Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics
by Bruno Bauer
The origin of the Gospel account of Matthew’s infancy.
First, let us dispel the false notion that can easily arise from a superficial understanding of our above interpretation.
Schneckenburger **) had already attempted to assert that the account of the Magi’s homage “had emerged from a gradual traditional transformation of the facts as reported by Luke, which was stamped with the seal of truth.” However, he failed to carry out this assertion in many respects. “What injustice,” Matthew might exclaim, “to deny me the belief that is so easily and baselessly given to my neighbor! And what does it mean, we continue, to say that the seal of truth is lacking in Matthew’s account compared to Luke’s? Is not Matthew’s account more manly and forceful, and now it should give way to the soft pastoral scene of Luke * ) and be surpassed by it? This is, as we will demonstrate again shortly, a very uncritical method to allow Matthew’s account to arise ‘through embellishing tradition’ and then to push the parallel interpretation so far that the counter-image in Luke’s narrative is shown for every single detail in Matthew’s account. Strauss was therefore right to call this “interpretation” of Matthew’s account from Luke’s a “strained” one **), but he certainly did not refute this interpretation, nor did he replace it with a better one, when, following the tradition hypothesis, he allows both accounts to develop independently in tradition and prefers the “derivation” of Matthew’s account “from Old Testament passages and Jewish opinions” to that strained interpretation. Furthermore, Strauss says that this derivation of one account from the other is even unlikely if Schneckenburger’s assumption that Luke’s account bears the stamp of historical truth is correct. “But every reason” for such a derivation “is lacking since we have two equally unhistorical narratives before us.” We must confess that we cannot find any reason in this statement why one narrative could not have received the germ and impetus for its development from the other.
**) Whoever the origin of the first canonical Gospel, pp. 69-72.
*) Schneckenburger, in fact, only had the account of the shepherds’ adoration in mind when he allowed Matthew’s account to arise from a traditional source in the aforementioned passage of his book.
**) L. J. l, 314.
According to our interpretation, the entire evangelical prehistory of Matthew has arisen from that of his predecessor. But what does “arisen” mean? Do we mean to say, or have we said, or is this interpretation necessarily linked to the view that Matthew has meticulously examined each detail of Luke’s account and then anxiously searched for a corresponding but different one? On the contrary, we have not only said but also demonstrated the opposite. Matthew was guided by his predecessor to that high point where the prospect of the heathen masses, illuminated by the light of the new revelation, and the sufferings of the Messiah were opened up, and his only task was to transform Simeon’s prophecy into a real story, the center of which was the messianic child. During this work, he was not so alone and deserted that he had to take everything on his shoulders and step by step ask himself whether he was still on historical ground, but as he was inspired by the idea that had seized him in the work of his predecessor, so the experiences of the community, their spread in the heathen world, their suffering and martyrdom gave him enough material for his work; thus he was drawn into the general process of religious perception, which believed its content to be necessary and secure only if it found it again in the life of its Lord; thus the once-formed collision, which lay in the arrival of the Magi, drew him into its tearing development; finally, the consequences of this collision seemed to him natural enough if they were also predetermined in the divine plan, as the prophecies of the Old Testament proved to him. Compared to these inspiring, driving, and tearing forces, it is very little to point to us a couple of Old Testament passages and Jewish opinions as sufficient reason for the emergence of such a rich and profound account as that of Matthew.
The proof that this account could not have developed in tradition is the same as the one we presented above for the literary elaboration of Luke’s prehistory and has its nerve in the line of infinite regress, which does not let us rest until we have arrived at the formative self-consciousness as the author of the account. We do not need to repeat the proof. Our explanation of the account has sufficiently demonstrated that the development of the collision from the arrival of the Magi in Jerusalem to the settling of Jesus’ parents in Nazareth is strictly interconnected, that no detail could have arisen independently, and that everything individual only has its meaning and its origin in the idea of the whole, so that the whole, with its parts, emerged simultaneously and as the work of the author.
Apologetics sometimes have a rather peculiar approach to their arguments. At one moment, they provide evidence for the “historical credibility” of a narrative based on the fact that the evangelist does not mention an Old Testament passage whose fulfillment is claimed. If the prophecy is then cited, and the appearance arises that the narrative was only derived from it, the apologist is not daunted. They promptly point out that the meaning of the Old Testament passage was originally too different from the sense that an evangelist gives it, to have been the source of the narrative that the critic attributes to it. The fact must have already existed, before the evangelist could have been prompted to associate it with any Old Testament passage through some resonance or analogy. The prehistory of Matthew gives the apologist the opportunity to use both arguments.
Firstly, we could accuse the apologetics of being unfair. For the incongruence between a narrative and the Old Testament citation accompanying it, the apologist can only rely on if they admit that the suspicion that the narrative may have been formed from the Old Testament passage has greater apparent justification if both are in precise agreement. If they think so, then they have certainly won against most cases from the outset, since the Old Testament perspective and the Christian one are essentially different and can therefore never fully coincide. Or rather, they have only won against the earlier form of criticism, but not against criticism as such, which will continue to advance beyond their previous assumptions, where they shared the same assumptions as their opponents.
If the principle no longer holds that the evangelical views were spun out of the Old Testament passages, then the whole argument of apologetics has become mere chatter. Strauss indeed responds to the question why Matthew does not explicitly refer to Balaam’s oracle if the story of the Magi’s star arose from it: “Because he himself did not spin this story out of the Old Testament passage.” *) However, Matthew did not receive the story of the Magi’s star in this specific form from tradition, but rather he created it within the context of the idea from which his whole infancy narrative arose. So why does he not refer to Balaam’s oracle? Well, because he did not think of it, because the evangelical view was not spun out of the Old Testament passages, and when it coincides with Old Testament forms, it did not always need to be immediately aware of this agreement. But where does this coincidence come from, on which the appearance of chance might now fall? It comes from the fact that human nature is one, and religious views can also take similar forms in different circles due to the unity of the category. The natural element can never be dispensed with in religious views, and the impulse to create a natural or heavenly image for their essential content is inherent in them. Hence, the similarity in this case. It is possible that Matthew received the comparison of the Messiah’s arrival with the rising of a star from the sacred language of the community, but then it was not necessary for this image to be borrowed from the Old Testament, nor does the proposition that Matthew made the image into something completely different in any way become endangered by it.
*) L.J. I. 313
The Apologist asks further, where does it come from in the other case, that such a heterogeneous narrative was formed from an Old Testament passage that originally had a completely different meaning? How is this derivation of the narrative possible at all given the total difference between the two sides? Strauss *) responds to this question by saying that the failed combination came about because the evangelist “was given some narrative without the key that belonged to it,” and now the misfortune befell him, “that he sometimes even attempted false keys.” However, this explanation is already flawed in its assumption that Matthew composed his prehistory from individual narratives that were given to him. The Bethlehem child massacre presupposes the report of the Magi’s arrival in Jerusalem, and thus also their worship, and therefore could neither be composed as an independent narrative nor be the subject of a legend. And what interest could the legend of the holy child’s stay with his parents in Egypt have generated on its own and for so long – who knows how long? – in the tradition of the community, until it came to Matthew and led him to show off his interpretive skills precisely from their weakest side? So be more cautious with your reasoning, good Apologist, you do not gain any notice for your knowledge of history if you show that the evangelist brought such a distant Old Testament passage to one aspect of his narrative that it is clear that it could not have made him so inventive that he formed that aspect according to it. Namely, you realize where we are going and where we will end up? Those individual aspects of the narrative, such as the Bethlehem child massacre and the flight to Egypt, were neither received from tradition nor spun out of the Old Testament passage. Rather, they arose from the development of the assumed collision, and the Old Testament prophecy presented itself to him as such through even the most external allusion or connection.
*) L. J. I, 313.
If one still insists on asking, in the most candid wonder, how on earth it could have been possible for Matthew to create such a different narrative from Luke’s, we have already demonstrated that and we will have plenty of opportunities to show what transformations the accounts of Mark underwent in Luke’s writing, and what new forms Matthew created from the creations of his predecessors.
We have a completely different concern, which we do not want to hide. Luke has replaced some beautiful structures in place of the reports he found in Mark, and Matthew is even richer in new and happy compositions. But both have not brought their new forms into a perfect connection with each other or with what they retained from Mark. How much more successful would they have been in developing the prehistory! Luke creates a complete whole from the beginning, which he does not succeed in doing again in his gospel, and Matthew, who takes the seeds of his prehistory from Luke’s, is not disturbed by it at all, and he creates a cohesive new composition, which was not possible for him in the rest of his work to the same extent. So should they still be considered the authors of these prehistories? They are and remain so. Everything has its time: when they wrote, it was precisely the time when Christian self-awareness went further than at the time of Mark into its assumptions and tried to grasp and present them in the only form accessible to it, in the form of the prehistory of its Lord. For this edition, the time was a creative one, Luke and Matthew were seized by the power of a new urge for creation, and they gave in the most perfect form what their time demanded.
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