Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics
by Bruno Bauer
The Supernatural Conception of Jesus.
Although Mark does not yet know that the father of Jesus is called Joseph – this naming occurs in later times – he only knows the name of the mother, but since he also mentions brothers and sisters of the Lord (Chapter 6, verse 3), he assumes that Jesus is the son of Mary in the same way as his siblings. He was begotten in marriage, and would the first evangelist have remained silent about the miracle of the supernatural conception if he had known anything about it?
With such an assured datum, we only need to examine how the view we find in the scriptures of Luke and Matthew originated. Strauss famously attempted to base this genesis on the Jewish “time concept”. Part of the specific cause for developing this view was the title “Son of God” that had already become customary for the Messiah. The natural inclination to take this title of the Messiah in an ever more literal sense was reinforced by Psalm 2:7 and the translation of the Septuagint of Isaiah 7:14. “Then the concepts of the son of God and son of the virgin were mixed up in such a way that divine activity was substituted for human-paternal activity *).” The apologist cannot claim that it is impossible to explain the origin of such a view “from the Jewish standpoint”, as he does not like to express himself so decisively and is aware that even his statements, when examined closely, cannot endure. So he prefers to express his reservations about whether that explanation is “so easy” to achieve, as the critic seems to assume. “If we consider the Jewish monotheism that placed an impassable gulf between God and the world, especially as it prevailed in Palestine, the respect for marriage peculiar to this standpoint, the local interpretation of the idea of the Messiah as an ordinary man not distinguished by anything supernatural who was to be equipped with divine power only at his solemn consecration for the messianic office, then the creation of the myth of the virgin birth of the Messiah was certainly far removed from such a standpoint.“ *) Indeed! The matter would be almost settled with that, but only almost, and the critic would be almost irretrievably trapped if, as we see here with both the critic and the apologist, he had to confine himself to the narrow limits of Palestine and the local “time concepts”. But it does not have to, nor may it. His case would not be completely lost even if he had to limit himself to the Jewish view; because with that it must still give the apologist cause for concern by pointing out to him how God could have dared to perform such an extraordinary miracle, which would have contradicted all the ideas of the Jewish people so strongly and whose inner significance a people that had been guided and taught by him for two millennia would have been completely unable to comprehend. However, in reality, he would have an absolute right to assert that Jewish monotheism not only consisted of the separation of God and the world, but in its development – see the psalms and prophets – it had constantly striven to eliminate the difference in the concept of unity. Could the view of the divinely-begotten personality of the Messiah not be the completion of a work that had kept the Jewish spirit busy for so long?
Yes, it was this fulfillment, but as such, it did not originate from Jewish consciousness; it was not the result that directly stemmed from Jewish temporal conceptions, but it came purely and solely from the life of the Christian community, which from its inner depth grasped the idea and used the preparations for it in the Old Testament for its presentation. The community would never have been able to form the view we find in Luke and Matthew if they had not experienced the content they found in it as their inner experience, namely if they had not grasped the unity of the divine and the human as their essence. The Hebrew people, in the desert struggles of its lust, which dragged it into the natural service, and its stubbornness, never reached the point of thinking of itself as a real community and, figuratively speaking, as the dwelling of the divine spirit. Hence it can also be explained that its highest conceptions of the Messiah – these objective representations of its inner experiences, hopes, and postulates – in spite of all its efforts to overcome the essential opposition, never brought about a complete unity of the separated. The thought and feeling of this unity became possible for the Christian community precisely because it completed the opposition and no longer opposed the universality of the divine with the defiance and obstinacy of the human, but allowed the human to appear altogether as sinful, thereby making the opposition itself appear unjustified, void, and as having been abolished.
From this dialectic of opposition, it is immediately apparent in what way the community had to regard itself as a divine race and as the unity of the deepest difference. To understand itself as the result of the historical development of self-consciousness was impossible, for the human appeared to be powerless, as all power resides only in God; nor could it imagine itself as a work in which divine and human acts are combined, for the human remains sinful until it is accepted by God’s grace alone and transformed into the vessel of his historical manifestation – in its self-conception, therefore, it is a work set by God without human intervention. However, according to the nature of the religious spirit, the step towards the individual is immediately taken, or rather, this view cannot even be formed and maintained purely for itself, but must always immediately appear in an individual form. Thus, the community confirms its certainty of the unity of the divine and the human in the view of the person of its founder and finally expresses the doctrine that this unity is only set by God in the view of the birth of Jesus. When this expression is complete and Jesus is considered the God-begotten son of the virgin, the creative plasticity of religious consciousness has completed its work, and the inner nature of self-consciousness, which is established with the Christian principle, now stands outside as the history of the birth of Jesus.
This enormous work of imagination could not have been produced by Jewish concepts of time, nor by individual conceptions from the Old Testament. It could only originate from the idea that animated the community and stimulated its artistic instinct, or more precisely, it could only be inspired by it. For the execution of the work, it also required various external materials that were related to that idea and acted as external stimuli, which were finally assimilated by the higher idea. These stimuli included not only the Old Testament ideas of the Anointed One, whom Jehovah testifies to, and of the Son of the Virgin, but also the pagan ideas of the heroes who are begotten by the gods. We must even assert *) that it was only through the spread of Christianity in the pagan world and through the contact and fusion with its views that the tremendous boldness became possible, which was necessary to hold the divine origin in the way that Luke and Matthew report it, as possible and certain.
*) Also Weisse (ev. Gesch. I, 174-175) agrees.
The view that “sexual intercourse is sinful” is completely foreign to the origin of this view and did not contribute in the slightest to it. Here, a much more general and comprehensive thought was entertained about human weakness and sinfulness, namely in the sense that the human could not effect the abolition of the essential contradiction. Therefore, it is essentially inconsistent that the maternal contribution to the generation of Jesus should still remain. But this inconsistency was unavoidable if the religious view did not want to leave the ground of reality entirely or abolish the last remnants of natural law. On the other hand, the woman was necessary for the formation of the idea in question since the human could not be portrayed as altogether unfree and inactive, and the religious consciousness always falls into the contradiction that it attributes all power and freedom to the divine and, at the same time, must still acknowledge certain of these magnificent attributes to humans. Namely, the receptivity, which, correctly understood, is all power and freedom, even if only within itself or in a state of rest and hiddenness, is still left to the human side. Thus, the virgin of that view is only the individual objectification of the woman of thought or the category of femininity, namely receptivity, which presupposes divine revelation. Even though the old cannot produce the new principle from itself, and the new must be set by its own power or, rather, by an immediate divine act, it must still happen on the ground of the old, which then appears in the individual elaboration of this view as feminine and, in its unmixed purity, as virgin.
The general categories of self-consciousness and their individual embodiment are still unencumbered in the original view, their unity also remained undisturbed for unbiased faith and remains no less unchallenged when understood and explained by criticism. However, apologetics are to be lamented when they tear apart that bond, lose the thought, and drag the individual down into the most meager empiricism. “The intimate longing of female Israel for the Messiah child,” says Lange *), “has finally taken shape in the purest, virgin appearance of Israelite femininity.” The attempt to grasp this longing, which in the original view is basically the general expectation of salvation in the people of Israel and in the world as a whole, in such an empirical way that it comes down to the notion that women or virgins have felt a longing for the Messiah child, this attempt is either to be called frivolous or foolish.
*) ibid p. 68
With the usual and seemingly immortal prejudice that sees the higher position of the Christian principle threatened when Jewish and pagan elements are shown to have been incorporated into it, we believe we have sufficiently answered them: we not only say, like those accusers, but we also demonstrate that the Christian principle stands infinitely above those elements and could not have been generated by them. Of course, they understand the matter in such a way that the content of the Christian consciousness and the pagan view are also infinitely different because the latter is only human fiction, while the former is a “divine fact.” However, we are confident that we can leave the high significance of the Christian principle intact without having to denigrate pagan views as mere fiction. Universal religious categories also worked in paganism because, like all religions, it is an essential process of self-consciousness; in it, too, the spirit was disturbed by its internal opposition and sought certainty of peace and reconciliation in its views. But is not the difference between paganism and the Christian principle still fully preserved when it is understood as a difference within self-consciousness? Is this not only the rational, true difference when it is transplanted into the one world of self-consciousness?
The pagan view of the sons of the gods grasped the essential opposition of self-consciousness and its dissolution only superficially because both sides still clung to naturalness, because even the general aspect of the divine was still thought of in the form of particular powers, and thus the opposition was impure and its dissolution was easy and painless. The god who still carries natural pathos in himself, who is a particular subject among others, cannot be infinitely alienated from the finite spirit and will easily be moved to become familiar with it again when peace was once disturbed; in fact, it may not even seem very noticeable when both sides mix in their naturalness. However, only one difference remains in self-consciousness when the Christian principle has stripped the general power of the spirit of all naturalness and all the greater difficulty in overcoming the contradiction that has become infinite. When the Christian community attempted to understand the annulment of this opposition in the view of the generation of Jesus, it had to use a pagan element and even had to use it essentially, but at the same time, it fundamentally changed it and gave it a new meaning by presupposing the deepest opposition.
However, this difference will never prove that the evangelical account contains the fact that was only dimly perceived in the “fantasy images” of paganism. Even if one, like Neander, urgently points out the “characteristic difference” that “in the representations of the Gospels only the effect of the divine omnipotence in the conception is indicated as a purely creative one, not mediated by natural causality as is usually the case, while in those mythical conceptions the divine causality coordinates with natural causes, the divine is brought down into the realm of natural phenomena, and the appearance of the divine is explained physically” *) — even if one cites this difference a thousand times, it always comes down to the difference within consciousness, that in paganism the divine confronts the human as something special, as one of its own, while in Christian consciousness, the divine as purely universal is separated from the human as the empirically particular. Therefore, that special thing can immediately enter into the natural relations of finitude and live through them as its own nature. For the Christian view, this assumption is impossible, and it cannot construct the relationship of the divine to the finite in the individual naturally. It is content with the simple idea of omnipotence.
*) E.J. Ch. p. 15-16.
Therefore, the Christian conception must necessarily fall into a contradiction. Jesus is the God-begotten, yet the category of begetting cannot be taken seriously. It would be very violent against it to deny one side of the contradiction, as Neander does, instead of explaining it. The “usual way of thinking among the Jews,” which Neander refers to, cannot cause us any concern here since we are dealing with a Christian gospel in which the child of the virgin is called the Son of the Most High and Son of God because the power of the Most High will overshadow the virgin. In this representation, there is nothing to be found except the contradiction that the expression Son of God is grasped physically and yet not again, and the reflection on the physical and sensual is turned away because the divine is presented as the begetter in its pure generality. There is nothing here but the unthinkable contradiction of the miracle, which can only be maintained in the view that does not ask for the transmissions but cannot withstand reason, which asks for the rational law and is not at home in indeterminacy. The pagan representations of the origin of the God-begotten have not yet entered into this indeterminacy and have not taken on the form of the miracle because the divine appears as a particular personality; but as soon as the divine is presented in its universality, it works miraculously and in a way that the loss of the view remains a mystery. But what kind of conclusion would it be if the greater indeterminacy that the matter has for the view were to prove the historical truth all the more?
We finally ask about that persistent belief which would only recognize a pagan element as a basis in biblical views if it were still shown as such in the Bible. Now, just as it is impossible in the living organism to show the assimilated food in its previous form, it is even more impossible in the spiritual realm of perception. The same applies to the Old Testament elements: they have been processed into the superior idea, placed under its influence, and thus it has become impossible for them to emerge in their former independence. In Luke’s plastic representation, there is not even a reminder that the miraculous conception of the Son of the Virgin fulfills an old prophecy. It was only later in Matthew, for whom this perception had already become a finished work and a subject of reflection, that this reminder of the Old Testament assumption was added to his work (Matt. 1:22-23).
If the only difference between the Old and New Testaments were that in the latter, the prophecy is fulfilled as if it were immediately repeated in its fulfillment, only in the form of empirical appearance, then this difference would be only superficial. Its true conception is only gained when it is placed into the self-consciousness and recognized as a difference in the historical development of the same. As the pagan perception is also essentially changed in the perception of the Christian community, so is the prophetic idea. This development creates the only difference between Jewish and Christian. The prophetic representation of the Messiah still presupposes that the person of the Messiah has already been given independently before the spirit of Jehovah is communicated to him or the collisions whose resolution is demanded by the Messiah are limited to the political sphere and even then, they are still perceived in this external form, where Isaiah rises to the perception of the Son of the Virgin. The Christian self-consciousness, however, has placed all the assumptions of its world of appearance into its universality, and therefore, when it perceives itself in the person of the Messiah, it must perceive the manner in which this personality is posited as purely divine. The power of the Most High forms the person of the Redeemer, and it does so not only to resolve a political collision but also to resolve the essential contradiction of the spiritual world.
There are clear indications in the Holy Scripture that demonstrate that the belief in the supernatural conception of Jesus only developed later. For example, the fact that Jesus did not use the miracle of his birth to refute the disbelief and accusation of his descent from Joseph must be very dangerous for the apologist and can only be temporarily neutralized. Because if we assume that *) Jesus “could only appeal to the immediate impression of his presence, the testimony of the divine in his entire appearance and activity,” that is the principle that only Mark knows because he knows nothing about the miracle of birth, and that is consistent with the layout and all its assumptions in the scripture of the second synoptics. The first and third synoptics make Jesus behave according to the same principle, but only because they are dependent on the scripture of Mark, so they could not even imagine that Jesus could have presented his descent from Joseph as only apparent. However, in addition to this dependence on Mark, those two synoptics were also guided by immediate tact, which allowed them to forget this dreadful miracle in the reality of Jesus’ life and person, as it would have stood out too unnaturally.
*) as Neander in L. J. Ch. p. 13.
The silence of the Apostle Paul about the miracle of the conception of Jesus is very dangerous for the apologist. If, as Neander says*, it only proves that this miracle “did not have the same significance for the consciousness of the apostle as the fact of the suffering and resurrection,” what idea should we have of the Gentile apostle? He should have considered that miracle only as something isolated and, if he knew about it, would he not immediately have realized that it would have taken away the desire of the Gentiles to reject the preaching of Christ as foolishness in one stroke? Afterwards **), Neander says more cautiously, “it may well be that Paul referred to Jesus as the Son of God who came from heaven, when he depicted him as the sinless one in the flesh, in which sin previously reigned, held together with his doctrine of the propagation of sinfulness from Adam, thus the supernatural conception of Jesus was already implied in its coherence”. Indeed! The later developed view was already implied in the first circle of Christian consciousness, but only in itself.
*) L. J. Ch. p. 13.
**) Ibid. p. 14.
The final proof of the later origin of the view of the supernatural birth of Jesus lies in the mention of the Savior’s siblings. Luke only lets the reader of his scripture know later (8:19) that Jesus had brothers, but Matthew, in his reflective way, draws the reader’s attention to the fact that Jesus was not the only child of Mary from the very beginning, he was only the firstborn, and Joseph had not recognized his wife until she had given birth to the God-begotten. We need not say another word about the fact that the evangelist means that afterwards Joseph, as is inherent in the nature of the marital relationship, cohabited with Mary. Neander still fights against the superstition which wanted to impose the opposite meaning on the scriptural words. “From the standpoint of Joseph’s and Mary’s religious way of thinking, we are by no means entitled to find anything questionable in the fact that Jesus had brothers and sisters; this also agrees well with the Christian perspective on the sanctification of marriage” *). But as soon as we no longer need to argue about how Matthew wanted to understand that remark, the matter takes a completely different turn. Matthew suggests that after the birth of Jesus, Joseph entered into his rights as a husband. However, if Mary truly gave birth to the divine son, it should have caused Joseph to feel horror at the miraculous and awe at the one who had been touched directly by the power of the Most High, and therefore he would not have had sexual relations with her. Matthew and Luke combine in their Gospels two moments that are mutually exclusive. Neander himself must admit this, thus abandoning this aspect of the idea of marriage and presenting the objection, if not casting it onto Joseph’s feelings, at least as one that the evangelists would have had to feel if they had first developed the idea of the supernatural generation of Jesus. “If the legend of the supernatural conception of Jesus,” he thinks, “had arisen in a mythical way, then from the same standpoint from which such a myth was formed, the acceptance of later-born children of Mary would have been found offensive.” No! The evangelists were still too unrestricted in the creative sphere of the worldview they developed to take offense at the assumption of Jesus’ siblings. They could not, because the news of siblings was already reliable and had been written down in a Gospel that they used, wrote down, and also in a point that was actually impossible according to their view of the generation of Jesus. However, they could not do otherwise, they had to write it down on this point as well, because at least the narrative where Jesus’ siblings appear (Mark 3:31-35) could not be passed over, and the positive letter that testified that there were siblings of Jesus had already gained too much power for them.
*) Ibid. p. 34.
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