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The Quest of the Historical Jesus

* VIII *


First edition, 1835 and 1836. 2 vols. 1480 pp.
The second edition was unaltered.
Third edition, with alterations, 1838-1839.
Fourth edition, agreeing with the first, 1840.

CONSIDERED AS A LITERARY WORK, STRAUSS'S FIRST LIFE OF JESUS IS ONE of the most perfect things in the whole range of learned literature. In over fourteen hundred pages he has not a superfluous phrase; his analysis descends to the minutest details, but he does not lose his way among them; the style is simple and picturesque, sometimes ironical, but always dignified and distinguished.

In regard to the application of the mythological explanation to Holy Scripture, Strauss points out that De Wette, Eichhorn, Gabler, and others of his predecessors had long ago freely applied it to the Old Testament, and that various attempts had been made to portray the life of Jesus in accordance with the critical assumptions upon which his undertaking was based. He mentions especially Usteri as one who had helped to prepare the way for him. The distinction between Strauss and those who had preceded him upon this path consists only in this, that prior to him the conception of myth was neither truly grasped nor consistently applied. Its application was confined to the account of Jesus coming into the world and of His departure from it, while the real kernel of the evangelical tradition—the sections from the Baptism to the Resurrection—was left outside the field of its application. Myth formed, to use Strauss's illustration, the lofty gateways at the entrance to, and at the exit from, the Gospel history; between these two lofty gateways lay the narrow and crooked streets of the naturalistic explanation.

The principal obstacle, Strauss continues, which barred the way to a comprehensive application of myth, consisted in the supposition that two of our Gospels, Matthew and John, were reports of eyewitnesses; and a further difficulty was the offence caused by the word myth, owing to its associations with the heathen mythology. But that any of our Evangelists was an eyewitness, or stood in such relations with eyewitnesses as to


make the intrusion of myth unthinkable, is a thesis which there is no extant evidence sufficient to prove. Even though the earthly life of the Lord falls within historic times, and even if only a generation be assumed to have elapsed between His death and the composition of the Gospels; such a period would be sufficient to allow the historical material to become intermixed with myth. No sooner is a great man dead than legend is busy with his life.

Then, too, the offence of the word myth disappears for any one who has gained an insight into the essential character of religious myth. It is nothing else than the clothing in historic form of religious ideas, shaped by the unconsciously inventive power of legend, and embodied in a historic personality. Even on a priori grounds we are almost compelled to assume that the historic Jesus will meet us in the garb of old Testament Messianic ideas and primitive Christian expectations.

The main distinction between Strauss and his predecessors consisted in the fact that they asked themselves anxiously how much of the historical life of Jesus would remain as a foundation for religion if they dared to apply the conception of myth consistently, while for him this question had no terrors. He claims in his preface that he possessed one advantage over all the critical and learned theologians of his time without which nothing can be accomplished in the domain of history—the inner emancipation of thought and feeling in regard to certain religious and dogmatic prepossessions which he had early attained as a result of his philosophic studies. Hegel's philosophy had set him free, giving him a clear conception of the relationship of idea and reality, leading him to a higher plane of Christological speculation, and opening his eyes to the mystic interpenetration of finitude and infinity, God and man.

God-manhood, the highest idea conceived by human thought, is actually realised in the historic personality of Jesus. But while conventional thinking supposes that this phenomenal realisation must be perfect, true thought, which has attained by genuine critical reasoning to a higher freedom, knows that no idea can realise itself perfectly on the historic plane, and that its truth does not depend on the proof of its having received perfect external representation, but that its perfection comes about through that which the idea carries into history, or through the way in which history is sublimated into idea. For this reason it is in the last analysis indifferent to what extent God-manhood has been realised in the person of Jesus; the important thing is that the idea is now alive in the common consciousness of those who have been prepared to receive it by its manifestation in sensible form, and of whose thought and imagination that historical personality took such complete possession, that for them the unity of Godhood and manhood assumed in Him enters into the common consciousness, and the "moments" which constitute the out-


ward course of His life reproduce themselves in them in a spiritual fashion.

A purely historical presentation of the life of Jesus was in that first period wholly impossible; what was operative was a creative reminiscence acting under the impulse of the idea which the personality of Jesus had called to life among mankind. And this idea of God-manhood, the realisation of which in every personality is the ultimate goal of humanity, is the eternal reality in the Person of Jesus, which no criticism can destroy.

However far criticism may go in providing the reaction of the idea upon the presentment of the historical course of the life of Jesus, the fact that Jesus represented that idea and called it to life among mankind is something real, something that no criticism can annul. It is alive thenceforward—to this day, and forever more.

It is in this emancipation of spirit, and in the consciousness that Jesus as the creator of the religion of humanity is beyond the reach of criticism, that Strauss goes to work, and batters down the rubble, assured that his pick can make no impression on the stone. He sees evidence that the time has come for this undertaking in the condition of exhaustion which characterised contemporary theology. The supernaturalistic explanation of the events of the life of Jesus liad been followed by the rationalistic, the one making everything supernatural, the other setting itself to make all the events intelligible as natural occurrences. Each had said all that it had to say. From their opposition now arises a new solution—the mythological interpretation. This is a characteristic example of the Hegelian method—the synthesis of a thesis represented by the supernaturalistic explanation with an antithesis represented by the rationalistic interpretation.

Strauss's Life of Jesus is, therefore, like Schleiermacher's, the product of antithetic conceptions. But whereas in the latter the antitheses Docetism and Ebionism are simply limiting conceptions, between which his view is statically suspended, the synthesis with which Strauss operates represents a composition of forces, of which his view is the dynamic resultant. The dialectic is in the one case descriptive, in the other creative. This Hegelian dialectic determines the method of the work. Each incident of the life of Jesus is considered separately; first as supernaturally explained, and then as rationalistically explained, and the one explanation is refuted by the other. "By this means," says Strauss in his preface, "the incidental advantage is secured that the work is fitted to serve as a repertory of the leading views and discussions of all parts of the Gospel history."

In every case the whole range of representative opinions is reviewed. Finally the forced interpretations necessitated by the naturalistic ex-


planation of the narrative under discussion drives the reader back upon the supernaturalistic. That had been recognized by Hase and Schleiermacher, and they had felt themselves obliged to make a place for inexplicable supernatural elements alongside of the historic elements of the life of Jesus. Contemporaneously there had sprung up in all directions new attempts to return by the aid of a mystical philosophy to the supernaturalistic point of view of our forefathers. But in these Strauss recognises only the last desperate efforts to make the past present and to conceive the inconceivable; and in direct opposition to the reactionary ineptitudes by means of which critical theology was endeavouring to work its way out of rationalism, he sets up the hypothesis that these inexplicable elements are mythical.

In the stories prior to the baptism, everything is myth. The narratives are woven on the pattern of Old Testament prototypes, with modifications due to Messianic or messianically interpreted passages. Since Jesus and the Baptist came into contact with one another later, it is felt necessary to represent their parents as having been connected. The attempts to construct Davidic genealogies for Jesus, show us that there was a period in the formation of the Gospel History during which the Lord was simply regarded as the son of Joseph and Mary, otherwise genealogical studies of this kind would not have been undertaken. Even in the story of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the temple, there is scarcely more than a trace of historical material.

In the narrative of the baptism we may take it as certainly unhistorical that the Baptist received a revelation of the Messianic dignity of Jesus, otherwise he could not later have come to doubt this. Whether his message to Jesus is historical must be left an open question; its possibility depends on whether the nature of his confinement admitted of such communication with the outer world. Might not a natural reluctance to allow the Baptist to depart this life without at least a dawning recognition of the Messiahship of Jesus have here led to the insertion of a legendary trait into the tradition? If so, the historical residuum would be that Jesus was for a time one of the adherents of the Baptist, and was baptized by him, and that He soon afterwards appeared in Galilee with the same message which John had proclaimed, and even when He had outgrown his influence, never ceased to hold John in high esteem, as is shown by the eulogy which He pronounced upon him. But if the baptism of John was a baptism of repentance with a view to "him who was to come," Jesus cannot have held Himself to be sinless when He submitted to it. Otherwise we should have to suppose that He did it merely for appearance' sake. Whether it was in the moment of the baptism that the consciousness of His Messiahship dawned upon Him, we cannot tell. This only is certain, that the conception of Jesus as having


been endowed with the Spirit at His baptism, was independent of, and earlier than, that other conception which held Him to have been supernaturally born of the Spirit. We have, therefore, in the Synoptists several different strata of legend and narrative, which in some cases intersect and in some are superimposed one upon the other.

The story of the temptation is equally unsatisfactory, whether it be interpreted as supernatural, or as symbolical either of an inward struggle or of external events (as for example in Venturini's interpretation of it, where the part of the Tempter is played by a Pharisee) ; it is simply primitive Christian legend, woven together out of Old Testament suggestions.

The call of the first disciples cannot have happened as it is narrated, without their having known anything of Jesus beforehand; the manner of the call is modelled upon the call of Elisha by Elijah. The further legend attached to it—Peter's miraculous draught of fishes—has arisen out of the saying about "fishers of men," and the same idea is reflected, at a different angle of refraction, in John xxi. The mission of the seventy is unhistorical.

Whether the cleansing of the temple is historical, or whether it arose out of a Messianic application of the text, "My house shall be called a house of prayer," cannot be determined. The difficulty of forming a clear idea of the circumstances is not easily to be removed. How freely the historical material has been worked up, is seen in the groups of stories which have grown out of a single incident; as, for example, the anointing of Jesus at Bethany by an unknown woman, out of which Luke has made an anointing by a penitent sinner, and John an anointing by Mary of Bethany.

As regards the healings, some of them are certainly historical, but not in the form in which tradition has preserved them. The recognition of Jesus as Messiah by the demons immediately arouses suspicion. It is doubtless rather to be ascribed to the tendency which grew up later to represent Him as receiving, in His Messianic character, homage even from the world of evil spirits, than to any advantage in respect of clearness of insight which distinguished the mentally deranged, in comparison with their contemporaries. The cure of the demoniac in the synagogue at Capernaum may well be historical, but, in other cases, the procedure is so often raised into the region of the miraculous that a psychical influence of Jesus upon the sufferer no longer suffices to explain it; the creative activity of legend must have come in to confuse the account of what really happened.

One cure has sometimes given rise to three or four narratives. Sometimes we can still recognise the influences which have contributed to mould a story. When, for example, the disciples are unable to heal the


lunatic boy during Jesus' absence on the Mount of Transfiguration, we are reminded of 2 Kings iv., where Elisha's servant Gehazi tries in vain to bring the dead boy to life by using the staff of the prophet. The immediate healing of leprosy has its prototype in the story of Naaman the Syrian. The story of the ten lepers shows so clearly a didactic tendency that its historic value is thereby rendered doubtful.

The cures of blindness all go back to the case of the blind man at Jericho. But who can say how far this is itself historical? The cures of paralytics, too, belong rather to the equipment of the Messiah than to history. The cures through touching clothes, and the healings at a distance, have myth written on their foreheads. The fact is, the Messiah must equal, nay, surpass, the deeds of the prophets. That is why raising from the dead figure among His miracles.

The nature miracles, over a collection of which Strauss puts the heading "Sea-Stories and Fish-Stories," have a much larger admixture of the mythical. His opponents took him severely to task for this irreverent superscription.

The repetition of the story of the feeding of the multitude arouses suspicion regarding the credibility of what is narrated, and at once invalidates the hypothesis of the apostolic authorship of the Gospel of Matthew. Moreover, the incident was so naturally suggested by Old Testament examples that it would have been a miracle if such a story had not found its way into the Life of Jesus. An explanation on the analogy of an expedited process of nature, is here, as in the case of the miracle at Cana also, to be absolutely rejected. Strauss allows it to be laughed out of court. The cursing of the fig-tree and its fulfilment go back in some way or other to a parable of Jesus, which was afterwards made into history.

More important than the miracles heretofore mentioned are those which have to do with Jesus Himself and mark the crises of His history. The transfiguration had to find a place in the life of Jesus, because of the shining of Moses' countenance. In dealing with the narratives of the resurrection it is evident that we must distinguish two different strata of legend, an older one, represented by Matthew, which knew only of appearances in Galilee, and a later, in which the Galilaean appearances are excluded in favour of appearances in Jerusalem. In both cases, however, the narratives are mythical. In any attempt to explain them we are forced on one horn of the dilemma or the other—if the resurrection was real, the death was not real, and vice versa. That the ascension is a myth is self-evident.

Such, and so radical, are the results at which Strauss's criticism of the supernaturalistic and the rationalistic explanations of the life of Jesus ultimately arrives.


In reading Strauss's discussions one is not so much struck with their radical character, because of the admirable dialectic skill with which he shows the total impossibility of any explanation which does not take account of myth. On the whole, the supernaturalistic explanation, which at least represents the plain sense of the narratives, comes off much better than the rationalistic, the artificiality of which is everywhere remorselessly exposed.

The sections which we have summarized are far from having lost their significance at the present day. They marked out the ground which is now occupied by modern critical study. And they filled in the death-certificates of a whole series of explanations which, at first sight, have all the air of being alive, but are not really so. If these continue to haunt present-day theology, it is only as ghosts, which can be put to flight by simply pronouncing the name of David Friedrich Strauss, and which would long ago have ceased to "walk," if the theologians who regard Strauss's book as obsolete would only take the trouble to read it.

The results so far considered do not represent the elements of the life of Jesus which Strauss was prepared to accept as historical. He sought to make the boundaries of the mythical embrace the widest possible area; and it is clear that he extended them too far.

For one thing, he overestimates the importance of the Old Testament motives in reference to the creative activity of the legend. He does not see that while in many cases he has shown clearly enough the source of the form of the narrative in question, this does not suffice to explain its origin. Doubtless, there is mythical material in the story of the feeding of the multitude. But the existence of the story is not explained by referring to the manna in the desert, or the miraculous feeding of a multitude by Elisha. [1] The story in the Gospel has far too much individuality for that, and stands, moreover, in much too closely articulated an historical connexion. It must have as its basis some historical fact. It is not a myth, though there is myth in it. Similarly with the account of the transfiguration. The substratum of historical fact in the life of Jesus is much more extensive than Strauss is prepared to admit. Sometimes he fails to see the foundations, because he proceeds like an explorer who, in working on the ruins of an Assyrian city, should cover up the most valuable evidence with the rubbish thrown out from another portion of the excavations.

Again, he sometimes rules out statements by assuming their impossibility on purely dialectical grounds, or by playing off the narratives one against another. The Baptist's message to Jesus is a case in point. This is connected with the fact that he often fails to realise the strong con-

[1] 2 Kings iv, 42-44.


armation which the narratives derive from their connexion with the preceding and following context.

That, however, was only to be expected. Who ever discovered a true principle without pressing its application too far?

What really alarmed his contemporaries was not so much the comprehensive application of the mythical theory, as the general mining and sapping operations which they were obliged to see brought to bear upon the Gospels.

In section after section Strauss cross-examines the reports on every point, down to the minutest detail, and then pronounces in what proportion an alloy of myth enters into each of them. In every case the decision is unfavourable to the Gospel of John. Strauss was the first to take this view. It is true that, at the end of the eighteenth century, many doubts as to the authenticity of this Gospel had been expressed, and Bretschneider, the famous General Superintendent at Gotha (1776-1848), had made a tentative collection of them in his Probabilia. [1] The essay made some stir at the time. But Schleiermacher threw the aegis of his authority over the authenticity of the Gospel, and it was the favourite Gospel of the rationalists because it contained fewer miracles than the others. Bretschneider himself declared that he had been brought to a better opinion through the controversy.

After this episode the Johannine question had been shelved for fifteen years. The excitement was, therefore, all the greater when Strauss re-opened the discussion. He was opposing a dogma of critical theology, which, even at the present day, is wont to defend its dogmas with a tenacity beyond that of the Church itself.

The luminous haze of apparent circumstantiality which had hitherto prevented men from recognising the true character of this Gospel is completely dissipated. Strauss shows that the Johannine representation of the life of Jesus is dominated by a theory, and that its portraiture shows the further development of the tendencies which are perceptible even in the Synoptists. He shows this, for example, in the case of the Johannine narrative of the baptism of Jesus, in which critics had hitherto seen the most credible account of what occurred, pointing out that it is just in this pseudo-simplicity that the process of bringing Jesus and the Baptist into the closest possible relations reaches its limit. Similarly, in regard to the call of the first disciples, it is, according to Strauss, a later postulate that they came from the Baptist's following and were brought by him to the Lord. Strauss does not scruple even to assert that John introduces imaginary characters. If this Gospel relates fewer miracles, the miracles which it retains are proportionately greater; so great, indeed,

[1] Probabilia de evangelii et epistolarum loannis Apostoli indole et origine cruditorum iudiciis modeste subjecit C. Th. Bretschneider. Leipzig, 1820.


that their absolutely miraculous character is beyond the shadow of doubt; and, moreover, a moral or symbolical significance is added.

Here, therefore, it is no longer the unconscious action of legend which selects, creates, or groups the incidents, but a clearly-determined apologetic and dogmatic purpose.

The question regarding the different representations of the locality and chronology of the life of Jesus, had always been decided, prior to Strauss, in favour of the Fourth Gospel. De Wette makes it an argument against the genuineness of Matthew's Gospel that it mistakenly confines the ministry of Jesus to Galilee. Strauss refuses to decide the question by simply weighing the chronological and geographical statements one against the other, lest he should be as one-sided in his own way as the defenders of the authenticity of the Fourth Gospel were in theirs. On this point, he contents himself with remarking that if Jesus had really taught in Jerusalem on several occasions, it is absolutely unintelligible how all knowledge of this could have so completely disappeared from the Synoptic tradition; for His going up to the Passover at which He met His death is there represented as His sole journey to Jerusalem. On the other hand, it is quite conceivable that if Jesus had only once been in Jerusalem there would be a tendency for legend gradually to make several journeys out of this one, on the natural assumption that He regularly went up to the Feasts, and that He would proclaim His Gospel not merely in the remote province, but also in the capital.

From the triumphal entry to the resurrection, the difference between the Synoptic and Johannine narratives is so great that all attempts to harmonise them are to be rejected. How are we to reconcile the statement of the Synoptists that the ovation at the triumphal entry was offered by Galilaeans who accompanied him, with that of John, according to which it was offered by a multitude from Jerusalem which came out to welcome Jesus—who, moreover, according to John, was not coming from Galilee and Jericho—and escorted Him into the city. To suppose that there were two different triumphal entries is absurd.

But the decision between John and the Synoptists is not based solely upon their representation of the facts; the decisive consideration is found in the ideas by which they are respectively dominated. John represents a more advanced stage of the mythopoeic process, inasmuch as he has substituted for the Jewish Messianic conception, the Greek metaphysical conception of the Divine Sonship, and, on the basis of his acquaintance with the Alexandrian Logos doctrine, even makes Jesus apply to Himself the Greek speculative conception of pre-existence. The writer is aware of an already existing danger from the side of a Gnostic docetism, and has himself an apologetic Christology to propound, thus fighting the Gnostics as a Gnostic of another kind. That he is free from


eschatological conceptions is not, from the historical point of view, an advantage, but very much the reverse. He is not unacquainted with eschatology, but deliberately transforms it, endeavouring to substitute for the expectation of the Second Coming of Christ, as an external event of the future, the thought of His inward presence.

The most decisive evidence of all is found in the farewell discourses-and in the absence of all mention of the spiritual struggle in Gethsemane. The intention here is to show that Jesus not only had a foreknowledge of His death, but had long overcome it in anticipation, and went to meet His tragic fate with perfect inward serenity. That, however, is no historical narrative, but the final stage of reverent idealisation.

The question is decided. The Gospel of John is inferior to the Synoptics as a historical source just in proportion as it is more strongly dominated than they by theological and apologetic interests. It is true that the assignment of the dominant motives for Strauss's criticism mainly a matter of conjecture. He cannot define in detail the attitude and tendency of this Gospel, because the development of dogma in the second century was still to a great extent obscure. He himself admits- that it was only subsequently, through the labours of Baur, that the posi- tions which he had taken up in 1835 were rendered impregnable. And yet it is true to say that Johannine study has added in principle nothing new to what was said by Strauss. He recognised the decisive point. With critical acumen he resigned the attempt to base a decision on a comparison of the historical data, and allowed the theological character of the two lines of tradition to determine the question. Unless this is done the debate is endless, for an able man who has sworn allegiance to John will always find a thousand ways in which the Johannine data can be reconciled with those of the Synoptists, and is finally prepared to stake his life upon the exact point at which the missing account of the institution of the Lord's Supper must be inserted into the narrative.

This changed estimate of John carries with it a reversal of the order in which the Gospels are supposed to have originated. Instead of John, Luke, Matthew, we have Matthew, Luke, and John—the first is last, and the last first. Strauss's unsophisticated instinct freed Matthew from the humiliating vassalage to which Schleiermacher's aesthetic had consigned him. The practice of differentiating between John and the Synoptists, which in the hands of Schleiermacher and Hase had been an elegant amusement, now received unexpected support, and it at last became possible for the study of the life of Jesus to go forward.

But no sooner had Strauss opened up the way than he closed it again, by refusing to admit the priority of Mark. His attitude towards this Gospel at once provokes opposition. For him Mark is an epitomising narrator, a mere satellite of Matthew with no independent light. His terse


and graphic style makes on Strauss an impression of artificiality. He refuses to believe this Evangelist when he says that on the first day at Capernaum "the whole town" (Mark i. 33) came together before Peter's door, and that, on other occasions (Mark iii. 20, vi. 31), the press was so great that Jesus and His disciples had no leisure so much as to eat. "All very improbable traits," he remarks, "the absence of which in Matthew is entirely to his advantage for what else are they than legendary exaggerations?" In this criticism he is at one with Schleiermacher, who in his essay on Luke [1] speaks of the unreal vividness of Mark "which often gives his Gospel an almost apocryphal aspect."

This prejudice against Mark has a twofold cause. In the first place, this Gospel with its graphic details had rendered great service to the rationalistic explanation of miracle. Its description of the cure of the blind man at Bethsaida (Mark viii. 22-26)—whose eyes Jesus first anointed with spittle, whereupon he at first saw things dimly, and then, after he had felt the touch of the Lord's hand upon his eyes a second time, saw more clearly—was a veritable treasure-trove for rationalism. As Strauss is disposed to deal much more peremptorily with the ration- alists than with the supernaturalists, he puts Mark upon his trial, as their accessory before the fact, and pronounces upon him a judgment which is not entirely unprejudiced. Moreover, it is not until the Gospels are looked at from the point of view of the plan of the history and the inner connexion of events that the superiority of Mark is clearly realised. But this way of looking at the matter does not enter into Strauss's purview. On the contrary, he denies that there is any traceable connexion of events at all, and confines his attention to determining the proportion if myth in the content of each separate narrative.

Of the Synoptic question he does not, strictly speaking, take any account. That was partly due to the fact that when he wrote it was in a thoroughly unsatisfactory position. There was a confused welter of the most various hypotheses. The priority of Mark, which had had earlier champions in Koppe, [2] Storr, [3] Gratz, [4] and Herder, [5] was now maintained by Credner and Lachmann, who saw in Matthew a combination of the logia-document with Mark. The "primitive Gospel" hypothesis of Eichhorn, according to which the first three Gospels went back to a common

[1] Dr. Fr. Schleiermacher, Uber die Schriften des Lukas. Ein kritischer Versuch. (The Writings of Luke. A critical essay.) C. Reimer, Berlin, 1817.

[2] Koppe, Marcus non epitomator Matthai, 1782.

[3] Storr, De Fontibus Evangeliorum Mt. et Lc.; 1794.

[4] Gratz, Neuer Versuch, die Entstehung der drei ersten Evangelien zu erklaren, 1812.

[5] V. sup. p. 35 f. For the earlier history of the question see F. C. Baur, Krit. Untersuch, uber die kanonischen Evangelien, Tubingen, 1847, pp. 1-76.


source, not identical with any of them, had become somewhat discredited. There had been much discussion and various modifications of Griesbach's "dependence theory," according to which Mark was pieced together out of Matthew and Luke, and Schleiermacher's Diegesentheorie, [1] which saw the primary material not in a gospel, but in unconnected notes; from these, collections of narrative passages were afterwards formed, which in the post-apostolic period coalesced into continuous descriptions of the life of Jesus such as the three which have been preserved in our Synoptic Gospels.

In this matter Strauss is a sceptical eclectic. In the main he may be said to combine Griesbach's theory of the secondary origin of Mark with Schleiermacher's Diegesentheorie, the latter answering to his method of treating the sections separately. But whereas Schleiermacher had used the plan of John's Gospel as a framework into which to fit the independent narratives, Strauss's rejection of the Fourth Gospel left him without any means of connecting the sections. He makes a point, indeed, of sharply emphasising this want of connexion; and it was just this that made his work appear so extreme.

The Synoptic discourses, like the Johannine, are composite structures, created by later tradition out of sayings which originally belonged to different times and circumstances, arranged under certain leading ideas so as to form connected discourses. The sermon on the mount, the discourse at the sending forth of the twelve, the great parable-discourse, the polemic against the Pharisees, have all been gradually formed like geological deposits. So far as the original juxtaposition may be supposed to have been here and there preserved, Matthew is doubtless the most trustworthy authority for it. "From the comparison which we have been making," says Strauss in one passage, "we can already see that the hard grit of these sayings of Jesus (die kornigen Reden Jesu) has not indeed been dissolved by the flood of oral tradition, but they have often been washed away from their original position and like rolling pebbles (Gerolle) have been deposited in places to which they do not properly belong." [2] And, moreover, we find this distinction between the first three Evangelists, viz. that Matthew is a skilful collector who, while he is far from having been able always to give the original connexion, has at least known how to bring related passages aptly together, whereas in the other two many fragmentary sayings have been left exactly where chance had deposited them, which was generally in the interstices be-

[1] So called because largely based on the reference in Luke i. 1, to the "many" who had "taken in hand to draw up a narrative (dihghsiV)."—TRANSLATOR.

[2] We take the translation of this striking image from Sanday's "Survey of the Synoptic Question," The Expositor, 4th ser. vol. 3, p. 307.


tween the larger masses of discourse. Luke, indeed, has in some cases made an effort to give them an artistic setting, which is, however, by no means a satisfactory substitute for the natural connexion.

It is in his criticism of the parables that Strauss is most extreme. He Starts out from the assumption that they have mutually influenced one another, and that those which may possibly be genuine have only been preserved in a secondary form. In the parable of the marriage supper of the king's son, for example, he confidently assumes that the conduct of the invited guests, who finally ill-treated and slew the messengers, and the question why the guest is not wearing a wedding-garment are secondary features.

How external he supposes the connexion of the narratives to be is clear from the way in which he explains the juxtaposition of the story of the transfiguration with the "discourse while descending the mountain." They have, he says, really nothing to do with one another. The disciples on one occasion asked Jesus about the coming of Elijah as forerunner; Elijah also appears in the story of the transfiguration: accordingly tradition simply grouped the transfiguration and the discourse together under the heading "Elijah," and, later on, manufactured a connexion between them.

The tendency of the work to purely critical analysis, the ostentatious avoidance of any positive expression of opinion, and not least, the man- ner of regarding the Synoptists as mere bundles of narratives and discourses, make it difficult—indeed, strictly speaking, impossible—to determine Strauss's own distinctive conception of the life of Jesus, to discover what he really thinks is moving behind the curtain of myth. According to the view taken in regard to this point his work becomes either a negative or a positive life of Jesus. There are, for instance, a number of incidental remarks which contain the suggestion of a positive construction of the life of Jesus. If they were taken out of their context and brought together they would yield a picture which would have points of contact with the latest eschatological view. Strauss, however, deliberately restricts his positive suggestions to these few detached remarks. He follows out no line to its conclusion. Each separate problem is indeed considered, and light is thrown upon it from various quarters with much critical skill. But he will not venture on a solution of any of them. Sometimes, when he thinks he has gone too far in the way of positive suggestion, he deliberately wipes it all out again with some expression of scepticism.

As to the duration of the ministry he will not even offer a vague conjecture. As to the connexion of certain events, nothing can, according to him, be known, since the Johannine outline cannot be accepted and the Synoptists arrange everything with an eye to analogies and associa-


tion of ideas, though they flattered themselves that they were giving a chronologically arranged narrative. From the contents of the narratives, however, and from the monotonous recurrence of certain formulae of connexion, it is evident that no clear view of an organically connected whole can be assumed to be present in their work. We have no fixed points to enable us to reconstruct even in a measure the chronological order.

Especially interesting is his discussion of the title "Son of Man." In the saying "the Son of Man is Lord also of the Sabbath day" (Matt. xii. 8), the expression might, according to Strauss, simply denote "man." In other passages one gets the impression that Jesus spoke of the Son of Man as a supernatural person, quite distinct from Himself, but identified with the Messiah. This is the most natural explanation of the passage in Matt. x. 23, where he promises the disciples, in sending them forth, that they shall not have gone over the cities of Israel before the Son of Man shall come. Here Jesus speaks of the Messiah as if He Himself were his forerunner. These sayings would, therefore, fall in the first period, before He knew Himself to be the Messiah. Strauss does not suspect the significance of this incidental remark; it contains the germ of the solution of the problem of the Son of Man on the lines of Johannes Weiss. But immediately scepticism triumphs again. How can we tell, asks Strauss, where the title Son of Man is genuine in the sayings of Jesus, and where it has been inserted without special significance, merely from habit?

Not less insoluble, in his opinion, is the question regarding the point of time at which Jesus claimed the Messianic dignity for Himself. "Whereas in John," Strauss remarks, "Jesus remains constant in His avowal, his disciples and followers constant in their conviction, that He is the Messiah; in the Synoptics, on the other hand, there are, so to speak, relapses to be observed; so that, in the case of the disciples and the people generally, the conviction of Jesus' Messiahship expressed on earlier occasions, sometimes, in the course of the narrative, disappears again and gives place to a much lower view of Him; and even Jesus Himself, in comparison with His earlier unambiguous declaration, is more reserved on later occasions." The account of the confession of the Messiahship at Caesarea Philippi, where Jesus pronounces Peter blessed because of his confession, and at the same time forbids the Twelve to speak of it, is unintelligible, since according to this same Gospel His Messiahship had been mooted by the disciples on several previous occasions, and had been acknowledged by the demoniacs. The Synoptists, therefore, contradict themselves. Then there are the further cases in which Jesus forbids the making known of His Messiahship, without any reason whatever. It would, no doubt, be historically possible to assume


that it only gradually dawned upon Him that He was the Messiah—in any case not until after His baptism by John, as otherwise He would have to be supposed to have made a pretence upon that occasion—and that as often as the thought that He might be the Messiah was aroused in others by something that occurred, and was suggested to Him from without. He was immediately alarmed at hearing spoken, aloud and definitely, that which He Himself had scarcely dared to cherish as a possibility, or in regard to which He had only lately attained to a clear conviction.

From these suggestions one thing is evident, namely, that for Strauss the Messianic consciousness of Jesus was an historical fact, and is not to be referred, as has sometimes been supposed, to myth. To assert that Strauss dissolved the life of Jesus into myth is, in fact, an absurdity which, however often it may be repeated by people who have not read his book, or have read it only superficially, does not become any the less absurd by repetition.

To come to detail, Jesus thought of His Messiahship, according to Strauss, in the form that He, although of human parentage, should after His earthly life be taken up into heaven, and thence should come again to bring in His Kingdom. "As, moreover, in the higher Jewish theology, immediately after the time of Jesus, the idea of the pre-existence of the Messiah was present, the conjecture naturally suggests itself that it was also present at the time when Jesus' thoughts were being formed, and that consequently, if He once began to think of Himself as the Messiah, He might also have referred to Himself this feature of the Messianic conception. Whether Jesus had been initiated, as Paul was, into the wisdom of the schools in such a way that He could draw this conception from it, is no doubt open to question."

In his treatment of the eschatology Strauss makes a valiant effort to escape from the dilemma "either spiritual or political" in regard to the Messianic plans of Jesus, and to make the eschatological expectation intelligible as one which did not set its hopes upon human aid, but on Divine intervention. This is one of the most important contributions to a real understanding of the eschatological problem. Sometimes one almost seems to be reading Johannes Weiss; as, for example, when Strauss explains that Jesus could promise His followers that they should sit on thrones without thinking of a political revolution, because He expected a reversal of present conditions to be brought about by God, and referred this judicial authority and kingly rule to the time of the paliggenesia. "Jesus, therefore, certainly expected to restore the throne of David, and, with His disciples, to rule over a people freed from political bondage, but in this expectation He did not set His hopes on the sword of human followers (Luke xxii. 38, Matt. xxvi. 52), but upon the legions of angels


which His heavenly Father could give Him (Matt. xxvi. 53). When He speaks of the coming of His Messianic glory, it is with angels and heavenly powers that He surrounds Himself (Matt. xvi. 27, xxiv. 30 ff., xxv. 31). Before the majesty of the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven the nations will submit without striking a blow, and at the sound of the angel's trumpet-blast will, with the dead who shall then arise, range themselves before Him and His disciples for judgment. All this Jesus did not purpose to bring about by any arbitrary action of His own, but left it to His heavenly Father, who alone knew the right moment for this catastrophic change (Mark xiii. 32), to give Him the signal of its coming; and He did not waver in His failh even when death came upon Him before its realisation. Any one who shrinks from adopting this view of the Messianic background of Jesus' plans, because he fears by so doing to make Jesus a visionary enthusiast, must remember how exactly these hopes corresponded to the long-cherished Messianic expectation of the Jews; and how easily, on the supernaturalislic assump- tions of the period and among a people which preserved so strict an isolation as the Jews, an ideal which was in itself fantastic, if it were the national ideal and had some true and good features, could take posses- sion of the mind even of one who was not inclined to fanaticism."

One of the principal proofs that the preaching of Jesus was eschatologically conditioned is the Last Supper. "When," says Strauss, "He concluded the celebration with the saying, 'I will not drink henceforth of the fruit of the vine until I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom,' He would seem to have expected that in the Messianic kingdom the Passover would be celebrated with peculiar solemnity. Therefore, in assuring them that they shall next partake of the Feast, not in the present age, but in the new era. He evidently expects that within a year's time the pre-Messianic dispensation will have come to an end and the Messianic age will have begun." But it must be admitted, Strauss immediately adds, that the definite assurance which the Evangelists put into His mouth may after all only have been in reality an expression of pious hope. In a similar way he qualifies his other statements regarding the eschatological ideas of Jesus by recalling that we cannot determine the part which the expectations of primitive Christianity may have had in moulding these sayings.

Thus, for example, the opinions which he expresses on the great Parousia discourse in Matt. xxiv. are extremely cautious. The detailed prophecies regarding the Second Coming which the Synoptists put into the mouth of Jesus cannot be derived from Jesus Himself. The question suggests itself, however, whether He did not cherish the hope, and make the promise, that He would one day appear in glory as the Messiah? "If in any period of His life He held Himself to be the Messiah—and


that there was a period when He did so there can be no doubt—and if He described Himself as the Son of Man, He must have expected the coming in the clouds which Daniel had ascribed to the Son of Man; but it may be questioned whether He thought of this as an exaltation which should take place even in His lifetime, or as something which was only to take place after His death. Utterances like Matt. x. 23, xvi. 28 rather suggest the former, but the possibility remains that later, when He had begun to feel that His death was certain, His conception took the latter form, and that Matt. xxvi. 64 was spoken with this in view." Thus, even for Strauss, the problem of the Son of Man is already the central problem in which are focused all the questions regarding the Messiahship and eschatology.

From all this it may be seen how strongly he had been influenced by Reimarus, whom, indeed, he frequently mentions. It would be still more evident if he had not obscured his historical views by constantly bringing the mythological explanation into play.

The thought of the supernatural realisation of the Kingdom of God must also, according to Strauss, be the starting-point of any attempt to understand Jesus' attitude towards the Law and the Gentiles, so far as that is possible in view of the conflicting data. The conservative passages must carry most weight. They need not necessarily fall at the beginning of His ministry, because it is questionable whether the hypothesis of a later period of increasing liberality in regard to the law and the Gentiles can be made probable. There would be more chance of proving that the conservative sayings are the only authentic ones, for unless all the indications are misleading the terminus a quo for this change of attitude is the death of Jesus. He no doubt looked forward to the abolition of the Law and the removal of the barriers between Jew and Gentile, but only in the future Kingdom. "If that be so," remarks Strauss, "the difference between the views of Jesus and of Paul consisted only in this, that while Jesus expected these limitations to fall away when, at His second coming, the earth should be renewed, Paul believed himself justified in doing away with them in consequence of the first coming of the Messiah, upon the still unregenerated earth."

The eschatological passages are therefore the most authentic of all. If there is anything historic about Jesus, it is His assertion of the claim that in the coming Kingdom He would be manifested as the Son of Man.

On the other hand, in the predictions of the passion and resurrection we are on quite uncertain ground. The detailed statements regarding the manner of the catastrophe place it beyond doubt that we have here vaticinia ex eventu. Otherwise the despair of the disciples when the events occurred could not be explained. Yet it is possible that Jesus had a prevision of His death. Perhaps the resolve to die was essential to His


conception of the Messiahship and He was not forced thereto by circumstances. This we might be able to determine with certainty if we had more exact information regarding the conception of the suffering Messiah in contemporary Jewish theology; which is, however, not available. We do not even know whether the conception had ever existed in Judaism. "In the New Testament it almost looks as if no one among the Jews had ever thought of a suffering or dying Messiah." The conception can, however, certainly be found in later passages of Rabbinic literature.

The question is therefore insoluble. We must be content to work with possibilities. The result of a full discussion of the resolve to suffer and the significance attached to the suffering is summed up by Strauss in the following sentences. "In view of these considerations it is possible that Jesus might, by a natural process of thought, have come to see how greatly such a catastrophe would contribute to the spiritual development of His disciples, and in accordance with national conceptions, interpreted in the light of some Old Testament passages, might have arrived at the idea of an atoning power in His Messianic death. At the same time the explicit utterance which the Synoptists attribute to Jesus describing His death as an atoning sacrifice, might well belong rather to the system of thought which grew up after the death of Jesus, and the saying which the Fourth Gospel puts into His mouth regarding the relation of His death to the coming of the Paraclete might seem to be prophecy after the event. So that even in these sayings of Jesus regarding ths purpose of His death, it is necessary to distinguish between the particular and the general."

Strauss's "Life of Jesus" has a different significance for modern theology from that which it had for his contemporaries. For them it was the work which made an end of miracle as a matter of historical belief, and gave the mythological explanation its due.

We, however, find in it also an historical aspect of a positive character, inasmuch as the historic Personality which emerges from the mist of myth is a Jewish claimant of the Messiahship, whose world of thought is purely eschatological. Strauss is, therefore, no mere destroyer of untenable solutions, but also the prophet of a coming advance in knowledge.

It was, however, his own fault that his merit in this respect was not recognised in the nineteenth century, because in his "Life of Jesus for the German People" (1864), where he undertook to draw a positive historic picture of Jesus, he renounced his better opinions of 1835, eliminated eschatology, and, instead of the historic Jesus, portrayed the Jesus of liberal theology.

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