Synopsis of Schweitzer's QHJ [Ch. 7. & 8, David Strauss]

Discussion about the New Testament, apocrypha, gnostics, church fathers, Christian origins, historical Jesus or otherwise, etc.
Post Reply
User avatar
Irish1975
Posts: 482
Joined: Fri Dec 15, 2017 8:01 am
Contact:

Synopsis of Schweitzer's QHJ [Ch. 7. & 8, David Strauss]

Post by Irish1975 »

Albert Schweitzer’s Quest of the Historical Jesus (1st ed., tr. Montgomery, 1910) is accessible here on Early Christian Writings.

Links to earlier posts on:

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapters 4 & 5
Chapter 6

(Reminder: I am not offering my own assessments, but attempting to summarize the content of the book. However, because Schweitzer is prone to editorialize along the way, I sometimes highlight the thoughts that belong to him as opposed to Strauss. It is not always clear what Schweitzer is up to.)

George Eliot's translation of Strauss's Life of Jesus is available here as a free e-book via Project Gutenberg


Chapter 7: David Friedrich Strauss—the Man & His Fate

1. “In order to understand Strauss one must love him. He was not the greatest, and not the deepest, of theologians, but he was the most absolutely sincere. His insight and his errors were alike the insight and the errors of a prophet. And he had a prophet’s fate.”
2. Strauss was a student under Ferdinand Christian Baur during the latter’s most creative period, both at the “lower seminary” at Blaubeuren, and at the University of Tubingen. He suspected the direction of his teacher’s thinking.
3. The philosophy of Hegel was an early and profound influence, which by the early 1830s led Strauss to doubt the immortality of the individual person. He lectured on philosophy at Tubingen.
4. Strauss’s original project had been a history of the ideas of primitive Christianity, to be used as a standard for judging ecclesiastical dogma and theology. But Hase’s book on Jesus and the lectures of Schleiermacher provoked him to opposition.
5. The Life of Jesus (1835) was an instant literary success, but a catastrophe for his academic career prospects.
6. The book attacked, and effectively demolished, the long-cherished notion that mythological religious ideas from the ancient world, from the Bible, could be harmonized with the rationalism of modern thought.
7. Ultimately it was not the mythological critique that alienated Strauss from the theologians, but his rejection of personal immortality in every form.
8. [Omitted: account of Strauss’s life and writings after 1835.]


Chapter 8: Strauss’s “Life of Jesus”

1. Other scholars had developed a theory of myth in regard to the Old Testament, but only with Strauss was the conception of myth truly grasped and consistently applied. It had been applied to the birth and resurrection, but not to the stories about Jesus’ earthly life.
2. The tradition that the Gospels According to Matthew and John were composed by eyewitnesses, or otherwise based on eyewitness testimony, is not supported by evidence. Even if only one generation had passed from the death of Jesus until the Gospels’ composition, one would expect historical memories to take on the quality of myth and legend.
3. Religious myth is the clothing in historic form of religious ideas, shaped by the unconsciously inventive power of legend, and embodied in a historic personality. One would expect Jesus to meet us in the garb of ancient and traditional messianic expectations.
4. Strauss claims an inner emancipation from religious and dogmatic prepossessions due to his studies in philosophy. In Hegelian terms, Jesus represents the perfection of the idea of the unity of God and humanity—an idea that could never adequately be represented in historical reality, in the nature of the case. A purely historical representation of the life of Jesus was, in the earliest period, impossible.
5. Neither supernaturalist nor rationalist explanations of the Bible and its narratives have legitimacy in the modern age. The new solution that arises is the mythological explanation. Thus does Strauss resemble Schleiermacher in arguing on the basis of antithetic conceptions. He takes each incident in the life of Jesus separately, shows how the supernaturalist reading and the rationalist reading discredit each other, and arrives at a third perspective.
6. It was the unprincipled drifting of Hase and Schleiermacher back towards dogmatic, supernaturalist ideas that drove Strauss to his uncompromisingly anti-theological position.
7. A sampling of Strauss’s criticism: OT prototypes dominate everything written about Jesus prior to the baptism. The accounts of JB’s baptism of Jesus are riddled with contradictions rooted in confusion or dispute about how the consciousness of Jesus’ messiahship would have emerged publicly. The call of the first disciples cannot have happened as represented, since they would have known nothing of Jesus beforehand.
8. Thus did Strauss seek to make the boundaries of the mythical explanation (as against the historical) as wide as possible, and [says Schweitzer] he extended them too far. Strauss may have uncovered the source of the form of a story such as the feeding of the multitude, but this does not suffice to explain its origin. That Gospel story has too much individuality, and too much connection with surrounding events, to be explained away as myth, even though there is myth in it. It must be based in historical fact.
9. The Gospel of John, the favorite of the rationalists, is for Strauss the most mythological--

i. The Johannine representation of the life of Jesus is shown to be dominated by an idea, and its portraiture a development of that of the Synoptics. It is plausible that one trip to Jerusalem would have been multiplied to three by the Johannine author, but not that multiple actual trips to Jerusalem would have been unknown to the first three Evangelists. Thus all attempts to harmonize the 4th Gospel with the Synoptics must be abandoned.
ii. The idea that dominates the 4th Gospel is the substitution of Greek metaphysical concepts of divine sonship, the Logos doctrine, and Jesus’ confession of his own pre-existence, in place of the Jewish Messianic conception. Gnostic/docetic ideas are already known and overtly criticized, and likewise eschatology is transformed into a doctrine of inward presence.
iii. The substitution of farewell discourses for the agony in Gethsemene betrays a final stage of reverent idealization.
iv. “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.”

10. But Strauss rejects the priority of Mark, a mere epitomizer and satellite of Matthew. In the story of the man healed with spittle, he sees the roots of the rationalist account of Jesus’ miracles, which he reckons less authentic than the supernaturalist accounts. He also finds no “plan of history” or “inner connection of events”—for Schweitzer the primary basis for a theory of Markan priority.
11. Strauss’s own conception of the life of Jesus is impossible to determine, because his analysis is purely critical. Nothing can be known about the connection of certain events, because John is untrustworthy, and the Synoptists arrange everything with an eye to analogies and association of ideas. A chronology is impossible.
12. The meaning of the expression “Son of Man” in Jesus’ discourses varies unaccountably, now meaning human being, now Jesus himself, now a supernatural person distinct from himself but identified with the Messiah. Who knows what Jesus himself said or what has been inserted? Also unknowable is the point of time when Jesus claimed the Messianic dignity for himself.
13. Contrary to what is often said about his book, there is no question of Strauss dissolving the messianic consciousness of Jesus, much less the historical fact of his life, into pure myth.
14. As for Jesus’ messianic plan, Strauss tries valiantly to escape the dilemma, either spiritual or political. Schweitzer sees in the following passage by Strauss a precursor to Weiss’ “eschatological” paradigm--
"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, but upon the legions of angels which His heavenly Father could give Him. When He speaks of the coming of His Messianic glory, it is with angels and heavenly powers that He surrounds Himself. 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, to give Him the signal of its coming; and He did not waver in His faith even when death came upon Him before its realization. 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 supernaturalistic assumptions 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 possession of the mind even of one who was not inclined to fanaticism."
15. Strauss, however, thinks we cannot determine the part which the expectations of the first Christians may have had in moulding the eschatological statements of Jesus. But if there was anything historical about Jesus, the saying that he would be manifested in the coming kingdom as the Son of Man must be considered the most authentic layer. [Hard to tell if this is genuinely Strauss’s view or what Schweitzer wants to say of Strauss.]
16. The predictions of the passion and resurrection are evidently prophecies after the fact (vaticinia ex eventu), because of the way the whole catastrophe is narrated. Whether the conception of a suffering messiah had ever existed in Judaism is unknown. “In the NT it almost looks as if no one among the Jews had ever thought of a suffering or dying Messiah.”
17. Strauss marked a turning point in the Quest by discrediting miracles as a matter for historical belief. He also anticipated the ideas of the eschatological school.
gryan
Posts: 329
Joined: Fri Jun 01, 2018 4:11 am

Re: Synopsis of Schweitzer's QHJ [Ch. 7. & 8, David Strauss]

Post by gryan »

Re: Strauss and his translator

"In the late fall of 1835 at the age of twenty-seven, his masterpiece The Life of Jesus Critically Examined (Das Leben Jesu kritische bearbeitet) was published in two volumes, which made him at once the most controversial figure in Germany." http://people.bu.edu/wwildman/bce/strau ... %20Germany.

Only 27 years old!

And the translator, better known as a great novelist, Mary Ann Evans aka George Eliot, is interesting too:
"In fact, her first major literary work was an English translation of Strauss's Das Leben Jesu kritisch bearbeitet as The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined (1846), which she completed after it had been left incomplete by Elizabeth 'Rufa' Brabant, another member of the 'Rosehill Circle'". https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Eliot
User avatar
Irish1975
Posts: 482
Joined: Fri Dec 15, 2017 8:01 am
Contact:

Re: Synopsis of Schweitzer's QHJ [Ch. 7. & 8, David Strauss]

Post by Irish1975 »

gryan wrote: Thu Jun 03, 2021 8:17 am In the late fall of 1835 at the age of twenty-seven, his masterpiece The Life of Jesus Critically Examined (Das Leben Jesu kritische bearbeitet) was published in two volumes, which made him at once the most controversial figure in Germany. http://people.bu.edu/wwildman/bce/strau ... %20Germany.

Only 27 years old!

And the translator, better known as a great novelist, Mary Ann Evans aka George Eliot, is interesting too:
"In fact, her first major literary work was an English translation of Strauss's Das Leben Jesu kritisch bearbeitet as The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined (1846), which she completed after it had been left incomplete by Elizabeth 'Rufa' Brabant, another member of the 'Rosehill Circle'". https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Eliot
Indeed. George Eliot seems underrated for her impact on the history English-speaking modern criticism of Christianity. Her 1854 translation of Ludwig Feuerbach's The Essence of Christianity (1841) is particularly stunning. It is doubtful that anyone in the pre-Nietzsche era would have translated these Germans into English had she not done it, and certainly not as brilliantly.

Princeton UP recently brought out an edition of her translation of Spinoza's Ethics, the last of her titanic efforts in theology/philosophy before she became the great novelist.
Ken Olson
Posts: 495
Joined: Fri May 09, 2014 9:26 am

Re: Synopsis of Schweitzer's QHJ [Ch. 7. & 8, David Strauss]

Post by Ken Olson »

Irish1975 wrote: Thu Jun 03, 2021 8:36 am Indeed. George Eliot seems underrated for her impact on the history English-speaking modern criticism of Christianity. Her 1854 translation of Ludwig Feuerbach's The Essence of Christianity (1841) is particularly stunning. It is doubtful that anyone in the pre-Nietzsche era would have translated these Germans into English had she not done it, and certainly not as brilliantly.

Princeton UP recently brought out an edition of her translation of Spinoza's Ethics, the last of her titanic efforts in theology/philosophy before she became the great novelist.
Besides her translations, there's also Mary Ann Evans/George Elliott's notable essay 'Evangelical Teaching" criticizing a contemporary biblical apologist (Dr. Cummings], which Christopher Hitchens included in The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever (2007). Hitchens concludes his brief introduction to the essay saying: “I shall be surprised if this essay does not remind you of some more recent religious performers.”

The essay is available online here:

https://humanistlife.org.uk/2014/02/27/ ... rge-eliot/

Best,

Ken
gryan
Posts: 329
Joined: Fri Jun 01, 2018 4:11 am

Re: Synopsis of Schweitzer's QHJ [Ch. 7. & 8, David Strauss]

Post by gryan »

Ken Olson wrote: Thu Jun 03, 2021 9:03 am
Besides her translations, there's also Mary Ann Evans/George Elliott's notable essay 'Evangelical Teaching" criticizing a contemporary biblical apologist (Dr. Cummings], which Christopher Hitchens included in The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever (2007). Hitchens concludes his brief introduction to the essay saying: “I shall be surprised if this essay does not remind you of some more recent religious performers.”

The essay is available online here:

https://humanistlife.org.uk/2014/02/27/ ... rge-eliot/
Re: Not only the particular preacher she is speaking out against, but also the nature of her own winsome perspective on the life of Jesus, I find this paragraph interesting:

"He is most at home in the forensic view of Justification, and dwells on salvation as a scheme rather than as an experience. He insists on good works as the sign of justifying faith, as labors to be achieved to the glory of God, but he rarely represents them as the spontaneous, necessary outflow of a soul filled with Divine love. He is at home in the external, the polemical, the historical, the circumstantial, and is only episodically devout and practical. The great majority of his published sermons are occupied with argument or philippic against Romanists and unbelievers, with “vindications” of the Bible, with the political interpretation of prophecy, or the criticism of public events; and the devout aspiration, or the spiritual and practical exhortation, is tacked to them as a sort of fringe in a hurried sentence or two at the end. He revels in the demonstration that the Pope is the Man of Sin; he is copious on the downfall of the Ottoman empire; he appears to glow with satisfaction in turning a story which tends to show how he abashed an “infidel;” it is a favorite exercise with him to form conjectures of the process by which the earth is to be burned up, and to picture Dr. Chalmers and Mr. Wilberforce being caught up to meet Christ in the air, while Romanists, Puseyites, and infidels are given over to gnashing of teeth. But of really spiritual joys and sorrows, of the life and death of Christ as a manifestation of love that constrains the soul, of sympathy with that yearning over the lost and erring which made Jesus weep over Jerusalem, and prompted the sublime prayer, “Father, forgive them,” of the gentler fruits of the Spirit, and the peace of God which passeth understanding—of all this, we find little trace in Dr. Cumming’s discourses."
User avatar
Irish1975
Posts: 482
Joined: Fri Dec 15, 2017 8:01 am
Contact:

Re: Synopsis of Schweitzer's QHJ [Ch. 7. & 8, David Strauss]

Post by Irish1975 »

Ken Olson wrote: Thu Jun 03, 2021 9:03 am Besides her translations, there's also Mary Ann Evans/George Elliott's notable essay 'Evangelical Teaching" criticizing a contemporary biblical apologist (Dr. Cummings], which Christopher Hitchens included in The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever (2007). Hitchens concludes his brief introduction to the essay saying: “I shall be surprised if this essay does not remind you of some more recent religious performers.”

The essay is available online here:

https://humanistlife.org.uk/2014/02/27/ ... rge-eliot/

Best,

Ken
Thanks for this, I’ll check it out.

I’m generally a reluctant reader of fiction, but if anyone wants to make a case for Middlemarch or any of Eliot’s great novels as religious/theological criticism, I’m all ears.
User avatar
Irish1975
Posts: 482
Joined: Fri Dec 15, 2017 8:01 am
Contact:

Re: Synopsis of Schweitzer's QHJ [Ch. 7. & 8, David Strauss]

Post by Irish1975 »

I am suspicious about Schweitzer's back and forth inconsistency, evident in points 15 and 17, about whether Strauss can be recruited in support of the former's "eschatological interpretation." I am finding this tendency towards equivocation and having it both ways to be a persistent flaw of the whole book, as I have said before. But I don't have the patience to plow through Strauss to get to the bottom of it.

I decided to track down Johannes Weiss's short monograph of 1892, Jesus' Proclamation of the Kingdom of God, translated into English in 1892, so that I can get a better handle on Schweitzer. Haven't read it yet, but it will certainly be discussed in future installments.

I hope also to get a hold of Wrede's Messianic Secret. Not affordable on Amazon at the moment.

Another 19th century German I have been reading recently is Franz Overbeck, who was Nietzsche's closest friend, and a far more sober historian of early Christianity. He has a short book published in the 1870s called "On the Christianity of Theology," which argues that the Protestant theology of his day (both apologetic and liberal) completely missed the fact that ancient Christianity was essentially world denial. They were trying to work up a world-affirming notion of the Kingdom based on the historical Jesus, over against Paul and 15+ centuries of actual Christianity. There's not a great deal of scriptural commentary, but I'm getting so much more from these older Germans than from anything contemporary. I feel like they dealt with all the essential problems a long time ago. Anyhow, I'd appreciate comments from anyone acquainted with this literature.
User avatar
Irish1975
Posts: 482
Joined: Fri Dec 15, 2017 8:01 am
Contact:

Re: Synopsis of Schweitzer's QHJ [Ch. 7. & 8, David Strauss]

Post by Irish1975 »

Examining Strauss, who seems to have created (in practice if not in theory) the idea of the “purely historical” Jesus, it cannot be emphasized enough that his work was in no way that of a “historian” such as Jesus scholars today pretend to be. There were the young Hegelians on one side, and the state-sponsored traditionalist Lutherans on the other. Everything was political and ideological. No one was doing what we imagine today as plain old history, even though the result was an awareness of the historical relativity of texts. Hegel had invented the idea of historical relativity, but only by means of what to us now seems like the most bizarre and ludicrous of metaphysical presumptions about the human mind: that we have some “a priori” access to the inner workings of history itself, assumed to be “rational.”

People today are complacent about our notion of “plain old history.” Historiographers and philosophers of history notoriously debunk such a such a naive conception of their craft as typified by Ehrman. I’m not sure that anyone writing today has a confident, self-aware, and honest idea of what history actually is. By “history,” I mean both the investigation of the past, and the narration of it to a contemporary audience.
Post Reply