Timeline, from 1801 until 1900 C.E.
Summary of the period
The weakness of early attempts to explain away the supernatural elements within the gospels prompted others to propose ever more radical solutions, many of which went well beyond the bounds of church tradition. The more extreme suggested that the gospels were Christian ‘myths’ or works of literary fiction.
This was the heyday of German critical analysis which, distrusting of tradition, began to explore its own range of theoretical models for the gospel’s origins.
Archaeological discoveries in the Middle East prompted an interest in the eastern origin of the scriptures and their relationship with other religions of that region. With these new insights into ancient history and, spurred by the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species, liberal scholars began apply Darwin's ideas to religion.
Selection of events
Karl Heinrich Venturini. in his massive 2700 page work Natiirliche Geschichte des grossen Propheten von Naza-reth (A Non-supernatural History of the Great Prophet of Nazareth), further promoted the idea of a life of Jesus with no the supernatural content. Placing Jesus within an Essene plot and amidst cheating and abuse of superstition, he also made the unlikely suggestion that Jesus could have merely feigned death and then been resuscitated.
David Friedrich Strauss (1808-1874), in his Life of Christ, suggest that the entire Gospel of Matthew could be treated as a Christian mythology, drawn up with related sayings grouped under logical headings.
Christian H. Weisse published his two volume Die evangelische Geschichte, kritisch und philosophisch bearbeitet (The evangelical history, critically and philosophically treated), in which he suggested that Mark’s Gospel was written before Matthew’s, though both Matthew and Mark were derived from the sayings (logia) mentioned by Papias (in the second century). Such a two-source hypothesis would come to dominate discussion of the synoptic gospels and later send scholars chasing a theoretical body of sayings, now known as Q.
Bruno Bauer (1809-1882), in his Criticism of the Gospel History of the Synoptists, proposed a literary (as opposed to traditional) origin for all the synoptic gospels. According to this hypothesis Luke adds the literary invention of the Sermon on the Plain as an expansion upon Mark, then Matthew derives the Sermon on the Mount from Luke’s Sermon on the Plain by a literary re-working that explores various themes suggested by that earlier work.
Publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species highlighted a fundamental shift in world view, after which social development was increasingly interpreted as an evolutionary process, with the unfortunate outcome that ancient cultures were considered less developed than modern ones.
Ernest Renan (1823-1892) produced his enormously popular La Vie de Jésus (Life of Jesus), the first Life of Jesus to target Catholic audiences and to introduce them to the world view of the Germanic ‘critical’ school of scholarship. His Sermon is given by a gentle Jesus in a stylised land of fair Galileans, a Jesus whom he saw as a purely human leader.
Friedrich Ernst Daniel Schleiermacher, in Das Leben Jesu (The Life of Jesus), proposed that Matthew’s Gospel was not an eyewitness account but an edited collection of sayings.
In 1871, Heinrich Graetz argued that during this period a council held at Jamnia established the canon of the Hebrew Bible. Although widely accepted by scholars during the early twentieth century, later re-evaluation of evidence suggests that the Rabbinic school at Jamnia did not arrive at decisions by councils and that, amongst the writings of its prominent members, ‘there is only minor attention to the area of canon, possibly some to separation from Christians, but none to standardization of text’ (Lewis 1996, 3:636).
Leo Tolstoy, heavily influenced by the Sermon on the Mount, published ‘What I believe’, a work in which he set forth his anarchic-pacifist Christian ideals. His ideas on non-violent resistance, inspired by the Sermon’s injunction to turn the other cheek (Matt 5:39) would go on to inspire the pacifist resistance of both Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948) and Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968).
Johannes Weiss, in his book Die Predigt vom Reiche Gottes (the Sermon of the Kingdom of God), propounded the idea that the Sermon described an interim ethic.
Anchor Bible Dictionary. Edited
by David Noel Freedman. 6 vols. New York: Doubleday, 1996.
Schweitzer, Albert. 1910.The Quest of the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede. Translated by W. Montgomery, with a Preface by F. C. Burkitt, D.D. A. & C. Black, Ltd:1910. Translation of Von Reimarus zu Wrede: eine Geschichte der Leben-Jesu-Forschung,1st ed., 1906