§ 6. The Origin of the Gospel of Luke’s Infancy Narrative

Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics

by Bruno Bauer

Volume 1


Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics

by Bruno Bauer

Volume 1



§ 6.

The Origin of the Gospel of Luke’s Infancy Narrative.

So far we have examined the infancy narrative of the Gospel of Luke and traced the sources of its various elements, including the mixture and movement of its first elements, the nature of the ground they reveal, and the force that determined their initial course. We also saw what inner experiences of the community were necessary for the formation of the view that constitutes the center of this narrative, what views of the Old and New Testaments had to converge in order to transform the idea of Jesus’ divine origin into the form of a single empirical fact, and finally, what power of religious consciousness has so closely linked the histories of Jesus and John the Baptist that they have become one story.

The question now is who combined the sources into a single stream and gave them this richly colored form. Who wrote this infancy narrative in the sense that he gave specific historical form to those general views, worked them out into individual facts, and then reassembled them in their artistic connection? Since we can no longer assume that the empirical reality of this work of art produced it and that the harmony to which the individual narratives fit together flowed from the nature and sequence of the facts themselves, only two authors are possible: the tradition of the community or the writer himself. The mythological view of Strauss does not yet provide a definite answer to this question, since it has not yet posed the question itself in a clear manner. However, it unmistakably tends to assume that the narratives were formed in the tradition of the community, and the writer only gave them the precise form they received in the gospel. The objection that ordinary consciousness would have to the other assumption, which even the most decisive criticism of modern times secretly feels and which prevents it from attributing these narratives to their true source, artistic activity, this objection is only justified if the community is indeed the author of these narratives. Nevertheless, it is always an individual who created it or there were individuals who created individual narratives, and it was again an individual who artistically combined them into a whole. The people, the community, in their mysterious substantiality and directly from this cannot create anything, but only the subject, the individual consciousness, can bring it to form, shape, and thus first bring it to the determinacy of content. In this creative activity, however, consciousness does not behave as a pure isolated id and does not create and shape out of its immediate subjectivity, at least not if its value is absorbed, recognized, and considered as a form of their own views by the people or the community for centuries. Rather, consciousness has been in tension with its substance without always knowing how far it was connected with its general life-force; it was fertilized by this and driven to its activity, or rather, the deeper the work is, the greater its success in general recognition, the more certain we can assume that the author worked in pure innocence, far from all reflection on the general, and that the influence of his life substance on the work was revealed in the deep intensity with which he worked. Despite all this tension of the forming consciousness with its substance and with the spirit of the people or the community, the important point remains that the work as such, with its form and this particular content, was not yet given in that substantial world. Any attempt to ward off the consequences of this terrible fact by going back from the individual to a givenness of content is unsuccessful and is frustrated by the infinite regress until one comes back to an individual originator.


For now it is certain that whether Luke formed the individual narratives of the gospel history, whether they were created by others before him and passed into the view of the community, and whether he only incorporated them into his writing, it all amounts to the same thing in substance.

However, things become quite different when we consider that in this history we have a series of individual narratives which – as the above critique demonstrates – are so intimately connected that the preceding one is the preparation for the following, and the successive one loses its meaning without the assumption of the earlier ones. The ordinary view immediately suggests that either Luke combined the individual narratives which he found in the tradition of the community, into this whole, or he found the whole already in the same tradition and incorporated it into his work as such.

The former assumption leads inevitably to the mystery of any view of understanding, and finally requires an inspiration of the community, which even the strictest orthodox cannot credit to his evangelists. No lesser wonder would have occurred according to that assumption, than that all the individuals who created these narratives, of whom we can only speak of as individuals, happened to create their fragmentary works so that when they finally came together, they formed the most excellent whole. We said, “without one knowing anything of the other’s work,” for if we were to take the absurdity into account that all those individuals happened to live in the same city or even in the same district, and immediately knew about each other’s work whenever another thread of this miraculous fabric was spun, then we would have to speak of the tradition of the community, which was known to have spread very early over a large part of the ancient world. Therefore, a very large space must have separated those creators of tradition, and to produce the close relationship in which their individual narratives stand to one another, a pre-established harmony would be necessary, to which reason cannot be moved to accept.


So what would be the other assumption? Let’s be cautious! What remains? That these sporadically created individual narratives gradually merged in that mist, in that mysterious wolf, or in the unstable flood of tradition and, in this union, came to the attention of Luke, who wrote them down? If so, then it is futile to try to escape the terrifying self-awareness and deny its share in the composition. Tradition does not have hands to write, taste to compose, or judgement to unite the related and separate the foreign. The subject, the self-awareness alone possesses these goods and, even if they are dedicated to the general and serve it, the decision to work and the elaboration still come from the individual, and the work is more or less completed and thus more or less capable of passing into the general, depending on the intensity of the author’s spirit. So again, self-awareness! But there is even more in the foreground. So far, we have seen that narratives cannot be formed in different places that are so closely related that the beginning of one only needs to be added to the end of the other and to the end of the former again the beginning of another, and so on, so that a harmonious whole finally emerges. But if it were really the case that individual narratives could be created that, created independently of each other at various places, belong only and as a whole to the same circle of ideas and serve to work it out, then when they come together, they will have much about them that makes their immediate connection impossible. It requires a great deal of work to bring them together, especially to combine them into such a sophisticated work as the prehistory in the third gospel. There will be many contradictions between the individual narratives that must be eliminated; very different points of view will dominate the individual fragments – they must be reconciled: and there will be so much that is resistant between them that it will require no small effort to bring them into coherence. This is already considered as formal work, an act of the subject, if only it could have its being in the formal work! Every change in the original, every shift and new turn will also provide a new content: for if a contradictory tendency is eliminated, it will be replaced by a new one – and where does it come from? – it arises from the combination and from the fivefold self-awareness. If the point of view that dominates a narrative is disturbing, the individual content in which it is revealed will be no less disturbing: so that too must be essentially changed with it. And if now the subject must also be attributed such a creative part in this work, we must ask again what difference it makes whether Luke or another before him worked in this way?


Thus, in this form, the hypothesis would no longer be such, but rather the correct explanation of the existing facts: a pre-Luke had combined the elements of the backstory, which had only formed individually, and this new combination had passed into tradition, from which our Luke had taken it up. However, the role of self-consciousness is not yet exhausted. Luke not only wants to report this backstory, but he intends to create a larger work, to report the entire gospel story. Will he not undertake a similar task to his predecessor, namely to link individual stories to the backstory, and now link this with the representation of public life and have to merge both, which he first brings together? And can this fusion remain without influence on his representation of the backstory? We will see that this influence was not absent. So, not even the assumption of a pre-Luke helps; the actual Luke still procedes creatively in his representation of the backstory.


So the Traditions-Hypothesis cannot escape encountering the Self-Consciousness. However, we will soon bring the circle so close together that both opponents are squeezed into one space, and one can only stand while the other must fall.

It is not possible that individual narratives, like those from which the evangelical prehistory consists, could have been formed individually and independently of each other. None can stand alone, each points to the other, and no one could have come up with or even possible to form one if he did not have the plan of the whole, i.e., the possibility of all others in view, and thus one could complement the other through its development. If we were to provide proof of this unity here, we would have to rewrite the above criticism. On the other hand, it is also impossible that in the tradition of the community, individual particles of narratives floated or rather fluttered independently of each other. Without support and connection, they would – if that impossibility had been possible – have soon blown away and disappeared.

Now we can express the other assumption more purely: therefore, only the other remains, that in the tradition, the evangelical prehistory was formed in the context and in the form in which Luke found it and included it in his work. But why take these detours to get from Luke to Luke, these detours that we could only make in the air! Who is this tradition, where will we finally be able to grasp it and mentally face it? Nowhere again but in the specific Self-Consciousness. The tradition as such cannot shape and is internally too general and indeterminate to produce a coherent work of art. The individual must perform this work.


Now, perhaps one more loophole is available to the tradition hypothesis. It could be that someone had already composed the prehistory before Luke and that it had reached him through the medium of tradition. Because that still seems to be the terrible thing that cannot be feared and avoided enough: that Luke himself was the first one to compose the prehistory, and that we would therefore be dealing directly in the scripture with a work of self-consciousness. At least it must pass through the purgatory of tradition if it is not to frighten us. But why take these detours to get from Luke to Luke, these detours that we could only make in the air? Who then is this tradition, where will we finally be able to grasp it and see it face to face? Nowhere else but in the determined self-consciousness. Tradition as such cannot create forms and is inwardly too general and indefinite to produce a coherent work of art. The individual must do this work.

It is also not possible for a cohesive historical circle to exist in tradition. If a people or community has come so far that a cohesive historical view is formed, then the power that belongs to it also has the ability to set the pen in motion. All talk of the memory of the ancient world is sentimental nonsense that schoolmasters have taught us, but we cannot forget it thoroughly enough out of interest for the honor of peoples and humanity. What the peoples and communities knew, they wrote down with great effort. As soon as they had brought something to the clarity of perception, the organ was there that served for elaboration and celebration, and if they wrote nothing, it was only because they had nothing that was worth this effort.

To see the futility of the tradition hypothesis, one only needs to ask which components of the first two chapters of the Gospel of Luke were floating around in tradition. The hymns? But if the praise of the Lord in the hymn of Zacharias in the scripture is put together with such negligent and dragging construction (Luke 1:08-75), what breath must tradition have possessed if it had to recite this sentence in exactly the same form every time? Or should tradition have carried the note around with it: “And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called Jesus, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb?” This would be the most meager thing with which tradition could occupy itself if it had to try to memorize such notes forever. But if it were to enliven this note, that is to say, to immediately recall the story of Gabriel’s message to Mary, as a counterpart to the simple process of Jesus’ circumcision, the more glorious presentation in the temple, then as another counterpart, the circumcision of John the Baptist and the miracle that befell him, that is to say, now also recall the entire wonderful message of Gabriel to Zechariah and his behavior, and then with a natural sidestep, remember his wife Elizabeth, who knew how to appreciate the wonderful appearances with a completely different faith – how could tradition do this exercise of memory without getting confused very soon and eventually becoming completely fed up with its business? But it has nothing to fear, because as this pack animal on which individual notes or artworks would be transported, it did not exist in the Christian community any more than anywhere else, and if it collapses under its load, it is only its caricature in the minds of scholars that suffers this fate.


So if Luke only had to deal with tradition, the material was not delivered to him fully formed, as if he only had the task of writing it down. Instead, he had to develop and creatively refine what lived in the religious worldview of the community, shaping spiritual elements into individual forms in terms of form and content.


It is possible, however, that Luke already had individual written essays that he combined to form his preface, or that he found the entire preface written as a coherent narrative and included it in his work.

Regarding the first assumption, we cannot understand it for a moment if it is meant that individual reports of those eyewitnesses of the preface were written down separately and finally, after a long adventurous journey, came into Luke’s possession. Nor do we need to judge this assumption in its form, if it is connected with the tradition hypothesis or rather is this hypothesis itself. If Luke found individual essays, they were – that is now more certain – not dictated by tradition to the authors, but were formed by them on their own. From their excess, namely from their senseless form, which assumes that Luke found a larger number of scraps and patches and combined them into a preface, we can simplify this hypothesis immediately to the extent that there were only two essays that came into the hands of the evangelist, namely the story of the birth of John the Baptist and the birth and childhood of Jesus. But there could not even be two essays of this kind that were written separately from each other and existed for some time on their own. Neither of the two essays is conceived and worked out without the other, since each smaller group of one essay has its counterpart in the other and is worked out exactly as we find it, so that it shows its peculiar character clearly in relation to its counterpart and also serves the same purpose for its parallel. Thus, the two messages of Gabriel correspond to each other, the wonderful circumstances under which the two holy children were conceived, the glorification of the day on which the Baptist is circumcised and receives his name, and the glorification of the birth and presentation of the messianic child in the temple *), the ecstatic joy of the Baptist over the proximity of the Messiah and the exultation of Simeon that his eyes have seen the Savior, and so on. Each link is created and worked out only with respect to its corresponding one.

*) On the way in which the note on the circumcision of both boys is treated, Strauss says (L. I. I, 277-278): “The contrast is striking between the elaborate use and elaboration of the same point in John’s life and the dryness and brevity with which it is treated here in relation to Jesus; in which one can find with Schleiermacher a sign that at least here the author of chapter 1 is no longer the conceiver.” On the contrary, this is the surest sign of the unity of the author. Contrasts not only separate, but also span and hold together what is separate through this tension. Both boys receive their names predetermined by the angel on the day of circumcision. If the circumcision of Jesus had become the occasion for a wonderful event in a similar way to that of the Baptist, the symmetry of the accounts would have been too uniform and mechanical. Instead, when comparing both accounts, the reader must miss something in the account of Jesus’ circumcision and be more prepared for the following account of the presentation of the child in the temple by the feeling of this contrast. The reader now expects the filling of a gap, is excited about how the missing glorification will be made up – and how beneficial he feels, how pleasant the feeling is, when the following account so happily satisfies the tense expectation!


Yes, even the one report could not have arisen without the other in its original conception. The way in which the Baptist is celebrated proves that he only became the subject of this historical representation as the precursor of the Lord; however, his birth could not have been placed in this wonderful light if it were not the reflection of the greater light that glorified the birth of the Messiah. On the other hand, this story of the birth of the Messiah could not have developed if it did not at the same time create a larger wonderful foundation on which it presented itself as natural, i.e., as necessarily wonderful, when it falls into a historical context that is inherently wonderful. Each of the two spheres of vision arose with the other, and as they arose together, they were also each filled in detail with regard to the other.


So we come back to the certainty that the Gospel prehistory of Luke could only have arisen as a whole once it was created. And now without further ado! Luke first conceived and wrote it down. The agreement of the language, which prevails in this section and in the rest of the Gospel *), has no strictly proving power, since it was inevitable that the writer would give his diction to an essay that he processed with his work. Even less could this proof seem conclusive, since in processing the scripture of Mark, Luke himself gave an example of how he gives a foreign scripture the color of his style and language. So, although it is always – although predominantly – probable that we have the original historical style of Luke in the prehistory, which he could not deny in the processing of the Mark’s Gospel, stricter proofs are necessary that the prehistory originated purely from his point of view. We give them!

*) Referring to Wilke’s “Der Urevangelist” on pages 645-646.

In the Gospel of Mark (chapter 1, verse 6), Luke read about the ascetic way of life of John the Baptist, but he left out this description in his own parallel account. Why? Because he incorporated this subject into his nativity narrative and developed it into a miraculous event, by weaving into Gabriel’s message to Zechariah the commandment that John the Baptist should not drink “wine and strong drink” (Luke 1:15). According to Mark, Jesus revealed to his disciples that John the Baptist was the expected Elijah (Mark 9:13), but Luke does not mention this point in his parallel account. Furthermore, in the account of John the Baptist’s message to Jesus, which Mark does not know, Luke has Jesus cite a prophecy from Malachi regarding John the Baptist (Luke 7:27), but he does not mention Malachi’s view that Elijah was the forerunner of the Messiah. Therefore, Gabriel had already said (Luke 1:17) that the son of Zechariah would go before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah. Luke consciously composed the nativity narrative in such a way that these details from the Gospel of Mark took on a deeper meaning and a sense of higher necessity by being woven into the message of the divine messenger.


It has already been noted that the fasting, praying widow Anna belongs to the circle of Luke’s perspective and will later be set beyond doubt.

Luke is finally the careful chronologist, which is revealed in the presentation of the prehistory; however, since chronology is an essential part of this section – because that significant miracle occurs in the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy – the chronologist is the author of the entire work. The same writer who places the census ordered by Emperor Augustus (Chapter 2, verse 1) in the year of Jesus’ birth, also does not fail to indicate the year in which John the Baptist publicly appeared (Luke 3, 1-2). The same writer who made a historical error there also commits one here by allowing a Lysanias to rule over Abilene in the fifteenth year of Tiberius. Although Luke does not add to the indication of the year in which John appeared the other information about how old John was at that time, and although he does not indicate in which year of Tiberius’ reign it was when Jesus began his public ministry, he leaves no doubt about all these things. Both pieces of information belong together and complement each other. According to the Evangelist’s perspective, John the Baptist’s public ministry only took a very short period of time: so if he appeared in the fifteenth year of Tiberius, then Jesus would have appeared in that same year or in the following year, if perhaps by chance John appeared at the end of that year – and if Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his ministry (Luke 3:23), then John was just as old when “the Word of the Lord” called him. For the Evangelist’s perspective, the half-year by which he is older than his greater follower was sufficient for him to accomplish his task. The chronologist is the author of the entire work, and he is one and the same person as the writer.


Yes, we hear you, immortal objections and – invective of apologetics. Just be patient, don’t rant and threaten so fiercely, we hear you and will answer. At the very first appearance of Strauss’s work, it was noted in contrast to his mythological theory that this was not yet the final explanation of the evangelical views, if they were to be directly derived from Jewish elements or their development process was attributed to a mysterious tradition. It was said – but of course only said and neither developed nor executed more precisely – that these views, if criticism is to reach its final completion, must be understood as the result of the essential process of self-consciousness.

Yes, yes! This is what the apologist immediately cries out. Absolutely right! The Gospels must finally be considered as “works of deception” if criticism develops with “some consistency”. The evangelists must finally be exposed as deceivers and “we return to the fragmentist so prominently looked down upon” *).

*) Tholuck, the credibility of the evangelical history. 1837. p. 50. 51.

So, the “House of Goeze and Company” still exists in its old glory? Yes, indeed! But it still hasn’t learned to avoid its fate that it sometimes “must embarrass itself”. The poor fragmentist! Criticism certainly cannot look down upon him, it can see his flaws, it will make them good by learning from him, but it cannot admit that misunderstanding attributes to him the theory that the evangelists were “deceivers”. However, his case is already in good hands: Lessing’s “fifth Anti-Goeze” will be convincing for the unbiased.


“Now then, at least declare the evangelists to be deceivers,” the Apologetics will cry, directing their zeal against us. “You claim that these views, which you call thin and miserable, are created by the forming self-consciousness.”

We ask for calm! We are not insulting, we are researching and developing, and anyone who wants to speak up in between must first calmly engage in the development. Where have we “claimed” that those views are works of self-consciousness? We have proven it. So engage in the proof, provide another one, but do not come up with phrases and above all, do not say that we declare the evangelists to be deceivers. Have we expressed such a thing, or just given the slightest reason to suspect that we inwardly hold this view or must hold it if we were to honestly admit all consequences?

No! When we use the category of self-consciousness, we do not mean the empirical self, as if it had created those views from its mere ideas or arbitrary combinations – it would rather keep it beautiful and soon give up its curiosity if it were to make the attempt. Do you think it is possible for even the most educated self of our time to create a religious historical cycle like Luke’s prehistory or a view like Matthew’s of the Magi’s star? The artist, historian, and philosopher of our time have other tasks to solve and to understand those of the past, but not to practice them.

The immediate self, as well as the educated self-consciousness, which relates to reality with a completely different consciousness, namely the critical one, and all the analogies and reflections taken from them are out of the game.


Here we are dealing with the religious self-consciousness in the stage of its creative self-development. In itself, it is the self-consciousness in which its world of the universal is still elementarily hidden. But as spirit, and especially as the religious spirit, it is the movement and drive to distinguish itself from its world of the universal; it must distinguish itself from it so that it relates to it as a real consciousness, and who can accomplish this distinction and real creation? Who other than itself? But in this creative moment, it does not know that it is itself the essential activity; we recognize it as such, but it does not recognize itself as such. As religious self-consciousness, it is deeply affected by its content, it cannot live without it and without its constant representation and production, for in it it possesses the experience of its own determinateness. But as religious consciousness, it simultaneously regards itself in the continuing difference from its essential content and as soon as it has developed it, and at the same moment when it represents it, it considers it as a reality that exists over and beyond it as the Absolute and as its history in itself.

This distinction is fortified because this specific religious self-consciousness has received the impetus for its initial arousal from outside, through the news of this historical person, and cannot even exist before it has already believed in this person, who has revealed to it its general world. Therefore, to represent its own progressive development, the content has already become the inner determination of its personal principle, and to represent it, it is involuntarily forced to bring new elements into the history of its Lord. These growing additions to the originally given history will be considered as historical to it, just as the history that was first transmitted to it. Furthermore, faith in these productions is secured by the fact that the stimuli that stimulated them and the first materials used for this purpose were given again from outside and even through the general faith of the community. The historical formations that this creative self-consciousness provides must appear even more credible to it because their soul is formed from the first simplest religious categories, the opposition of the divine and human, and from the religious view of historical connection. We have learned about these stimuli and categories and reflections on historical connection in detail above, which served for the development of the gospel history of Luke.


But what about the form, as far as it is conditioned by the words and diction? It did not arise purely from the spirit of the writer, and this circumstance distinguishes this prehistory from the actual work of art, which could become the object of religious consciousness in the Greek world, but not in the Christian community, where the essential difference of spirit had become greater and the content of religious belief had to be more positive in nature in its form. However, the form of presentation cannot cause us any concerns. Either it is the simple, natural expression of the given idea, or where it is more extensive, it is taken from the Old Testament (the translation of the Seventy). What the Old Testament reports in this form was considered historical, was considered the norm set for the holy history, and in the New Testament repetition as certain truth.

Finally, we could ask the apologist whether Phidias was a fraudster.




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