Across pages 12 and 13 of Did Jesus Exist? Bart Ehrman quotes the following passage from Albert Schweitzer and claims it is sometimes quoted by mythicists to suggest (falsely) that Schweitzer himself did not accept the historicity of Jesus. I have never read any mythicist work claiming Schweitzer did not believe in Jesus’ historicity, and none that I recall quoting these words from Schweitzer. If anyone does know of any likely source for Ehrman’s claim I’d be interested to hear it.
Here are the words he says mythicists “sometimes quote”:
There is nothing more negative than the result of the critical study of the life of Jesus. The Jesus of Nazareth who came forward publicly as the Messiah, who preached the ethic of the Kingdom of God, who founded the Kingdom of heaven upon earth, and died to give his work its final consecration, never had any existence. This image has not been destroyed from without, it has fallen to pieces, cleft and disintegrated by the concrete historical problems which come to the surface one after the other.
Does anyone have any idea of any mythicist publication that even hints Schweitzer did not believe in a historical Jesus?
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34 thoughts on “Does anyone know Ehrman’s source for this?”
Why not look in Bart’s scholarly new book?
As a scholar, Bart gives references. That is what scholars do when writing works of scholarship.
Steven, do I sniff a subtle hint of the indvertant scent of possible schadenfreudic sarcasm?
Or are you dead-pan serious?
Steven Carr is dead-serious, what else? — this is dead-seriously sarcastic.
No doubt, Bart Ehrman could answer the question directly. His university page does mention an email that can be used by his readers to ask him questions.
Otherwise, the best persons able to answer that question are Robert M. Price, who has reviewed all the field, Frank Zindler, who has done the same for American Atheists, and Richard Carrier, who knows everything. Again a direct email to each one might produce results.
In his book, “The Christ Myth Theory & Its Problems”, Price writes:
“ Jesus at the Vanishing Point…p. 25
At the outset of a controversial essay, let me try for a moment to make it easier for readers to resist the temptation to dismiss what I say based on tired stereotypes. I will argue that it is quite likely there never was any historical Jesus. Some will automatically assume I am doing apologetics on behalf of “village atheism,” as some do. For what it may be worth, let me note that I began the study of the historical Jesus question as an enthusiastic would-be apologist. Eventually quite surprised to find myself disillusioned with “our” arguments, I shifted toward a more mainstream critical position more or less like Bultmann’s. I was even more surprised, as the years went on, to find that I was having greater and greater difficulty poking holes in what I had regarded as extreme, even crackpot, theories. Finally and ironically, I wound up espousing them for reasons I will shortly be recounting. In all this time, while I gladly admit I wrote with some indignation against what Albert Schweitzer called “the twisted and fragile thinking of apologetics,” I have never come to disdain Christianity.
Does the Christ Myth Theory Require an Early Date for the Pauline Epistles?…..p. 352
Epistles versus Gospels
One of the pillar arguments of the Christ Myth Theory as usually put forth today is the absence from the Pauline Epistles of any gospel-like teaching ascribed to Jesus. If the gospels‟ Jesus Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, the itinerant sage and thaumaturge, was well known, at least among Christians, it would stand to reason that such a Jesus would meet us throughout the apostolic letters by way of quotations and anecdotes. But we find no such material. Suddenly, however, such a Jesus portrait appears in the gospels, written after the epistles, and the explanation for this discrepancy, according to Mythicists, is that, between the composition of epistles on the one hand and gospels on the other, the popular Christian imagination (as well as the inventiveness of Christian scribes) “historicized” the originally suprahistorical, spiritual (mythical) savior of whom Paul and the rest had earlier written so much of a dogmatic, but none of an historical-biographical nature. For various reasons it had become desirable in some quarters to posit a recent historical Jesus of Nazareth to whom one could trace oneself and one‟s institutional claims of authority. And in this window of time between epistles and gospels, various unnamed prophets (and borrowers and tall-tale-tellers) supplied the many things this Jesus would have, must have, done and said. Such a figure had not existed as far as the epistolarians knew, and so of course there was no such material with which to lard their epistles. But now that the newly-minted material was available, it found the epistle genre altogether too confining and called for a more appropriate format, that of the Hellenistic hero or saint biography, and so the gospels were born.
. Albert Schweitzer, Out of my Life and Thought: An Autobiography. Trans. C.T. Campion. (NY: Mentor / New American Library, 1953), pp. 185-186: “Because I am devoted to Christianity in deep affection, I am trying to serve it with loyalty and sincerity. In no wise do I undertake to enter the lists on its behalf with the crooked and fragile thinking of Christian apologetics, but I call on it to set itself right in the spirit of sincerity with its past and with thought in order that it may thereby become conscious of its true nature.”
Ken Humpreys’ http://www.jesusneverexisted.com/scholars.html has the Schweitzer quote.
But the question remains is whether this is the kind of use of this world-famous quote that Bart Ehrman had in mind.
First of all, this wonderful quote shown in Humphrey’s site is in the left-hand column of the article “A History of ‘Jesus Denial’ ” which claims to be a review of the literature promoting “denial” meaning mythicism. Humphreys has the frustrating habit of not giving a clear informative title to his articles. “The End is Nigh (for the godman!)” Do we all understand what he means with this?
However, this left-hand column is a kind of storage for all kinds of illustrative material, marginal or intriguing, which does not carry the weight of the discussion in the body of the article. Those bits and pieces are often added after the article has been written, because of their interest or relation to the main subject. They don’t pretend to express the main idea of the article.
In the body of the article, Schweitzer is quoted as follows:
“Albert Schweitzer.1901, The Mystery of the Kingdom of God. 1906, The Quest of the Historical Jesus. The famous German theologian and missionary (35 years in the Cameroons) ridiculed the humanitarian Jesus of the liberals and at the same time had the courage to recognize the work of the Dutch Radicals. His own pessimistic conclusion was that the superhero had been an apocalyptic fanatic and that Jesus died a disappointed man. Famously said those looking for an historical Jesus merely found a reflection of themselves.”
This body of the article explicitly says “His own pessimistic conclusion was that the superhero had been an apocalyptic fanatic and that Jesus died a disappointed man”. This is clearly a case for historicity. Jesus existed, he was an apocalyptic fanatic, and he died.
So, in all fairness to Humphreys, he cannot be suspected of using the famous Schweitzer quote “The Jesus of Nazareth who came forward publicly” to claim that Schweitzer was a proponent of the Jesus Myth Theory. Very close, but no cigar.
Bart Ehrman, in his cursory Internet review of mythicism, may have come across this quotation also here, but it is incontrovertible that it is not used in this article (if you care to read it and not just glance only at the left-hand column) to support the Christ Myth Theory, but to illustrate the serious attack on the do-gooder image of Jesus promoted by the romantic 19th century (especially Renan).
This Schweitzer quotation is probably the most universally repeated one, and I have come across it so many times I can’t even recall where. It’s so part of the landscape that one goes by it just nodding at it and not remembering where it was.
I assume that Bart Ehrman must have in mind other sources that he deems may have used the famous lines in a more mythicist spirit, and more relevant to his own theme. Which sources? Only he knows, and Price or Carrier might have the answer at their fingertips.
One way to solve the riddle would be to make a global search of the appearance of the Schweitzer quote “The Jesus of Nazareth who came forward publicly as the Messiah” ithrough the whole religion literature and determine which instances are really used to promote the Jesus Myth Theory. Are there engines other than Google capable of doing such culling? This could be a very interesting search and statistical analysis.
I tried Google, and ironically, the first source quoted after Vridar on the first page is “Apologetics Press – The Historical Christ–Fact or Fiction? http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/157“, which mistakenly assumes that “The world-famous medical doctor and lifelong critic of Christianity, Albert Schweitzer, answered with a resounding “yes” (to the question “Is Jesus of Nazareth a fictional character?) when he wrote…[famous quote]”. This kind of wrong interpretation could mislead anybody, including Ehrman.
It is just another evidence that you cannot trust religion writers when they use quotes they don’t even analyze properly in context. We saw recently how Dorothy M. Murdock/Acharya S had misconstrued Ehrman’s own quote of his interview with NPR to turn him into a retractor of his own argument.
The next source shown by Google is more trustworthy and acknowledges that the quote is a historicist statement. Its meaning being that what never existed is the beautiful and moralistic image of Jesus constructed by historians and theologians. Which was the point of Schweitzer’s 1906 book. Jesus existed, but remains unknown, and his real impact is the spiritual force streaming from this image. Schweitzer himself remained a follower of that spiritual force. Etc…etc…
But the example of the ApologeticsPress misuse is a clear sign that this wonderful quote could as easily be appropriated by authentic scholars of the Christ Myth Theory, and that Bart Ehrman’s claim could be justified.
Ehrman’s claim is fairly vague. He says that mythicists sometimes quote this passage “to lend some scholarly cachet to their view.” He does not explicitly state that these mythicists claimed Schweitzer did not accept the historicity of Jesus.
You’re right. Both Ehrman and Robert Price favor a certain literary style that smoothes the edges off what they want to say. So that their own statements need interpretation and exegesis.
Only Carrier and Doherty, with more logically- and mathematically-oriented brains, strive to say exactly what they mean without added wrapping or coloring and like to foresee and prevent the possible misinterpretations of their phrasings.
But here we don’t have to play word games to elucidate the real meaning of Ehrman’s remark.
First, mythicists have “their view”. So, what is then this “view”, so special that they need to use a new designation to spotlight it? It’s specifically that they believe historical Jesus never existed.
Then, how can they hope to get “some scholarly cachet” from any quotation? “Cachet” means here “added weight”, “added credibility”. So Ehrman is saying that without the help of this quote, mythicists don’t think that “their views” exude strong scholarship. So they hope that a quotation used by them is going to “lend” an allure of scholarship to their view, and increase the credibility of such “view”, that is that the character of Jesus of the Bible is not historical.
Does the use of the word “lend” by Ehrman weaken this interpretation? Not that I can see.
So, to a normal reader, the meaning, although not clearly stated, is nonetheless comprehensible: the quotation from Albert Schweitzer, coming from an established scholar, is supposed to support and increase the scholarship and credibility of the mythicists’ view that Jesus never existed.
It may not be what Schweitzer intended, which is another discussion. But the mythicists who have used this NAKED quotation surely thought that it came to the defense of “their view”, exactly as the Apologetics Press writers believed.
And Bart Ehrman must have thought that this was the intention of mythicists when using this NAKED quote.
Thus Neil Godfrey’s question remains valid: “Does anyone know of any likely source for Ehrman’s claim”?
This question is not about Schweitzer himself but about which mythicists may have used this NAKED quote in the belief it supported the Christ Myth Theory? In all likelihood there must be some in the immense literature on the subject. Every Christ Myth Theory follower just adores this quote.
From a historical viewpoint it must be remembered that the first onslaught on the medieval interpretation of the New Testament was aimed at the denial of the divinity of Jesus. Essentially during the Enlightenment of the 18th century, with people, among many others, like Voltaire, Reimarus, d’Holbach.
This debunking of the God-man continued all through the 19th century, and was the main thrust of the public battles it generated , These scholars were not so much interested in the question of whether Jesus had existed or not. They were attacking and undermining the power of the Christian Church’s use of the fiction of the God-man. Beliefs that they interpreted as fabricated dogmas and tales feeding a propaganda aimed at controlling the “fold” of ordinary believers. The divinity of Jesus, the figure of the God-man, was denied as fictitious and a fraud.
An offshoot of this trend was the willingness by a few thinkers to push the critique even further, going all the way, and to wonder if after all, not just the divinity, but the very existence of this Jesus was not a completely made-up fiction. Which gave rise to the Christ Myth theory, with Volney, Dupuis, Robert Taylor, Bruno Bauer, Charles Bradlaugh, etc…. A highly dangerous theory, which did not gain much traction in the 19th century, because of the harsh repression by judicial systems and universities.
In time, towards the end of the 19th century, with the new input of Darwin’s theory of evolution, seen as another blow to the Christian Church’s dogma, the Jesus Myth theory gained strength and new adherents. A batch of new self-made enthusiasts jumped on the bandwagon to find all kinds of mythical origins to the Christ Myth. This was the glorious time of Theosophy, spiritualism, occultism, Egyptomania, with the great names of Helena Blavatsky, Gerald Massey, Kersey Graves, and company. James Frazer’s colossal anthropology studies of “The Golden Bough” provided new powder for the fire of the deniers of Jesus’s historical existence.
But all along, the primary efforts of existence-deniers were aimed at first counteracting established apologists. In this controversy, theologians who discarded the notion of a god-man and simply saw Jesus as an ordinary mortal, but not a god, such as Thomas Paine and other deists among the American founders, David Friedrich Strauss, or Ferdinand Christian Baur, were heartily welcomed by all those few scholars or would-be scholars who started denying the very concept of a historical Jesus. Brave pioneering “historicists” were considered the natural allies of the few radical “mythicists.”
It is only towards the end of the 19th century that Christ Myth Theory proponents started freeing themselves from their association with “historicists” as a result of theoretical disputes, and that the controversy between both trends turned into an issue of its own, for instance the conflict between Alfred Loisy and Paul-Louis Couchoud. There were many more of the same kind.
The words “mythicist” and “historicist” were not even yet established, and many books on the subject of the dispute were only titled: Jesus – Myth or History”, like the famous 1946 book by Archibald Robertson, whose immortal fame was to have coined those labels in this very book Those new words gave rise to the now established labels of “mythicism” and “historicism”.
Historicists, so long as they were not apologists have been the natural allies of mythicists for a long time. And in that sense, Schweitzer’s quote coincided with the growth of mythicism, looking like a wonderful quote to use as a banner for Christ Myth Theory advocates.
Still this historical relationship does not change the meaning of Bart Ehrman’s phrasing of “lending cachet”: It means more than just providing a striking decorative ornament, but claiming an ENDORSEMENTfor the existence deniers by the author of the quote, Albert Schweitzer, who never guessed that his famous lines were going to give rise to another controversy.
As an anecdote, I was the one who brought the great Schweitzer quote to KH’s attention. This excerpt should have figured in the main body of the article, but there was no room, and it got planted in the left-hand column.
This left-hand space is a kind of garage for all bits and pieces which have been discovered as relevant to the main article, but have been found or brought to his attention only once the article had been written, like the quote I highlighted. Hence the bizarre spot for such an essential summary of Schweitzer’s “Quest”, his 1906 masterpiece of 1906, which I would definitely have placed in the paragraph devoted to Schweitzer.
This quote is from “The Quest of the Historical Jesus.” Schweitzer is simply saying that the Jesus of the popular imagination never existed, and instead the “real Jesus” was nothing like this. He is not saying that Jesus never existed.
Not just the “popular imagination”. Schweitzer’s point is that the Jesus described by the scholarly research of the 19th century never existed, but was a construct of the scholars’ personal preferences and beliefs. With each scholar came a different Jesus, but only as an image. The real Jesus remains unattainable.
Freke and Gandy, “The Jesus Mysteries”, has the quote at the very beginning of the chapter on “The Missing Man”. However, they never elaborate on the quote in the text. In the footnote to the quote, they write:
“Quoted in Wilson, I. (1984), 37. Schweizer’s [sic!] words, written at the beginning of this century, might stand as an epitaph to the centuries of work done by the German theological colleges.”
The only other mention of Schweitzer they have in their book (as far as I can tell) is from the same chapter, where they quote from Luke 21:12–36 and in the footnote 55 to this writes the following:
“Schweitzer observed that few of Jesus’ prophecies were actually fulfilled, see Wells, G. A. (1975), 73.”
Although they never say that Schweitzer believed in an historical Jesus, they neither say the opposite. They quote him “as an epitaph to the centuries of work done by the German theological colleges.”
The quote can be found in numerous places around the internet, including the on-line version of Albert Schweitzer’s book, “The Quest of the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede”, Chapter 20:
The Kenneth Humphreys site contains more than one Schweitzer reference, including one that says S believed: “that the superhero had been an apocalyptic fanatic and that Jesus died a disappointed man.” — hardly suggesting S was a mythicist. The rhetorical combination of KH’s references is to highlight the problem faced by historical Jesus scholarship. There is no suggestion that S himself was a mythicist.
But Ehrman’s point is to imply that mythicists use these words of S “out of context” and so convey the suggestion that S was a mythicist himself. He introduces the passage with: “To lend scholarly cachet to their view, mythicists sometimes quote a passage from . . . Schweitzer . . . ” and after quoting the words he writes: “Taken out of context, these words may seem to indicate that the great S himself did not subscribe to the existence of the historical Jesus. But nothing could be further from the truth. . . .”
Ehrman is addressing the views of mythicists for the benefit of a popular lay readership. He is clearly creating an impression that these words of Schweitzer are sometimes quoted by mythicists out of context to indicate S himself was a mythicist, thus lending “cachet” to their own position.
A quick search:
(1) Dan Barker here writes: http://ffrf.org/legacy/about/bybarker/rise.php
“Paul never met Jesus and never quoted the Jesus of the Gospels, even when that would have served his purposes. He sometimes disagreed with Jesus. He never mentioned a single deed or miracle of Jesus. If Jesus had been a real person, certainly Paul, his main cheerleader, would have talked about him as a man. The “Christ” in Paul’s epistles is mainly a supernatural figure, not a flesh and blood man of history.”
 takes the reader to this comment by Schweitzer:
14 Albert Schweitzer wrote: “There is nothing more negative than the result of the critical study of the life of Jesus. . . . The historical Jesus will be to our time a stranger and an enigma.” The Quest of the Historical Jesus, MacMillan 1954.
(2) This is a summary of Tom Harpur’s book, “Pagan Christ”, so I can’t confirm what Harpur actually writes:
Dr. Albert Schweitzer, in The Quest for the Historical Jesus, says that after years of careful study, he concluded there was no traditional Jesus of Nazareth as a historical person. Prophetically, he saw that the Jesus figure of the theologians was the dramatized, rituahzed. Symbolic figure of our divine nature—grossly mistaken after centuries of ignorance for a man of flesh. Schweitzer writes, “There is nothing more negative than the result of the critical study of the life of lesus. The Jesus of Nazareth who came forward publicly as the Messiah, who preached the ethic of the Kingdom of God, who founded the Kingdom of heaven upon earth, and died to give his work its final consecration, never had any existence. This image has not been destroyed from without, it has fallen to pieces, cleft and disintegrated by the concrete historical problems which come to the surface one after another.”
The words of Tom Harpur are found on page 166 of his book, but your quote misses something. Tom emphasized the qualifier “traditional” by placing it in italics when he wrote: “he [Schweitzer] concluded there was no traditional Jesus of Nazareth as a historical person.” He concludes his reference by explicitly stating: “Schweitzer concluded that Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher whose message turned out to be wrong.”
I don’t see the relevance of your Dan Barker quote.
According to my survey,the first two and a half pages of Google, the use of Schweitzer’s quote by Tom Harpur seems the most notable instance of a mythicist implying that Schweitzer meant that there had been no historical Jesus.
The problem of the confusion created by Schweitzer’s language seems to result from the fact that Schweitzer not only follows the 19th century distinction, launched by David Friedrich Strauss, of a “Christ of Faith” from a “historical Jesus”, but he introduces a secondary distinction, which was the real object of his 1906 book “Quest”, between the “Jesus scholarly perceived and his scholarly constructed portrait or biography” and the phantomatic “man Jesus”, who theoretically remains the obscure source of everything.
Here the word “historical” itself is ambiguous, since it can be the “Jesus, as reconstructed by historical scholarly criticism” and “Jesus, the existential source of any story or perception”. We end up with THREE categories of Jesus figures, the third one being the Kantian “Jesus an Sich”.
Schweitzer gets out of this imbroglio by retaining as manifest impact of Jesus what he calls the “Spirit of Jesus”, the only thing Schweitzer claims that we can know about him. This is not Gnosticism à la Paul, since there is the assumption of an irreducible existential man at the source (Jesus an Sich), but it seems to be a modern version adapted to the Spiritualism which was so much in vogue at the end of the 19th century. And on the whole not far from the Theosophy of Helena Blavatsky and Savitri Devi and their theory of the “great divine spirits of Mankind”. Which itself is, in final analysis, just another expression of the Romantic idea of “Great Men” adapted to the famous religious leaders, Krishna, Buddha, Jesus, Horus, etc…
I have found other sites, which make the same error as Harpur, but they bear no great name, and are only secondary Internet sites, like Apologetics Press” and “WikiAnswers” at
Now that we have done the legwork for Neil Godfrey, let’s see what good use he makes ot it.
To be fair to Bart I did email him with this query, too. So far he has replied by machine, using the royal we, thanking me ever so much for taking the time to frame and send my question, and assuring me “they” will give it every serious consideration.
For what it’s worth, I refuse to pay to access his blog, by the way. I am a regular donor to various causes, but when I choose to give to a charity I take some care and learn a little about the charity in question, first. Bart’s “assurance” that he will donate the money to some charity that seeks to address homelessness is way too vague for me. I also like avoiding any discrimination among readers and prefer those sites where potential contributors are given the option to contribute anything from $0 to however much they feel inclined to give. And I also like to see some assurance that there will be a public accounting of exactly what revenues are received and how they are all spent. I can’t help but suspect from Bart’s vague language that the donations are also paying for server space and web developers to establish a venue for marketing his books. I may be entirely wrong with that suspicion. But Bart’s vagueness of language does not encourage me to pay — whatever the reason — to subscribe to his blog.
Where is there any sign that Ehrman is participating in “his” blog? Reading the About section, there is nothing to indicate that he is involved or has even given the project his blessing. It sounds like a project of a “campus minister,” which I presume to mean someone with a church in the vicinity of the campus but not someone in the employ of the university (this is a state university, after all, not a private one). Surely, the expense of running such a site would be a minor personal expense for a professor with a cushy departmental chairmanship, but possibly not for a local preacher.
The blog I was referring to is this one, but I now presume that isn’t the one you were referring to.
That’s correct — it’s this blog. The first thing one sees is the sign “The Bart Ehrman Blog” and the first pop-up window says “Join the Bart Ehrman Blog . . . Help Bart Today”. The appeals to charity compete valiantly with the merchandise on display in this professsionally developed store-front. So Bart does not want to look like another “Internet Junkie” whom he disparages in his book.
I am still waiting for a reply to my email that his machine promised would be given every serious attention.
I think I have a tentative answer.
What I find significant is that the quote as mentioned by Bart Ehrman (p. 12-13), is exactly the same one attributed to Tom Harpur’s book “Pagan Christ” (p. 166), and both are similarly TRUNCATED.
One encounters Schweitzer’s lines in the last chapter XX, RESULTS, after plodding through the previous 19 chapters, as I dutifully did. Knowing German is a great help for this reading. Now, one finds the famous quote right at the beginning of the last chapter, and it strikes you immediately as the global conclusion of the book. Nobody who has read the book can forget those lines. Here is the full text (p. 398):
“* XX * RESULTS
THOSE WHO ARE FOND OF TALKING ABOUT NEGATIVE THEOLOGY CAN FIND their account here. There is nothing more negative than the result of the critical study of the Life of Jesus.
The Jesus of Nazareth who came forward publicly as the Messiah, who preached the ethic of the Kingdom of God, who founded the Kingdom of Heaven upon earth, and died to give His work its final consecration, never had any existence. He is a figure designed by rationalism, endowed with life by liberalism, and clothed by modern theology in an historical garb.
This image has not been destroyed from without, it has fallen to pieces, cleft and disintegrated by the concrete historical problems which came to the surface one after another, and in spite of all the artifice, art, artificiality, and violence which was applied to them, refused to be planed down to fit the design on which the Jesus of the theology of the last hundred and thirty years had been constructed, and were no sooner covered over than they appeared again in a new form. The thoroughgoing sceptical and the thoroughgoing eschatological school have only completed the work of destruction by linking the problems into a system and so making an end of the Divide et impera of modern theology, which undertook to solve each of them separately, that is, in a less difficult form. Henceforth it is no longer permissible to take one problem out of the series and dispose of it by itself, since the weight of the whole hangs upon each.”
What is missing in Ehrman and Harpur’s version is the punch line of the second paragraph: “He is a figure designed by rationalism, endowed with life by liberalism, and clothed by modern theology in an historical garb.”
When I encountered this remarkable paragraph, I brought it to the attention of Kenneth Humphreys in early 2011. That quote did not figure in his article dedicated to a short history of the Christ Myth proponents, “The End is Nigh”, which was then a very enigmatic title to say the least. The title is now “A History of Jesus Denial” and it did not figure in his book either. I felt that this quote deserved to be placed inside the short paragraph of the article dedicated to Albert Schweitzer. The little write-up made it clear that Schweitzer was not a Jesus mythicist. For him, Jesus had existed, and died.
Humphreys did not want to restructure his whole article to make room for the new quotation, and dropped it in the garage-like empty space of his left-hand column, where he likes to stick all kinds of bits and pieces inserted after the composition of the main article. He found no place near the Schweitzer write-up and stuck it far above it, with no visual connection. Note that the quote I brought him started with “The Jesus of Nazareth..” and ENDED with the MISSING SENTENCE: “He is a figure designed by rationalism, endowed with life by liberalism, and clothed by modern theology in an historical garb.”
Whereas both Ehrman and Harpur have dropped this important sentence, and added the last sentence of the first paragraph “There is nothing more negative than the result of the critical study of the life of Jesus”, and ended with the beginning of the third paragraph “This image has not been destroyed from without, it has fallen to pieces, cleft and disintegrated by the concrete historical problems which come to the surface one after the other”, both of them cutting short before the continuation of the paragraph “… and in spite of all the artifice…etc…”
The fact is that both Ehrman and Harpur use exactly the same quotation, amputated and expanded in the same fashion: missing the last sentence of the 2d paragraph, but inserting the last sentence from the previous paragraph, and adding the same portion of the next paragraph. These two additons were not included in the version I brought to Kenneth Humphreys, which was limited to the second paragraph.
This leads me to the strong assumption that Ehrman initially found his version of the Schweitzer quote in Tom Harpur book, “Pagan Christ” and not in Kenneth Humphreys’s “Jesus Never Existed.”
It also makes sense that a title like “Pagan Christ” was very attractive to a writer like Ehrman intending to write about Jesus mythicism. In addition, in the book world, “Pagan Christ” is far better known as a great popular success than the invisible “Jesus Never Existed”. It’s one of the Amazon best-sellers, has made a big splash in Canada and the Canadian media, sparking off a vigorous controversy, and has attracted 63 reviews on Amazon, including a critical one by Ward Gasque. This astonishing success inspired Dorothy M. Murdock/Acharya S to follow suit and produce her own version immediately after in “Christ in Egypt”.
Note that by contrast, “Jesus Never Existed” is not sold by Amazon, and has attracted only one single review. It is doubtful that Ehrman ever became aware of its existence.
In all fairness to Bart Ehrman, and many other rapid readers, Schweitzer’s NAKED quote, with its rhetorical power, lends itself strongly to the interpretation that Schweitzer did not accept a historical Jesus. The error is nearly unavoidable and excusable. The irony is that, in their texts, both Harpur and Humphreys do recognize that Schweitzer still believed in a historical Jesus.
Ehrman will have to provide his sources, explicitly quoting examples of other “Internet junkies” who are Jesus mythicists and have allegedly used Schweitzer’s quote, in its full or truncated form, and insinuated, on the strength of this quote alone, that Schweitzer didn‘t believe in a historical Jesus.
Which would have come as a surprise to anybody who knows Schweitzer’s extraordinary allegiance to his beloved Jesus.
Closely following the famous quote, Schweitzer adds, in the same final chapter XX (p. 398-399):
“In either case, He will not be a Jesus Christ to whom the religion of the present can ascribe, according to its long-cherished custom, its own thoughts and ideas, as it did with the Jesus of its own making. Nor will He be a figure which can be made by a popular historical treatment so sympathetic and universally intelligible to the multitude. The historical Jesus will be to our time a stranger and an enigma…
Jesus means something to our world because a mighty spiritual force streams forth from Him and flows through our time also. This fact can neither be shaken nor confirmed by any historical discovery. It is the solid foundation of Christianity.
The mistake was to suppose that Jesus could come to mean more to our time by entering into it as a man like ourselves. That is not possible. First because such a Jesus never existed. Secondly because, although historical knowledge can no doubt introduce greater clearness into an existing spiritual life, it cannot call spiritual life into existence. History can destroy the present; it can reconcile the present with the past; can even to a certain extent transport the present into the past; but to contribute to the making of the present is not given unto it.”
The gist of Schweitzer’s conclusion is that Jesus did exist, as a man of the FIRST CENTURY only, and all the modern biographies and reconstructions have missed this point, in their inability to reconnect with the special mentality of the first century Christians. All later efforts to produce various scholarly-researched biographies and portraits were employed for claiming Jesus’s connection to the modern dogmas of Christian Churchs. They all miss finding the first-century Jesus and remain disconnected from His Spirit.
To which, Schweitzer, of course, has remained connected, showing himself by his life to be a true follower of that “mighty spiritual force [that] streams forth from Him”
Thanks. This earlier chapter 20 is now chapter 25 in the latest (2001) English edition. Schweitzer also remarked on the theoretical problem of the sources available in any quest for the historical Jesus”.
He wasn’t denying that there was a historical Jesus, but that historical methods were incapable of recovering him — even at the theoretical level of his existence. He spoke against the faith in history of his day, just as Thomas L. Thompson has spoken against the modern theologians’ misguided faith in history today.
Many scholars have replaced a faith in the Bible with a faith in an historical event.
As a footnote, it seems clear that all instances of use of this quote by Jesus mythicists were not located by Bart Ehrman himself (who never wastes his time reading such nonsense), but brought to his attention by the readers of his blog — which became, as he explained, his initial impulse for tackling this new book, but in a field which remains a bit of “terra incognita” for him.
Ehrman used the followers of his blog as a major source of material and inspiration. Kenneth Humphreys does the same, and so does Dorothy M. Murdock/Acharya S, and all the other writers maintaining substantial blogs. This readers’ feedback acts as an (inexpensive) form of in-house research and amateur editing team.
The vagueness of Ehrman’s lines betrays that they are not the result of his own (usually accurate and exhaustive) personal research, but the input of outside blog followers. The fiasco concerning the priapic cock joyfully mentioned by Murdock is another sign of the shaky research this method produces.
I agree — it seems clear enough to me that, like McGrath, he relies on blog and web information for his sources and leads, but will denounce “mythicists” for supposedly doing the same. I have never seen a mythicist quote the passage he refers to in an attempt to garner some “cachet” by making it appear Schweitzer supported mythicism. I have, however, repeatedly quoted other words from Schweitzer — the ones I quoted above in my previous comment — and have been criticized several times for “thinking” or trying to “suggest” Schweitzer was also a mythicist! Of course I made it clear each time that the reason I was quoting Schweitzer was because I understand it is common knowledge that he was NOT a mythicist — THAT is what lends weight to his comment on the logic of historical methodology in the case of the existence of Jesus. I could not help but wonder if Ehrman has been at the tail end of a Chinese whispers rumour that started with the hostile misunderstanding of the intent of my own quotation from Schweitzer.
It is very likely, since you’ve visited many blogs, and hopefully you’ve dropped this landmine in their midst, especially in McGrath’s blog, to make all those readers aware of the real problem of historical research. This could surely shake up a few innocents, because of the immense popularity and resonance of the Schweitzer name.
Tom Verenna points out really basic errors in Ehrman’s book.
Really basic errors are a sign of contempt — certainly lack of respect — for one’s readership.
Or that the book was done on the cheap. There is not even an index, which is amazing.
Not only cheap, but fast and loose.
Again, in the case of the Schweitzer quotation, it is amazing that Ehrman simply copied what he was fed (most likely a quote from Harpur’s book), and didn’t even bother to check it in the original Schweitzer text, which was so easy, and discover that it was a somewhat artificially constructed quotation, by truncation and expansion.
It’s as if this book had marginal priority for Ehrman, produced only to respond to the curiosity of his blog readers.
And it had to be brought to market in a hurry, considering that competitors in the field are all in the process of bringing their own books out on the same subject.
All of a sudden the question of “Jesus: History or Myth?” has become a rage, a fashionable topic, as it had been in the early 1900s, and Ehrman didn’t want to be left out, even though his scholarly heart was not in it. A work of duty rather than a work of genuine scholarly investigation.
But Ehrman says he approached the subject with fear and trepidation.
I think Ehrman himself explains what he has in mind in footnote 2:
BTW, given Ehrman’s defense in the Peter-the-cock “controversy” his concern for the unwary reader does seem disingenuous.