidence in it as their predecessors, and although at the decisive cases they are content to leave a question-mark instead of offering a solution. They might, in fact, be described as the sceptics of rationalism. In another respect, however, they aim at something beyond the range of rationalism, inasmuch as they endeavour to grasp the inner connexion of the events of Jesus' ministry, which in Paulus had entirely fallen out of sight. Their Lives of Jesus are transitional, in the good sense of the word as well as in the bad. In respect of progress, Hase shows himself the greater of the two.

Scarcely thirteen years have elapsed since the death of the great Jena professor, his Excellency von Hase, and already we think of him as a man of the past. Theology has voted to inscribe his name upon its records in letters of gold — and has passed on to the order of the day. He was no pioneer like Baur, and he does not meet the present age on the footing of a contemporary, offering it problems raised by him and still unsolved. Even his "Church History," with its twelve editions, has already had its day, although it is still the most brilliantly written work in this department, and conceals beneath its elegance of form a massive erudi-


tion. He was more than a theologian; he was one of the finest monuments of German culture, the living embodiment of a period which for us lies under the sunset glow of the past, in the land of "once upon a time."

His path in life was unembarrassed; he knew toil, but not disappointment. Born in 1800, he finished his studies at Tiibingen, where he qualified as a Privat-Docent in 1823. In 1824-1825 he spent eleven months in the fortress of Hohenasperg, where he was confined for taking the part of the Burschenschaften, [1] and had leisure for meditation and literary plans. In 1830 he went to Jena, where, with a yearly visit to Italy to lay in a store of sunshine and renewed strength, he worked until 1890.

Not without a certain reverence does one take this little textbook of 205 pages into one's hands. This is the first attempt by a fully equipped scholar to reconstruct the life of Jesus on a purely historical basis. There is more creative power in it than in almost any of his later works. It manifests already the brilliant qualities of style for which he was distinguished — clearness, terseness, elegance. What a contrast with that of Bahrdt, Venturini, or Paulus!

And yet the keynote of the work is rationalistic, since Hase has recourse to the rationalistic explanation of miracles wherever that appears possible. He seeks to make the circumstances of the baptism intelligible by supposing the appearance of a meteor. In the story of the transfiguration, the fact which is to be retained is that Jesus, in the company of two unknown persons, appeared to the disciples in unaccustomed splendour. Their identification of His companions as Moses and Elias is a conclusion which is not confirmed by Jesus, and owing to the position of the eyewitnesses, is not sufficiently guaranteed by their testimony. The abrupt breaking off of the interview by the Master, and the injunction of silence, point to some secret circumstance in His history. By this hint Hase seems to leave room for the "secret society" of Bahrdt and Venturini.

He makes no difficulty about the explanation of the story of the stater. It is only intended to show "how the Messiah avoided offence in submitting Himself to the financial burdens of the community." In regard to the stilling of the storm, it seems uncertain whether Jesus through His knowledge of nature was enabled to predict the end of the storm or whether He brought it about by the possession of power over nature. The "sceptic of rationalism" thus leaves open the possibility of miracle. He proceeds somewhat similarly in explaining the raisings from the dead. They can be made intelligible by supposing that they were cases of coma, but it is also possible to look upon them as supernatural. For

[1] Associations of students, at that time of a political character.—TRANSLATOR.


the two great Johannine miracles, the change of the water into wine and the increase of the loaves, no naturalistic explanation can be admitted. But how unsuccessful is his attempt to make the increase of the bread intelligible! "Why should not the bread have been increased?" he asks. "If nature every year in the period between seed-time and harvest performs a similar miracle, nature might also, by unknown laws, bring it about in a moment." Here crops up the dangerous anti-rationalistic intellectual supernaturalism which sometimes brings Hase and Schleiermacher very close to the frontiers of the territory occupied by the disingenuous reactionaries.

The crucial point is the explanation of the resurrection of Jesus. A stringent proof that death had actually taken place cannot, according to Hase, be given, since there is no evidence that corruption had set in, and that is the only infallible sign of death. It is possible, therefore, that the resurrection was only a return to consciousness after a trance. But the direct impression made by the sources points rather to a supernatural event. Either view is compatible with the Christian faith. "Both the historically possible views — either that the Creator gave new life to a body which was really dead, or that the latent life reawakened in a body which was only seemingly dead — recognise in the resurrection a manifest proof of the care of Providence for the cause of Jesus, and are therefore both to be recognised as Christian, whereas a third view — that Jesus gave Himself up to His enemies in order to defeat them by the bold Stroke of a seeming death and a skilfully prepared resurrection — is as contrary to historical criticism as to Christian faith."

Hase, however, quietly lightens the difficulty of the miracle question in a way which must not be overlooked. For the rationalists all miracles stood on the same footing, and all must equally be abolished by a naturalistic explanation. If we study Hase carefully, we find that he accepts only the Johannine miracles as authentic, whereas those of the Synoptists may be regarded as resting upon a misunderstanding on the part of the authors, because they are not reported at first hand, but from tradition. Thus the discrimination of the two lines of Gospel tradition comes to the aid of the anti-rationalists, and enables them to get rid of some of the greatest difficulties. Half playfully, it might almost be said, they sketch out the ideas of Strauss, without ever suspecting what desperate earnest the game will become, if the authenticity of the Fourth Gospel has to be given up.

Hase surrenders the birth-story and the "legends of the Childhood" — the expression is his own — almost without striking a blow. The same fate befalls all the incidents in which angels figure, and the miracles at the time of the death of Jesus. He describes these as "mythical touches." The ascension is merely "a mythical version of His departure to the Father."


Hase's conception even of the non-miraculuous portion of the history of Jesus is not free from rationalistic traits. He indulges in the following speculations with regard to the celibacy of the Lord. "If the true grounds of the celibacy of Jesus do not lie hidden in the special circumstances of His youth, the conjecture may be permitted that He from whose religion was to go forth the ideal view of marriage, so foreign to the ideas of antiquity, found in His own time no heart worthy to enter into this covenant with Him." It is on rationalistic lines also that Hase explains the betrayal by Judas. "A purely intellectual, worldly, and unscrupulous character, he desired to compel the hesitating Messiah to found His Kingdom upon popular violence. ... It is possible that Judas in his terrible blindness took that last word addressed to him by Jesus, 'What thou doest, do quickly,' as giving consent to his plan."

But Hase again rises superior to this rationalistic conception of the history when he refuses to explain away the Jewish elements in the plan and preaching of Jesus as due to mere accommodation, and maintains the view that the Lord really, to a certain extent, shared this Jewish, system of ideas. According to Hase there are two periods in the Messianic activity of Jesus. In the first He accepted almost without reservation the popular ideas regarding the Messianic age. In consequence, however, of His experience of the practical results of these ideas. He waa led to abandon this error, and in the second period He developed His own distinctive views. Here we meet for the first time the idea of two different periods in the life of Jesus, which, especially through the influence of Holtzmann and Keim, became the prevailing view, and down to Johannes Weiss, determined the plan of all Lives of Jesus. Hase created the modern historico-psychological picture of Jesus. The introduction of this more penetrating psychology would alone suffice to place him in advance of the rationalists.

Another interesting point is the thorough way in which he traces out the historical and literary consequences of this idea of development. The apostles, he thinks, did not understand this progress of thought on the part of Jesus, and did not distinguish between the sayings of the first and second periods. They remained wedded to the eschatological view. After the death of Jesus this view prevailed so strongly in the primitive community of disciples that they interpolated their expectations into the last discourses of Jesus. According to Hase, the apocalyptic discourse in Matt. xxiv. was originally only a prediction of the judgment upon and destruction of Jerusalem, but this was obscured later by the influx of the eschatological views of the apostolic community. Only John remained free from this error. Therefore the non-eschatological Fourth Gospel preserves in their pure form the ideas of Jesus in His second period.

Hase rightly observes that the Messiahship of Jesus plays next to no


part in His preaching, at any rate at first, and that, before the incident at Caesarea Philippi, it was only in moments of enthusiastic admiration, rather than with settled conviction, that even the disciples looked on Him as the Messiah. This indication of the central importance of the declaration of the Messiahship at Caesarea Philippi is another sign-post pointing out the direction which the future study of the life of Jesus was to follow.

Schleiermacher's Life of Jesus introduces us to quite a different order of transitional ideas. Its value lies in the sphere of dogmatics, not of history. Nowhere, indeed, is it so clear that the great dialectician had not really a historical mind than precisely in his treatment of the history of Jesus.

From the first it was no favourable star which presided over this undertaking. It is true that in 1819 Schleiermacher was the first theologian who had ever lectured upon this subject. But his Life of Jesus did not appear until 1864. Its publication had been so long delayed, partly because it had to be reconstructed from students' note-books, partly because immediately after Schleiermacher, in 1832, had delivered the course for the last time, it was rendered obsolete by the work of Strauss. For the questions raised by the latter's Life of Jesus, published in 1835, Schleiermacher had no answer, and for the wounds which it made, no healing. When, in 1864, Schleiermacher's work was brought forth to view like an embalmed corpse, Strauss accorded to the dead work of the great theologian a dignified and striking funeral oration.

Schleiermacher is not in search of the historical Jesus, but of the Jesus Christ of his own system of theology; that is to say, of the historic figure which seems to him appropriate to the self-consciousness of the Redeemer as he represents it. For him the empirical has simply no existence. A natural psychology is scarcely attempted. He comes to the facts with a ready-made dialectic apparatus and sets his puppets in lively action. Schleiermacher's dialectic is not a dialectic which generates reality, like that of Hegel, of which Strauss availed himself, but merely a dialectic of exposition. In this literary dialectic he is the greatest master that ever lived.

The limitations of the historical Jesus both in an upward and downward direction are those only which apply equally to the Jesus of dogma. The uniqueness of His Divine self-consciousness is not to be tampered with. It is equally necessary to avoid Ebionism which does away with the Divine in Him, and Docetism which destroys His humanity. Schleiermacher loves to make his hearers shudder by pointing out to them that the least false step entails precipitation into one or other of these


abysses; or at least would entail it for any one who was not under the guidance of his infallible dialectic.

In the course of this dialectic treatment, all the historical questions involved in the life of Jesus come into view one after another, but none of them is posed or solved from the point of view of the historian; they are "moments" in his argument.

He is like a spider at work. The spider lets itself down from aloft, and after making fast some supporting threads to points below, it runs back to the centre and there keeps spinning away. You look on fascinated, and before you know it, you are entangled in the web. It is difficult even for a reader who is strong in the consciousness of possessing a sounder grasp of the history than Schleiermacher to avoid being caught in the toils of that magical dialectic.

And how loftily superior the dialectician is! Paulus had shown that, in view of the use of the title Son of Man, the Messianic self-consciousness of Jesus must be interpreted in accordance with the passage in Daniel. On this Schleiermacher remarks: "I have already said that it is inherently improbable that such a predilection (sc. for the Book of Daniel) would have been manifested by Christ, because the Book of Daniel does not belong to the prophetic writings properly so-called, but to the third division of the Old Testament literature."

In his estimate of the importance to be attached to the story of the baptism, too, he falls behind the historical knowledge of his day. "To lay such great stress upon the baptism," he says, "leads either to the Gnostic view that it was only there that the logos united itself with Jesus, or to the rationalistic view that it was only at the baptism that He became conscious of His vocation." But what does history care whether a view is gnostic or rationalistic if only it is historical!

This dialectic, so fatal often to sound historical views, might have been expressly created to deal with the question of miracle. Compared •with Schleiermacher's discussions all that has been written since upon this subject is mere honest—or dishonest—bungling. Nothing new has been added to what h° says, and no one else has succeeded in saying it with the same amazing subtlety. It is true, also that no one else has shown the same skill in concealing how much in the way of miracle he ultimately retains and how much he rejects. His solution of the problem is, in fact, not historical, but dialectical, an attempt to transcend the necessity for a rationalistic explanation of miracle which does not really succeed in getting rid of it.

Schleiermacher arranges the miracles in an ascending scale of probability according to the degree in which they can be seen to depend on the known influence of spirit upon organic matter. The most easily ex-


plained are the miracles of healing "because we are not without analogies to show that pathological conditions of a purely functional nature can be removed by mental influence." But where, on the other hand, the effect produced by Christ lies outside the sphere of human life, the difficulties involved become insoluble. To get rid, in some measure, of these difficulties he makes use of two expedients. In the first place, he admits that in particular cases the rationalistic method may have a certain limited application; in the second place he, like Hase, recognises a difference between the miracle stories themselves, retaining the Johannine miracles, but surrendering, more or less completely, the Synoptic miracles as not resting on evidence of the same certainty and exactness.

That he is still largely under the sway of rationalism can be seen in the fact that he admits on an equal footing, as conceptions of the resurrection of Jesus, a return to consciousness from a trance-state, or a supernatural restoration to life, thought of as a resurrection. He goes so far as to say that the decision of this question has very little interest for him. He fully accepts the principle of Paulus that apart from corruption there is no certain indication of death.

"All that we can say on this point," he concludes, "is that even to those whose business it was to ensure the immediate death of the crucified, in order that the bodies might at once be taken down, Christ appeared to be really dead, and this, moreover, although it was contrary to their expectations, for it was a subject of astonishment. It is no use going any further into the matter, since nothing can be ascertained in regard to it."

What is certain is that Jesus in His real body lived on for a time among His followers; that the Fourth Gospel requires us to believe. The reports of the resurrection are not based upon "apparitions." Schleiermacher's own opinion is what really happened was reanimation after apparent death. "If Christ had only eaten to show that He could eat, while He really had no need of nourishment, it would have been a pretence — something docetlc. This gives us a clue to all the rest, teaching us to hold firmly to the way in which Christ intends Himself to be represented, and to put down all that is miraculous in the accounts of the appearances to the prepossessions of the disciples."

When He revealed Himself to Mary Magdalene He had no certainty that He would frequently see her again. "He was conscious that His present condition was that of genuine human life, but He had no confidence in its continuance." He bade His disciples meet Him in Galilee because He could there enjoy greater privacy and freedom from observation in His intercourse with them. The difference between the present and the past was only that He no longer showed Himself to the world. "It was possible that a movement in favour of an earthly Messianic King-


dom might break out, and we need only take this possibility into account in order to explain completely why Jesus remained in such close retirement." "It was the premonition of the approaching end of this second life which led Him to return from Galilee to Jerusalem."

Of the ascension he says: "Here, therefore, something happened, but what was seen was incomplete, and has been conjecturally supplemented." The underlying rationalistic explanation shows through!

But if the condition in which Jesus lived on after His crucifixion was "a condition of reanimation," by what right does Schleiermacher constantly speak of it as a "resurrection," as if resurrection and reanimation were synonymous terms? Further, is it really true that faith has no interest whatever in the question whether it was as risen from the dead, or merely as recovered from a state of suspended animation, that Jesus showed Himself to His disciples? In regard to this, it might seem, the rationalists were more straight-forward.

The moment one tries to take hold of this dialectic it breaks in one's fingers. Schleiermacher would not indeed have ventured to play so risky a game if he had not had a second position to retire to, based on the distinction between the Synoptic and the Johannine miracle stories. In this respect he simplified matters for himself, as compared with the rationalists, even more than Hase. The miracle at the baptism is only intelligible in the narrative of the Fourth Gospel, where it is not a question of an external occurrence, but of a purely subjective experience of John, with which we have nothing to do. The Synoptic story of the temptation has no intelligible meaning. "To change stones into bread, if there were need for it, would not have been a sin." "A leap from the Temple could have had no attraction for any one."

The miracles of the birth and childhood are given up without hesitation; they do not belong to the story of the life of Jesus; and it is the same with the miracles at His death. One might fancy it was Strauss speaking when Schleiermacher says: "If we give due consideration to the fact that we have certainly found in these for the most part simple narratives of the last moments of Christ two incidents, such as the rending of the veil of the Temple and the opening of the graves, in reference to which we cannot possibly suppose that they are literal descriptions of actual facts, then we are bound to ask the question whether the same does not apply to many other points. Certainly the mention of the sun's light failing and the consequent great darkness looks very much as if it had been imported by poetic imagination into the simple narrative."

A rebuke could have no possible effect upon the wind and sea. Here we must suppose either an alteration of the facts or a different causal connexion.

In this way Schleiermacher — and it was for this reason that these lec-


tures on the life of Jesus became so celebrated — enabled dogmatics, though not indeed history, to take a flying leap over the miracle question.

What is chiefly fatal to a sound historical view is his one-sided preference for the Fourth Gospel. It is, according to him, only in this Gospel that the consciousness of Jesus is truly reflected. In this connexion he expressly remarks that of a progress in the teaching of Jesus, and of any "development" in Him, there can be no question. His development is the unimpeded organic unfolding of the idea of the Divine Sonship.

For the outline of the life of Jesus, also, the Fourth Gospel is alone authoritative. "The Johannine representation of the way in which the crisis of His fate was brought about is the only clear one." The same applies to the narrative of the resurrection in this Gospel. "Accordingly, on this point also," so he concludes his discussion, "I take it as established that the Gospel of John is the narrative of an eyewitness and forms an organic whole. The first three Gospels are compilations formed uut of various narratives which had arisen independently; their discourses are composite structures, and their presentation of the history is such that one can form no idea of the grouping of events." The "crowded days," such as that of the sermon on the mount and the day of the parables, exist only in the imagination of the Evangelists. In reality there were no such days. Luke is the only one of them who has some semblance of historical order. His Gospel is compiled with much insight and critical tact out of a number of independent documents, as Schleiermacher believed himself to have shown convincingly in his critical study of Luke's Gospel, published in 1817. '

It is only on the ground of such a valuation of the sources that we can arrive at a just estimate of the different representations of the locality of the life of Jesus. "The contradictions," Schleiermacher proceeds, "could not be explained if all our Gospels stood equally close to Jesus. But if John stands closer than the others, we may perhaps find the key in the fact that John, too, mentions it as a prevailing opinion in Jerusalem that Jesus was a Galilaean, and that Luke, when he has got to the end of the sections which show skilful arrangement and are united by similarity of subject, gathers all the rest into the framework of a journey to Jerusalem. Following this analogy, and not remembering that Jesus had occasion to go several times a year to Jerusalem, the other two gathered into one mass all that happened there on various occasions. This could only have been done by Hellenists." [1]

[1] The ground of the inference is that, according to this theory, they did not attach much importance to the keeping of the Feasts at Jerusalem. Dr. Schweitzer reminds us in a footnote that a certain want of clearness is due to the fact of this work having been compiled from lecture-notes.


Schleiermacher is quite insensible to the graphic realism of the description of the last days at Jerusalem in Mark and Matthew, and has no suspicion that if only a single one of the Jerusalem sayings in the Synoptists is true Jesus had never before spoken in Jerusalem.

The ground of Schleiermacher's antipathy to the Synoptists lies deeper than a mere critical view as to their composition. The fact is that their "picture of Christ" does not agree with that which he wishes to insert into the history. When it serves his purpose, he does not shrink from the most arbitrary violence. He abolishes the scene in Gethsemane because he infers from the silence of John that it cannot have taken place. "The other Evangelists," he explains, "give us an account of a sudden depression and deep distress of spirit which fell upon Jesus, and which He admitted to His disciples, and they tell us how He sought relief from it in prayer, and afterwards recovered His serenity and resolution. John passes over this in silence, and his narrative of what immediately precedes is not consistent with it." It is evidently a symbolical story, as the thrice-repeated petition shows. "If they speak of such a depression of spirit, they have given the story that form in order that the example of Christ might be the more applicable to others in similar circumstances."

On these premises it is possible to write a Life of Christ; it is not possible to write a Life of Jesus. It is, therefore, not by accident that Schleiermacher regularly speaks, not of Jesus, but of Christ.

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