Synopsis of Schweitzer’s QHJ, Chapters 4 & 5

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Irish1975
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Synopsis of Schweitzer’s QHJ, Chapters 4 & 5

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Links to earlier posts on:

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3


Ch. 4, Fictitious Portraits

1. Free-lance biographers of Jesus often made more advances in the subject than the ordered ranks of professional theology.
2. The first investigators who endeavored to grasp the inner connection of cause and effect in the events and experiences of the life of Jesus were Bahrdt(1780s) and Venturini (c. 1800), authors of fictitious “Lives” of Jesus. Finding no such connection in the Gospels, they had to supply it for themselves. Theirs were the first “lives” of Jesus worthy of the name.
3. These two “biographers” fantasized boldly that Jesus had been the tool of a secret society of Essenes—“the Order.” But they deserve credit for turning attention from the teaching of Jesus (per the rationalists) to the events [??] of his life.
4. [Details of these fictional portraits of Jesus are omitted.]
5. Summary Quotation: “Bahrdt and Venturini are right in feeling that the connection of events in the life of Jesus has to be discovered. …If, in making Jesus subservient to the plans of a secret society, they represented Him as not acting with perfect freedom, but as showing a certain passivity, this assumption of theirs was to be brilliantly vindicated, a hundred years later, by the eschatological school [sc. Schweitzer himself], which asserts the same remarkable passivity on the part of Jesus, in that He allows His actions to be determined, not indeed by a secret society, but by the eschatological plan of God. Bahrdt and Venturini were the first to see that, of all Jesus’ acts, His death was most distinctively His own, because it was by this that He purposed to found the kingdom.”


Ch. 5, H.E.G. Paulus (1761-1851) the arch-rationalist

1. Paulus was a contemporary and associate of Goethe and Schiller. He published a 2-volume Life of Jesus in 1828 that is known for its naturalistic (or rationalistic) explanations of almost every miracle in the Gospels. He accepted only the virgin birth.
2. The divine purpose had once required belief in miracles, but now requires a satisfactory natural explanation of them. The eyewitness reports of the evangelists were based in ignorance of the secondary causes by which God, the first cause, achieves his purposes. The inner unity of God and Nature must be preserved (Paulus was a Spinozist).
3. Therefore the secondary causes of Jesus’s so-called miracles must be discovered. A typical explanation is what he says about the disciples at the transfiguration: “their drowsiness, and the clouds which in an autumnal surise float to the and from over those mountains, left them no clear recollection of what had happened.”
4. Jesus did not actually die at his crucifixion, but merely lost consciousness, and revived in the tomb. He was alive in the ordinary way through all the putative resurrection appearances, and went into retirement after his last appearance to his disciples at the scene of the ascension, when an interposing cloud befuddled their senses.
5. Paulus’ Life caused a great stir until it was made obsolete by David Strauss 7 years later. “He saves only his own sincerity at the expense of that of his characters.” But Schweitzer thinks some of his rationalizations of the miracles 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.”
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Irish1975
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Re: Synopsis of Schweitzer’s QHJ, Chapters 4 & 5

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The books of Bahrdt and Venturini do not appear to have been published in the genre of fiction. They bear titles that signify an intention to write history: “An Explanation of the Plans and Aims of Jesus, in letters addressed to readers who seek the truth”; and “A Non-Supernatural History of the Great Prophet of Nazareth.” Therefore Schweitzer’s casual framing of the fiction-vs-history question in chapter 4 is confusing and odd. Why call them fictitious if they were published as history? Or why treat them as serious efforts in the great quest if they were merely fiction?

It is especially strange and noteworthy that Schweitzer associates, even in an indirect way, the Essene Secret Society hypothesis with his own eschatological account. I did not go into the details of Bahrdt’s and Venturini’s accounts, on which Schweitzer lavishes many pages, because why bother with something so nutty.

The books discussed in these chapters reflect a time in Germany when Christianity was still the established state religion, but ideas of the enlightenment had also become dominant. The contradiction was intense. The result was the publication of these sorts of books, which for this 21st century reader are hard to believe that anyone in the age of Kant and Goethe could have taken seriously.
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Re: Synopsis of Schweitzer’s QHJ, Chapters 4 & 5

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Irish1975 wrote: Tue May 18, 2021 8:47 pm Comments

The books of Bahrdt and Venturini do not appear to have been published in the genre of fiction. They bear titles that signify an intention to write history: “An Explanation of the Plans and Aims of Jesus, in letters addressed to readers who seek the truth”; and “A Non-Supernatural History of the Great Prophet of Nazareth.” Therefore Schweitzer’s casual framing of the fiction-vs-history question in chapter 4 is confusing and odd. Why call them fictitious if they were published as history? Or why treat them as serious efforts in the great quest if they were merely fiction?

It is especially strange and noteworthy that Schweitzer associates, even in an indirect way, the Essene Secret Society hypothesis with his own eschatological account. I did not go into the details of Bahrdt’s and Venturini’s accounts, on which Schweitzer lavishes many pages, because why bother with something so nutty.
I presume that Schweitzer refers to these accounts as fictional because he saw them more as imaginative historical reconstructions than works of historical criticism. (It is possible that there is an issue in translation, I don't know the oriinal German here.)

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Irish1975
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Re: Synopsis of Schweitzer’s QHJ, Chapters 4 & 5

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andrewcriddle wrote: Tue May 18, 2021 11:36 pm I presume that Schweitzer refers to these accounts as fictional because he saw them more as imaginative historical reconstructions than works of historical criticism. (It is possible that there is an issue in translation, I don't know the oriinal German here.)

Andrew Criddle
Could be. It would be great to hear from someone who knows Schweitzer in German.

"Imaginative historical reconstruction" is an interesting phrase. This is something all historians do; certainly the mainstream Jesus scholars of today.

But Schweitzer does not work with a clear standard of "historical criticism," nor does he explain why he uses the term "fictitious" in regard to Bahrdt and Venturini but not, e.g., Paulus. From the quotation I cited, it is clear that Paulus' "reconstructions" are every bit as fanciful/fictitious as the former. On the surface Schweitzer appears to be working with a history/fiction distinction, but the substance isn't there. And this issue persists to the end of the book when he contrasts Bruno Bauer and Wrede with the eschatological school.

Our contemporary Jesus scholars imagine they have nicely classified things into boxes: (1) the Gospel texts, (2) theology, and (3) what "really" must have happened. To quote Laurence Laurentz, would that it were so simple.
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Re: Synopsis of Schweitzer’s QHJ, Chapters 4 & 5

Post by DCHindley »

Hi Andrew C,

I think you hit it on the head, although I too cannot say I've read through the German original either.

This was before postmodernism. Schweitzer certainly had an idea of what historical scholarship should be about. However, I think he was concerned that Renan et al were just throwing out random ideas as to what Jesus was really like.

In postmodern talk, this means Schweitzer is aware that modern interpreters are influenced by the spirit of the age in which they write. However, Schweitzer was in pursuit of the "truth" which modernists believe can be approached with difficulty by means of rigorous methodological standards.

There is a discussion about this in Alun Munslow's Deconstructing History. Munslow is also heavily in debt to Hayden V White, who attempted (and largely succeeded) to critique this idea as romantic emplotment.

DCH
andrewcriddle wrote: Tue May 18, 2021 11:36 pm
Irish1975 wrote: Tue May 18, 2021 8:47 pm Comments

The books of Bahrdt and Venturini do not appear to have been published in the genre of fiction. They bear titles that signify an intention to write history: “An Explanation of the Plans and Aims of Jesus, in letters addressed to readers who seek the truth”; and “A Non-Supernatural History of the Great Prophet of Nazareth.” Therefore Schweitzer’s casual framing of the fiction-vs-history question in chapter 4 is confusing and odd. Why call them fictitious if they were published as history? Or why treat them as serious efforts in the great quest if they were merely fiction?

It is especially strange and noteworthy that Schweitzer associates, even in an indirect way, the Essene Secret Society hypothesis with his own eschatological account. I did not go into the details of Bahrdt’s and Venturini’s accounts, on which Schweitzer lavishes many pages, because why bother with something so nutty.
I presume that Schweitzer refers to these accounts as fictional because he saw them more as imaginative historical reconstructions than works of historical criticism. (It is possible that there is an issue in translation, I don't know the oriinal German here.)

Andrew Criddle
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