Synopsis of Schweitzer’s QHJ [Ch. 3, Early Rationalists]

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Synopsis of Schweitzer’s QHJ [Ch. 3, Early Rationalists]

Post by Irish1975 »

Continuing a series of threads on Albert Schweitzer’s Quest of the Historical Jesus, here I summarize the content of chapter 3, “The Lives of Jesus of the Earlier Rationalism.”

Here are links to earlier posts on:
Chapter 1
Chapter 2

Notable Quotation:

“In theology the most revolutionary ideas are swallowed quite readily so long as they smooth their passage by a few small concessions. It is only when a spicule of bone stands out obstinately and causes choking that theology begins to take note of dangerous ideas.”

Analysis of Chapter 3:

1. The intellectual climate that generated the earliest lives of Jesus was a half-developed type of rationalism of the late 1700s & early 1800s, which reflected a simple-minded acceptance of supernaturalism and orthodoxy, in combination with a desire to understand better the course of the God-Man Jesus’ earthly life.
2. The miraculous is not denied, but de-emphasized in favor of Jesus’ ethical teaching and the religion of reasonableness.
3. This era sought not the past, but itself in the past. The solution was always to bring Jesus closer to its own time.
4. These biographies are excessively sentimental. They also ignore, distort, or suppress Jesus’ exact words and idiom, imposing on him instead a modern style of thought and speech. Typical is Johann Jakob Hess (1741-1828).
5. Franz Volkmar Reinhard (1753-1812) was a moralist who minimized miracles. His account was that

i. Jesus was a universalist. He privileged the children of Israel and preached eschatology merely as a practical strategy.
ii. For the sake of a universal change in ethics and culture, Jesus held aloof from Jewish particularism, from his family, from his Davidic descent, from real political agitation. His goal was to unite morality and religion, and to sever them completely from the state. He submitted to a shameful death in order to destroy the impression once for all that he had sought an earthly kingdom.
iii. Jesus’ plan had been to overthrow priesthood and superstition, and to achieve social reform and the alliance of religion with reason.

6. Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803)—an original and important thinker of Germany’s Romantic period (see, e.g., Isaiah Berlin)—is a special case. He wrote two lives of Jesus, according to which:

i. The Synoptics absolutely cannot be reconciled with John (one of the earliest to recognize this), and no Life of Jesus can be based on all 4 Gospels, but on either the one or the other. The Synoptics are Palestinian-Jewish sacred histories modeled on OT prophecy, whereas John is Greco-Roman and playfully both theological and historical.
ii. Why the Synoptics were silent about the raising of Lazarus: these authors wanted to spare trouble for Lazarus’ family in Bethany, which had probably perished or moved on by the time the 4th Gospel was written (becomes a common explanation in 19th century Jesus biographies).
iii. Mark is no epitomist, but the creator of the archetype of the Synoptic account. Matthew and Luke added to him.

7. Despite his groundbreaking insights into the Gospels (i.e., Johannine peculiarity, Markan priority), Herder belongs among the early rationalists because his treatment of miracles is ambiguous and flawed, as with all Jesus biographers prior to the appearance in 1835 of David Strauss’s Das Leben Jesu.
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