ANNUNCIATION AND BIRTH OF JOHN THE BAPTIST.
EACH of the four Evangelists represents the public ministry of Jesus as preceded by that of John the Baptist; but it is peculiar to Luke to make the Baptist the precursor of the Messiah in reference also to the event of his birth. This account finds a legitimate place in a work devoted exclusively to the consideration of the life of Jesus: firstly, on account of the intimate connexion which it exhibits as subsisting from the very commencement between the life of John and the life of Jesus; and secondly, because it constitutes a valuable contribution, aiding essentially towards the formation of a correct estimate of the general character of the gospel narratives. The opinion that the two first chapters of Luke, of which this particular history forms a portion, are a subsequent and unauthentic addition, is the uncritical assumption of a class of theologians who felt that the history of the childhood of Jesus seemed to require a mythical interpretation, but yet demurred to apply the comparatively modern mythical view to the remainder of the Gospel.
A pious sacerdotal pair had lived and grown old in the cherished, but unrealized hope, of becoming parents, when, on a certain day,
* It may here be observed, once for all, that whenever in the following inquiry the names "Matthew," "Luke," &c., are used, it is the author of the several Gospels who is thus briefly indicated, quite irrespective of the question whether either of the Gospels was written by an apostle or disciple of that name, or by a later unknown author.
See Kuinol Comm. in Luc., Proleg. p. 247.
as the priest is offering incense in the sanctuary, the angel Gabriel appears to him, and promises him a son, who shall live consecrated to God, and who shall be the harbinger of the Messiah, to prepare his way when he shall visit and redeem his people. Zacharias, however, is incredulous, and doubts the prediction on account of his own advanced age and that of his wife; whereupon the angel, both as a sign and as a punishment, strikes him dumb until the time of its accomplishment; an infliction which endures until the day of the circumcision of the actually born son, wlien the father, being called upon to assign to the child the name predetermined by the angel, suddenly recovers his speech, and with the regained powers of utterance, breaks forth in a hymn of praise. (Luke i. 5-25. 57-80.)
It is evidently the object of this gospel account to represent a series of external and miraculous occurrences. The announcement of the birth of the forerunner of the Messiah is divinely communicated by the apparition of a celestial spirit; the conception takes place under the particular and preternatural blessing ol God; and the infliction and removal of dumbness are effected by extraordinary means. But it is quite another question, whether we can accede to the view of the author, or can feel convinced that the birth of the Baptist was in fact preceded by such a series of miraculous events.
Tlie first offence against our modern notions in this narrative is the appearance of the angel: the event contemplated in itself, as well as the peculiar circumstances of the apparition. With respect to the latter, the angel announces himself to be Gabriel that stands in the presence of God. Now it is inconceivable that the constitution of the celestial hierarchy should actually correspond with the notions entertained by the Jews subsequent to the exile; and that the names given to the angels should be in the language of this people.* Here the supranaturalist finds himself in a dilemma, even upon his own ground. Had the belief in celestial beings, occupying a particular station in the court of heaven, and distinguished by particular names, originated from the revealed religion of the Hebrews,had such a belief been established by Moses, or some later prophet,then, according to the views of the supranaturalist, they might, nay they must, be admitted to be correct. But it is in the Maccabaean Daniel and in the apocryphal Tobit that this doctrine of angels, in its more precise form, first appears; and it is evidently a product of the influence of the Zend religion of the Persians on the Jewish mind. We have the testimony of the Jews themselves, that they brought the names of the angels with them from Babylon.§
* Paulus, exeget. Handbuck, I A. S. 78 f. 96. Bauer, hebr. Mythol. 2 Bd. S. 218 f.
Here Michael is called one of the chief princes.
Here Raphael is represented as one of the seven angels which go in and out before the glory of the holy One; (Tobit, xii. 15.), almost the same as Gabriel in Luke i. 19., excepting the mention of the number. This number is in imitation of the Persian Amschaspands. Vid. De Wette, bibl. Dogmatik, § 171. b.
§ Hieros. rosch haschanah f. lvi. 4. (Lightfoot, horae hebr, et talmud. in IV. Evangg., p. 723): R. Simeon ben Lachisch dicit: nomina angelorum ascenderant in manu Israelis ex Babylone. Nam anten dictum est: advolarit ad me unus twn Seraphim, Seraphim steterunt ante eum, Jes. vi.; at post: vir Gabriel, Dan. ix. 21, Michael princeps rester, Dan. x. 21.
Hence arises a series of questions extremely perplexing to the supranaturalist. Was the doctrine false so long as it continued to be the exclusive possession of the heathens, but true as soon as it became adopted by the Jews? or was it at all times equally true, and was an important truth discovered by an idolatrous nation sooner than by the people of God? If nations shut out from a particular and divine revelation, arrived at truth by the light of reason alone, sooner than the Jews who were guided by that revelation, then either the revelation was superfluous, or its influence was merely negative: that is, it operated as a check to the premature acquisition of knowledge. If, in order to escape this consequence, it be contended that truths were revealed by the divine influence to other people besides the Israelites, the supranaturalistic point of view is annihilated; and, since all things contained in religions which contradict each other cannot have been revealed, we are compelled to exercise a critical discrimination. Thus, we find it to be by no means in harmony with an elevated conception of God to represent him as an earthly monarch, surrounded by his court: and when an appeal is made, in behalf of the reality of angels standing round the throne, to the reasonable belief in a graduated scale of created intelligences,* the Jewish representation is not thereby justified, but merely a modern conception substituted for it. We should, thus, be driven to the expedient of supposing an accommodation on the part of God: that he sent a celestial spirit with the command to simulate a rank and title which did not belong to him, in order that, by this conformity to Jewish notions, he might insure the belief of the father of the Baptist. Since however it appears that Zacharias did not believe the angel, but was first convinced by the result, the accommodation proved fruitless, and consequently could not have been a divine arrangement. With regard to the name of the angel, and the improbability that a celestial being should bear a Hebrew name, it has been remarked that the word Gabriel, taken appellatively in the sense of Man of God, very appropriately designates the nature of the heavenly visitant; and since it may be rendered with this signification into every different language, the name cannot be said to be restricted to the Hebrew. This explanation however leaves the difficulty quite unsolved, since it converts into a simple appellative a name evidently employed as a proper name. In this case likewise an accommodation must be supposed, namely, that the angel, in order to indicate his real nature, appropriated a name which he did not actually bear: an accommodation already judged in the foregoing remarks.
But it is not only the name and the alleged station of the angel which shock our modern ideas, we also feel his discourse and his conduct to be unworthy. Paulus indeed suggests that none but a levitical priest, and not an angel of Jehovah, could have conceived it
* Olshausen, biblischer Commentar zum N.T., 1 Thl. S. 29 (2te Auflage). Comp. Hoffmann, S. 124 f.
Olshausen, ut sup. Hoffmann, S. 135.
necessary that the boy should live in nazarite abstemiousness,* but to this it may be answered that the angel also might have known that under this form John would obtain greater influence with the people. But there is a more important difficulty. When Zacharias, overcome by surprise, doubts the promise and asks for a sign, this natural incredulity is regarded by the angel as a crime, and immediately punished with dumbness. Though some may not coincide with Paulus that a real angel would have lauded the spirit of inquiry evinced by the priest, yet all will agree in the remark, that conduct so imperious is less in character with a truly celestial being than with the notions the Jews of that time entertained of such. Moreover we do not find in the whole province of supranaturalism a parallel severity.
The instance, cited by Paulus, of Jehovah's far milder treatment of Abraham, who asks precisely the same question unreproved, Gen. xv. 8, is refuted by Olshausen, because he considers the words of Abraham, chap. v. 6, an evidence of his faith; but this observation does not apply to chap. xviii. 12, where the greater incredulity of Sarah, in a similar case, remains unpunished; nor to chap. xvii. 17, where Abraham himself is not even blamed, though the divine promise appears to him so incredible as to excite laughter. The example of Mary is yet closer, who (Luke i. 34.) in regard to a still greater improbability, but one which was similarly declared by a special divine messenger to be no impossibility, puts exactly the same question as Zacharias; so that we must agree with Paulus that such inconsistency certainly cannot belong to the conduct of God or of a celestical being, but merely to the Jewish representation of them. Feeling the objectionableness of the representation in its existing form, orthodox theologians have invented various motives to justify this infliction of dumbness. Hess has attempted to screen it from the reproach of an arbitrary procedure by regarding it as the only means of keeping secret, even against the will of the priest, an event, the premature proclamation of which might have been followed by disastrous consequences, similar to those which attended the announcement by the wise men of the birth of the child Jesus. But, in the first place, the angel says nothing of such an object, he inflicts the dumbness but as a sign and punishment; secondly, the loss of speech did not hinder Zacharias from communicating, at any rate to his wife, the main features of the apparition, since we see that she was acquainted with the destined name of the cliild before appeal was made to the father. Thirdly, what end did it serve thus to render difficult the communication of the miraculous annunciation of the unborn babe, since no sooner was it born than it was at once exposed to all the dreaded dangers?for the father's sudden recovery of speech, and the extraordinary scene at the circumcision excited attention and became noised abroad in all the country. Ols-
* Ut sup. S. 77. f
Geschichte der drei lesten Lebensjahre Jesu, sammt dessen Jugendeeschichte. Tubingen 1779, 1. Bd. S. 12.
hausen's view of the thing is more admissible. He regards the whole proceeding, and especially the dumbness, as a moral training destined to teach Zacharias to know and conquer his want of faith. * But of this too we have no mention in the text; besides, the unexpected accomplishment of the prediction would have made Zacharias sufficiently ashamed of his unbelief, if instead of inflicting dumbness the angel had merely remonstrated with him.
But however worthy of God we might grant the conduct of his messenger to have been, still many of tlie present day will find an angelic apparition, as such, incredible. Bauer insists that wherever angels appear, both in the New Testament and in the Old, the narrative is mythical. Even admitting the existence of angels, we cannot suppose them capable of manifesting themselves to human beings, since they belong to the invisible worldd, and spiritual existences are not cognizable by the organs of sense; so that it is always advisable to refer their pretended apparitions to the imagination. It is not probable, it is added, that God should make use of them according to the popular notion, for these apparitions have no apparent adequate object, they serve generally only to gratify curiosity, or to encourage man's disposition passively to leave his affairs in higher hands. § It is also remarkable that in the old world these celestial beings show themselves active upon the smallest occasions, whilst in modern times they remain idle even during the most important occurrences. || But to deny their appearance and agency among men is to call in question their very being, because it is precisely this occupation which is a main object of their existence. (Heb. i., 14.) According to Schleiermacher ¶ we cannot indeed actually disprove the existence of angels, yet the conception is one which could not have originated in our time, but belongs wholly to the ancient ideas of the world. The belief in angels has a twofold root or source: the one the natural desire of the mind to presuppose a larger amount of intelligence in the universe than is realized in the human race. We who live in these days find this desire satisfied in the conviction that other worlds exist besides our own, and are peopled by intelligent beings; and thus the first source of the belief in angels is destroyed. The other source, namely, the representation of God as an earthly monarch surrounded by his court, contradicts all enlightened conceptions of Deity; and further, the phenomena in the natural world and the transitions in human life, which were formerly thought to be wrought by God himself through ministering angels, we are now able to explain by natural causes; so that the belief in angels is without a link by which it can attach itself to rightly apprehended modern ideas; and it exists only as a lifeless tradition. The result is the same if, with one of the latest writers on the doctrine of angels,* we consider as the origin of this repre-
* Bibl. Comm. 1, S. 115.
Heb. Mythol. ii. S. 218.
Bauer, ut sup. i. S. 129. Paulus, exeget. Handbuch, i. a 74.
§ Paulus, Commentar. i. S. 12.
|| Bauer, ut sup.
¶ Glabenslehre, 1 Thl. § 42 und 43 (2te Ausgabe).
* Binder, Studien der evang. Geistlichkeit Wurtembergs, ix. 2, 5, 11 ff.
sentation, man's desire to separate the two sides of his moral nature, and to contemplate, as beings existing external to himself, angels and devils. For, the origin of both representations remains merely subjective, the angel being simply the ideal of created perfection: which, as it was formed from the subordinate point of view of a fanciful imagination, disappears from the higher and more comprehensive observation of the intellect. *
Olshausen, on the other hand, seeks to deduce a positive argument in favour of the reality of the apparation in question, from those very reasonings of the present day which, in fact, negative the existence of angels; and he does so by viewing the subject on its speculative side. He is of opinion that the gospel narrative does not contradict just views of the world, since God is immanent in the universe and moves it by his breath. But if it be true that God is immanent in the world, precisely on that account is the intervention of angels superfluous. It is only a Deity who dwells apart, throned in heaven, who requires to send down his angels to fulfil his purposes on earth. It would excite surprise to find Olshausen arguing thus, did we not perceive from the manner in which this interpreter constantly treats of angelology and demonology, that he does not consider angels to be independent personal entities; but regards them rather as divine powers, transitory emanations and fulgurations of the Divine Being. Thus Olshausen's conception of angels, in their relation to God, seems to correspond with the Sabellian doctrine of the Trinity; but as his is not the representation of the Bible, as also the arguments in favour of the former prove nothing in relation to the latter, it is useless to enter into further explanation. The reasoning of this same theologian, that we must not require the ordinariness of every day life for the most pregnant epochs in the life of the human race; that the incarnation of the eternal word was accompanied by extraordinary manifestations from the world of spirits, uncalled for in times less rich in momentous results, rests upon a misapprehension. For the ordinary course of every day life is interrupted in such moments, by the very fact that exalted beings like the Baptist are born into the world, and it would be puerile to designate as ordinary those times and circumstances which gave birth and maturity to a John, because they were unembellished by angelic apparitions. That which the spiritual world does for ours at such periods is to send extraordinary human intelligences, not to cause angels, to ascend and descend.
Finally, if, in vindication of this narrative, it be stated that such an exhibition by the angel, of the plan of education for the unborn child, was necessary in order to make him the man who should become, § the assumption includes too much; namely, that all great men, in order by their education to become such, must have been introduced into the world in like manner, or cause must be shown
* Compare my Dogmatik, i. § 49.
Bibl. Comm., 1. Th. S. 119.
Ut sup S. 93.
§ Hess, Geschichte der drei letzten Lebensjahre Jesu u. s. w. l. Thl. S. 13. 33.
why that which was unnecessary in the case of great men of other ages and countries was indispensable for the Baptist. Again, the assumption attaches too much importance to external training, too little to the internal development of the mind. But in conclusion, many of the circumstances in the life of the Baptist, instead of serving to confirm a belief in the truth of the miraculous history, are on the contrary, as has been justly maintained, altogether irreconcileable with the supposition, that his birth was attended by these wonderful occurrences. If it were indeed true, that John was from the first distinctly and miraculously announced as the forerunner of the Messiah, it is inconceivable that he should have had no acquaintance with Jesus prior to his baptism; and that, even subsequent to that event, he should have felt perplexed concerning his Messiahship. (John i., 30 ; Matth. xi., 2.*)
Consequently the negative conclusion of the rationalistic criticism and controversy must, we think, be admitted, namely, that tho birth of the Baptist could not have been preceded and attended by these supernatural occurrences. The question now arises, what positive view of the matter is to replace the rejected literal orthodox explanation?
IN treating tlie narrative before us according to the rationalistic method, which requires the separation of the pure fact from the opinion of interested persons, the simplest alteration is this: to retain the two leading facts, the apparition and the dumbness, as actual external occurrences; but to account for them in a natural manner. This were possible with respect to the apparition, by supposing that a man, mistaken by Zacharias for a divine messenger, really appeared to him, and addressed to him the words he believed he heard. But this explanation viewed in connexion with the attendant circumstances, being too improbable, it became necessary to go a step further, and to transform the event from an external to an internal one ; to remove the occurrence out of the physical into the psychological world. To this view the opinion of Bahrdt, that a flash ot lightning was perhaps mistaken by Zacharias for an angel, forms a transition; since he attributes the greater part of the scene to Zacharias's imagination. But that any man, in an ordinary state of mind, could have created so long and consecutive a dialogue out of a flash of lightning is incredible. A peculiar mental state must be supposed; whether it be a swoon, the effect of fright occasioned by the lightning, but of this there is no trace in the tcxt; (no falling down as in Acts ix., 4.); or, abandoning tho notion of the lightning, a dream, which, however, could scarcely
* Horst in Henke's Museum i, 4. S. 733 f. Gabler in seinem neuest. theol. Journal, vii. 1. S. 403.
Briefe uber die Bibel im Volkstone (Ausg, Frankfurt und Lepizig, 1800), Ites Bandchen, 6ter Brief, S. 51 f.
Bahrdt, ut sup. S. 52.
occur whilst burning incense in the temple. Hence, it has been found necessary, with Paulus, to call to mind that there are waking visions or ecstasies, in which the imagination confounds internal images with external occurrences. * Such ecstasies, it is true, are not common; but says Paulus, in Zacharias's case many circumstances combined to produce so unusual a state of mind. The exciting causes were, firstly, the long-cherished desire to have a posterity; secondly, the exalted vocation of administering in the Holy Place, offering up with the incense the prayers of the people to the throne of Jehovah, which seemed to Zacharias to foretoken the acceptance of his own prayer; and thirdly, perhaps an exhortation from his wife as he left his house, similar to that of Rachel to Jacob. Gen. xxx., I. (!) In this highly excited state of mind, as he prays in the dimly-lighted sanctuary, he thinks of his most ardent wish, and expecting that now or never his prayer shall be heard, he is prepared to discern a sign of its acceptance in the slightest occurrence. As the glimmer of the lamps falls upon the ascending cloud of incense, and shapes it into varying forms, the priest imagines he perceives the figure of an angel. The apparition at first alarms him; but he soon regards it as an assurance from God that his prayer is heard. No sooner does a transient doubt cross his mind, than the sensitively pious priest looks upon himself as sinful, believes himself reproved by tlie angel, andhere two explanations are possibleeither an apoplectic seizure actually deprives him of speech, which he receives as the just punishment of his incredulity, till the excessive joy he experiences at the circumcision of his son restores the power of utterance: so that the dumbness is retained as an external, physical, though not miraculous, occurrence; or the proceeding is psychologically understood, namely, that Zacharias, in accordance with a Jewish superstition, for a time denied himself the use of the offending member. Re-animated in other respects by the extraordinary event, the priest returns home to his wife, and she becomes a second Sarah.
With regard to this account of the angelic apparition given by Paulus,and the other explanations are either of essentially similar character, or are so manifestly untenable, as not to need refutationit may be observed that the object so laboriously striven after is not attained. Paulus fails to free the narrative of the marvellous; for by his own admission, the majority of men have no experience of the kind of vision here supposcd. § If such a state of ecstasy occur in particular cases, it must result either from a predisposition in the individual, of which we find no sign in Zacharias, and which his advanced age must have rendered highly improbable; or it must have been induced by some peculiar circumstances, which totally fail in the present instance. || A hope which has been long indulged
* Exeget. Handb. 1, a. S. 71 ff.
Bahrdt, ut sup. 7ter Brief, S. 60.E. F. uber die beiden ersten Kapitel des Matthias und Lukas, in Henke's Magazin, v. 1. S. 163. Bauer, hebr. Mythol. 2, S. 220.
Exeget. Handb., 1, a. S. 77-80.
§ Ut sup. S. 73.
|| Comp. Schleiermacher uber die Schriften des Lukas, S. 25.
is inadequate to the production of ecstatic vehemence, and the act of burning incense is insufficient to cause so extraordinary an excitement, in a priest who has grown old in the service of the temple. Thus Paulus has in fact substituted a miracle of chance for a miracle of God. Should it be said that to God nothing is impossible, or to chance nothing is impossible, both explanations are equally precarious and unscientific.
Indeed, the dumbness of Zacharias as explained from this point of view is very unsatisfactory. For had it been, as according to one explanation, the result of apoplexy; admitting Paulus's reference to Lev. xxi., 16, to be set aside by the contrary remark of Lightfoot, * still, we must join with Schleiermacher in wondering how Zacharias, notwithstanding this apoplectic seizure, returned home in other respects healthy and vigorous; &@134; and that in spite of partial paralysis his general strength was unimpaired, and his long-cherished hope fulfilled. It must also be regarded as a strange coincidence, that the father's tongue should have been loosed exactly at the time of the circumcision; for if the recovery of speech is to be considered as the effect of joy, surely the father must have been far more elated at the birth of the earnestly-desired son, than at the circumcision; for by that time he would have become accustomed to the possession of his child.
The other explanation: that Zacharias's silence was not from any physical impediment, but from a notion, to be psychologically explained, that he ought not to speak, is in direct contradiction to the words of Luke. What do all the passages, collected by Paulus to show that ou dunamai may signify not only a positive non posse, but likewise a mere non sustinere, § prove against the clear meaning of the passage and its context? If perhaps the narrative phrase, (v. 22.) ouk hdunato lalesai autoiV might be forced to bear this sense, yet certainly in the supposed vision of Zacharias, had the angel only forbidden him to speak, instead of depriving him of the power of speech, he would not have said: kai esh siwpwn, mh dunamenoV lalhsai, but isqi siwpwn mhd' epiceirhshV lalhsai. The words diemene kofoV (v. 21.) also most naturally mean actual dumbness. This view assumes, and indeed necessarily so, that the gospel history is a correct report of the account given by Zacharias himself; if then it be denied that the dumbness was actual, as Zacharias affirms that actual dumbness was announced to him by the angel, it must be admitted that, though perfectly able to speak, he believed himself to be dumb; which leads to the conclusion that he was mad: an imputation not to be laid upon the father of the Baptist without compulsory evidence in the text.
Again, the natural explanation makes too light of the incredibly accurate fulfilment of a prediction originating, as it supposes, in an
* Horae hebr. et talmud, ed. Carpzov, p. 722.
Ut sup. S. 26.
Examples borrowed from Aulua Gellius, v. 9, and from Valerius Maximus, i. 8, are cited.
§ Ut supra, S. 26.
unnatural, over-excited state of mind. In no other province of inquiry would the realization of a prediction which owed its birth to a vision be found credible, even by the Rationalist. If Dr. Paulus were to read that a somnambulist, in a state of ecstasy, had foretold the birth of a child, under circumstances in the highest degree improbable; and not only of a child, but of a boy; and had moreover, with accurate minuteness, predicted his future mode of life, character, and position in history; and that each particular had been exactly verified by the result: would he find such a coincidence credible? Most assuredly to no human being, under any conditions whatsoever, would he concede the power thus to penetrate the most mysterious workings of nature; on the contrary he would complain of the outrage on human free-will, which is annihilated by the admission that a man's entire intellectual and moral development may be predetermined like the movements of a clock. And he would on this very ground complain of the inaccuracy of observation, and untrustworthiness of the report, which represented, as matters of fact, things in their very nature impossible. Why does he not follow the same rule with respect to the New Testament narrative? Why admit in the one case what he rejects in the other? Is biblical history to be judged by one set of laws, and profane history by another?An assumption which the Rationalist is compelled to make, if he admits as credible in the Gospels that which he rejects as unworthy of credit in every other historywhich is in fact to fall back on the supranaturalistic point of view, since the assumption, that the natural laws which govern in every other province are not applicable to sacred history, is the very essential of supranaturalism.
No other rescue from this self annihilation remains to the antisupernatural mode of explanation, than to question the verbal accuracy of the history. This is the simplest expedient, felt to be such by Paulus himself, who remarks, that his efforts may be deemed superfluous to give a natural explanation of a narrative, which is nothing more than one of those stories invented either after the death or even during the lifetime of every distinguished man to embellish his early history. Paulus, however, after an impartial examination, is of opinion that the analogy, in the present instance, is not applicable. The principal ground for this opinion is the too short interval between the birth of the Baptist, and the composition of the Gospel of Luke.* We, on the contrary, in harmony with the observations in the introduction, would reverse the question and inquire of the interpreter, how he would render it credible, that the history of the birth of a man so famed as the Baptist should have been transmitted, in an age of great excitement, through a period of more than sixty years, in all its primitive accuracy of detail? Paulus's answer is ready: an answer approved by others (Heidenreich, Olshausen):the passage inserted by Luke (i. 5; ii. 39.)
was possibly a family record, which circulated among the relatives of the Baptist and of Jesus; and of which Zacharias was probably the author.*
K. Ch. L. Schmidt controverts this hypothesis with the remark, that it is impossible that a narrative so disfigured, (we should rather say, so embellished,) could have been a family record; and that, if it does not belong altogether to the class of legends, its historical basis, if such there be, is no longer to be distinguished. It is further maintained, that the narrative presents certain features which no poet would have conceived, and which prove it to be a direct impression of facts; for instance, the Messianic expectations expressed by the different personages introduced by Luke (chap. i. and ii.) correspond exactly with the situation and relation of each individual. But these distinctions are by no means so striking as Paulus represents; they are only the characteristics of a history which goes into details, making a transition from generalities to particulars, which is natural alike to the poet and to the popular legend; besides, the peculiar Judaical phraseology in which the Messianic expectations are expressed, and which it is contended confirm the opinion that this narrative was written, or received its fixed form, before the death of Jesus, continued to be used after that event. (Acts i. 6.§) Moreover we must agree with Schleiermacher when he says: || least of all is it possible to regard these utterances as strictly historical; or to maintain that Zacharias, in the moment that he recovered his speech, employed it in a song of praise, uninterrupted by the exultation and wonder of the company, sentiments which the narrator interrupts himself to indulge. It must, at all events, be admitted, that the author has made additions of his own, and has enriched the history by the lyric effusions of his muse. Kuinol supposes that Zacharias composed and wrote down the canticle subsequent to the occasion; but this strange surmise contradicts the text. There are some other features which, it is contended, belong not to the creations of the poet; such as, the signs made to the father, the debate in the family, the position of the angel on the right hand of the altar. But this criticism is merely a proof that these interpreters have, or determine to have, no just conception of poetry or popular legend; for the genuine characteristic of poetry and mythus is natural and pictorial representation of details.**
§ 19. MYTHICAL VIEW OF THE NARRATIVE IN ITS DIFFERENT STAGES.
THE above exposition of the necessity, and lastly, of the possibility of doubting the historical fidelity of the gospel narrative,
*Ut sup. S. 69.
In Schmidt's Bibliothek fur Kritik und Exegese, iii. 1. S. 119.
Paulus, ut sup.
§ Comp. De Wette, exeg. Handb. i. 2, S. 9.
|| Ueber die Schriften des Lukas, S. 23.
¶ Paulus und Olshausen, z. d. St., Heydenreich, a. a. O. 1, S. 87.
** Comp. Horst, in Henke's Museum, i. 4, S. 705; Vater, Commentar zum Pentateuch, 3, S. 697 ff.; Hase L. J., § 35; auch George, S. 33 f. 91.
has led many theologians to explain the account of the birth of the Baptist as a poetical composition; suggested, by the importance attributed by the Christians to the forerunner of Jesus, and by the recollection of some of the Old Testament histories, in which the births of Ishmael, Isaac, Samuel, and especially of Samson, are related to have been similarly announced. Still the matter was not allowed to be altogether invented. It may have been historically true that Zacharias and Elizabeth lived long without offspring; that, on one occasion whilst in the temple, the old man's tongue was suddenly paralyzed; but that soon afterwards his aged wife bore him a son, and he, in his joy at the event, recovered the power of speech. At that time, but still more when John became a remarkable man, the history excited attention, and out of it the existing legend grew. *
It is surprising to find an explanation almost identical with the natural one we have criticised above, again brought forward under a new title; so that the admission of the possibility of an admixture of subsequent legends in the narrative has little influence on the view of the matter itself. As the mode of explanation we are now advocating denies all confidence in the historical authenticity of the record, all the details must be in themselves equally problematic; and whether historical validity can be retained for this or that particular incident, can be determined only by its being either less improbable than the rest, or else less in harmony with the spirit, interest, and design of the poetic legend, so as to make it probable that it had a distinct origin. The barenness of Elizabeth and the sudden dumbness of Zacharias are here retained as incidents of this character: so that only the appearing and prediction of the angel are given up. But by taking away the angelic apparition, the sudden infliction and as sudden removal of the dumbness loses its only adequate supernatural cause, so that all difficulties which beset the natural interpretation remain in full force: a dilemma into which these theologians are, most unnecessarily, brought by their own inconsequence; for the moment we enter upon mythical ground, all obligation to hold fast the assumed historical fidelity of the account ceases to exist. Besides, that which they propose to retain as historical fact, namely, the long barenness of the parents of the Baptist, is so strictly in harmony with the spirit and character of Hebrew legendary poetry, that of this incident the mythical origin is least to be mistaken. How confused has this misapprehension made, for example, the reasoning of Bauer! It was a prevailing opinion, says he, consonant with Jewish ideas, that all children born of aged parents who had previously been childless became distinguished personages. John was the child of aged parents, and became a notable preacher of repentance; consequently it was thought justifiable to infer that his birth was predicted by an angel. What an illogical
* E. F. uber die zwei ersten Kapitel u. s. w. in Henke's Magazin, v. 1, S. 162 ff. und Bauer hebr. Mythol. ii. 220 f.
conclusion! for which he has no other ground than the assumption that Jolm was the son of aged parents. Let this be made a settled point, and the conclusion follows without difficulty. It was readily believed, he proceeds, of remarkable men that they were born of aged parents and that their birth, no longer in the ordinary course of nature to be expected, was announced by a heavenly messenger; * John was a great man and a prophet; consequently, the legend represented him to have been born of an aged couple, and his birth to have been proclaimed by an angel.
Seeing that this explanation of the narrative before us, as a half (so called historical) mythus, is encumbered with all the difficulties of a half measure, Gabler has treated it as a pure philosophical, or dogmatical mythus. Horst likewise considers it, and indeed the entire two first chapters of Luke of which it forms a part, as an ingenious fiction, in which the birth of the Messiah, together with that of his precursor, and the predictions concerning the character and ministry of the latter, framed after the event, are set forth; it being precisely the loquacious circumstantiality of the narration which betrays the poet. Schleiermacher likewise explains the first chapter as a little poem, similar in character to many of the Jewish poems wliich we meet with in their apocrypha. He does not however consider it altogether a fabrication. It might have had a foundation in fact, and in a wide spread tradition; but the poet has allowed himself so full a license in arranging, and combining, in moulding and embodying the vague and fluctuating representations of tradition, that the attempt to detect the purely historical in such narratives, must prove a fruitless and useless effort. § Horst goes so far as to suppose the author of the piece to have been a Judaising Christian; whilst Schleiermacher imagines it to have been composed by a Christian of the famed Jewish school, at a period when it comprised some who still continued strict disciples of John; and whom it was the object of the narrative to bring over to Christianity, by exhibiting the relationship of John to the Christ as his peculiar and highest destiny; and also by holding out the expectation of a state of temporal greatness for the Jewish people at the re-appearance of Christ.
An attentive consideration of the Old Testament histories, to which, as most interpreters admit, the narrative of the annunciation and birth of the Baptist bears a striking affinity, will render it
* The adoption of this opinion is best explained, by a passagewith respect to this matter classicalin the Evang. de nat. Mariae, in Fabr. cod. apocryph. N. Ti. 1, p. 22 f., and in Thilo 1, p. 322, "Deus" it is here said, cum alicujus uterum claudit, ad hoc facit, ut mirabilius denno aperiat, et non libidinis esse, quod nascitur, sed divini muneris cognoscatur, Prima enitn rentes vestrw Sara mater nonne usque ad octogeswwm annum injecunda fuit? et iamen in. ulllma senectutis cetate genvit Isaac, cm repromissa erat benedictio om- nium gentium. Rachel quoque, tantum Doinnw grata tantumque a sanfto Jacob amata, diu. steriiis Jf'uif, et tamcn Joseph genuit, non sollim dominum Egypti, sed plurimarum gentium. fame periturarum liberatorem. luis in ducihus velfortior Sampsone, vc-l sanctior Samuele? e-t tamcn hi ambo steriies matres habuere.—ergo—credo—dilates dm conccptus et steriles partiis miru.liilwres esse solere.
Neuestes theol. Journal, vii. 1, Si 402 f.
In Henke's Museum, i. 4, S. 702 ff.
§ Hase in his Leben Jesu makes the same admission; compare § 52 with § 32.
abundantly evident that this is the only just view of the passage in question. But it must not here be imagined, as is now so readily affirmed in the confutation of the mythical view of this passage, that the author of our narrative first made a collection from the Old Testament of its individual traits; much rather had the scattered traits respecting the late birth of different distinguished men, as recorded in the Old Testament, blended themselves into a compound image in the mind of their reader, whence he selected the features most appropriate to his present subject. Of the children born of aged parents Isaac is the most ancient prototype. As it is said of Zacharias and Elizabeth "they both were advanced in their days" (v. 7.) probebhkoteV en taiV hmeraiV autwn, so Abraham and Sarah "were advanced in their days" [Hebrew letters] (Gen. xviii; LXX: probebhkoteV hmerwn), when they were promised a son. It is likewise from this history that the incredulity of the father, on account of the advanced age of both parents, and the demand of a sign, are borrowed in our narrative. As Abraham, when Jehovah promises him he shall have a son and a numerous posterity who shall inherit the land of Canaan, doubtingly inquires "Whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?" kata ti gnwsomai, oti plhronomhsw authn; (sc. thn ghn. Gen xv. 8. LXX): so Zacharias"Whereby shall I know tills?" kata ti gnwsomai tato; (v. 18.) The incredulity of Sarah is not made use of for Elizabeth; but she is said to be of the daughters of Aaron, and the name Elizabeth may perhaps have been suggested by that of Aaron's wife. (Exod. vi. 23. LXX.) The incident of the angel announcing the birth of the Baptist is taken from the history of another late-born child, Samson. In our narrative indeed, the angel appears first to the father in the temple, whereas in the history of Samson he shows himself first to the mother, and afterwards to the father in the field. This, however, is an alteration arising naturally out of the different situations of the respective parents. (Judges xiii.) According to popular Jewish notions it was no unusual occurrence for the priest to be visited by angels and divine apparitions whilst offering incense in the temple.* The command which before his birth predestined the Baptistwhose later ascetic mode of life was knownto be a Nazarite, is taken from the same source. As, to Samson's mother during her pregnancy, wine, strong drink, and unclean food, were forbidden, so a similar diet is prescribed for her son, adding, as in the case of John, that the child shall be consecrated to God from the womb. The blessings
* Wetstein zu Luke i, 11, S. 647 f. adduces passages from Josephus and from the Rabbins recording apparitions seen by the high priests. How readily it was presumed that tlie same thing happened to ordinary priests is apparent from the narrative before is.
the other, the statement that John was bom in the reign of Herod (the Great) (v. 5.) is without doubt a correct calculation.
So that we stand here upon purely mythical-poetical ground; the only historical reality which we can hold fast as positive matter of fact being this:the impression made by John the Baptist, by virtue of his ministry and his relation to Jesus, was so powerful as to lead to the subsequent glorification of his birth in connection with the birth of the Messiah in the Christian legend.*
* With this view of the passage compare De Wette, Exeg. Handbuch zum N. T., i. 2, S. 12.
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