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The Quest of the Historical Jesus

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Christian Hermann Weisse. Die evangelische Geschichte kritisch und philosophiscb bearbeitet. (A Critical and Philosophical Study of the Gospel History.) 2 vols. Leipzig, Breitkopf and Hartel, 1838. Vol. i. 614 pp. Vol. ii. 543 pp.

Christian Gottlob Wilke. Der Urevangelist. (The Earliest Evangelist.) 1838. Dresden and Leipzig. 694 pp.

Christian Hermann Weisse. Die Evangelienfrage in ihrem gegenwartigen Stadium. (The Present Position of the Problem of the Gospels.) Leipzig, 1856.

THE "GOSPEL HISTORY" OF WEISSE WAS WRITTEN, LIKE STRAUSS'S LIFE of Jesus, by a philosopher who had been driven out of philosophy and forced back upon theology. Weisse was born in 1801 at Leipzig, and became Professor Extraordinary of Philosophy in the university there in 1828. In 1837, finding his advance to the Ordinary Professorship barred by the Herbartians, he withdrew from academic teaching and gave himself to the preparation of this work, the plan of which he had had in mind for some time. Having brought it to a satisfactory completion, he began again in 1841 as a Privat-Docent in Philosophy, and became Ordinary Professor in 1845. From 1848 onwards he lectured on Theology also. His work on "Philosophical Dogmatics, or the Philosophy of Christianity," [1] is well known. He died in 1866, of cholera. Lotze and Lipsius were both much influenced by him.

Weisse admired Strauss and hailed his Life of Jesus as a forward step towards the reconciliation of religion and philosophy. He expresses his gratitude to him for clearing the ground of the primeval forest of theology, thus rendering it possible for him (Weisse) to develop his views without wasting time upon polemics, "since most of the views which have hitherto prevailed may be regarded as having received the coup de grace from Strauss." He is at one with Strauss also in his general view of the relations of philosophy and religion, holding that it is only it philosophy, by following its own path, attains independently to the

[1] Philosophische Dogmatik oder Philosophic des Christentums. Leipzig, 1855-1862.


conviction of the truth of Christianity that its alliance with theology and religion can be welcomed as advantageous. [1] His work, therefore, like that of Strauss, leads up finally to a philosophical exposition in which he shows how for us the Jesus of history becomes the Christ of faith. [2]

Weisse is the direct continuator of Strauss. Standing outside the limitations of the Hegelian formulae, he begins at the point where Strauss leaves off. His aim is to discover, if possible, some thread of general connexion in the narratives of the Gospel tradition, which, if present, would represent a historically certain element in the Life of Jesus, and thus serve as a better standard by which to determine the extent of myth than can possibly be found in the subjective impression upon which Strauss relies. Strauss, by way of gratitude, called him a dilettante. This was most unjust, for if any one deserved to share Strauss's place of honour, it was certainly Weisse.

The idea that Mark's Gospel might be the earliest of the four, first occurred to Weisse during the progress of his work. In March 1837, when he reviewed Tholuck's "Credibility of the Gospel History," he was as innocent of this discovery as Wilke was at the same period. But when once he had observed that the graphic details of Mark, which had hitherto been regarded as due to an attempt to embellish an epitomising narrative, were too insignificant to have been inserted with this purpose, it became clear to him that only one other possibility remained open, viz., that their absence in Matthew and Luke was due to omission. He illustrates this from the description of the first day of Jesus' ministry at Capernaum. "The relation of the first Evangelist to Mark," he avers, "in those portions of the Gospel which are common to both is, with few exceptions, mainly that of an epitomiser."

The decisive argument for the priority of Mark is, even more than his graphic detail, the composition and arrangement of the whole. "It is true, the Gospel of Mark shows very distinct traces of having arisen out of spoken discourses, which themselves were by no means ordered and connected, but disconnected and fragmentary"—being, he means, in its original form based on notes of the incidents related by Peter. "It is not the work of an eyewitness, nor even of one who had had an opportunity of questioning eyewitnesses thoroughly and carefully; nor [1] At the end of his preface he makes the striking remark: "I confess I cannot conceive of any possible way by which Christianity can take on a form which will make it once more the truth for our time, without having recourse to the aid of philosophy; and I rejoice to believe that this opinion is shared by many of the ablest and most respected of present-day theologians."

[2] Vol. ii. pp. 438-543. Philosophische Schlussbetrachtung ilber die religiose Bedeutung der Personlichkeit Christi und der evangelischen Uberlieferung. (Con- cluding Philosophical Estimate of the Significance of the Person of Christ and of the Gospel Tradition.)


even of deriving assistance from inquirers who, on their part, had made a connected study of the subject, with a view to filling up the gaps and placing each individual part in its right position, and so articulating the whole into an organic unity which should be neither merely inward, nor on the other hand merely external." Nevertheless the Evangelist was guided in his work by a just recollection of the general course of the life of Jesus. "It is precisely in Mark," Weisse explains, "that a closer study unmistabably reveals that the incidental remarks (referring for the most part to the way in which the fame of Jesus gradually extended, the way the people began to gather round Him and the sick to besiege Him), far from shutting off and separating the different narratives, tend rather to unite them with each other, and so give the impression not of a series of anecdotes fortuitously thrown together, but of a con- nected history. By means of these remarks, and by many other connecting links which he works into the narration of the individual stories, Mark has succeeded in conveying a vivid impression of the stir which Jesus made in Galileo, and from Galilee to Jerusalem, of the gradual gathering of the multitudes to Him, of the growing intensity of loyalty in the inner circle of disciples, and as the counterpart of all this, of the growing enmity of the Pharisees and Scribes—an impression which mere isolated narratives, strung together without any living connexion, would not have sufficed to produce." A connexion of this kind is less clearly present in the other Synoptists, and is wholly lacking in John. The Fourth Gospel, by itself, would give us a completely false con- ception of the relation of Jesus to the people. From the content of its narratives the reader would form the impression that the attitude of the people towards Jesus was hostile fiom the very first, and that it was only in isolated occasions, for a brief moment, that Jesus by His miraculous acts inspired the people with astonishment rather than admiration; that, surrounded by a little company of disciples he contrived for a time to defy the enmity of the multitude, and that, having repeatedly provoked it by intemperate invective, he finally succumbed to it.

The simplicity of the plan of Mark is, in Weisse's opinion, a stronger argument for his priority than the most elaborate demonstration; one only needs to compare it with the perverse design of Luke, who makes Jesus undertake a journey through Samaria. "How," asks Weisse, "in the case of a writer who does things of this kind can it be possible at this time of day to speak seriously of historical exactitude in the use of his sources?"

To come down to detail, Weisse's argument for the priority of Mark rests mainly on the following propositions:—

1. In the first and third Gospels, traces of a common plan are found only in those parts which they have in common with Mark, not in those which are common to them, but not to Mark also.


2. In those parts which the three Gospels have in common, the "agreement" of the other two is mediated through Mark.

3. In those sections which the First and Third Gospels have, but Mark has not, the agreement consists in the language and incidents, not in the order. Their common source, therefore, the "Logia" of Matthew, did not contain any type of tradition which gave an order of narration different from that of Mark.

4. The divergences of wording between the two other Synoptists is in general greater in the parts where both have drawn on the Logia document than where Mark is their source.

5. The first Evangelist reproduces this Logia-document more faithfully than Luke does; but his Gospel seems to have been of later origin.

This historical argument for the priority of Mark was confirmed in the year in which it appeared by Wilke's work, "The Earliest Gospel," [1]

[1] Christian Gottlob Wilke, formerly pastor of Hermannsdorf in the Erzgebirge. Der Urevangelist, oder eine exegetisch-kritische Untersuchung des Verwandschafts-verhaltnisses der drei ersten Evangelien. (The Earliest Evangelist, a Critical and Exegetical Inquiry into the Relationship of the First Three Gospels.) The subse- quent course of the discussion of the Marcan hypothesis was as follows:—

In answer to Wilke there appeared a work signed Philosophotos Aletheias, Die Evangelien, ihr Geist, ihre Verfasser, und ihr Verhaltnis zu einander. (The Gospels, their Spirit, their Authors, and their relation to one another.) Leipzig, 1845, 440 pp. The author sees in Paul the evil genius of early Christianity, and thinks that the work of scientific criticism must be directed to detecting and weeding out the Pauline elements in the Gospels. Luke is in his opinion a party-writing, biased by Paulinism; in fact Paul had a share in its preparation, and this is what Paul alludes to when he speaks in Romans ii. 16, xi. 28, and xvi. 25 of "his" Gospel. His hand is especially recognisable in chapters i.-iii., vii., ix., xi., xviii., xx., xxi., and xxiv. Mark consists of extracts from Matthew and Luke; John presupposes the other three. The Tiibingen standpoint was set forth by Baur in his work, Kritische Untersuchangen liber die kanonischen Evangelien. (A Critical Examination of the Ca- nonical Gospels.) Tubingen, 1847, 622 pp. According to him Mark is based on Matthew and Luke. At the same time, however, the irreconcilability of the Fourth Gospel with the Synoptists is for the first time fully worked out, and the refutation of its historical character is carried into detail.

The order Matthew, Mark, Luke is defended by Adolf Hilgenfeld in his work Die Evangelien. Leipzig, 1854, 355 pp.

Karl Reinhold Kostlin's work, Der Ursprung und die Komposition der synoptischen Evangelien (Origin and Composition of the Synoptic Gospels), is rendered nugatory by obscurities and compromises. Stuttgart, 1853, 400 pp. The priority of Mark is defended by Edward Reuss, Die Geschichte der keiligen Schriften des Neuen Testaments (History of the Sacred Writings of the New Testament), 1842; H. Ewald, Die drei visten Evangelien, 1850; A. Ritschi Die Entstehung der altcatholischen Kirche (Origin of the ancient Catholic Church), 1850; A. Reville, Etudes critiques sur l'Evangile selon St Matthieu, 1862. In 1863 the foundations of the Marcan hypothesis were relaid, more firmly than before, by Holtzmann's work, Die synoptischen Evangelien. Leipzig, 1863, 514 pp.


which treated the problem more from the literary side, and, to take an illustration from astronomy, supplied the mathematical confirmation of the hypothesis.

In regard to the Gospel of John, Weisse fully shared the negative views of Strauss. What is the use, he asks, of keeping on talking about the plan of this Gospel, seeing that no one has yet succeeded in showing what that plan is? And for a very good reason: there is none. One would never guess from the Gospel of John that Jesus, until His departure from Galilee, had experienced almost unbroken success. It is no good trying to explain the want of plan by saying that John wrote with the purpose of supplementing and correcting his predecessors, and that his omissions and additions were determined by this purpose. Such a purpose is betrayed by no single word in the whole Gospel.

The want of plan lies in the very plan itself. "It is a fixed idea, one may say, with the author of this Gospel, who had heard that Jesus had fallen a victim in Jerusalem to the hatred of the Jewish rulers, especially the Scribes, that he must represent Jesus as engaged, from His first appearance onward, in an unceasing struggle with 'the Jews'—whereas we know that the mass of the people, even to the last, in Jerusalem itself, were on the side of Jesus; so much so, indeed, that His enemies were only able to get Him into their power by means of a secret betrayal."

In regard to the graphic descriptions in John, of which so much has been made, the case is no better. It is the graphic detail of a writer who desires to work up a vivid picture, not the natural touches of an eyewitness, and there are, moreover, actual inconsistencies, as in the case of the healing at the pool of Bethesda. The circumstantiality is due to the care of the author not to assume an acquaintance, on the part of his readers, with Jewish usages or the topography of Palestine. "A considerable proportion of the details are of such a character as inevitably to suggest that the narrator inserts them because of the trouble which it has cost him to orientate himself in regard to the scene of the action and the dramatis personae, his object being to spare his readers a similar difficulty; though he does not always go about it in the way best calculated to effect his purpose."

The impossibility also that the historic Jesus can have preached the doctrine of the Johannine Christ, is as clear to Weisse as to Strauss. "It is not so much a picture of Christ that John sets forth, as a conception of Christ; his Christ does not speak in His own Person, but of His own Person."

On the other hand, however, "the authority of the whole Christian Church from the second century to the nineteenth" carries too much weight with Weisse for him to venture altogether to deny the Johannine origin of the Gospel; and he seeks a middle path. He assumes that the didactic portions really, for the most part, go back to John the Apostle.


"John," he explains, "drawn on by the interest of a system of doctrine which had formed itself in his mind, not so much as a direct reflex of the teaching of his Master, as on the basis of suggestions offered by that teaching in combination with a certain creative activity of his own, endeavoured to find this system also in the teaching of his Master."

Accordingly, with this purpose, and originally for himself alone, not with the object of communicating it to others, he made an effort to exhibit, in the light of this system of thought, what his memory still retained of the discourses of the Lord. "The Johannine discourses, therefore, were recalled by a laborious effort of memory on the part of the disciple. When he found that his memory-image of his Master was threatening to dissolve into a mist-wraith, he endeavoured to impress the picture more firmly in his recollection, to connect and define its rapidly disappearing features, reconstructing it by the aid of a theory evolved by himself or drawn from elsewhere regarding the Person and work of the Master." For the portrait of Christ in the Synoptic Gospels the mind of the disciples who describe Him is a neutral medium; for the portrait in John it is a factor which contributes to the production of the picture. The same portrait is outlined by the apostle in the first epistle which bears his name.

These tentative "essays," not originally intended for publication, came, after the death of the apostle, into the hands of his adherents and disciples, and they chose the form of a complete Life of Jesus as that in which to give them to the world. They, therefore, added narrative portions, which they distributed here and there among the speeches, often doing some violence to the latter in the process. Such was the origin of the Fourth Gospel.

Weisse is not blind to the fact that this hypothesis of a Johannine basis in the Gospel is beset with the gravest—one might almost say with insuperable—difficulties. Here is a man who was an immediate disciple of the Lord, one who, in the Synoptic Gospels, in Acts, and in the Pauline letters, appears in a character which gives no hint of a coming spiritual metamorphosis, one, moreover, who at a relatively late period, when it might well have been supposed that his development was in all essentials closed (at the time of Paul's visit to Jerusalem, which falls at least fourteen years after Paul's conversion), was chosen, along with James and Peter, and in contrast with the apostles of the Gentiles, Paul and Barnabas, as an apostle of the Jews—"how is it possible," asks Weisse, "to explain and make it intelligible, that a man of these antecedents displays in his thought and speech, in fact in his whole mental attitude, a thoroughly Hellenistic stamp? How came he, the beloved disciple, who, according to this very Gospel which bears his name, was admitted more intimately than any other into the confidence of Jesus, how came he to


clothe his Master in this foreign garb of Hellenistic speculation, and to attribute to Him this alien manner of speech? But, however difficult the explanation may be, whatever extreme of improbability may seem to us to be involved in the assumption of the Johannine authorship of the Epistle and of these essential elements of the Gospel, it is better to assent to the improbability, to submit to the burden of being forced to explain the inexplicable, than to set ourselves obstinately against the weight of testimony, against the authority of the whole Christian Church from the second century to the present day."

There could be no better argument against the genuineness of the Fourth Gospel than just such a defence of its genuineness as this. In this form the hypothesis may well be destined to lead a harmless and never-ending life. What matters for the historical study of the Life of Jesus is simply that the Fourth Gospel should be ruled out. And that Weisse does so thoroughly that it is impossible to imagine its being done more thoroughly. The speeches, in spite of their apostolic authority, are unhistorical, and need not be taken into account in describing Jesus' system of thought. As for the unhappy redactor, who by adding the narrative pictures created the Gospel, all possibility of his reports being accurate is roundly denied, and as if that was not enough, he must put up with being called a bungler into the bargain. "I have, to tell the truth, no very high opinion of the literary art of the editor of the Johannine Gospel-document," says Weisse in his "Problem of the Gospels" of 1856, which is the best commentary upon his earlier work.

His treatment of the Fourth Gospel reminds us of the story that Frederic the Great once appointed an importunate office-seeker to the post of "Privy Councillor for War," on condition that he would never presume to offer a syllable of advice!

The hypothesis which was brought forward about the same time by Alexander Schweizer, [1] with the intention of saving the genuineness of the Gospel of John, did not make any real contribution to the subject. The reading of the facts which form his starting-point is almost the exact converse of that of Weisse, since he regards, not the speeches, but certain parts of the narrative as Johannine. That which it is possible, in his opinion, to refer to the apostle is an account, not involving any

[1] Alexander Schweizer, Das Evangelium Johannis nach seinem inneren Werte md seiner Bedeutung fiir das Leben Jesu kritisch untersucht. 1841. (A Critical Examination of the Intrinsic Value of the Gospel of John and of its Importance as a Source for the Life of Jesus.) Alexander Schweizer was born in 1808 at Murten, was appointed Professor of Pastoral Theology at Zurich in 1835, and continued to lecture there until his death in 1888, remaining loyal to the ideas of his teacher Schleiennacher, though handling them with a certain freedom. His best-known work is his Glaabenslehre (System of Doctrine), 2 vols., 1863-1872; 2nd ed,, 1877.


miracles, of the ministry of Jesus at Jerusalem, and the discourses which He delivered there. The more or less miraculous events which occur in the course of it—such as, that Jesus had seen Nathanael under the fig-tree, knew the past life of the Samaritan woman, and healed the sick man at the Pool of Bethesda—are of a simple character, and contrast markedly with those which are represented to have occurred in Galilee, where Jesus turned water into wine and fed a multitude with a few crusts of bread. We must, therefore, suppose that this short, authentic, spiritual Jerusalem-Gospel has had a Galilaean Life of Jesus worked into it, and this explains the inconsistencies of the representation and the oscillation between a sensuous and a spiritual point of view.

This distinction, however, cannot be made good. Schweizer was obliged to ascribe the reports of a material resurrection to the Galilaean source, whereas these, since they exclude the Galilaean appearances of Jesus, must belong to the Jerusalem Gospel; and accordingly, the whole distinction between a spiritual and material Gospel falls to the ground. Thus this hypothesis at best preserves the nominal authenticity of the Fourth Gospel, only to deprive it immediately of all value as a historical source.

Had Strauss calmly examined the bearing of Weisse's hypothesis, he would have seen that it fully confirmed the line he had taken in leaving the Fourth Gospel out of account, and he might have been less unjust towards the hypothesis of the priority of Mark, for which he cherished a blind hatred, because, in its fully developed form, it first met him in conjunction with seemingly reactionary tendencies towards the rehabilitation of John. He never in the whole course of his life got rid of the prejudice that the recognition of the priority of Mark was identical With a retrograde movement towards an uncritical orthodoxy.

This is certainly not true as regards Weisse. He is far from having used Mark unreservedly as a historical source. On the contrary, he says expressly that the picture which this Gospel gives of Jesus is drawn by an imaginative disciple of the faith, filled with the glory of his subject, whose enthusiasm is consequently sometimes stronger than his judgment. Even in Mark the mythopoeic tendency is already actively at work, so that often the task of historical criticism is to explain how such myths could have been accepted by a reporter who stands as near the facts as Mark does.

Of the miracula [1]—so Weisse denominates the "non-genuine" miracles, in contradistinction to the "genuine"—the feeding of the multitude is

[1] The German is Mirakein, the usual word being Wunder, which, though constantly used in the sense of actual "miracles," has, from its obvious derivation, a certain ambiguity.


that which, above all others, cries aloud for an explanation. Its historical strength lies in its being firmly interwoven with the preceding and following context; and this applies to both the Marcan narratives. It is therefore impossible to regard the story, as Strauss proposes to do, as pure myth; it is necessary to show how, growing out of some incident belonging to that context, it assumed its present literary form. The authentic saying about the leaven of the Pharisees, which, in Mark viii. 14 and 15, is connected with the two miracles of feeding the multitude, gives ground for supposing that they rest upon a parabolic discourse repeated on two occasions, in which Jesus spoke, perhaps with allusion to the manna, of a miraculous food given through Him. These discourses were later transformed by tradition into an actual miraculous giving of food. Here, therefore, Weisse endeavours to substitute for Strauss's "unhistorical" conception of myth a different conception, which in each case seeks to discover a sufficient historical cause.

The miracles at the baptism of Jesus are based upon His account of a vision which He experienced in that moment. The present form of the story of the transfiguration has a twofold origin. In the first place, it is partly based on a real experience shared by the three disciples. That there is an historical fact here is evident from the way in which it is connected with the context by a definite indication of time. The six days of Mark ix. 2 cannot really be connected, as Strauss would have us suppose, with Ex. xxiv. 16; [1] the meaning is simply that between the previously reported discourse of Jesus and the event described there was an interval of six days. The three disciples had a waking, spiritual vision, not a dream-vision, and what was revealed in this vision was the Messiahship of Jesus. But at this point comes in the second, the mythico-symbolical element. The disciples see Jesus accompanied, according to the Jewish Messianic expectations, by those whom the people thought of as His forerunners. He, however, turns away from them, and Moses and Elias, for whom the disciples were about to build tabernacles, for them to abide in, disappear. The mythical element is a reflection of the teaching which Jesus imparted to them on that occasion, in consequence of which there dawned on them the spiritual "significance of those expectations and predictions, which they were to recognise as no longer pointing forward to a future fulfilment, but as already fulfilled." The high mountain upon which, according to Mark, the event took place is not to be understood in a literal sense, but as symbolical of the sublimity of the revelation; it is to be sought not on the map of Palestine, but in the recesses of the spirit.

The most striking case of the formation of myth is the story of the

[1] "And the glory of the Lord abode upon Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days."


resurrection. Here, too, myth must have attached itself to an historical fact. The fact in question is not, however, the empty grave. This only came into the story later, when the Jews, in order to counteract the Christian belief in the resurrection, had spread abroad the report that the body had been stolen from the grave. In consequence of this report the empty grave had necessarily to be taken up into the story, the Christian account now making use of the fact that the body of Jesus was not found as a proof of His bodily resurrection. The emphasis laid on the identity of the body which was buried with that which rose again, of which the Fourth Evangelist makes so much, belongs to a time when the Church had to oppose the Gnostic conception of a spiritual, incorporeal immortality. The reaction against Gnosticism is, as Weisse rightly remarks, one of the most potent factors in the development of myth in the Gospel history. As an additional instance of this he might have cited the anti-gnostic form of the Johannine account of the baptism of Jesus.

What, then, is the historical fact in the resurrection? "The historical fact," replies Weisse, "is only the existence of a belief—not the belief of the later Christian Church in the myth of the bodily resurrection of the Lord—but the personal belief of the Apostles and their companions in the miraculous presence of the risen Christ in the visions and appearances which they experienced." "The question whether those extraordinary phenomena which, soon after the death of the Lord, actually and undeniably took place within the community of His disciples, rest upon fact or illusion—that is, whether in them the departed spirit of the Lord, of whose presence the disciples supposed themselves to be conscious, was really present, or whether the pheonomena were produced by natural causes of a different kind, spiritual and psychical, is a question which cannot be answered without going beyond the confines of purely historical criticism." The only thing which is certain is "that the resurrection of Jesus is a fact which belongs to the domain of the spiritual and psychic life, and which is not related to outward corporeal existence in such a way that the body which was laid in the grave could have shared therein." When the disciples of Jesus had their first vision of the glorified body of their Lord, they were far from Jerusalem, far from the grave, and had no thought of bringing that spiritual corporeity into any kind of relation with the dead body of the Crucified. That the earliest appearances took place in Galilee is indicated by the genuine conclusion of Mark, according to which the angel charges the women with the message that the disciples were to await Jesus in Galilee.

Strauss's conception of myth, which failed to give it any point of vital connexion with the history, had not provided any escape from the dilemma offered by the rationalistic and supernaturalistic views of the


resurrection. Weisse prepared a new historical basis for a solution. He was the first to handle the problem from a point of view which combined historical with psychological considerations, and he is fully conscious of the novelty and the far-reaching consequences of his attempt. Theological science did not overtake him for sixty years; and though it did not for the most part share his one-sidedness in recognising only the Galilaean appearances, that does not count for much, since it was unable to solve the problem of the double tradition regarding the appearances. His discussion of the question is, both from the religious and from the historical point of view, the most satisfying treatment of it with which we are acquainted; the pompous and circumspect utterances of the very latest theology in regard to the "empty grave" look very poor in comparison. Weisse's psychology requires only one correction—the insertion into it of the eschatological premise.

It is not only the admixture of myth, but the whole character of the Marcan representation, which forbids us to use it without reserve as a source for the life of Jesus. The inventor of the Marcan hypothesis never wearies of repeating that even in the Second Gospel it is only the main outline of the Life of Jesus, not the way in which the various sections are joined together, which is historical. He does not, therefore, venture to write a Life of Jesus, but begins with a "General Sketch of the Gospel History" in which he gives the main outlines of the Life of Jesus according to Mark, and then proceeds to explain the incidents and discourses in each several Gospel in the order in which they occur.

He avoids the professedly historical forced interpretation of detail, which later representatives of the Marcan hypothesis, Schenkel in par- ticular, employ in such distressing fashion that Wrede's book, by mak- ing an end of this inquisitorial method of extracting the Evangelist's testimony, may be said to have released the Marcan hypothesis from the torture-chamber. Weisse is free from these over-refinements. He refuses to divide the Galilaean ministry of Jesus into a period of success and a period of failure and gradual falling off of adherents, divided by the controversy about legal purity in Mark vii.; he does not allow


this episode to counterbalance the general evidence that Jesus' public work was accompanied by a constantly growing success. Nor does it occur to him to conceive the sojourn of the Lord in Phoenician territory, and His journey to the neighbourhood of Caesarea Philippi, as a compulsory withdrawal from Galilee, an abandonment of His cause in that district, and to head the chapter, as was usual in the second period of the exegesis of Mark, "Flights and Retirements." He is content simply to state that Jesus once visited those regions, and explicitly remarks that while the Synoptists speak of the Pharisees and Scribes as working actively against Him, there is nowhere any hint of a hostile movement on the part of the people, but that, on the contrary, in spite of the Scribes and Pharisees the people are always ready to approve Him and take His part; so much so that His enemies can only hope to get Him into their power by a secret betrayal.

Weisse does not admit any failure in Jesus' work, nor that death came upon Him from without as an inevitable necessity. He cannot, therefore, regard the thought of suffering as forced upon Jesus by outward events. Later interpreters of Mark have often held that the essential thing in the Lord's resolve to die was that by His voluntary acceptance of a fate which was more and more clearly revealing itself as inevitable, He raised it into the sphere of ethico-religious freedom: this was not Weisse's view. Jesus, according to him, was not moved by any outward circumstances when He set out for Jerusalem in order to die there. He did it in obedience to a supra-rational higher necessity. We can at most venture to conjecture that a cessation of His miracle-working power, of which He had become aware, revealed to Him that the hour appointed by God had come. He did, in fact, no further miracle in Jerusalem.

How far Isaiah liii. may have contributed to suggest the conception of such a death being a necessary part of Messiah's work, it is impossible to discover. In the popular expectation there was no thought of the Messiah as suffering. The thought was conceived by Jesus independently, through His deep and penetrating spiritual insight. Without any external suggestion whatever He announces to His disciples that He is to die at Jerusalem, and that He is going thither with that end in view. He journeyed, not to the Passover, but to His death. The fact that it took place at the time of the Feast was, so far as Jesus was concerned, accidental. The circumstances of His entry were such as to suggest anything rather than the fulfilment of His predictions; but though the jubilant multitude surrounded Him day by day, as with a wall of defence, He did not let that make Him falter in His purpose; rather he forced the authorities to arrest Him; He preserved silence before Pilate with the deliberate purpose of rendering His death inevitable. The theory of later defenders of the Marcan hypothesis that Jesus, giving up


His cause in Galilee for lost, went up to Jerusalem to conquer or die, is foreign to Weisse's conception. In his view, Jesus, breaking off His Galilaean work while the tide of success was still flowing strongly, journeyed to Jerusalem, in the scorn of consequence, with the sole pur- pose of dying there.

It is true there are some premonitions of the later course of Marcan exegesis. The Second Gospel mentions no Passover journeys as falling in the course of the public ministry of Jesus; consequently the most natural conclusion would be that no Passover journeys fall within that period; that is, that Jesus' ministry began after one Passover and closed with the next, thus lasting less than a full year. Weisse thinks, however, that it is impossible to understand the success of His teaching unless we assume a ministry of several years, of more than three years, indeed. Mark does not mention the Feasts simply because Jesus did not go up to Jerusalem. "Intrinsic probability is, in our opinion, so strongly in favour of a duration of a considerable number of years, that we are at a loss to explain how it is that at least a few unprejudiced investigators have not found in this a sufficient reason for departing from the traditional opinion."

The account of the mission of the Twelve is also, on the ground of "intrinsic probability," explained in a way which is not in accordance with the plain sense of the words. "We do not think," says Weisse, "that it is necessary to understand this in the sense that He sent all the twelve out at one time, two and two, remaining alone in the meantime; it is much more natural to suppose that He only sent them out two at a time, keeping the others about Him. The object of this mission was less the immediate spreading abroad of His teaching than the preparation of the disciples themselves for the independent activity which they would have to exercise after His death." These are, however, the only serious liberties which he takes with the statements of Mark.

When did Jesus begin to think of Himself as the Messiah? The baptism seems to have marked an epoch in regard to His Messianic consciousness, but that does not mean that He had not previously begun to have such thoughts about Himself. In any case He did not on that occasion arrive all at once at that point of His inward journey which He had reached at the time of His first public appearance. We must assume a period of some duration between the baptism and the beginning of His ministry—a longer period than we should suppose from the Synoptists—during which Jesus cast off the Messianic ideas of Judaism and attained to a spiritual conception of the Messiahship. When He began to teach, His "development" was already closed. Later interpreters of Mark have generally differed from Weisse in assuming a development in the thought of Jesus during His public ministry.


His conception of the Messiahship was therefore fully formed when He began to teach in Capernaum; but He did not allow the people to see that He held Himself to be the Messiah until His triumphal entry. It was in order to avoid declaring His Messiahship that He kept away from Jerusalem. "It was only in Galilee and not in the Jewish capital that an extended period of teaching and work was possible for Him without being obliged to make an explicit declaration whether He were the Messiah or no. In Jerusalem itself the High Priests and Scribes would soon have put this question to Him in such a way that He could not have avoided answering it, whereas in Galilee He doubtless on more than one occasion cut short such attempts to question Him too closely by the incisiveness of His replies." Like Strauss, Weisse recognises that the key to the explanation of the Messianic consciousness of Jesus lies in the self-designation "Son of Man." "We are most certainly justified," he says, with almost prophetic insight, in his "Problem of the Gospels," published in 1856, "in regarding the question, what sense the Divine Saviour desired to attach to this predicate?—what, in fact, He intended to make known about Himself by using the title Son of Man?—as an essential question for the right understanding of His teaching, and not of His teaching only, but also of the very heart and inmost essence of His personality."

But at this point Weisse lets in the cloven hoof of that fatal method of interpretation, by the aid of which the defenders of the Marcan hypothesis who succeeded him were to wage war, with a kind of dull and dogged determination, against eschatology, in the interests of an original and "spiritual" conception of the Messiahship supposed to be held by Jesus. Under the obsession of the fixed idea that it was their mission to defend the "originality" of Jesus by ascribing to Him a modernising transformation and spiritualisation of the eschatological system of ideas, the defenders of the Marcan hypothesis have impeded the historical study of the Life of Jesus to an almost unbelievable extent.

The explanation of the name Son of Man had, Weisse explains, hitherto oscillated between two extremes. Some had held the expression to be, even in the mouth of Jesus, equivalent to "man" in general, an interpretation which cannot be carried through; others had connected it with the Son of Man in Daniel, and supposed that in using the term Jesus was employing a Messianic title understood by and current among the Jews. But how came He to employ only this unusual periphrastic name for the Messiah? Further, if this name were really a Messianic title, how could He repeatedly have refused Messianic salutations, and not until the triumphal entry suffered the people to hail Him as Messiah?


The questions are rightly asked; it is therefore the more pity that they are wrongly answered. It follows, Weisse says, from the above considerations that Jesus did not assume an acquaintance on the part of His hearers with the Old Testament Messianic significance of the expression. "It was therefore incontestably the intention of Jesus—and any one who considers it unworthy betrays thereby his own want of insight—that the designation should have something mysterious about it, something which would compel His hearers to reflect upon His meaning." The expression Son of Man was calculated to lead them on to higher conceptions of His nature and origin, and therefore sums up in itself the whole spiritualisation of the Messiahship.

Weisse, therefore, passionately rejects any suggestion, however modest, that Jesus' self-designation, Son of Man, implies any measure of acceptance of the Jewish apocalyptic system of ideas. Ewald had furnished forth his Life of Jesus [1] with a wealth of Old Testament learning, and had made some half-hearted attempts to show the connexion of Jesus' system of thought with that of post-canonical Judaism, but without taking the matter seriously and without having any suspicion of the real character of the eschatology of Jesus. But even these parade-ground tactics excite Weisse's indignation; in his book, published in 1856, he reproaches Ewald with failing to understand his task.

The real duty of criticism is, according to Weisse, to show that Jesus had no part in those fantastic errors which are falsely attributed to Him when a literal Jewish interpretation is given to His great sayings about the future of the Son of Man, and to remove all the obstacles which seem to have prevented hitherto the recognition of the novel character and special significance of the expression. Son of Man, in the mouth of Him who, of His own free choice, applied this name to Himself. "How long will it be," he cries, "before theology at last becomes aware of the deep importance of its task? Historical criticism, exercised with all the thoroughness and impartiality which alone can produce a genuine conviction, must free the Master's own teaching from the imputation that lies upon it—the imputation of sharing the errors and false expectations in which, as we cannot deny, owing to imperfect or mistaken understanding of the suggestions of the Master, the Apostles, and with them the whole early Christian Church, became involved."

This fundamental position determines the remainder of Weisse's views. Jesus cannot have shared the Jewish particularism. He did not hold the Law to be binding. It was for this reason that He did not go up to the Feasts. He distinctly and repeatedly expressed the conviction that His doctrine was destined for the whole world. In speaking of the

[l] Geschichte Christus' und seiner Zeit. (History of Christ and His Times.) By Heinrich Ewald, Gottingen, 1855, 450 pp.


parousia of the Son of Man He was using a figure—a figure which includes in a mysterious fashion all His predictions of the future. He did not speak to His disciples of His resurrection, His ascension, and His parousia as three distinct acts, since the event to which He looked forward is not identical with any of the three, but is composed of them all. The resurrection is, at the same time, the ascension and parousia, and in the parousia the resurrection and the ascension are also included. "The one conclusion to which we believe we can point with certainty is that Jesus spoke of the future of His work and His teaching in a way that implied the consciousness of an influence to be continued after His death, whether unbrokenly or intermittently, and the consciousness that by this influence His work and teaching would be preserved from destruction and the final victory assured to it."

The personal presence of Jesus which the disciples experienced after His death was in their view only a partial fulfilment of that general promise. The parousia appeared to them as still awaiting fulfilment, Thought of thus, as an isolated event, they could only conceive it from the Jewish apocalyptic standpoint, and they finally came to suppose that they had derived these fantastic ideas from the Master Himself.

In his determined opposition to the recognition of eschatology in Strauss's first Life of Jesus, Weisse here lays down the lines which were to be followed by the "liberal" Lives of Jesus of the 'sixties and following years, which only differ from him, not always to their advantage, in their more elaborate interpretation of the detail of Mark. The only work, therefore, which was a conscious continuation of Strauss's, takes, in spite of its just appreciation of the character of the sources, a wrong path, led astray by the mistaken idea of the "originality" of Jesus, which it exalts into a canon of historical criticism. Only after long and devious wanderings did the study of the subject find the right road again. The whole struggle over eschatology is nothing else than a gradual elimination of Wiesse's ideas. It was only with Johannes Weiss that theology escaped from the influence of Christian Hermann Weisse.

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Kirby, Peter. "Historical Jesus Theories." Early Christian Writings. <>.