Bruno Bauer (through Albert Schweitzer)

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by Neil Godfrey

English: Bruno Bauer
Bruno Bauer

Here’s a little more on Bruno Bauer’s arguments on Gospel origins. (My recent post on Roland Boer’s discussion has put me on a little roll.)

It’s a shame that more of Bauer’s works are not available at a reasonable cost in English. I take this as an indicator that scholarship in the English speaking world generally continues to ignore him. Presumably many rely on what others say about his works than on what they have read of Bauer for themselves. Till I can access some of his German texts here is Albert Schweitzer’s presentation. The chapter is available in full online. I’ve cherry-picked from that chapter the themes that interest me the most and that I have raised in other contexts on this blog over the years.

This post is unspeakably long but it is intended to be a collation of references — pick and choose the headers of interest.

The literary approach

First thing I liked is his decision to investigate Gospel origins through an analysis of their literary nature and context. That makes sense given that the literature is what we have before us and is the data that needs to be explained. Oral traditions behind the literature need to be established by being worked out in comparison with other explanations, not assumed. This is similar — the parallel is imperfect — to the approach today’s “minimalists” have taken to the Old Testament literature, and that one or two are more recently extending to the Gospels.

In approaching the investigation of the Gospel history, Bauer saw, as he himself tells us, two ways open to him. He might take as his starting-point the Jewish Messianic conception, and endeavour to answer the question how the intuitive prophetic idea of the Messiah became a fixed reflective conception. That was the historical method; he chose, however, the other, the literary method. This starts from the opposite side of the question, from the end instead of the beginning of the Gospel history. Taking first the Gospel of John, in which it is obvious that reflective thought has fitted the life of the Jewish Messiah into the frame of the Logos conception, he then, starting as it were from the embouchure of the stream, works his way upwards to the high ground in which the Gospel tradition takes its rise. The decision in favour of the latter view determined the character of Bauer’s life-work; it was his task to follow out, to its ultimate consequences, the literary solution of the problem of the life of Jesus. . . .

Interest in Philo

Bauer unsurprisingly sees echoes of Philo’s thought in the Gospel of John.

His interest was especially arrested by Philo . . .

But more recently Burton Mack and Earle Hilgert have pointed to interesting resonances of Philo in the Gospel of Mark. I look forward to completing my posts on some striking similarities between the structure of the Gospel of Mark and Philo’s two-book narration of the Life of Moses.

Gospels as literary inventions

Schweitzer informs us that Bauer still held to the historical character of the Synoptic gospels while he was exploring the Gospel of John. However, when he turned his attention to those gospels he came to discover that the difference between them and John’s Gospel was of degree, not kind.

[H]ow far did he still retain a belief in the historical character of the Synoptics? It looks as if he had intended to treat them as the solid foundation, in contrast with the fantastic structure raised upon it by the Fourth Gospel. But when he began to use his pick upon the rock, it crumbled away. Instead of a difference of kind he found only a difference of degree . . .

Literary studies in recent decades have very often highlighted the “mythical” and theological-literary nature of even the Synoptics, beginning with the Gospel of Mark.

Bauer came to a critical understanding that many historical Jesus scholars today go to extraordinarily tenuous lengths to avoid:

If it be once admitted that the whole Gospel tradition, so far as concerns its plan, goes back to a single writer, who has created the connexion between the different events . . . does not the possibility naturally suggest itself that the narrative of the events themselves, not merely the connexion in which they appear in Mark, is to be set down to the account of the author of the Gospel? . . . . The triple embankment held; will a single one bear the strain? . . .

For the most recent instance of the “extraordinarily tenuous lengths” to which scholars resort to avoid this conclusion, witness Bart Ehrman’s astonishing proclamations that we supposedly have as many as seven independent sources of Jesus’ traditions traceable back to months from the time of Jesus’ crucifixion.

Consider where a literary analysis of the literary evidence leads:

The criticism of the Fourth Gospel compels us to recognise that a Gospel may have a purely literary origin. . . . But when he had recognised [this] truth . . . he felt compelled . . . to accept the idea that Mark also might be of purely literary origin.

Even where other scholars likewise suspected this, it was still argued that Matthew and Luke supplemented their material from Mark with “Logia” (understood to have existed as a result of the supposed testimony of Papias) and other “floating traditions” — so that Mark merely showed Matthew and Luke how they could organize the (“historical”) traditions.

[On the contrary, other scholars were] holding that Matthew and Luke used the collection of “Logia,” and also owed part of their supplementary matter to a free use of floating tradition, so that Mark, it might almost be said, merely supplied them with the formative principle by means of which they might order their material.

Only a single literary source

But Bauer went further. He came to believe that the additional material in Matthew and Luke could also be demonstrated to have a literary origin. In other words, all the Gospels were creative literature that owed nothing to “historical tradition”.

But what if Papias’s statement about the collection of “Logia” were worthless, and could be shown to be so by the literary data? In that case Matthew and Luke would be purely literary expansions of Mark, and like him, purely literary inventions. . . .

Bauer reasoned that the two birth narratives we find in Luke and Matthew do not have the characteristics we would expect had they been built up from “free floating traditions”.

The histories of the childhood are therefore not literary versions of a tradition, but literary inventions. . . .

Bauer found the same result when one examined further material added to Mark’s core. He argued that the additional material in Matthew and Luke was prompted by cues in Mark’s gospel itself. Other scholars have since noted that much of the teaching and narrative material appears to be borrowed and adapted from other well-known stories and sayings in the wider Jewish (and other) literature. (Bauer appears to regard Luke as prior to Matthew. But the main point has been demonstrated by other scholarship since. I often find myself suspecting that Luke was the last of the gospels.)

If we go on to examine the discourse and narrative material, additional to that of Mark, which is found in Matthew and Luke, a similar result appears. The same standpoint is regulative throughout, showing that the additions do not consist of oral or written traditional material which has been worked into the Marcan plan, but of a literary development of certain fundamental ideas and suggestions found in the first author.

These developments, as is shown by the accounts of the Sermon on the Mount and the charge to the Twelve, are not carried as far in Luke as in Matthew. The additional material in the latter seems indeed to be worked up from suggestions in the former. Luke thus forms the transition stage between Mark and Matthew. The Marcan hypothesis, accordingly, now takes on the following form. Our knowledge of the Gospel history does not rest upon any basis of tradition, but only upon three literary works. Two of these are not independent, being merely expansions of the first, and the third, Matthew, is also dependent upon the second. Consequently there is no tradition of the Gospel history, but only a single literary source.

No historical tradition before Mark

I have sometimes felt I have put myself far out on a limb by questioning whether there really was any messianic expectation among the Jews of the supposed time of Jesus — though I have also pointed to scholarly support for this view — so I can’t deny my pleasure in seeing Bauer himself reached the same conclusion. And he, also, did so against the prevailing conventional wisdom among scholars that there was a general messianic expectation at that time.

But, if so, who is to assure us that this Gospel history, with its assertion of the Messiahship of Jesus, was already a matter of common knowledge before it was fixed in writing, and did not first become known in a literary form? In the latter case, one man would have created out of general ideas the definite historical tradition in which these ideas are embodied.

The only thing that could be set against this literary possibility, as a historical counter-possibility, would be a proof that at the period when the Gospel history is supposed to take place a Messianic expectation really existed among the Jews, so that a man who claimed to be the Messiah and was recognised as such, as Mark represents Jesus to have been, would be historically conceivable.

This presupposition had hitherto been unanimously accepted by all writers, no matter how much opposed in other respects. They were all satisfied “that before the appearance of Jesus the expectation of a Messiah prevailed among the Jews”; and were even able to explain its precise character.

But where is the evidence? Always ask for the evidence.

But where—apart from the Gospels—did they get their information from? Where is the documentary evidence of the Jewish Messianic doctrine on which that of the Gospels is supposed to be based? Daniel was the last of the prophets. Everything tends to suggest that the mysterious content of his work remained without influence in the subsequent period.

  • Jewish literature ends with the Wisdom writings, in which there is no mention of a Messiah.
  • In the LXX there is no attempt to translate in accordance with a preconceived picture of the Messiah.
  • In the Apocalypses, which are of small importance, there is reference to a Messianic Kingdom; the Messiah Himself, however, plays a quite subordinate part, and is, indeed, scarcely mentioned.
  • For Philo He has no existence; the Alexandrian does not dream of connecting Him with his Logos speculation.

There remain, therefore, as witnesses for the Jewish Messianic expectations in the time of Tiberius, only Mark and his imitators. This evidence, however, is of such a character that in certain points it contradicts itself.

Since Bauer we have the Dead Sea Scrolls, but there is little there that we can use to support a messianic expectation among Jews more broadly. Studying evidence of the concept of the messiah is not synonymous with studying sociological expectations.

I have argued that the Gospel of Matthew’s opening nativity narrative contains evidence against the conventional view that Jews of the day were expecting a messiah, and that this expectation was a novel invention of the Christians themselves. So I like Bauer’s arguments that go even further:

In the first place, if at the time when the Christian community was forming its view of history and the religious ideas which we find in the Gospels, the Jews had already possessed a doctrine of the Messiah, there would have been already a fixed type of interpretation of the Messianic passages in the Old Testament, and it would have been impossible for the same passages to be interpreted in a totally different way, as referring to Jesus and His work, as we find them interpreted in the New Testament.

Next, consider the representation of the Baptist’s work. We should have expected him to connect his baptism with the preaching of “Him who was to come”—if this were really the Messiah—by baptizing in the name of this “Coming One.” He, however, keeps them separate, baptizing in preparation for the Kingdom, though referring in his discourses to “Him who was to come.”

The earliest Evangelist did not venture openly to carry back into the history the idea that Jesus had claimed to be the Messiah, because he was aware that in the time of Jesus no general expectation of the Messiah had prevailed among the people. When the disciples in Mark viii, 28 report the opinions of the people concerning Jesus they cannot mention any who hold Him to be the Messiah. Peter is the first to attain to the recognition of His Messiahship. But as soon as the confession is made the Evangelist makes Jesus forbid His disciples to tell the people who He is.

Why is the attribution of the Messiahship to Jesus made in this surreptitious and inconsistent way? It is because the writer who gave the history its form well knew that no one had ever come forward publicly on Palestinian soil to claim the Messiahship, or had been recognised by the people as Messiah.

The “reflective conception of the Messiah” was not, therefore, taken over ready-made from Judaism; that dogma first arose along with the Christian community, or rather the moment in which it arose was the same in which the Christian community had its birth. . . .

Schweitzer explains that it took some time before Bauer came to go so far as arguing that Mark invented the history and personality of Jesus. He initially held to the belief that there was a Jesus of very impressive character and who was later portrayed in messianic motifs.

It was only in the course of his investigations that Bauer’s opinion became more radical. As he goes on, his writing becomes ill-tempered, and takes the form of controversial dialogues with “the theologians,” whom he apostrophises in a biting and injurious fashion, and whom he continually reproaches with not daring, owing to their apologetic prejudices, to see things as they really are, and with declining to face the ultimate results of criticism from fear that the tradition might suffer more loss of historic value than religion could bear. In spite of this hatred of the theologians, which is pathological in character, like his meaningless punctuation, his critical analyses are always exceedingly acute. One has the impression of walking alongside a man who is reasoning quite intelligently, but who talks to himself as though possessed by a fixed idea. What if the whole thing should turn out to be nothing but a literary invention—not only the incidents and discourses, but even the Personality which is assumed as the starting-point of the whole movement? What if the Gospel history were only a late imaginary embodiment of a set of exalted ideas, and these were the only historical reality from first to last? This is the idea which obsesses his mind more and more completely, and moves him to contemptuous laughter. What, he mocks, will these apologists, who are so sure of everything, do then with the shreds and tatters which will be all that is left to them?

But at the outset of his investigations Bauer was far from holding such views. . . .

I have no reason to doubt Schweitzer’s assessment, but at the same time I would be interested in reading Bauer myself. One has too often seen mainstream scholars even today impute “pathological” motives to those who question the core assumptions of the established views.

The artificiality of the John the Baptist role

Bauer could understand the literary function of Mark’s John the Baptist, and how Mark’s adapters, Matthew and Luke, botched the original by trying to surpass it. Mark needed a starting point for his narrative, and when Matthew and Luke changed this literary function of the Baptism scene they ended up writing contradictions. Of course they could hardly do otherwise, given that they felt that Mark’s use of John the Baptist actually created theological problems of which Mark had been oblivious. They were keen to stress the Baptist’s subordinate role to Jesus but were unable to do so coherently given the start Mark had provided them.

We must take as our point of departure the belief in the sacrificial death and the resurrection of Jesus. Everything else attaches itself to this as to its centre. When the need arose to fix definitely the beginning of the manifestation of Jesus as the Saviour—to determine the point of time at which the Lord issued forth from obscurity—it was natural to connect this with the work of the Baptist; and Jesus comes to his baptism.

While this is sufficient for the earliest Evangelist, Matthew and Luke feel it to be necessary, in view of the important consequences involved in the connexion of Jesus with the Baptist, to bring them into relation once more by means of the question addressed by the Baptist to Jesus, although this addition is quite inconsistent with the assumptions of the earliest Evangelist. If he had conceived the story of the baptism with the idea of introducing the Baptist again on a later occasion, and this time, moreover, as a doubter, he would have given it a different form. This is a just observation of Bauer’s; the story of the baptism with the miracle which took place at it, and the Baptist’s question, understood as implying a doubt of the Messiahship of Jesus, mutually exclude one another.

The Temptation, The Sermon on the Mount — all literary-theological

The story of the temptation embodies an experience of the early Church. This narrative represents her inner conflicts under the form of a conflict of the Redeemer. On her march through the wilderness of this world she has to fight with temptations of the devil, and in the story composed by Mark and Luke, and artistically finished by Matthew, she records a vow to build only on the inner strength of her constitutive principle.

Jesus could never have taught some of the things attributed to him. “Let the dead bury their dead” is one of these. It is part of Q1 (the earliest strata of Q) and the Jesus Seminar voted it as a “quite likely truly pink” saying of Jesus. The Seminar follows “criteria” but (I think) Bauer follows common sense. (Bultmann subsequently showed how many of the teachings attributed to Jesus functioned as sayings useful to the early church and thus most plausibly are seen as products of the church. But form criticism seems to be out of favour among many scholars nowadays.)

In the sermon on the mount also, Matthew has carried out with greater completeness that which was more vaguely conceived by Luke. It is only when we understand the words of Jesus as embodying experiences of the early Church that their deeper sense becomes clear and what would otherwise seem offensive disappears.

The saying, “Let the dead bury their dead,” would not have been fitting for Jesus to speak, and had He been a real man, it could never have entered into His mind to create so unreal and cruel a collision of duties; for no command, Divine or human, could have sufficed to make it right for a man to contravene the ethical obligations of family life. So here again, the obvious conclusion is that the saying originated in the early Church, and was intended to inculcate renunciation of a world which was felt to belong to the kingdom of the dead, and to illustrate this by an extreme example.

The Twelve

It is refreshing to read some clear-headedness over the evidence for the Twelve, too. So often one gets the impression that the mere presence of the Twelve in gospels is all the evidence scholars need to be assured of their historicity. The following passage does not address the existence of the Twelve directly, but it does point to reasons to see them as literary-theological creations.

The mission of the Twelve, too, is, as an historical occurrence, simply inconceivable. It would have been different if Jesus had given them a definite teaching, or form of belief, or positive conception of any kind, to take with them as this message. But how ill the charge to the Twelve fulfils its purpose as a discourse of instruction! What the disciples needed to learn, namely, what and how they were to teach, they are not told; and the discourse which Matthew has composed, working on the basis of Luke, implies quite a different set of circumstances. It is concerned with the struggles of the Church with the world and the sufferings which it must endure.

This is the explanation of the references to suffering which constantly recur in the discourses of Jesus, in spite of the fact that His disciples were not enduring any sufferings, and that the Evangelist cannot even make it conceivable as a possibility that those before whose eyes Jesus holds up the way of the Cross could ever come into such a position. The Twelve, at any rate, had no sufferings to encounter during their mission, and if they were merely being sent by Jesus into the surrounding districts they were not very likely to meet with kings and rulers there.

That it is a case of invented history is also shown by the fact that nothing is said about the doings of the disciples, and they seem to come back again immediately, though the earliest Evangelist, it is true, to prevent this from being too apparent, inserts at this point the story of the execution of the Baptist.

Schweitzer agrees with Bauer on this point:

All this is just and acute criticism. The charge to the Twelve is not a discourse of instruction. What Jesus there sets before the disciples they could not at that time have understood, and the promises which He makes to them are not appropriate to their circumstances.

The teachings of Jesus

Many of the discourses are mere bundles of heterogeneous sayings, though this is not so much the case in Mark as in the others. He has not forgotten that effective polemic consists of short, pointed, incisive arguments. The others, as advanced theologians, are of opinion that it is fitting to indulge in arguments which have nothing to do with the matter in hand, or only the most distant connexion with it. They form the transition to the discourses of the Fourth Gospel, which usually degenerate into an aimless wrangle. In the same connexion it is rightly observed that the discourses of Jesus do not advance from point to point by the logical development of an idea, the thoughts are merely strung together one after another, the only connexion, if connexion there is, being due to a kind of conventional mould in which the discourse is cast.

And the parables are a bigger giveaway of nonhistoricity (despite Robert Funk’s and John Crossan’s efforts). They serve as theological and narrative foils, not historical reminiscences.

The parables, Bauer continues, present difficulties no less great. It is an ineptitude on the part of the apologists to suggest that the parables are intended to make things clear. Jesus Himself contradicts this view by saying bluntly and unambiguously to His disciples that to them it was given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of God, but to the people all His teaching must be spoken as parables, that “seeing they might see and not perceive, and hearing they might hear and not understand.” The parables were therefore intended only to exercise the intelligence of the disciples; and so far from being understood by the people, mystified and repelled them; as if it would not have been much better to exercise the minds of the disciples in this way when He was alone with them. The disciples, however, do not even understand the simple parable of the Sower, but need to have it interpreted to them, so that the Evangelist once more stultifies his own theory.

Bauer’s arguments begin to break apart?

Here is where Schweitzer begins to see the arguments of Bauer falling apart:

Bruno Bauer is right in his observation that the parables offer a serious problem, seeing that they were intended to conceal and not to make plain, and that Jesus nevertheless taught only in parables. The character of the difficulty, however, is such that even literary criticism has no explanation ready. Bruno Bauer admits that he does not know what was in the mind of the Evangelist when he composed these parables, and thinks that he had no very definite purpose, or at least that the suggestions which were floating in his mind were not worked up into a clearly ordered whole.

Here, therefore, Bauer’s method broke down.

I disagree, but I have the advantage of access to scholarship produced since Bauer and Schweitzer. Mary Ann Tolbert and others have presented strong cases that the parables served core thematic narrative functions in the Gospel of Mark. The purpose of the parables as blinding agents is taken directly from Isaiah 6:9-10. The narrative of Mark is in the tradition of the Jewish stories of the inner few who understand being favoured to replace those whose hearts are hardened. It is a literary-theological motif that stretches back as far as Seth’s replacement of Cain.

Schweitzer finds further weaknesses in Bauer’s case that have, again, only been remedied by subsequent scholarship:

He did not, however, allow this to shake his confidence in his reading of the facts, and he continued to maintain it in the face of a new difficulty which he himself brought clearly to light. Mark, according to him, is an artistic unity, the offspring of a single mind. How then is it to be explained that in addition to other less important doublets it contains two accounts of the feeding of the multitude? Here Bauer has recourse to . . . Ur-Markus, and ascribes these doublets to later interpolation. Later on he became more and more doubtful about the artistic unity of Mark, despite the fact that this was the fundamental assumption of his theory. . . .

But even supposing the assumption of a redaction were justified, how could the redactor have conceived the idea of adding to the first account of the feeding of the multitude a second which is identical with it almost to the very wording? . . . . But if he once admits the presence of traditional materials, his whole theory of the earliest Evangelist’s having created the Gospel falls to the ground.

Such doublets have since been shown to form part of a very ordered and well-structured narrative plan. This is confirmed by the metaphorical two-stage healing process of the blind man at the end of this sequence of doublets. There is nothing arbitrary or accidental about the doublets. Werner Kelber has shown the way they serve to unite Jews and Gentiles into Christ as Jesus performs similar miracles in turn among each group. The blunt style of staccato sentences joined by “ands” and “buts”, and its dark theology, have misled many. These ideas, and in particular the literary accomplishments of the Gospel of Mark, have been frequent topics of posts here. There is nothing clumsy about Mark’s literary structure.

The miracles of Jesus could only have been imagined after Jesus was hailed as the Messiah — that is, after his resurrection

I love the logic of Bauer’s argument here as presented by Schweitzer:

The way in which Jesus makes known His Messiahship is based on another theory of the original Evangelist. . . . [I]t was only at Caesarea Philippi, in the closing period of His life, that Jesus made Himself known as the Messiah, . . . therefore, He was not previously held to be so either by His disciples or by the people. This is clearly shown in the answers of the disciples when Jesus asked them whom men took Him to be. The implied course of events, however, is determined by art, not history—as history it would be inconceivable.

Could there indeed be a more absurd impossibility? “Jesus,” says Bauer, “must perform these innumerable, these astounding miracles because, according to the view which the Gospels represent, He is the Messiah; He must perform them in order to prove Himself to be the Messiah—and yet no one recognises Him as the Messiah! That is the greatest miracle of all, that the people had not long ago recognised the Messiah in this wonder-worker. Jesus could only be held to be the Messiah in consequence of doing miracles; but He only began to do miracles when, in the faith of the early Church, He rose from the dead as Messiah, and the facts that He rose as Messiah and that He did miracles, are one and the same fact.”

Mark, however, represents a Jesus who does miracles and who nevertheless does not thereby reveal Himself to be the Messiah. He was obliged so to represent Him, because he was conscious that Jesus was not recognised and acknowledged as Messiah by the people, nor even by His immediate followers, in the unhesitating fashion in which those of later times imagined Him to have been recognised. Mark’s conception and representation of the matter carried back into the past the later developments by which there finally arose a Christian community for which Jesus had become the Messiah. “Mark is also influenced by an artistic instinct which leads him to develop the main interest, the origin of the faith, gradually. It is only after the ministry of Jesus has extended over a considerable period, and is, indeed, drawing towards its close, that faith arises in the circle of the disciples; and it is only later still, when, in the person of the blind man at Jericho, a prototype of the great company of believers that was to be has hailed the Lord with a Messianic salutation, that, at the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the faith of the people suddenly ripens and finds expression.”

It is true, this artistic design is completely marred when Jesus does miracles which must have made Him known to every child as the Messiah.

Schweitzer identifies several major points of discovery by Bauer in this discussion. Firstly, the Caesarea Philippi scene and its function to reveal the Messiahship of Jesus contains internal evidence of Markan priority. (Read the online chapter for the details.)

Secondly, the notion that miracles were to be a sign of the messiah is shown by Bauer to be another Christian invention. Schweitzer takes some of Bauer’s arguments and extends them to demonstrate even greater problems for the Gospel narratives as containing historical cores.

The difficulty involved in the conception of miracle as a proof of the Messiahship of Jesus is another discovery of Bauer’s. Only here, instead of probing the question to the bottom, he stops halfway. How do we know, he should have gone on to ask, that the Messiah was expected to appear as an earthly wonder-worker? There is nothing to that effect in Jewish writings. And do not the Gospels themselves prove that any one might do miracles without suggesting to a single person the idea that he might be the Messiah? Accordingly the only inference to be drawn from the Marcan representation is that miracles were not among the characteristic marks of the Messiah, and that it was only later, in the Christian community, which made Jesus the miracle-worker into Jesus the Messiah, that this connexion between miracles and Messiahship was established.

In dealing with the question of the triumphal entry, too, Bauer halts half-way. Where do we read that Jesus was hailed as Messiah upon that occasion? If He had been taken by the people to be the Messiah, the controversy in Jerusalem must have turned on this personal question; but it did not even touch upon it, and the Sanhedrin never thinks of setting up witnesses to Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah. When once Bauer had exposed the historical and literary impossibility of Jesus’ being hailed by the people as Messiah, he ought to have gone on to draw the conclusion that Jesus did not, according to Mark, make a Messianic entry into Jerusalem.

It was, however, a remarkable achievement on Bauer’s part to have thus set forth clearly the historical difficulties of the life of Jesus.

The predictions of suffering are literary artifice

The stereotyped character of the thrice-repeated prediction of the passion, which, according to Bauer, betrays a certain poverty and feebleness of imagination on the part of the earliest Evangelist, shows clearly, he thinks, the unhistorical character of the utterance recorded. The fact that the prediction occurs three times, its definiteness increasing upon each occasion, proves its literary origin.

And the transfiguration, likewise

It is the same with the transfiguration. The group in which the heroic representatives of the Law and the Prophets stand as supporters of the Saviour, was modelled by the earliest Evangelist. In order to place it in the proper light and to give becoming splendour to its great subject, he has introduced a number of traits taken from the story of Moses.

The geographical quirks

We have the same apologetics today among scholars trying to rescue the historical nature of the gospel itineraries:

Bauer pitilessly exposes the difficulties of the journey of Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem, and exults over the perplexities of the “apologists.” “The theologian,” he says, “must not boggle at this journey, he must just believe it. He must in faith follow the footsteps of his Lord! Through the midst of Galilee and Samaria—and at the same time, for Matthew also claims a hearing, through Judaea on the farther side of Jordan! I wish him Bon voyage!”

The Little Apocalypse

The eschatological discourses are not history, but are merely an expansion of those explanations of the sufferings of the Church of which we have had a previous example in the charge to the Twelve. An Evangelist who wrote before the destruction of Jerusalem would have referred to the Temple, to Jerusalem, and to the Jewish people, in a very different way.

Lazarus is the killer

The story of Lazarus deserves special attention. . . . This is the decisive point for the question of the relation between the Synoptists and John. Vain are all the efforts of the apologists to explain why the Synoptists do not mention this miracle. The reason they ignore it is that it originated after their time in the mind of the Fourth Evangelist, and they were unacquainted with his Gospel. And yet it is the most valuable of all, because it shows clearly the concentric circles of progressive intensification by which the development of the Gospel history proceeds.

“The Fourth Gospel,” remarks Bauer, “represents a dead man as having been restored to life after having been four days under the power of death, and having consequently become a prey to corruption; Luke represents the young man at Nain as being restored to life when his body was being carried to the grave; Mark, the earliest Evangelist, can only tell us of the restoration of a dead person who had the moment before succumbed to an illness. The theologians have a great deal to say about the contrast between the canonical and the apocryphal writings, but they might have found a similar contrast even within the four Gospels, if the light had not been so directly in their eyes.”

The fictions of Judas and the Last Supper

The treachery of Judas, as described in the Gospels, is inexplicable.

The Lord’s Supper, considered as an historic scene, is revolting and inconceivable. Jesus can no more have instituted it than He can have uttered the saying, “Let the dead bury their dead.” In both cases the objectionableness arises from the fact that a tenet of the early Church has been cast into the form of an historical saying of Jesus. A man who was present in person, corporeally present, could not entertain the idea of offering others his flesh and blood to eat. To demand from others that they should, while he was actually present, imagine the bread and wine which they were eating to be his body and blood, would be for an actual man wholly impossible. It was only when Jesus’ actual bodily presence had been removed, and only when the Christian community had existed for some time, that such a conception as is expressed in that formula could have arisen. A point which clearly betrays the later composition of the narrative is that the Lord does not turn to the disciples sitting with Him at table and say, “This is my blood which is shed for you,” but, since the words were invented by the early Church, speaks of the “many” for whom He gives Himself. The only historical fact is that the Jewish Passover was gradually transformed by the Christian community into a feast which had reference to Jesus.

Yet still there are scholars who convince themselves of the historicity of Judas and of Jesus instituting a meal to commemorate his death by followers symbolically eating his flesh.


The results of Bauer’s analysis may be summed up as follows:—

The Fourth Evangelist has betrayed the secret of the original Gospel, namely, that it too can be explained on purely literary grounds. Mark has “loosed us from the theological lie.” “Thanks to the kindly fate,” cries Bauer, “which has preserved to us this writing of Mark by which we have been delivered from the web of deceit of this hellish pseudo-science!”

In order to tear this web of falsehood the critic and historian must, despite his repugnance, once more take up the pretended arguments of the theologians in favour of the historicity of the Gospel narratives and set them on their feet, only to knock them down again. In the end Bauer’s only feeling towards the theologians was one of contempt. “The expression of his contempt,” he declares, “is the last weapon which the critic, after refuting the arguments of the theologians, has at his disposal for their discomfiture; it is his right to use it; that puts the finishing touch upon his task and points forward to the happy time when the arguments of the theologians shall no more be heard of.”

These outbreaks of bitterness are to be explained by the feeling of repulsion which German apologetic theology inspired in every genuinely honest and thoughtful man by the methods which it adopted in opposing Strauss. Hence the fiendish joy with which he snatches away the crutches of this pseudo-science, hurls them to a distance, and makes merry over its helplessness. A furious hatred, a fierce desire to strip the theologians absolutely bare, carried Bauer much farther than his critical acumen would have led him in cold blood.

This leads Schweitzer into a discussion of Bauer’s views of “true religion” and Christianity in particular and the place of a free self-consciousness. That was outlined in my previous post on Roland Boer’s discussion and I will not cover any of Schweitzer’s discussion of that here.

It’s astonishing to see that the same apologetic blindness that so offended Bauer reigning so freely in so many quarters of biblical scholarship even today.

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Neil Godfrey

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20 thoughts on “Bruno Bauer (through Albert Schweitzer)”

  1. “It’s astonishing to see that the same apologetic blindness that so offended Bauer reigning so freely in so many quarters of biblical scholarship even today.”

    True. The Jesus Guild would like to pretend that the work of Bauer never existed, and that mythicism is a recent Internet fad. Which just shows their contempt for scholarship that dares to wander outside comfortable paradigms.

  2. Good stuff. The fact that there are so many fresh and remarkable insights to be had from reading Bauer shows how much most modern New Testament scholarship, driven by American evangelical interests, has really let us down today. It’s like we graduated from high school and went back to kindergarten.

  3. The insights of Bauer seem refreshingly ‘modern’ in comparison to the apologetics of present-day scholarship designed to shore up belief in Jesus. It is indeed a pity this work is considered out-dated when it is referenced at all.

    I’m pleased the notion of gMark’s ‘messianic secret’ has been recognized as possibly an attempt to deal with the embarrassment over the otherwise inexplicable silence about this earthly ministry of Jesus in the 1st century.

  4. In relation to your section where Bruno Bauer talks about no evidence for Messianic expectations, I would like to ask the following question. If the idea of Messianic expectation was a literary invention of the Gospel writers, why did Rabbi Akiva and other Jewish leaders seize upon this Christian literary invention to persuade the Jews that Bar Kokhba was the Messiah? Unless you do not believe any of them were historical either.

    For what it’s worth, here is what the Jewish Encyclopedia says on the subject.

    “Not until after the fall of the Maccabean dynasty, when the despotic government of Herod the Great and his family, and the increasing tyranny of the Roman empire had made their condition ever more unbearable, did the Jews seek refuge in the hope of a personal Messiah. They yearned for the promised deliverer of the house of David, who would free them from the yoke of the hated foreign usurper, would put an end to the impious Roman rule, and would establish His own reign of peace and justice in its place. In this way their hopes became gradually centered in the Messiah. As evidence that in the Roman period the Messianic hope had become universal among the Jews may be adduced: (1) Jesus’ conviction that he was the Messiah, a conviction inspired in him by the current belief in a Messiah, as is shown by the fact that on his entry into Jerusalem the populace hailed him as such; (2) the testimony of Josephus (“B. J.” vi. 5, § 4), Tacitus (“Hist.” v. 13), and Suetonius (Vespasian, iv.) regarding the Messianic belief of the Jewish people at that time; (3) the fact that even in Philo’s picture of the future, in spite of its moralistic tendency, the Messianic king has a place (comp. “De Præmiis et Pœnis,” § 16). It may be noted in this connection that the “Prayer for the Coming of the Messiah,” as the version of it given both in the Babylonian and in the Palestinian recensions of the Shemoneh ‘Esreh shows (see Nos. 14 and 15 respectively), can not have become an integral part of the daily prayers later than the time immediately following the destruction of the Temple, for in that period the “Shemoneh ‘Esreh” received its present form. Hillel’s assertion (Sanh. 98b) that there would be no future Messiah for Israel since the latter had had its Messiah in the days of Hezekiah, can have no weight as a contrary argument, as Hillel lived in the reign of Herod the Great, at the beginning of the period which marks the development of the popular belief in the Messiah.”

    Here is the reference from Suetonius.

    “An ancient and well-established belief became widespread in the East that the ruler of the world at this time would arise from Judaea. This prophecy as events proved referred to the future Emperor of Rome, but was taken by the Jews to apply to them.”

    Another interpolation maybe?

    1. Here is a recent post of mine (outlining a scholarly approach to the question): http://vridar.wordpress.com/2012/07/19/a-model-history-lesson-or-why-does-rabbi-akiba-proclaim-bar-kokhba-the-messiah/

      The “messianism” surrounding Bar Kochba cannot validly be transplanted to the thinking of Galilee (or anywhere in Palestine) in the early first century. Other scholars have also made this fundamental point clear, such as William Green and Jeffrey Staley. Ditto for the very similar set of circumstances in the first Jewish War.

    2. The key phrase, that you seemed to miss, was “the supposed time of Jesus.” That means: do we have specific evidence of messianic expectations in first quarter of the first century? The evidence you present doesn’t seem to address that specific point. I don’t think anyone is questioning later messianic expectations. I don’t have an opinion on this, but I just wanted to clarify what I read in Neil’s post.

  5. Neil, and Grog,

    The first point I want to make is that I was not using the Bar Kokhba figure to establish that there was Messianic expectation in the middle of the first century. I was using it to emphasize the contention between Christians and Jews. If the Gospels existed before 130 C.E., I’m sure the Jewish leaders knew what they said. I was saying that I don’t think the Jewish leaders, knowing what the Gospels said, would use a similar idea to promote Bar Kokhba. Basically, If the Jews had not been expecting a Messiah for some time, they would not be promoting Bar Kokbha as one, especially if they knew this was an invention of the Christians.

    Now as far as the post Neil linked to, I would say the situation was historical. If I may now postulate a little bit. It appears that this Akiva was strongly against Christianity. It seems he was also influential as Aquila’s Rabbi. Seeing that Aquila’s literal Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, did not use the Greek form christos in his version. Not only that, but the name Joshua was not rendered as Iesous (Jesus). Would Akiva and Aquila both have been fooled by this invented religion to oppose these specific renderings? But that is not really my point here, the point is that this group was against Christianity and would surly promote another Messiah instead of Jesus. Also we have Justin’s view, he says that in the present war it is only the Christians whom Bar Kokhba, the leader of the rebellion of the Jews, commanded to be punished severely, if they did not deny Jesus as the Messiah and blaspheme him. – Justin, First Apology 31.5-6

    1. Howard, I think you have misunderstood. I’m not saying the Christians invented the idea of a messiah-to-come. That was very much a Second Temple Jewish idea that the Christians applied to Jesus. We are talking about evidence for a general popular expectation of a coming messiah — not the various and many Jewish intellectual speculations and understandings of the details of that messianic advent. There was no reason Jews would shun the idea of claiming Bar Kochba a messiah simply because Christians said Jesus was a messiah. The two types of messiah were quite different. The persecution against Christians by Bar Kochba appears to have been the result of Christian refusal to support his rebellion against Rome. They no doubt did deny he was the messiah, too. but that would have been incidental — what mattered was that their denial spilled over into refusal to support the revolt.

      1. Neil, I did not misunderstand, apparently I am not making my point clear, but lets put aside the Bar Kokhba topic for now because it was not directly related to the specific topic.

        So if you are looking for evidence of Messianic expectation for the early first century, why did you ignore what I provided from the Jewish Encyclopedia, especially the quote from Suetonius? I’ll give it to you again.

        “An ancient and well-established belief became widespread in the East that the ruler of the world at this time would arise from Judaea. This prophecy as events proved referred to the future Emperor of Rome, but was taken by the Jews to apply to them.”

        It is believed that Suetonius lived from about 69 – 122 C.E. And an ancient belief to him would surely go back beyond the first century. What is he talking about here if not the Messianic ruler of the Jews? What other non-Jewish prophecies about a ruler of the world out of Judaea would the Jews have accepted besides their own prophecies concerning the Messiah? So what is your explanation of this? Is Suetonius talking about something else? Is it an interpolation? What is your opinion?

        1. Suetonius tells us nothing about popular movements in Palestine in the early first century. Suetonius was born towards the end of the first Jewish War. He is discussing the time of the Jewish War. Josephus turned to ancient prophecies to apply them to Vespasian but that tells us nothing about popular messianism in the early first century. I mentioned a couple of several scholars who have made the same point. The evidence of Matthew and other gospels is — as I have argued elsewhere and as Bauer long ago saw — is against there being such a social movement at that time.

        2. Howard, I have removed your near-1000 word response. If you really want to engage in an exploratory discussion — and not just a dogged determination to win an argument — I ask you to demonstrate that you understand the point I have made till now. If I am satisfied that you understand my argument and you respond accordingly we may continue. Otherwise the discussion ends here.

          1. Neil, I would like to explore this issue, but the discussion gets bogged down and redirected because I am not happy with your responses to me. For example, simple stating that, “Suetonius tells us nothing about popular movements in Palestine in the early first century,” tells me nothing. You are pulling an NT scholar move here, you are not demonstrating why your statement is true, only that I should take your word for it. Because in all honesty, I believe Suetonius is talking about Messianic expectation, and I honestly do not see your logic that he is not talking about this. You also need to take your own advice and explore the issue, explain and demonstrate why your view is true and not just make sweeping generalization that offer no evidence. That is why I have to resort to attacking your manner of argumentation, because you gave me nothing to work with in your response to my proposed evidence.

  6. Neil, my comment on your post Bruno Bauer and Today (“Is This Not the Carpenter?” — chapter 2) was meant to be in response to this post. Sorry. This is in reply to your response at that thread. For the comments this relates to see http://vridar.wordpress.com/2012/08/18/bruno-bauer-and-today-is-this-not-the-carpenter-chapter-2/

    Your suggestion that messianic expectation was just an elite or esoteric literary trope looks dubious. The teachings of the Psalms and prophets were popular ideas in ancient Judaism. The Gospel story of Jesus reading Isaiah in the temple is an example to suggest the priests read these texts out loud to a wide public audience who were quite familiar with the main messages.

    Memetic and mimetic are not the same. Mimesis is imitation. Memetics describes how ideas and culture evolve by the same processes seen in natural selection – for example as Richard Dawkins has argued, adaptive units of selection are robust, durable and fecund, and we can see these features in culture as well as in nature. I disagree that seeing the Historical Jesus as a meme is not evidence based. The question is how the idea evolved, what its causal factors were, and how the narrow passage through the mind of Mark presents a distinctive evolutionary stamp.

    On Lazarus, the syncretic origins may be tangential to Bauer’s reading, but they are far from ‘cloudy’. Murdock’s book Christ in Egypt provides an excellent analysis of the whole topic of Christian borrowing from Egyptian religion. Egyptian religion was the biggest and oldest culture in the region of Israel, and there is a strong argument that Christianity concealed its debt to this main source of key ideas. I raise this in response to the suggestion that ‘The reason they ignore it is that it originated after their time’, when there is evidence it was already a very ancient myth.

    1. You provide no evidence that messianic tropes in the literature seized the imaginations of the Jewish populace to the effect that they were about to be “fulfilled” before their eyes. We can’t use a Gospel story as evidence since it is the plausibility of the Gospels that is under scrutiny. But recall that Matthew’s gospel implies there was no such general expectation. It was all new stuff to the rulers and everyone else, the story leads us to believe.

      I’m not interested in discussing theoretical “memetic” diffusion. That is simply an analagous metaphor. I am more interested in the concrete evidence. Ditto for the Egytian influences. I don’t deny the latter, but I have never seen enough evidence to launch a practical discussion. Parallels alone are not enough.

      1. I don’t have evidence either way on the messianic tropes, just noting that their absence is a surprising suggestion from Bauer that conflicts with traditional reading, as does the entire mythicist hypothesis. As an example of the central place of the claim of expectation, Hebrews 11:26 says Moses “regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt.” This is the sort of line in the New Testament that seems to reference a longstanding idea that God would be incarnate on earth. I’m not sure where the burden of proof sits on this question of a previous expectation of a messiah, but I would be interested to read more of Bauer’s justification for his view, which I had not encountered before in other mythicist literature. http://www.manavai.com/n_articles_p2.htm lists the supposed Old Testament prophecies of Christ. It is clear these were primarily used as midrash in the Gospels, but my initial reaction was that Bauer goes too far in asserting there was no expectation of a messianic incarnation.

        It is perfectly fair for you to focus on evidence. However, it is also reasonable to speculate about a broader theoretical conceptual framework that made the culture receptive to the ideas of the New Testament. This framework should really address topics where the evidence is fragmentary and difficult, such as cosmology, syncretism and relation to earlier prophecy. In terms of philosophy, such speculative analysis can be classed as synthetic a priori, or necessary truths, with extensive correlation at least suggesting causation. Concrete evidence alone does not provide a theoretical framework to explain why the Christ myth met such a receptive audience. The jigsaw pieces have to be fitted together according to a conceptual scheme. Fitting the evidence within a systematic atheology can add to the debate by helping to explain motive and means for the construction of the Christ myth. Previous thought had primed the pump, producing fertile soil in which the seed of Mark could take root and flourish.

        1. I don’t see any expectation of an incarnation on earth in Hebrews 11:26 at all.

          I have not read Bauer’s justification in his own words. But other literature I have read includes:

          Judaisms and their messiahs at the turn of the Christian era by Jacob Neusner. Several chapters in there are thought-provoking, esp. William Green’s.

          I mentioned Staley’s review of Fitzmyer’s The One Who Is to Come. Staley exposes the common assumptions among scholars that they bring to reading about messiahs. A word search of the blog will bring up the link to Staley’s review.

          I also began a series of posts looking at Horsley’s Bandits, Prophets & Messiahs: Popular Movements in the Time of Jesus. My reading of the evidence he presented pointed to the normal banditry and potential royal pretenders through the time of Jesus, but it was not till we enter the period of tensions that exploded in the Jewish War that we see first (and even then ambiguous) evidence of messianic hopefuls attracting popular followings. Horsely and others may disagree with the way I have interpreted the evidence, but I believe it is at least consistent with what others such as Neusner, Green and Staley have written about the absence of evidence for such a popular hope. Links to my articles are in the Categories drop-down box.

          Then there are also the articles and books (e.g. Messiah Myth) by Thomas L. Thompson arguing that the “messianic hope” was really a ubiquitous trope throughout the Middle East for centuries preceding and through to the first century. The Song of the Poor Man expressed universal hopes.

          And my recent series on Christ Among the Messiahs pointed to the core texts that fueled messianic speculations (not “expectations”) (among those who could read and had access to the texts — the “literati”) — and in this context Paul could convince many that the Messiah had come without us having any need for converts to have had any prior eager-waiting experience.

          As for the Gospel of Matthew, note that when the Magi arrive and start asking for the newly born king of the Jews everyone is shocked. There is no suggestion that they had been waiting to hear that news. No-one had any idea that he was to be born in Bethlehem — Herod had to ask the teachers of the law to learn that information. All this indicates that that Micah passage was not understood as a messianic text until Matthew made it so. His narrative introduces the Messiah to a stunned Judea caught by surprise. The preaching of John the Baptist likewise does not express any popular expectation. JB is a mouthpiece of prophetic passages by means of the craft of the evangelists.

          Note also in the Gospel of Mark that when we are told what people thought of Jesus we hear that they think he is one of the prophets. So much for the argument that Jews had it all worked out that a miracle worker was going to suddenly appear in their midst so many years after something prophesied in Daniel, etc.

          I suspect it is familiarity with the story that has made it so difficult for us to see that it is just a story that appeared for the first time among the Christians and that it does not really convey any historical “traditions” up till that time.

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