Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics
by Bruno Bauer
The tale of suffering.
Mark 14, 1. 2.
If the condition proposed by me above has really been entered into – which, however, I cannot even expect, so that I am, after all, dependent on my best insight and my will alone – then it seems to be better, after all, if I once more renounce the concession. I will once again name theologians, mention theological views, since we now come to the point where the Synoptic Gospels and the Fourth Gospel cross each other most sharply and the theologians exert their last powers to come to the aid of their favourite, the disciple, whom their Lord also loved, at this perilous moment.
The original evangelist has now continued the collision between Jesus and the Jewish parties up to the point of development where the catastrophe must inevitably occur. Jesus himself finally declared the break with them succinctly before the people and so now – when the Passover was only two days away – the chief priests and scribes came together to discuss how they could catch their opponent by a statement and accuse him of a crime punishable by death. However, they postponed their plan until after the feast because they feared that the people would get into an uproar if the trial were held during the feast, and only when Judas promised them to hand over Jesus secretly did they no longer insist on waiting until after the feast.
Of the details that were either allowed in the original account or were a consequence of their negligence, only one needs to be mentioned here: that Luke forgets to report how many days were left until the Passover festival, and instead of noting that the priests postponed the execution of their plan until after the festival due to fear of public unrest, he writes a meaningless or rather inexplicable – that is, only explicable from Mark’s scripture – remark: “out of fear of the people” (!) the high priests and scribes sought to destroy Jesus. He could not leave Mark’s pragmatism unscathed, because he could not bring himself to let the importance of the point of incidence, which occurs with the betrayal of Judas and changes the plan of the priests, come to the fore, since he omits the anointing in Bethany, which occurred after the consultation of the priests and before the incidence of that point, and immediately juxtaposes both the consultation of the priests and the note that Judas reported to the priests and leaders of the soldiers (!) (Luke 22:1-6). However, the pragmatism of the original Gospel writer, which he suffocated, still cries out through his report in his final moments of agony, when Judas seeks an opportunity to hand over his Lord to the enemies “without disturbance”.
We have to sit up and take notice when the Fourth suddenly tells us that the priests “conspired from that hour to kill Jesus” (C. 11, 53), while he already knew of several assassination attempts beforehand; but we can no longer be surprised when he lets the catastrophe be brought about by a miracle, namely by the raising of Lazarus. In his tumultuous pragmatism, miracles play the leading role. The miracle of the raising of Lazarus arouses the crowd and makes them believe (11:45, 12:9, 17-19), and the high council fears extreme danger because “this man performs so many signs” (11:47).
Because he has much more interesting things to tell us, the Fourth tells us not a word that Judas was to blame for the priesthood’s plan being able to come to fruition sooner than the conspirators had hoped; according to his account – how beautiful! what a glorious correction of the Synoptic Gospels! – the conspiracy comes to pass not so short a time before the Passover (C. 11, 54. – 12, 1); but how interesting also is the note which offers us full substitute for the enormous confusion of this glorious account! How interesting it is, if everything unexpected and unmotivated were interesting, that the priests feared that the Romans would take away their land and people if they let Jesus continue to work in this way, after which it would be certain that all would soon believe in him. The most interesting enrichment of our knowledge of history, however, is the note that Caiaphas, as the high priest of this (!) year, was possessed by the prophetic spirit and prophesied the sacrificial death of Jesus by virtue of it, when he puts an end to the fear and helplessness of his college with the remark that it was better that one man should die for the people than that the whole people should perish!
The critique of the Lazarus stories will allow us to appreciate the interesting aspects of these historical explanations and to settle the sins of the Fourth and the Synoptics.
So for now, we will once again deploy the theological armies into the field and measure the strength of criticism against them. But how do I speak? Can I send them into battle? Are they not the brave ones who face criticism with heroic fearlessness? Can I command them, then, and is it not rather the duty of the critic to defend himself against these holy armies at every moment? No! They do not intimidate me anymore! I have repelled all their maneuvers.
It is only grace on my part if I breathe new life into their arguments and help them stand up against reason, and if I have made them feel their powerlessness once again, then the last move against them will be left to the critic, who will leave them lying in contempt and prove to them in this final form that they cannot stop criticism on its triumphal march.
This expression of contempt is the last recourse available to the critic when he has dissolved theological wisdom, it is rightfully his, his last duty, and a prophecy of that happy time when nothing will be known of the arguments of theology.
Or shall I then forever, after I have resolved all the twists and turns of the theologians from all sides, remark after every critical development that this or that theological explanation is just as timid as it is audacious, just as superficial as it is impertinent, just as much the result of ignorance as it is shameless? Shall I always add the boring: “as was to be proved” after I have given the proof? Everything has its end, and so does this struggle.
The expert – but not the theologian – will also see in the following explanation of the Passion story that the struggle with theological explanation preceded it. He will see that in every section I had the opportunity to ask the theologian where he obtained his precise knowledge of circumstances that have never been criticized. However, the expert will also see that it is futile to ask the theologian to revise his archeology of the Passion story, when it is dissolved by criticism, yet more thoroughly, honestly, and less frivolously than has been done so far.but more thoroughly, more honestly, and less carelessly than it has been done hitherto.
But we will still have to do with your theologian even after we have taken leave of him. The theological reflections are already contained in the Gospels.
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