Saturday, August 23, 2014

Albert Schweitzer's Failed Quest. Or Was It?

Schweitzer, Albert. The Quest of the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of Its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede. New York: Macmillan, 1968.

This book is a translation of Schweitzer’s classic of 1906, Von Reimarus zu Wrede: Eine Geschicte der Leben-Jesu-Forschung. It provides a landmark overview of the then-modern quest to identify the Jesus of history. Schweitzer chronicles the work of, among many others, H. S. Reimarus, the pioneering German skeptic; D. F. Strauss, who brought the anti-supernatural approach to the life of Jesus into the foreground of scholarship; Bruno Bauer, who notoriously concluded that Jesus of Nazareth never existed; Ernest Renan, who introduced the rationalistic treatment of the life of Jesus to a popular French-speaking audience; and Johannes Weiss, who emphasized that the teaching of Jesus assumes and advances the ideas connected with contemporary Jewish eschatology. Finally, Schweitzer pits his own thoroughgoing eschatological understanding of Jesus against the completely skeptical view typified by W. Wrede’s book, The Messianic Secret in the Gospels.  He concludes: “There is nothing more negative than the result of the critical study of the Life of Jesus” (p. 398), and he asserts that it is Christian experience that authenticates the way of Christ.
For a brief overview that deals with the question and updates the discussion, see N. T. Wright, Who Was Jesus? (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993), pages 1-18. Or, see Wright's academic article, “Quest for the Historical Jesus,” in Anchor Bible Dictionary, Volume 3, pages 796-802.

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