§ 5. The Messiah as a Child

Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics

by Bruno Bauer

Volume 1




The Messiah as a Child.

In the first half of his account of the birth story of Jesus, Luke conceived of the Messiah and the salvation that was to come with him in relation to the past, insofar as the past had been fulfilled in the priesthood and had been resurrected to new life through the divine power as well as through the Messiah’s foreknowledge, which had been realized in the precursor John. As we have already seen, in this regard, the Messiah’s impact on the past was either still to come insofar as his appearance was part of God’s divine plan – for the precursor was born in a priestly family to prepare a people for his arrival – or, even before his birth, he was already capable of arousing the seeds of the past, “the spiritual formations that lie in the bosom of the world or national spirit” *), through the proximity of his appearance – the proximity of his mother filled John, within Elizabeth’s womb, with delight.

*) Weisse, ev. Gesch. l, 201

After his birth, it was appropriate and possible for the Messiah to expand his exemplary influence and to impact the world, which belonged to him and was prepared for his reception, on a broader scale through the radiance of his personality, attract it, and make his arrival known to it. Since he appears as a child, his influence on the world cannot yet be universal; it only affects specific points, but these are exemplary and essentially have a general significance. On the night of his birth, angels announce to the shepherds who were watching in the field near Bethlehem that the Savior has been born to them this day. The shepherds follow the angels’ instructions, go to the city of David, and find the newborn Messiah.


In the time of the legal purification, the parents went up to Jerusalem with the child to present him to the Lord in the temple and offer the required sacrifice. At that moment, the Holy Spirit had revealed to a pious man named Simeon, who was waiting for the redemption of Israel, that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s anointed one led there. He recognized in the child Jesus the savior of Israel and all nations, but also told the blessed mother that her soul would be pierced with sorrow, as the opposition of the wicked against the Messiah would inevitably arise. At the same time, the prophetess Anna was present, she also recognized the Lord and spread the message of salvation to all in Jerusalem who had waited for it.

The progress in this representation is unmistakable, purposefully calculated, and beautifully executed. First, it is generally the lowly of the people, who simply, without deep penetrating reflection, see the Messiah child and praise God for what they have heard from the angels and later truly seen. Simeon stands out exceptionally: he must have been deeply seized by the longing for salvation and lived with all the power of his soul in the prophetic idea of Israel, if the Holy Spirit of promise had honored him to see the Messiah with his own eyes. The scene where Simeon appears is also highly elevated: it is no longer the field of the shepherds, nor the stable where the holy child lies in the manger, but the capital city and its holy height, the temple. Finally, Anna, the eighty-four-year-old widow who spent day and night in prayer and fasting and never left the temple, represents the suffering, poor, and abandoned, to whom the third evangelist has given his special affection: the unencumbered simplicity and receptivity of the shepherds in her become the need that arises from abandonment, increases through deprivation, and has become a fervent hunger for salvation. Therefore, she is the means by which the evangelist’s representation reaches its conclusion and returns to the general: she represents a larger circle and must now also tell everyone in Jerusalem who hoped for redemption that she has seen the Lord.


Even after the content of his speech, Simeon forms the climax of the presentation. The Messiah is destined for Israel and all peoples, but Simeon also knows that the Redeemer must experience opposition and suffer. This speech by Simeon could not be missing from the pre-gospel of Luke. So far, the announcements of Gabriel and the hymns of Mary and Zacharias had proclaimed and praised salvation in the limited form that it only referred to the chosen people. However, the barrier of the Jewish view had been completely overcome in itself, and paganism had come into internal connection with the new principle when Jesus was considered the God-begotten. He could not achieve this significance unless the Jewish and the heathen had converged in the new principle and merged into unity from it. This spiritual process was again impossible unless the Gentiles had been admitted to the church for some time and since the removal of the Jewish barrier, the heathen mass had already gained so much weight in the church that it could assert a view that was originally opposed to the Jewish consciousness. So, Luke had to know that a large part of the community consisted of born Gentiles, he had to know the principle that salvation was also intended for the Gentiles and that it was even determined for them according to the divine plan. So why didn’t he let an idea that he was unquestionably sure of, emerge in the pre-gospel? Why? He had placed it at the highest point he could find, but he had artistically proceeded and actually maneuvered so skillfully that he raised this idea to the keystone of his spiritual structure. At the beginning, where he certainly gives every reader the feeling that he is introducing him to the closed circle of the Jewish world, he lets the angel and Mary, like Zacharias, speak in the formulas of this world. He does it without any hesitation and therefore has no reason to fear anything because he is sure that the content, the message of the God-begotten, will lift the reader above this limited circle by itself. He is all the more certain that everyone will immediately overlook those barriers from a higher point of view because he has opened up this point of view himself at the height of his work and gradually and surely leads the reader there. The figure of Simeon is impressive, brought into the most remarkable situation, his word is penetrating, and he is also led by the Holy Spirit, so his view is also given and justified by God – which reader will not be touched and completely elevated above the previous form of presentation when he hears the man over whom the Holy Spirit was speaking about the general rule of the Messiah and the sufferings that await him? The writer had to start from the Jewish, but he also had to – and he solved his task artistically – let it blend into the higher view.


The writer! Yes, the writer has worked here. Reality did not have it as easy as he did. In its appearance, it is not a work of art, where all powers are recognizable for the viewer and for each other as in a painting or on the stage, and are immediately next to each other, but it throws a sluggish, difficult to penetrate mass, it takes years and struggles with the recalcitrant material of the intellectual mob between its heroes and those who are historically connected with them, or who they finally pull into the circle of their influence. Reality is, in comparison to the play of art, cruel and frighteningly serious; only in the struggle does it allow the great and eternal to form and prove itself, and anyone who would misunderstand the play of art and want to transfer it directly into reality would make it childish, absurd, at most a bizarre but very insignificant whim of chance. This was the encounter of the Baptist and Jesus, that the former appeared with a view that became the transition point to a crisis that he could not yet foresee, and not even believe was so close, and that Jesus recognized in the Baptist and his works the preparation for his higher task and effectiveness. Jesus was moved by the poor, lowly, and weak when he lightened their yoke and gave them comfort by exposing the legal pride, hypocrisy, and superficiality of the Pharisees in a completely different way than if he had been shown to them as a newborn baby in swaddling clothes.


Let us say it again so that nobody can misunderstand us – although we could say it a thousand times, it would probably not help – the evangelist and the original religious view do not only see the individual, sober facts in those events of the birth and childhood story, for which the apologists fight in our time, but they see in them the world-historical connection of the appearance of Jesus. They can only imagine the necessity of this connection by assuming that all the elements which the man and the work himself brought together and gathered around the developed principle were already present in the child. However, the apologist turns these views, which were considered facts by the religious spirit, but as facts were met with the infinitely higher idea that they encountered, into facts that are supposed to stand on their own and now betray that they are fundamentally unrelated to the idea and its true reality and are in themselves insignificant. It was not criticism but the apologetic pursuit of legal credibility that dissolved these views. The criticism can only value them again as views of the religious spirit, but in order to do so, it is also forced by the modern theologian and his semi-faith to demonstrate the true historical reality of the idea in the face of the insignificance of those supposed facts.


Lange*) focuses on the receptiveness of the shepherds, which made them worthy of the attention of heaven. “They joyfully accepted the messianic proclamation, followed it willingly, and greeted the newborn as the Messiah.” However, the receptiveness of the people and the world that they represent was greater, more significant, and more consequential and is the only thing worth discussing and examining, and what examinations they are, which cannot be dealt with by a simple image!

It almost seems like a terrible blasphemy if we don’t succumb to Neander’s compelling exhortation, and yet we can’t, we can’t even transcribe the long sentence in which he exhorts the critic to reverse his position in its entirety here. “It is already inherent in the analogy of history,” he says**), “that great phenomena and epochs, by which a deeply felt need of many has been satisfied for a long time, are anticipated by the longing of some receptive souls, by some prophetic intuition, and those who believe in God’s self-conscious, free love will not find it unworthy of this God to let the longing of individuals anticipate their fulfillment through special providence and revelations during the birth pangs of these great world-historical epochs.” The critic would have to understand very little about history if he denied the anticipation of a later principle. He does not deny it, but he sees it in the spirits that anticipate the later but already enjoy it, albeit in other forms of spirit, and are thus blessed. Even in paganism, this later thing is enjoyed and felt in a higher way than it would have been if the shepherds had seen a newborn child. Furthermore, this anticipation occurs as a free act of self-consciousness in those who precede the greater mass in the acceptance of a new principle.

*) ibid. p. 87.

**) L. J. Chr. p. 21.


However, it is not even as the apologists assume that the shepherds are valued only for their receptivity to the evangelist’s vision. A very specific receptivity is celebrated in them, that of the immature and lowly, who are so often praised in the Gospels as the object of divine benevolence in contrast to the wise and intelligent. Immediately as a newborn, the Messiah is to be surrounded and recognized by those whom he has so eagerly embraced as a man. The religious inversion of high and low, wisdom and foolishness, is to have already taken place before the manger where the Messiah lies. For this manger itself is evidence that the divine is not born at the height of humanity but appears in lowliness, so as to reveal its self-sufficiency in contrast to all that is humanly high. Finally, the scene is set in the night, not as Strauss inaccurately expresses it, so that it forms the background on which the appearing glory of the Lord “shines even more brightly” *), but so that it serves to express the same religious dialectic that contrasts the earthly, which cannot generate the true light from within itself, with the divine, which has its light in itself and brings it with it.

*) L. J. I, 271. 275.

As firmly as this sentence stands in religious consciousness, it cannot completely relinquish the historical appearance of its principle at the height of the real world: Jesus is therefore carried by his parents to the capital, to the temple, at the time when the purification sacrifice was to be offered, and here he is greeted by the man who already has the most complete insight into the world-encompassing power of salvation, even though this power, as he also knows for sure, will reveal itself in struggle. If the only meaning of this section were to show “how the Messianic joy of Simeon and Hanna and through them all those who were waiting in Jerusalem for redemption was communicated” *), and it must then be acknowledged that “this effect could only be a predisposition of the receptive to believe in the Messiah,” how then does the whole incident shrink into a useless game? This predisposition did not need to be produced by a miracle in individuals, since it was established through the general history of the people and the world – and what a history it was! To some extent, this sense is present in this section, but to some extent, the point is made that the Messiah is also given to the spirit that has grasped the depth of the divine plan. But again: has this not been fulfilled to a greater extent in history than if he had been seen as a child by Simeon?

*) Lange, ibid. p. 114.


Now a word about the child! The modern believer himself finds it so impossible that Simeon, even if his eyes were strengthened by the Holy Spirit, should have recognized the Messiah in a child, that he cannot do without the natural explanation. He says: “the child of hope had to give tangible impressions of his appearance to the tender hope of the theocratically pious elderly” **). We reply: the child of six weeks in the world of empirical appearance cannot do it, only the child that is already the man and the idea for perception, i.e., the child as it is portrayed by faithful art as this child. Compare Luke! Compare Raphael! But where we should find a point of comparison in the empirical world, we would not know.

**) Ibid. p. 115.


We are not to rest yet. And yet, says the steadfast apologist – but he is no Galileo – we have history before us; for “it would be very surprising how the mythical tradition should have invented or left something so inappropriate to the idea of the myth and the tendency towards glorification” *), namely that Mary followed the Mosaic law of purification for the birth of a child like the divinely conceived one. However, the perspective of the evangelist was much too directed towards higher purposes for him to have made a discovery, the glory of which he is happy to leave to theologians. He could not tear the child out of the human and from the order of the legal homeland because he could not do without the sections in which this order moves as points of reference for the presentation of his idea. He would hardly have found a more convenient ground in pleasure or in the clouds. If he wanted to tell the story of the child, he had to use moments that were the only important ones in the first days and weeks of the child’s life. But the idea that solely occupied the evangelist lifts the child infinitely above the weakness into which it is superficially drawn when it is subjected to the law: on the day of circumcision, it receives the Jesus name commanded by the angel Gabriel, and so now on the day of its presentation in the temple, its glory is revealed through Simeon’s testimony. But do not try to give the apologist of religious belief advice; he should not say, “the mythical view would have let an appearance of an angel or a vision come between so that Mary would not have to subject the child to such a request that contradicts its dignity” **). Simeon’s praise takes the place of an angel, who would have been very intrusive here.

*) Neander, p. 24.

**) Ibid.

No! It’s too much! Now Anna must even be the intermediary source from which this report indirectly originates because she is “described much more accurately than Simeon” *). But isn’t Simeon, whose guidance by the Holy Spirit is so extensively reported, described deeply enough through his words? Isn’t Anna precisely described in her fate and way of life because she has nothing more to say beside Simeon, and because she now appears as the representative of those who give up, fast, and pray, which always interest the Evangelist, and whom he now wants to bring into this part of his work as an example **)?

*) Neander, p. 27.

**) Strauss (L. I. l, 326.) even says: “the detailed personal designation (of Anna) may have been taken from a real person who continued to live in the reputation of exceptional piety at the time of the origin of our narrative.” But where, in which circle, should the memory of a personal designation that is without any general interest have been carried around? Should Anna have lived on in Jewish memory because she eagerly awaited the Messiah? But the only point that lies in the appearance of this woman is that she actually saw the Messiah and proclaimed his arrival to those who shared her beliefs. Or did Anna continue to live on in the tradition of the Christian community? This would only be possible if the tradition resembled the framework in which a dry scholar puts his notes, and among them sometimes one that he cannot immediately use but which may later accidentally serve him. The fact that there was once a widow of so many years who lived in such a way in Jerusalem must have been completely indifferent to the Christian community; they had other things to think about. And yet, at this point, the old widow is said to have come into the world as this χήρα ως ἐτῶν ὀγδοήκοντα τεσσάρων. She received her name and family from the writer who created her himself.


To conclude the narrative which Luke has drawn, there is one more piece that needs to be added: the story of the twelve-year-old Jesus’ trip to Jerusalem for the festival. So far, Luke has made the glory of the Jesus child the focal point of events and his portrayal, showing clearly how this child infused new life and ideas into the past. With this invigorating and renewing influence of the child depicted through so many situations, artistic rounding demanded that the child should also act on its own at some point and reveal the power of the new through its self-awareness. If this revelation of the power that broke down the barriers of the old was still to belong to the circle of the prehistory, then the child had to appear as such and what it does and says must be naive and straightforward. On the other hand, this expression of the child had to close the circle of the childhood story, therefore, it had to be at the border of childhood age, i.e., at least a twelve-year-old boy. Jesus is indeed taken by his parents on the Passover journey to Jerusalem as a twelve-year-old boy, but remains in Jerusalem when his parents leave without noticing, and after a day’s journey, they only realize that he is not with the caravan, where they thought he was, but in the temple talking to the teachers. After returning to Jerusalem and searching for three days, they find him, and his mother says, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” But he replies with an unmistakable rejection of the concern for a father who is not truly his own, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”


So the child breaks through the narrow confines of the circle in which it has been raised. But even more so, the report is broken through by the idea that has produced it and that it is supposed to represent. If the basis of the report were historical, what would we see in it beyond the precocious reflection of a child who, in a manner that is not attractive but rather repulsive, declares that it no longer wants anything to do with the consideration for a father who is no longer recognized as such? One cannot argue that “the twelve-year-old oriental is intellectually older and more mature *),” than his peers “in the colder West.” A twelve-year-old boy remains twelve years old in all parts of the world. Critics have already correctly noted that precocious expressions of genius are found only in artists whose intellectual determination is also determined by the natural organization of, for example, the ear, eye, hand, and the overall mood of their physical development, and that due to their connection with the body system, which is capable of early development, can express themselves early on as original potential. However, we must add that even these precocious productions of the artist, which are usually only imitations, remain immature for the connoisseur and for true taste and always fall into oblivion. The artist must study, learn the laws of his art, and strengthen his mind through inner struggles before he will produce works that are worthy of attention or even recognition and eternal memory. As for religion, since it is the movement of the inner spiritual antithesis, it is not even acquired lively by the child, but its worth and infinite significance are recognized only by the man who has struggled, suffered, and tested himself. How far is it, then, from this appreciation and living appropriation of religion to the self-awareness of the religious founder, who breaks through an earlier form of religious consciousness: must he not, before he can apprehend or even recognize his task, experience and undergo the contradictions of the old many times and for a long time within himself? The religious founder is the man who has formed himself in the inner struggle with the old. But what completely negates the possibility of regarding the present report as a historical note is the fact that the Jesus child is mentioned not only in a purely religious sense as his heavenly Father’s son, but also in that external respect that it does not want to be called Joseph’s son. According to the context of this prehistory, this consideration should not even mean that the heavenly Father is distinguished as the true eternal one from the earthly father as the imperfect image, but it should also be evident that the Jesus child now has the apprehension, indeed the certainty, that Joseph is not even his biological father. If anyone still wants to conceive of such a child as a historical phenomenon, we do not prevent them from doing so: but reason, humanity, even the sense of nature, which is at home in the family, will do so all the more strongly.

*) for example, Lange, ibid. p. 121.


The report dared this glaring contradiction because it could not recognize it, because in this depiction the idea of the man who has broken through the narrow confines of the old world in which he was born and raised overshadowed him. The evangelist wanted to indicate this infinity of Jesus’ self-awareness at the end of the prehistory, not because he could grasp it in its essence and historical mediations, but because he wanted it to emerge as such here and thus necessarily fell into that contradiction by placing it in a child.

And the twelve-year-old Jesus remains a child, even as an Oriental. The apologist who wants to make the child more mature, that is, who becomes the natural interpreter again according to his habit, asks Jesus’ parents and the evangelist if they do not think that the twelve-year-old boy was still just a child. They should have understood this since they were at home in the East. In the first *) edition of his work, Strauss correctly noted that the parents’ restlessness when they miss Jesus on the return journey proves that they still see the boy as a child. They think they should have acted differently and kept a closer eye on the child, that is, the author of the report sees the matter in such a way that, through an oversight on the part of the parents, through a coincidence that should not have happened, the following proof of Jesus’ higher self-awareness was brought about. The tireless apologist, of course, helps himself again. “Only this follows from the parents’ anxiety,” he says *), “that they can no longer follow Jesus’ spiritual flight with their thoughts.” No longer! Then they should have regarded it as a futile effort to take him into their care and therefore search for him. But the writer does not even know that the parents had this meaning; according to his version – and the faithful theologian should respect this above all – the parents still know nothing of this spiritual flight of their son, as they anxiously and painfully search for him for three days, but are only concerned because they believe he is lost or left behind. Only when they find him among the teachers in the temple, they are amazed, they wonder at the unexpected, and when Jesus only wants to know about the Father, in whose house he must be – and where the parents, if they had already known of his spiritual flight, should have looked for him first and foremost, instead of wandering through the city for three days – they no longer understand what he is saying. Strange contradiction! The statement of her son about his true father is not understandable to Mary? For anyone who still wants stronger proof that we do not have a real specific event before us here, that the author is only preoccupied with the idea that Jesus had to outpace the understanding of the old world surrounding him in the development of his self-consciousness, and that Luke only fell into this contradiction because he transformed and had to transform this general collision into a collision in Jesus’ family relationships, making Jesus a child hero of the story – for anyone who wants stronger evidence, none will be strong enough.

*) In the third, he (l, 251) takes away from the criticism the right to deny the story “historical validity.”

*) Lange, ibid. p. 122.



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