« PreviousContinue »
RELIGIOUS MISCELL ANY.
ART. I. - THE MYTHICAL THEORY APPLIED TO THE
LIFE OF JESUS.*
The reception in this country of a translation of Strauss's remarkable work, as well as the character of the work itself, justifies another and a somewhat extended notice of it in our pages.
All of our readers must have at least heard of Dr. Strauss's book, and, we are bound to believe, have some idea, more or less defined, of its contents. The promulgation among us of the views which it advances may have led some of the less informed to regard them as of native growth, and to attribute them as original to any one who has received a part or the whole of them. How far Dr. Strauss himself is entitled to be regarded as the author of the theory which he most laboriously advocates, will appear as we proceed to present it. But we feel that it is important for very many reasons, to avert either the charge, or the claim, that New England or any one of her ministers discovered the theory. There were many persons here who knew of it before it found an open advocate. We are more anxious to declare the simple truth on this point, because we know that some persons have been
* The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined. By Dr. David FRIEDRICA STRAUSS. Translated from the fourth German Edition. In Three Vols. London : Chapman, Brothers. 1846. 8vo. Pp. 423, 454, 446. VOL. XLI. - 4TH S. VOL. VI. NO, III.
greatly mistaken in regard to the authorship of certain sentiments which have of late agitated this community. It is not necessary for us to enlarge upon this preliminary remark, further than to suggest that there is much less alarm, and danger, and risk of infection in views which, originating from most peculiar and complicated foreign influences, have been borrowed here by those who have cast themselves into the midst of those influences, than in views which have been naturally and inartificially attained by one who has studied without bias or eccentric tendencies. Only Germany, and only Germany of the nineteenth century, could have evolved the theory of Dr. Strauss. Whether its promulgation by any one here be an honor or a reproach to him, he must be content to call himself a mere copyist.
A few particulars relating to Strauss personally, and to his book, may properly introduce what we now intend to offer. Our purpose will then be, to present his theory with the details by which he would sustain it, with a criticism and a commentary upon it.
Not the least remarkable of the phenomena attending this work, is the youth of the author at the period when he gave it to the world. At an age when young men, who by a modern allowance have been permitted to teach their elders, most generally begin to admit modest humility to their true regard, and to realize, by disappointed pride or the vanishing of some delusion, that they know only in part and are just commencing their best education, Strauss published a book which opens with an absolute renunciation of Christianity as a revelation, and closes with instructing those who, like himself, are its ministers, how they may still preach it without believing it. If some venerable Christian divine had written such a book as the summary of a life of hard study, of full experience, and of devoted ministration to the sins and sorrows of humanity, we might read it with no other feeling than that of sympathetic distress. That plan into which angels desired to look, and which prophets and righteous men waited to see unfolded, might well claim from one who intended to reject it the deliberation and the patience of his most mature years. Strauss was born in 1808, and as his book was prepared and announced in private circles some time before he published it in 1835, he must have attained its results at a very early age. They
Publication of the Life of Jesus.
were causing a tumult, and setting more than a score of presses in motion in Germany, when he was twenty-seven years old. This fact alone would prove that Strauss had had his training amid the influences of a skeptical philosophy. And such was the fact. He was educated under the worst possible circumstances for the production of a Christian believer. He early attached himself with boyish enthusiasm to the philosophy of Hegel, the Pantheist, as taught with an attempt at a Christian baptism of it by his pupil Schleiermacher. That philosophy being received as established, the problem for its disciples to solve was how it might be reconciled with Christianity. The one common object which united the labors of all the critics and scholars who formed the coterie in which Strauss moved was, to rid Christianity of the miraculous, and to resolve it in its documentary and historical shape into an earthly creation. His studies and colloquies were literally in a caravan of critics, of dealers in strange theories and artificial hypotheses, at a time when German speculations revelled in the most reckless license. The incidental mention through his volumes of the guesses and conceits and interpretations which many of his learned countrymen have given as the results of their biblical studies, presents a perfect museum of the extravagant creations of the human brain.
Strauss was preaching and delivering lectures on the philosophy of Hegel in the University of Tubingen, when he published there, as above stated, in 1835, the first edition of his Life of Jesus. The expectation which had preceded it drew immediate attention to it. That he should have still sought to retain his place in an institution designed to prepare young men for the Christian ministry, is one among many proofs of what may be called infatuation in the author. The constituted guardians of the University gave him an opportunity to reconcile, if he was able to do so, the views which he had promulgated with the office which he held, and failing to satisfy them, he was removed to another public trust where the inconsistency of his situation was not so glaring, though he retained the place but a few months. The cry of persecution was raised as a matter of course, and the fact that others did not feel bound to support him in his attempts to undermine their faith was interpreted into martyrdom for his own. In 1839, amid
great strife and opposition, and by a majority of a single vote, Strauss was elected to a theological professorship in the University of Zurich, but so intense was the excitement caused among the ministers and laymen in the city and canton, that a riot ensued and he was compelled to resign his office.
A second and a third edition of the Life of Jesus soon followed the first. It was vehemently assailed and subjected to severe and searching criticism, as well as to the usual controversial treatment in pamphlets and volumes. Strauss was forced to modify his theory and to make many important concessions in his third edition. From the moment in which he did this he broke the charm of his influence. The meteor which had hung like a portent, fell to the earth and disclosed its earthly ingredients. Discovering this, Strauss in his fourth and last edition, that from which the translation before us is made, revoked his concessions and entrenched himself in his original positions. A prohibition to print the book was strongly advised in Prussia, but the question of interdicting it being submitted to Neander at Berlin, he wisely approved the contrary course, on the ground that Christianity might face every enemy that it did not fear, and that the book was answerable at a bar which would not fail to put it on a fair trial. From a French translation of the German original an English translation was made; not for circulation among scholars, but to advance the cause of infidelity. This English version is wretchedly done. It appeared in penny numbers for a cheap circulation and a large market. Copies, or a reprint of it, have likewise been circulated in New York. More than one good English translation from the original German has been prepared, but no publisher would undertake it till recently.
Strauss is not, nor does he assume to be, the author, in the strict sense of the word, of the theory which he has advanced. He gives to it an origin about contemporary with the year of his own birth. But in fact the theory, in the whole and in its details, is little else than a revival of that which the school of English Deists maintained, and much of it is as old as the objections of Julian and Celsus. Strauss did, indeed, grow up at a time when the vagaries of speculation in Germany had reverted, in the revolution of human
Statement of the Theory.
fancies, to a constellation which once and again had risen and set.
The theory which Strauss elaborately - and yet most imperfectly, if he would assure us of all its conditions has presented, stated summarily is this:— that Jesus, a young Jewish rabbi, born in a natural way about the time assigned in the Gospels, took from John the Baptist, an ascetic preacher, the idea of assuming to be the expected Messiah of the Jews; that he deceived himself first, and some of them afterwards, by addressing the known wishes of his countrymen ; that he chose a circle of immediate followers; that he gave certain instructions, which it is impossible for us now to authenticate with any certainty ; that he died a victim to the hatred of the Pharisees; that an idea (not an assurance) that he had risen from the dead, was made the basis of a continued declaration of him as the Messiah; that before our Gospels were written, popular credulity and legendary invention had accumulated around him tales of the miraculous, not designed for deception, but honestly believed by those who repeated them; that these legends, or myths, are poetical embellishments of real ideas connected with Jesus; and that in some cases we are able to discover the historical basis of a marvellous narrative in an imitation of the Old Testament. Such in brief is Strauss's theory, which will be more intelligible as we present its details. This is all that he allows as the basis of the Christian religion. Though the theory with its advocacy is spread over thirteen hundred pages, four times that space at least would be needed by him to authenticate it, and to meet the subsidiary questions which it suggests. He does not even incidentally advert to any of these questions, such, for instance, as the following:- How could Jesus deceive himself into the belief that he was the Messiah, and add such a delusion to the honesty and wisdom which are not denied to him ? How could Jesus deceive his countrymen, when his whole course of life and teaching was so utterly opposed to their preconceived views of their Messiah? How could the faith in Jesus win any Gentiles to its credence, seeing that they did not care a straw for the Jews or their peculiar national hopes? Through the force of what motives could Jesus, living or dead, gain any followers? By what strange communion between holiness