BRUNO BAUER: Theological Explanation of the Gospels – III. The Original Evangelist

Theological Explanation of the Gospels

Die theologische Erklärung der Evangelien


Bruno Bauer



The Original Evangelist.


Yes, it must be difficult to grasp a perspective that no longer aligns with the entanglement of theological assumptions, especially when even academically trained theologians, in their struggle with criticism, in a moment when they should be proving their presuppositions, use the categories of those assumptions with a naivety and unconsciousness that could be considered extraordinary, if this audacity of unawareness could still be surprising to theologians.

To portray my view on the origins of the Gospels and the gospel history as “absurd,” Mr. Schwegler finds it sufficient to exclaim: “Now Hesiod, an Hellenic proto-evangelist, would have created the Greek mythology in a literary manner; Homer’s songs, instead of being passed down from generation to generation through oral tradition, would have been freely and creatively presented to all the Hellenes!”

*) Zeller’s Theological Yearbooks. 1843. p. 207.


Let it be, I will follow Mr. Schwegler into ancient Greece; I will forget that even Herodotus made the “absurd” statement that Homer and Hesiod created the “gods of the Greeks” *) — but is the composition of Herodotus explained by speaking of its “inheritance”?

*) Her. II, 53 ουτοι δε εισι οι ποιησαντε θεογονιην ‘Ελλησι.

The Norse mythology, the German heroic song — they would, Mr. Schwegler further exclaims, be the products of a poetic mind because there was no tradition to transmit them from mouth to mouth, from generation to generation?

In his astonishment — in the fortunate ignorance bestowed upon the followers of the tradition hypothesis — Mr. Schwegler does not see that the question is solely about who created this “plant.”

To prove the “absurdity” of my view, Mr. Schwegler **) relies on how “the prehistory of all ethnic groups and nations has been passed down for centuries without being fixed in writing, in their speech and memory,” and how “they could do so because these peoples recognized in it the substantial forces of their history, the mystery of their world-historical mission.”

**) p. 258.

However, to fully accomplish the merit of the work he achieves with my refutation and to relieve historians from the unnecessary agony of further efforts, he should have mentioned at least one nation, if not all nations and ethnic groups, whose prehistory has truly been inherited in their memory — he should have mentioned that particular prehistory which is so reliably attested, which has been faithfully preserved in the memory of the nation, that any historian who would not include it in the realm of real history, as it has been transmitted in the oral tradition of the people, would rightly deserve the accusation of unnecessary nitpicking.


However, as far as I am aware of actual history, the prehistories, such as the Jewish, the Greek, the Roman, are later creations in which the world-historical mission of these peoples is so clearly prefigured because they were created at a time when those nations were already fully aware of their destiny and greatness — they are the reflection of the later self-consciousness of these peoples into a primeval era that lies beyond history, in which this self-consciousness was formed.

“And, declaims Mr. Schwegler further, and the evangelical history, transmitted from mouth to mouth, spread from the messengers of faith to the people, recounted in all religious gatherings, in private religious gatherings, told in a time and among social classes that were not inclined toward written records, relying primarily on the power of memory — should not even the few generations that, according to Bauer’s assumption, fall between the actual events (!) and the written record have been able to survive? On what else did the evangelical proclamation build, to what else could it refer, if not to the fact of the appearing, crucified, and resurrected Messiah?”

Indeed, the evangelical proclamation could only refer to the fact of the appearance, death, and resurrection of the Messiah — but this fact was also its only historical content.


That is certain — an indisputable fact.

But does that make the evangelical proclamation, which is the key to solving all difficulties in the Tradition Hypothesis, the evangelical proclamation that recites the entire evangelical history in one breath and, with this uniform recitation, wins the Roman Empire over to the Christian faith, become a historical fact? 

Hardly anyone will acknowledge this more than the critic who recognizes the rich contribution that the Gospels made to the shaping and development of the Christian world and the significant interests involved in the creation of the evangelical history. Similarly, there can be no doubt that when the Gospels were presented to the organized and existing Church as individual narrative pieces for edification, they proved to be a true source of life for Christian beliefs and the entire life of faith.

However, if the proponents of the Tradition Hypothesis claim that the “messengers of faith” subjugated the Roman world to their new Lord by conveying his biography, then we can use the only appropriate expression without in any way diminishing the true Gospels and their significant content, and ask whether “nation upon nation” could really have been won over with this collection of anecdotes.

The only thing that could be cited in support of this mindless chimera is the supposed testimony of Papias regarding the origin of the Gospel of Mark, his claim that Peter recounted the life story of his Lord during his missionary journeys. However, just like the later Tradition Hypothesis, this is nothing more than a theological attempt to explain the origin of the already existing and given Gospels — a hypothesis born out of interest and ignorance.


After these remarks, I will briefly ask whether, even if the “lower classes,” among whom the evangelical history is said to be narrated, were “not very skilled in written expression,” the teachers, leaders, and messengers of faith suffered from the same incompetence. And in response to the appeal to the incompetence of the masses, I would simply state that precisely because they are neither inclined nor capable of writing, individuals write on their behalf.

In the following volume, I will attempt to determine the era in which the confused mind lived, to whom we owe the so-called testimonies of Papias. Here I only note that when Mr. Schwegler connects the question to Papias’ alleged interest in the authenticity of the evangelical accounts and considers his collection of sayings derived from tradition as an impossibility, *) I would point out that the account of the supposed Papias preserved by Eusebius **) does not pertain to historical notes and anecdotes, but rather to matters of faith and doctrine. The contrast between oral tradition and written records is the contrast between the truth directly received from the Lord and the subsequent development of doctrine, which is regarded as personal wisdom. The supposed Papias does not seek to determine what is truly authentic in the historical accounts of the Gospels, but rather, starting from the belief that later doctrinal development is a foreign and arbitrary invention, he seeks to find the original, unadulterated teachings of the Lord.

*) Ibid., p. 271.

**) Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 3, 39.


Papias’ eccentric antithesis has led Mr. Schwegler onto the right track: “precisely the earliest Christianity,” he notes, “more than any later period of the Christian Church, relied on tradition as a principle; the immediate connection with Christ was considered the criterion of apostolic authority, the church’s tradition, the canon of the preaching of salvation, and the episcopal succession were subjects of the greatest attention and strict scrutiny.”

Well then, there was a time in the Church when Catholicism believed that by claiming to be the old traditional system, it could convince the factions that divided the Church of their injustice and the gnostic speculation of its arbitrariness.

Furthermore, I will forget that this Catholicism, which emerged victorious over the factions in the second half of the second century, itself represented a new form of consciousness, a consequence of the flattening of extreme factions. I will forget that the tradition it relied upon was itself a creation of its consciousness, a dogma. I will forget that the succession of bishops it referred to was a fiction meant to provide a historical basis for its new dogma of tradition. I will forget all of that, except for the strict scrutiny and careful attention given to the succession of bishops, which I grant to Mr. Schwegler. But does this prove his tradition of evangelical history?


Yes, there was a time in the Church, in the middle of the second century, when Jewish Christianity and the so-called Pauline direction contended for supremacy. Both based their claims on the direct connection of their respective patrons with the Lord, until their dispute was reconciled by acknowledging the equal legitimacy of their supposed founders.

Well then, my proof that this dispute over Paul’s apostolic authority is also a product of the Catholic tradition’s demands has not been provided. Let it be granted to Mr. Schwegler that this dispute between Peter and Paul truly belongs to the early history of the community. Mr. Schwegler shall not even be tasked with creating a coherent picture of this dispute from the confusion of the Corinthian and Galatian letters. Let the proofs of criticism be forgotten, and Mr. Schwegler’s historical world stands there—but does that prove his tradition of evangelical history? Is the tradition of doctrine the transmission of historical notes? Is the dispute between Peter and Paul a dispute over evangelical history?

And when “Hegesippus traveled through the Christian world to verify the apostolicity of contemporary church doctrine through firsthand observation, personal research, and testimonies” *)—that is, rather, to measure the doctrine of individual churches against the later norm of Catholicism—did he travel to compare the various forms of evangelical historical tradition?

*) Ibid., p. 272.


Have all these digressions into foreign territories substantiated Strauss’s hypothesis or refuted or even touched upon my criticism?

But now Mr. Schwegler gets to the point: “how can the origin of Christianity and the formation of the community be understood without the impetus of a creative personality?” *)—what a reproach against me, who for the first time attributed the shaping and development of the community consciousness to truly creative personalities!

*) Ibid., p. 276. 

Indeed, the creators whose productive and transformative power I have demonstrated, for example, in the Urevangelium or in that evangelical section on the old and new law, are not the creators revered by religious consciousness or the ones theologians need to explain their worlds—they are not the creators who come from outside and provide the impetus for the emergence and movement of something or impose their revelations on the world that doesn’t know how to attain such favor—

— the creators whose work I have shown in the Gospels are rather so intimately connected with the world to which they present their new creations that my presentation of this connection can lead Mr. Schwegler to the objection and misunderstanding that I am still within the framework of the Tradition Hypothesis **), since I “cannot take a step forward without constantly recurring to tradition, to what is given in the community.”

**) Ibid., p. 247—Dr. Baur explicitly agrees with this objection (Kritische Untersuchungen, p. 66).

But when I say and provide evidence that the holy writers depict in their creations “the inner movements and experiences, the trials and struggles of the community,” when I designate the self-perception and self-consciousness of the community as the raw material of those creations, when I demonstrate that the holy artists derived the material they processed and shaped in their creations from their own inner being, which was so rich and vast that in its vibrations and struggles it reproduced the inner life of their world and condensed it into personal self-perception, into personal passion—


Thus, I do not rely on tradition—(tradition in Strauss’s sense)—”going back,” but rather on the historical substance that the holy writers shaped—the actual substance that was processed in their work and became the soul of a new world, not the chimerical substance that, according to the Tradition Hypothesis, merely reappears in the copy that the writers captured from it.

After Mr. Schwegler, because I have established a real connection between the historical creators and the world into which they place their works and revelations, has made me an adherent of the Tradition Hypothesis, he finds that I have detached the creators of the evangelical history from any connection with the community because I cannot consider them mere copyists. He then uses his finding to draw a conclusion that is supposed to complete the proof of the “absurdity” of my view.

“If the Evangelists, he remarks against me, ‘acted creatively towards their material without being in interaction with the community, if they were founders of a not yet existing and not rather children of an already created Christian world, then the Urevangelist, the Unknown, would be the creator of a world-creating religion.'” *)

*) Ibid., p. 219. Herr Dr. Baur also finds this objection so apt that he repeats it verbatim in his Critical Investigations, p. 67.”


— “Without standing in interaction with the community,” and it was I who first depicted this interaction between the creators of the evangelical narrative and the community — or would that truly be an interaction if the evangelists were merely copying tradition? Were the evangelists truly “the children” of an already existing Christian world when they wrote down what tradition dictated?

He, the unknown Ur-Evangelist, would be the “creator” of the Christian religion! — dreadful! But not for me, who acknowledge a great and esteemed multitude of creators of this religion! — a terrifying objection! Especially for the critic who recognizes not only the Ur-Evangelist but also the artists of the nativity story of the Savior, the master who formed the antithesis of the old and new law, even the author of the intricate web of antitheses in the fourth Gospel — who acknowledges not only the author of the first eight chapters of the Epistle to the Romans but also those who shaped Christian Judaism in contrast to Paulinism as creators of the Christian religion — a dreadful, annihilating objection against the one who sees the creative power that gave Christianity its life continuing to exert its influence in Athanasius and Augustine, in Hildebrand and Luther!

Dreadful! He, “the unknown,” the Ur-Evangelist, whose name no one can name, would be the creator — terrifying, above all, for the critic who does not know the names of the creators of those birth narratives in which the Christian perspective subjected Judaism and paganism — who does not even know the name of the master to whom the new law owes its victory over the old — who does not know the name of the man who satisfied the needs of the Christian heart in the fourth Gospel — dreadful for the critic who cannot assign a name to the author of the first chapters of the Epistle to the Romans and who is also unfamiliar with the names of the men who, until the end of the second century, developed the Catholic reconciliation of extremes — terrifying for the one who is ignorant of the true names of all those creators and who, in due time and in the course of this work, will attempt the only thing he has yet to accomplish in this regard — namely, answering the question of why a part of these creators remains completely nameless and whence arises the pseudonymity under which the works of others have come down to us.


So, according to Herr Schwegler, in his astonishment at my “absurd assumption” and “phantasmagorical view of history,” it is not an overwhelming personality that works by emanating its inner life, thereby creating community, but rather a writer through a book sent out into the world would be the originator of that immense movement upon which centuries of history are built.

The lack of intelligence with which the “inner life” of the Gospels and all those works that served as focal points for the crystallization of Christian society is closed off cannot be expressed in a more naive manner.

That these works did not fall into the world like the “inner life” that, according to the theologian’s view, provided the “impetus” for the formation of Christianity from an unknown, foreign heaven, I need not explain further. There is only one thing left for me to do in response to that objection: to measure the strength of real inner life, which I have demonstrated in the molding of the Ur-Evangelium, in the antithesis of the old and new law, and even in the statutory creation of Catholicism, against the mere phrase and mist of its “inner life.”


But my work is laid out openly—I do not need to repeat it for the sake of a mere phrase.

I do not need to speak again about the animating power that emanates from the Ur-Evangelium, nor the creative force with which the antithesis of the old and new law formed a new community, nor the organizing power inherent in the initial creations of Catholicism—

Just one more question! Is the fourth Gospel, with its global influence, merely “a book sent into the world”? Is the community that gathered around the Fourth Gospel not his creation, is the movement he initiated and concluded with his sole authority in the present not his work simply because he is a writer? Or did he not establish his global influence on a book—a piece of written paper?

How “absurd,” how “ridiculous” is the approach of history, how “phantasmagorical” its manner, that it deems its life secure only when it is transferred onto paper, and the dominion of its favorites secure only when it can rely on written letters!

But the beginning, the very first beginning, the impetus that the “first founder” gave to Christianity, as the God of religious consciousness gave to the emergence and movement of the world—that is what the theologian wants to know.


However, in the field of exact research in which I operate, I have no reason to proceed from the Gospels to an otherworldly originator, to a distant founder, or even to a person whose life story is handed down in them, as the theologian does when encountering a specific natural phenomenon or a remarkable historical event. The nature of the present material, the form and content of the Gospels, keep me rooted in the second century—form and content point to originators belonging to the second century.

In due course, during the course of this work, I will also come back to that first, very first beginning—but how many assumptions and conventional notions will have to fall in order for me to reach that point! I cannot, like the theologian, transport myself back to that beginning with a transcendent leap; I can only advance towards it through a thorough process.



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