Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics
by Bruno Bauer
It will be useful to remind those who are simultaneously hard and soft-hearted, and capable of such different emotions that they grant belief to Luke without reason but deny it to Matthew, of the chronology in the Gospel of the former.
Matthew did not attempt to address this subject and did not even want to use the information provided by his predecessor. Firstly, he did not have the interest that Luke must have had in chronology, as he did not include the history of the Baptist in the infancy narrative, and thus did not have the urgent need to determine the chronological relationship between the appearance of both men. Secondly, his reflection is so predominantly focused on a specific aspect of the content that all other considerations are irrelevant and disappear. He is preoccupied with the reflection on the relationship between the history of the Messiah and the prophecies of the Old Testament. He demonstrated this relationship in the final part of the infancy narrative, after having already reminded the reader of the prophecy about the future glory of Bethlehem, as a complete conformity between the prophecy and the fulfillment with regard to the localities where the sacred history takes place, and finally explained why the divine child had to come to Nazareth. This was enough for him, and sufficiently so that he even forgets all reflection on time and makes the transition to the account of Mark, which he now incorporates with the words: “In those days came John the Baptist” (Matt. 3:1). He is satisfied if he only knows that Jesus was in Nazareth at the time of the Baptist’s appearance and, after correcting the topography, forgets to orient the reader regarding the time.
Luke is different. After his infancy narrative, he stated that the Baptist was six months older than Jesus and he also indicated in which year of the world’s history Jesus was born – it was the year in which the first census of the Jewish land was taken during the governorship of Quirinius *). It is therefore to be expected of him that at the moment when he jumps from the infancy narrative to the account of Mark, he will also inform us about the age and the year in the world’s history in which Jesus and his predecessor appeared. He does indeed say that the Baptist “began preaching in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip was tetrarch of Iturea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas” (Luke 3:1-2). The well-known hypothesis of Schleiermacher **), which is also followed by Gfrörer ***), that this chronological note belongs to the “memorandum” about John the Baptist, which Luke used for his infancy narrative, and thus it should indicate the “beginning of the activity not of Jesus, but of the Baptist,” no longer stands in our way. If Schleiermacher argues that Luke rather than Matthew provides a chronological determination of the appearance of Christ, we have already responded that Luke’s chronological determination of the appearance of the Baptist also determines the beginning of Jesus’ activity chronologically. Likewise, Luke seems to have meant to give an exact age for the Baptist’s appearance when he stated that Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his public ministry. In Luke’s view, the Baptist only needed a very short time on the stage to point to his successor, and the half-year older age difference seemed to be enough time for the preparatory work of the forerunner.
*) Weisse (evang. Gesch. I, 236.) notes correctly that Luke “knowing that there was a later census of Quirinius, called the first, fresh and good luck, the one that the legend placed in an earlier year.” However, the matter is more sharply defined. It was not the legend that brought the census – which was carried out much later, as Quirinius became governor of Syria only a few years after Herod’s death – into the prehistory and used it as a means to have Jesus born in Bethlehem. We have already explained what to think of such a specific activity of the legend. Luke was the one who first brought the census into the prehistory, and he also had the note in his memory that a census of Quirinius was taken under Herod’s successor. But he needed a census in the time of Herod because he could not find any other way to bring Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, so he helped himself “fresh and good luck” by calling the census that was essential for his pragmatism the first. We will soon have an opportunity to see the confusion that arises when the legend is brought into the more specific development of pragmatism in the way that Weisse has done here.
**) Schl. on the writings of Luke x. 62.
***) He finds “the matter too clear” to “say a word” about it. Heil. Sage I, 101.
Let us examine the chronological statement of Luke, which will give us one stumbling block after another, but no certainty as to when Jesus appeared and when he was born. Its credibility has already become doubtful for criticism, in that it speaks of a prince as a contemporary of Jesus who had already been dead for half a century. Lysanias, the prince of Abilene, had been murdered on the instigation of Cleopatra 34 years before the birth of Christ. Critics have already shown how Luke came to place a Lysanias over Abilene at the time of Jesus. “Obviously,” says Weisse *), “the evangelist (in a whimsical way) aims to name the tetrarchs completely, and since he cannot find any other name for the fourth tetrarchy than that of Lysanias, he simply names him, without it occurring to him to inquire whether this Lysanias was still alive and whether Abilene was still a separate tetrarchy at that time.” He was therefore misled by the name “four princes,” which he took literally, to define four districts of Palestine and to place a prince over each one. For the fourth district, however, he could very easily create a prince, since the name of Lysanias was associated with it, and “even in later times Abilene was still called by the name of the last ruler of the earlier dynasty η Λυσανιον,” from which the evangelist drew the conclusion “that there was still a ruler of this name at that time *).”
*) ev. Gesch. I, 236.
*) Strauss, L. J. I, 375.
Gfrörer admits that a mistake has occurred, but he does not give up his protégé, that imaginary “memoir on the life of the Baptist”. He wants to make it a very old source and bring its author, who “was not very far removed from the events he describes”, to recognition. It is “no small matter,” he thinks **), that “the times of five different rulers or authorities coincide to the year.” And yet it is only a small matter that does not deserve so much fuss. Pontius Pilate, the Herods, Annas, and Caiaphas were already known from the Gospel history – Luke from the Gospel of Mark – that for the statement that Jesus appeared during their time, no old source, no memoir that was very close to that time, was necessary. Those people were already well known to the community by virtue of their involvement in the story of Jesus, they were unforgettable figures of the Gospel history – why would an old guarantor still be needed? A writer only needed to be superficially familiar with history to know that Pilate was governor of Judea during the reign of Tiberius.
**) ibid. p. 105.
We can be sure that the apologist will turn the matter around again. Right! There he is already! He says *), for example, that the chronological statement of Luke about a Lysanias who also ruled over Abilene during the time of Jesus is completely reliable, for “if Luke or the legend were so well informed as to provide five exact time determinations, they must also be able to give the sixth one correctly.”
*) e.g. Hoffmann, das L. I. x. 283.
We have already responded and now have some time left to consider what the apologist meant by bringing “the sage” into play here. He wants to lead criticism to absurdity. “It takes a strong belief in the sage,” he says **), “not to regard it as deliberate if it goes to so much trouble to present itself as history, as the sixfold time determination would betray.” As we can see, we need to go back to the basics of the matter everywhere. If it helps, it doesn’t hurt. The sage had nothing to do with this. Pontius Pilate, the high priests, and the Herodians were firmly established in the community’s view as contemporaries of Jesus, and the information about Lysanias is nothing more than a literary product, hypothesis, combination, and a failed one at that.
The sage – or to put it more accurately – the religious view, is the only thing that has limited the entire activity of the Baptist to a mere indication of the Messiah, condensed into a short period of time, and has now brought his and his greater follower’s appearance so close together that Luke, when he chronologically determines the former, also thinks he must do the same for the latter. Hoffmann himself assumes that “the Baptist’s activity did not require several years ***).” So why all the fuss? Why insinuate that if the chronological mistake regarding Lysanias is attributed to the writer, then the “jump from John to Jesus out of the sage and into the writer is transferred,” and his actions are “deceptive *)?” If the Baptist’s public career was really only brief, then let the apologist calmly accept the fetishistic presentation of the Evangelist! Or let him – as we do – follow the religious historical view of the community and his predecessor Mark without bias, when he condenses the Baptist’s activity into such a short time and gives well-known time determinations, but also take the writer as he is, i.e. as a writer who sometimes allows himself hypotheses that he then has to take on his own account, especially when they are as superfluous as the resurrection of Lysanias this time.
***) Ibid. 284.
*) Hoffmann, The Life of Jesus, p. 286.
However, Luke did not simply follow his predecessor Mark without any bias. From Mark’s presentation, we can learn what impartiality and naivete in presentation are. He simply juxtaposes the individual historical events – the appearance of the Baptist, his activity, the baptism and temptation of Jesus, and the latter’s appearance after the imprisonment of John – and does not lose a word about how long the Baptist stood on the historical stage. But he still has a very definite feeling that he should not assign a long period of time for the execution of the Baptist’s mission, and in every reader who sees in his work how the Baptist has barely left the stage with his water baptism and preaching, and Jesus enters to soon take over, he inevitably evokes the view that John only took a short time to fulfill his mission. Luke no longer contented himself with grouping the historical events in such a way that their ideal spread leads to the conclusion of their temporal duration with immediate certainty, but he himself draws the conclusion and limits the Baptist’s activity to the six months by which he is older than his successor.
The note that the Baptist is only six months older than Jesus has lost its value for us all – namely its value from the area where the correctness of chronology is concerned – as it has arisen solely from Luke’s ideal view of the evangelical prehistory and the internal relationship between the Baptist and the Lord. However, it is deprived of all possibility of validity if it is to serve as the standard for the duration of the Baptist’s public activity and here, where its authoritative power comes with the highest demands, it meets its just fate. Strauss indeed admits the possibility that the Baptist “could have achieved in a very short time what he had achieved *).” But it is downright impossible. To Christian belief, the Baptist was only seen as the person who had pointed to the Lord, and according to this assumption, he only needed to appear, point to the coming one, and he could then leave the stage after this direction. His story was only the prelude or prologue to the drama with its richer and more extensive complications that followed. In reality, however, it is different. Pointing to the following is here a preparation of the people that only indirectly relates to the following through detours and through an activity that claims to be independent for some time, i.e., only indirectly related to the following through the hidden dialectic of history. In general, however, a simple spiritual principle always requires a longer period of time before it can intervene and gain influence because it has to work on a manifold, very differently determined mass and can only gradually lift it out of its earlier determinacy, which regularly also proves to be resistance, and subdue it.
*) L. J. I, 381
If we now abandon the report of Luke to the extent that we can no longer assume such a short time between the appearance of the Baptist and Jesus, it could still be possible that both were exactly thirty years old when they entered their public office. However, if we were to hold this coincidence as possible even for a moment, we would have to destroy the entire arrangement of the report, since according to it, John and Jesus were contemporaries, and if one appeared in the fifteenth year of Tiberius, the other’s appearance also falls into the same time. However, we do not even need to separate what is combined in the report in this way since it is only too certain that this age determination of both men is also a product of the ideal conception. “In the thirtieth year,” the law prescribes (Num. 4:3, 47), “the priests and Levites shall enter upon their service in the sanctuary.” Therefore, Luke concludes, John and Jesus also entered upon their sacred office at this age.
Therefore, let us leave the Evangelist’s perspective intact! It will hardly escape the fate of dissolution. Jesus was thirty years old when he was baptized and shortly thereafter appeared in public; his predecessor, who had just been called by God to his work, appeared in the fifteenth year of Tiberius: but how could Jesus have been thirty years old at that time? He was said to have been born in the days of Herod, but the death of this king falls much earlier than that year of Tiberius, and do we know how long before Herod’s death Joseph fled to Egypt with the child, how long he stayed in hiding there? If we count back thirty years from the fifteenth year of Tiberius, we already encounter Archelaus as ruler in Judea, but we never reach Herod. So how could Jesus, if he was born during the lifetime of Herod, have been only thirty years old when he appeared? He had to be at least a few years older.
Therefore, the note of Luke dissolves itself, and indeed through the Evangelist’s own assumptions, for like Matthew, he lets Jesus be born in the days of Herod (Luke 1:5). But perhaps the observation that Jesus appeared in the fifteenth year of Tiberius is correct? How can we, however, consider this time determination as unsuspected or want to use it for the chronology of Jesus’ life, when according to the intention of the Evangelist, it should also indicate the time when the Baptist appeared? Well? Isn’t everything allowed for the apologist? Can he not leave the Baptist out of the game, can he not push the birth of Jesus back a little further, put the note about Jesus’ age when he appeared under the bench, and still — with force, of course! — assume that Jesus began his work around the fifteenth year of Tiberius, more or less? He cannot do it! Because both notes, when and at what age Jesus appeared, are so intertwined that they are only one. When Jesus appeared, that it happened in the fifteenth year of Tiberius: Luke found this note only by halving Jesus’ thirty years and assigning one half to the reign of Tiberius, regardless of whether the other half would reach back to the time of Herod.
So we know nothing, absolutely nothing, about when Jesus appeared or how old he was when he did. All attempts to even roughly determine the chronology in this matter must fail. But do not despair! The apologist calls out to us. Did not Joseph return from Egypt “soon” after his flight from Herod? Did not Joseph and Mary stay in Egypt with the child for “only a short time”? *) We will certainly admire this precise knowledge of history, but we cannot rely on it until the apologist tells us the sources from which it has come. Matthew tells us nothing about the death of Herod occurring “soon” after Joseph’s flight. But didn’t Jesus return from Egypt as a child? As if he had ever even come to this land with his parents! But it would not even help us if we were able to place the birth of Jesus in the last years of the reign of Herod, because if we had to discard one of Luke’s statements about Jesus’ age, we would no longer be entitled to hold on to the other statement about the year of Tiberius in which John the Baptist and Jesus appeared.
*) Neander, ibid. p. 32.
The last help to determine the age at which Jesus began his public ministry seems to come from the fourth Gospel and from Irenaeus. The latter had the view that Jesus was close to the age of fifty when he died. We can of course return the dogmatic reason on which the Church Father relied for his opinion, namely that Jesus had to sanctify and pass through all human ages, as in an investigation like this, we are much more interested in his historical reasons. From the account of the fourth Gospel (John 8:56-57), Irenaeus draws a very secure conclusion, as it seems to him. The Jews are said to have asked Jesus mockingly, “You are not yet fifty years old and have you seen Abraham?” It is clear, Irenaeus says, that if Jesus had only just turned thirty, the Jews would have asked rather: “You are not yet forty years old and you have seen Abraham?” It could not be assumed that they added twenty years to his age, as they wanted to draw attention to the distance between his age and the time of Abraham. Just as interesting as this exegetical proof will be the other one when Irenaeus refers to a very widespread and reliable tradition according to which Jesus was already beyond the age of forty when he taught before the people. “All the elders who had met John, the disciple of the Lord, in Asia, testified that John had handed down the same thing to them *).”
*) Irenaeus, Adv Haer Book II, c. 39, 40
However, Irenaeus cannot forget the testimony of Luke in favor of the testimony of the fourth Gospel. He also does not omit to mediate both statements. Therefore, he says: Jesus was thirty years old when he was baptized; but only afterwards, when he had reached the complete and mature age of a teacher, did he appear publicly in Jerusalem as such. If this age of maturity, as Irenaeus assumes, is at the earliest the age of forty, then there is a period of ten years between the baptism and the public appearance of Jesus.
Even Paulus does not consider it impossible that there were several years between Jesus’ baptism and his public appearance. Weisse *) considers this assumption to be necessary and cites the testimony of the fourth Gospel in support of it. This critic, who has Jesus appearing at a later age, believes that the testimony of Irenaeus to his witnesses is not unbelievable and does not want to dismiss the testimony of the fourth Gospel (8:56). Both support each other **).
However, the situation is such that this statement from the fourth Gospel destroys the testimony of “all the Elders” on which Irenaeus relies and spares us the trouble of examining the “cloud of witnesses” more closely.
Irenaeus still believes that he can reconcile the testimony of the fourth Gospel and that of Luke: Jesus was thirty years old when he was baptized by John, and he was already over forty years old when he taught before the people. But the Gospels also report that Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate, this governor was deposed one year before the death of Tiberius, and Tiberius reigned for a total of 23 years. Furthermore, if Jesus was baptized at the age of thirty in the fifteenth year of Tiberius, then at the time he appeared after his fortieth year, Tiberius had not only long been dead but Pontius Pilate had also been dismissed from his position. So where does Irenaeus’ hypothesis lead us? Far beyond a statement in the Gospels that seems to be one of the most certain. The death of Jesus would have occurred at a time when Pontius Pilate had long been recalled from Judea.
If this contradiction arises only because one wants to reconcile the testimony of the fourth Gospel with that of the third, and if the latter has already been invalidated for us, then perhaps the former can be better maintained. After all, it is even confirmed by the testimony of all the elders who heard it from John. Although Irenaeus also speaks of others who not only spoke with John but also with other apostles and testified to having heard the same thing from them, we can reasonably ignore this hyperbole, as it can be enough for us to have the same apostle attest to orally what we still read in his Gospel today. We must be content with this, as we do not possess any written testimony from other apostles or elders who heard about such a high age for Jesus. And then it is truly no small matter that we still have control over the meaning in which the author of the fourth Gospel spoke to the elders orally about Jesus’ age!
*) ev. Gesch. I, 276.
**) Ibid. I, 286.
Yes! If only there wasn’t the recent thorough investigation into the tradition of John’s stay in Ephesus and the long duration of his life! But we won’t avoid taking a closer look at the gospel testimony because of it.
Indeed, Irenaeus is completely right in his assertion that it would have been senseless and disproportionate for the Jews to say, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” if Jesus had not yet reached the age of forty. If we came across a similar exclamation in another writer, we could at least infer from their subjective assumptions that they believed the man being addressed was already over forty. However, not with the fourth Evangelist! We are accustomed to him pushing contrasts to the extreme without caring much about their validity. He has formed such a contrast here again. Fifty years and the millennia between Abraham and Jesus are too disproportionate — infinitely and immeasurably — for anyone to really have said, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” So, only people who did not want to give up all sense could speak in this way, but only in the case where it might be more possible for Jesus to have seen Abraham if he were fifty years old. However, real people cannot argue with an opponent in this way. A few years make no difference when it comes to a distance of millennia. The Jews did not speak these words. But we will not hear anything about the Evangelist’s view on the age of Jesus from these words. He thinks as little about how old Jesus was at the time as he does elsewhere *), he just wants to create a contrast to the millennia that separate Jesus and Abraham, and to place the next round number, which can most easily be subsumed under the category of thousands and hundreds, next to it, regardless of any consequences, and now reaches for the number we read. He even forgets, in the same moment, that he wanted to present an impossibility, and now lets the Jews speak as if they meant that the matter would be more possible if Jesus were fifty years old.
*) Even when he portrays the mother of the Lord standing at the cross, he does not conclude, as a modern critic might, on how old Jesus might have been at that time.
That with the permission of the fourth Gospel, months, let alone years, cannot be inserted between the baptism of Jesus and his public appearance, we have already demonstrated elsewhere **), and the apologist must be content with not knowing when and at what age Jesus appeared publicly, a confession of ignorance which he does not shy away from in matters of higher importance.
**) Kr. d. ev. Gesch. d. Joh. p. 57. 58.
At least we might be able to determine the maturity of age that a work like that of the Lord required, but for that we must have examined this work more closely. So later! At the end of our presentation, we will return to the question *).
*) There, at the end, we will also examine whether the chronological note, which we have left unexamined for now in the criticism of the fourth Gospel, that the crucifixion of Jesus falls during the Passover season, is really credible, or whether it was formed only by the belief in the sacrificial death of the Redeemer. We can say in advance that when the Apostle Paul writes (I Cor. 5:7), “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed,” he has nothing less in mind than providing a chronological note. He is only thinking that the Passover sacrifice is an image of Jesus’ sacrifice. Alongside the possibility that that chronological note in the Gospels is correct, we must therefore also leave standing for now the other possibility that the analogy that was discovered between Jesus’ death and the Passover sacrifice led to the crucifixion of Jesus being placed in the Passover season.
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