§ 9. Rest stop

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey


§. 9 Rest stop.


1) The feast left undefined.


The evangelist does not specify what kind of feast it was on the occasion of which Jesus returned to Jerusalem after performing His second Galilean sign. We say on the occasion of the feast, because that is how the evangelist wants it to be seen, that the feast was always the occasion for Jesus to go to Jerusalem. This monotonous rhythm, in which the evangelist encloses the whole movement of Jesus’ life, cannot possibly have been the real historical relationship, for the Lord’s life will not have been so poor that the only motive of his movement should always be only one, always only the feast at Jerusalem. As it appears in the fourth Gospel, Jesus does nothing else in Galilee but waits for the feast time to go to Judea, as if he could not otherwise have gone to this always moving centre of the people’s life if he wanted to go there. And as soon as one of the main festivals approaches, it seems to have been a mechanically necessary consequence that the Lord set out and left Galilee. But with this, as always happens with the mechanical formation of a relationship, both sides of it are reduced to mechanical dead quantities. The feasts on the one hand have no other meaning than that of mechanical means and levers which serve to bring Jesus to Jerusalem. But if they have this mechanical power, if they are so infallibly able to bring Jesus to Jerusalem, he becomes a mere object, which is driven away by the power of the feast as surely as a dead body is moved by a push. In addition, there is a contradiction with a presupposition which the evangelist follows no less, since, according to his account, Jesus only ever leaves the capital when hostile movements appear among the people or in the sphere of authority. That he then leaves Judea is not because he has accomplished the purpose that led him there, no matter what the purpose may be: but only through accidental entanglements he is moved to retreat from a region in which, as it seems, he would have stayed longer in any other case. Against this way of looking at things, according to which Jerusalem and Judea appear to be the ordinary and legitimate sphere of Jesus’ activity, it is, of course, a glaring contradiction when the evangelist lets the Lord be moved to travel to Jerusalem only by chance and externally through the occurrence of the feast times.


Let us now at least ask, setting aside the motive as such, what kind of feast of the Jews (εορτη των ‘Ιουδαιων) was it for which Jesus went to Jerusalem this time? The commentators have guessed at all the feasts celebrated by the Jews; but only that explanation is worthy of mention for which Hengstenberg has again adduced reasons taken from the matter and from the context, namely, that explanation which decides in favour of the Passover. It is true that one objects that *) the intervening times are too short: Jesus had only just returned from the Passover feast in Judea and soon after that feast, which was left undefined (C. 6, 4), the time of the Passover would already be here again. But this would be a pity for a chronicle, where otherwise the annual periods are always filled with a great number of events without exception. Here, however, where only one or a few points are singled out from the period of a year, this objection is as inappropriate as possible. Hengstenberg now says that **) the evangelist has not left the feast undefined, for εορτη των ‘Ιοθδαιων, according to Hebrew usage, is the feast of the Jews, not merely any feast of theirs. But if the evangelist had fallen into this Hebraism, and had meant the chief feast of the Jews, and under this the passover, he would have said so expressly, and called his readers’ attention to the fact that the feast, which need only be so called, is the passover of the Jews. Otherwise he carefully enough explains Hebrew words and concepts, even the expression “the Messiah” he does not forget to translate I:42; he thus proves that he wrote for readers who did not have an immediate understanding of Hebrew concepts. To them, however, he should certainly have said that the feast was the Passover par excellence. It could be that he involuntarily fell into this Hebraism and forgot to consider his readers – but nowhere and never is the Passover, nor any other Jewish festival, simply called “the festival of the Jews,” so that it would be clear without further defining context which specific festival is meant. Regarding that Hebraism, it is simply impossible in the Greek language unless it is based on a specific, familiar formula given in Hebrew language and thought. *) But since such a formula cannot be assumed here, and since the Greek language usage stands and applies for itself, the expression remains indefinite, meaning that the festival that called Jesus to Jerusalem remains an indefinite festival of the Jews. A writer who attaches so much importance to incidental clauses that he otherwise even gives the time of day and the hour at which this or that took place, would have given the definite feast here too, on the occasion of which Jesus went to Jerusalem, if he had known it. But he did not know.

*) So dε Wette, k. Erkl. des Eω. Joh, p. 65.

**) Christology II, 565.

*) When, e. g., Luke 2, II, the shepherds of Bethlehem are told: the Saviour is born to you εν πολει Δαυιδ, the formula עיר דוד, is given by history and usage of language, and the reader knows at once which city is meant.


2) The pragmatism of the fourth Gospel.

But if we say thus: the author did not know to which feast Jesus went this time, we presuppose that the historical memory left him only once, but that in all other cases his memory was reliable and that he always knew exactly the real occasion of Jesus’ journeys to the holy city. But we must not allow this premise to stand without further ado. If Jesus, as the fourth evangelist describes, also travelled to Jerusalem on the occasion of other festivals besides the Passover, then the memory of these individual occasions could not remain fixed and could not be linked in an unchanging way with the memory of the events brought about by them. The multitude of individual occasions and the still greater multitude of individual events could not be kept apart in the original order for memory; indeed, the greatest confusion had to occur in this respect, however early the author had written. But the confusion was even more unavoidable, since it follows from the author’s standpoint of reflection that he wrote very late, namely at a time when the first germs of dogmatic theory had already long since developed.

In addition to the distance of time, however, there is the nature of the matter. There is no inner connection between the occasion and the following events, since the occasion for Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem at this or that time is only a formal, external one, or, according to the fact that it was just this or that festival time, an accidental one. Jesus could do or speak this or that at this or that time without this particular festival time being required for this deed or speech. Some chronological connections could be preserved in memory, most connections of this kind must also have shifted in the memory of an eyewitness, but none of them we may hold on to as reliable: with the exception, of course, of Jesus’ last Passover journey, which, however, need not first be confirmed by our author.


If the fourth evangelist is praised for the exact “chronological and pragmatic arrangement” of his account in comparison with the Synoptics, *) we not only cannot agree with this praise, but we cannot even approve of his striving for this kind of chronological accuracy. Luke says in the preface to his Gospel that he would endeavour to tell everything in chronological order. This is, of course, an endeavour that always comes into play when a story is of interest to a wider circle of readers. But it only ever occurs when the confusion of the individual has already occurred and the historical context of the material has been eliminated. Once this dissolution has occurred, it can only be reversed if written documents were written immediately after an event or if the memory could be linked to individual profound, great and significant facts. Without these two supports, even the most persistent memory of the eyewitness cannot escape error. Nowadays no one will accept the absurd impossibility that the disciples kept diaries during the life of Jesus; so the only support for memory remained only great, clearly marked events whose chronological date had to be preserved in memory because of their importance. The only point in Jesus’ life that had to remain fixed chronologically was the time of the Passover, the time of his death. The time of this event could never be forgotten, especially since it was so important for the community because of the typical relationships that came together in the sacrifice of the Passover meal and seemed to be intimately connected with the event. Otherwise, however, there was no crisis in the public life of Jesus, no blow that had to be chronologically fixed in the memory in the same way as the last Passover because of its intensity or its inner harmony with the time in which it took place.

*) E.g. Lücke Comm. I, 114. Eredner, Introduction I, 1, 241.


What an eye-witness could do under these circumstances, therefore, consisted solely in tracing in the events the formation of the catastrophe which would bring the Lord to the cross. The fourth evangelist also tries to do this, but he does not succeed. For according to him, the catastrophe does not develop, but is there from the beginning; the Lord does not enter among the people inwardly, spiritually, in the idea of excitement, but the excitement that he brings about is an outward one, and just as he enters Jerusalem for the first time, he hurries into the temple to prove himself outwardly as the reformer of the theocracy. The attitude that the author has given to the other side of the opposition corresponds to this. The Pharisees are immediately prepared for an outward attack and the Jews are already willing to kill him at the time of the second feast, which Jesus visited after a short stay in Galilee (5:16, 18). There everything is ready, all the acts are already played out at the beginning of the drama and it seems only a coincidence if the attack on Jesus is not carried out immediately and the hand that strikes is held up for so long. The imminent danger of this power, which is always ready to strike, embarrasses the evangelist himself, he has to wonder why the blow does not fall and he can only help himself outwardly mechanically by repeatedly remarking that the blow has still not fallen because the hour of the Lord has not yet come *).

*) Compare Strauss, Leb. Jes. 3rd Aug II, 401, 402.


If the author was by no means able to see a gradual development in the facts themselves, if always and in all cases only one thing is repeated, namely that Jesus sets the Jews against him and that they want to kill him, if everything is only the continuation of one and the same tone or the application of one and the same colour, if in the facts themselves their grouping, differentiation and connection is not substantiated: now, in the pronounced individuality of the facts, the author also had no means of consolidating the chronology or restoring it from memory. In other words! The chronological sequence did not spring forth with pure, original force from the facts themselves; rather, it was a writer’s reflection and emerged from that combinatory activity of the writer with which hypotheses are formed. In the place from which we started (5:1), the author once did not dare to give a certain hypothesis, perhaps because he had been misled by several attempts to give one.

We do not want to accuse the author that he often had to make mistakes in his chronological statements, otherwise we would have to accuse the general human weakness in such matters, which would be very unfruitful. In contrast to the raw enthusiasm of the apologists for the chronological accuracy of his report, we also do not want to accuse the author of having striven for a definiteness that was impossible in every case. On the contrary, we have only solved our task worthily if we show the reason why he made such an effort. This reason lies solely in the general character of the fourth Gospel. In the spiritual view which it has of the Lord, or rather which it lets him express as his self-view, lies, because of the dogmatic abstraction, that indeterminacy which is always connected with exuberant transcendence. In the historical development that the author wants to give, instead of progress there is only stagnation and repetition of one and the same thing. Nevertheless, the author wanted to satisfy the need for progress and definiteness, but he could only do so in sensual immediacy, and that is where the chronological precision attached to the festive journeys of Jesus and the mechanical motif of Jesus’ moving to and fro comes from. As long as theology remains in its vague abstractions and cannot decide on a concept, as long as it views the life of the Lord through the fog of apologetic theory instead of grasping it in the inner definiteness of real historical infinity, so long will it still prefer to feast on these chronological arabesques of the fourth Gospel.


The Synoptics, on the other hand, whom this apologetics looks down upon so contemptuously from the sphere of their transcendent sentimentality, also stand much higher than our Evangelist in the arrangement of the historical material, as we shall see later. It is true that they have arranged the material much more boldly than the latter, but they have done it in a strong, natural and healthy way; at least Mark and Matthew are particularly excellent in this respect. They have used efficient home remedies; for example, a natural locality, such as the Sea of Genesaret, forms the centre around which individual historical materials are arranged, or an outstanding fact gathers other facts around it. But besides this natural architectonics, they also have a spiritual one, which, though also made, is more appropriate to the greatness of the subject than that which our author’s art has formed. And what is most important is that the crisis is at least described and motivated in their work, whereas in the account of the fourth evangelist it is completed at the first moment, the bloody murder confronts the Lord from the very beginning, and according to this, in all of Jesus’ speeches, the necessity of his death is alluded to or even explicitly explained.


3) Inspiration.

Apologetics does not easily give up its cause and feels most secure when it has risen to the region where it can dismiss any question about the specificity of the thought as frivolous curiosity. The promise of Jesus that the Father would send the Holy Spirit in his name to teach the disciples everything and remind them of everything he had said is now considered the main guarantee of the faithfulness of the Johannine memory. “Shouldn’t this Spirit, one might ask, have also strengthened John’s memory in particular, just as it elevated the other powers of the spirit?” Yes! The answer is, “Here the case occurred that memory became more faithful the older it got” *). Not to mention that those words of the Lord refer to the memory and reproduction of his teachings, we also do not want to ignore the experience that memory, as far as it relates to sensory determinations of place and time, and to the movement and connection of these determinations, becomes weaker and more unreliable the older it gets. However, we cannot even hold on to this experience because it would be one-sided; for in truth, memory also has a side where it becomes more faithful with age and more certain in grasping the true factual basis and penetrating into the depth of the subject. Mnemosyne is eternally young, does not age, and its power rejuvenates only in later years to everlasting freshness and vitality. But this power does not refer initially to the sensory determinations of place and time, but to the spiritual forms and forces of history. Thus, the history of the past, such as the development of Greek national life, lives in our memory in a higher and more complete form than in the first eyewitnesses and the succeeding generations. The spirit of the Greek people and their manifold historical phenomenon has become the subject of our contemplation and possession of memory, while the same spirit, as it lived historically, was still sunk in its individual manifestations, or if it took itself back into memory, was still unable to comprehend its own totality. Even the individual appears more specifically in this rebirth of historical memory, and even the memory of chronological determinations becomes more faithful, certain, and reliable the older it gets. Just think of the chronological tables that more accurately represent the time determinations of Greek history than the oldest documents, which either contradict each other or are indefinite.

*) Lücke, Comm. I, 197.


So this is true: the older the memory, the sharper it becomes. We must not admit this to the apologist merely as a special exception, but extend it to a general truth: after centuries, after millennia, the past becomes clearer, more luminous and more present for memory than it was for contemporaries and the next generations. But – the apologist overlooks this – this rejuvenation of mnemosyne only happens after a laborious process, which also presupposes many trials and errors before it can reach its completion. The highest and last condition for this growth of memory, however, is that the historical spirit itself should have progressed and reached a higher stage, so that from this more mature standpoint it may be able to grasp the earlier historical phenomena in their true significance and to overlook them in detail. And as far as the chronological determinations are concerned, criticism comes in later, which reconciles or more closely defines the first confused, contradictory or indeterminate statements. In short, historical memory is never immediate, nor is it secured in the eye-witness by the immediate impression of what he himself has experienced, but it is only true when it is mediated by millennia and their development, and even in the eye-witness it is conditioned by his general understanding of the subject.


The apologist, it is true, also resorts to a generality when he says that the Holy Spirit reminded the disciples of the past and thus also strengthened John’s memory. But this theological conception is an unworthy one, since it does not essentially distinguish the Holy Spirit from any other external means of mnemonics. On the other hand, it should only be briefly noted that the spirit, and the holy spirit at that, can never be only a means that stands between the end and its execution; rather, as spirit, it always reaches beyond the position where it appears as a means, and it unites the two other extremes, the end and its execution, within itself. As this inner movement, the spirit is not only a mechanical means that stands between history, its experience, and its reproduction in memory, but just as it occupies the position of the means in a moment, so it is at the same time the interior of both extremes. It already works in the historical phenomenon, is the soul of it, and as such works on those before whom this history occurs. Just as it already lives as a soul in itself in the eyewitnesses and in those who hear from the eyewitnesses, so it is also active in them as an inner soul, in order to reproduce itself as self-consciousness and as a memory of itself.


In the movement of these three determinations, therefore, the first is history, as in it the spirit lives directly and is present as an inner soul. As in this determination history is still directly external and pure progression so for the sake of this pure outwardness it is still pure interiority and subjectivity, i.e. as it is directly there, so it floats, evaporates or dies away into the subjectivity of the eyewitnesses. Both this elementary exteriority and interiority are one and the same here. The next stage is the real, conscious and deliberate differentiation of this inwardness and outwardness, when history in its entire scope becomes the object of contemplation and literary representation as a coherent whole. This progress is based on the power of objectivity itself, which gathers and seeks to summarise itself from its evaporation within, or it is the act of the inner spirit in the object, which animated it as a general soul and is now working its way up to self-consciousness. But the place where this process takes place is the real self-consciousness, the historical spirit, as it exists as a community and appears in it as a single individual, and as this place is in itself already determined, mediated, and formed, that process is also determined accordingly. The more the subjectivity in which it proceeds still has special sides to it, which have not yet been overcome by a general formation, the more the process of historical memory and representation will also still have peculiarities about it which are not yet balanced with the generality of the object, and therefore stand in contradiction to it. The fourth evangelist stands on this standpoint of particularity; he has not yet subjected his particular formation and his particular character to the matter absolutely, while the Synoptic Gospels represent the matter as it has passed through the tradition of the community and its general formation, that is, through a subjectivity that was by far more corresponding to its generality.


This, however, is in no way intended to express or suggest the opinion that the peculiar character which determines the whole of the Fourth Gospel is pure particularity which has nothing at all in common with the matter in hand. It, too, belongs to the matter. The struggle of the Jews with the Lord, the contrast in general between the world and the work and person of Jesus, then in the Lord’s speeches the general contrast between the heavenly and the earthly, between eternal and earthly life, between light and darkness, between love and hatred: All this is not made pure, not taken out of thin air, it is really spirit from the spirit of the matter, it does indeed belong to the general, but the author has again purely abstracted these historical relations and these contrasts without the further determinations which they had in reality, he has thus in fact only emphasised a particular moment of the matter and carried it out alone. In this way, however, he also altered this particular, for he did not conceive of it as a moment of historical totality that was supplemented by other moments, but rather as the general. Thus, on the one hand, the sentimental, soft and wavering nature of his representation had to arise, for in order to expand a particular moment into the general, he had to drive it beyond its definiteness, volatilise it, dilute it or repeat it without interruption. On the other hand, he could no longer satisfy the desire to achieve definiteness in detail from the nature of the matter, but only in such a way that he again brought a measureless definiteness into his representation by carrying the later dogmatic theory into the speeches of the acting persons or by determining the time down to the day and hour.


If we use the better definition for inspiration – the self-consciousness of the absolute spirit as it historically took shape in the perception of the community – it seems that we cannot escape a dangerous conclusion, and that the apologists, if we called their conception an unworthy one, would rather be justified in calling our representation blasphemy. For if the particular pragmatism of the fourth Gospel and the general views of it proved to be a work of one single mould, and if we now still regard the whole as a historical manifestation of that self-consciousness of the absolute spirit, we might be accused of transferring into the divine spirit itself the barrier of the particular, of finitude in general. But the absolute spirit is not beyond the finite and its limits, for even then it would be limited, indeed even more limited, since it would have these barriers insurmountably outside itself and could not penetrate and abolish them. But it is rather in itself this movement to experience its own nature in the finite and to pass through it. But since this is a passage, a movement, and history, it does not remain within these limits but passes through them to arrive at the completed historical consciousness of itself. At first, this crossing of the barrier has the form of immediacy, that with one particularity only the other is there in the first place. Thus, alongside the fourth gospel, we have the synoptics, the perception of the Lord in the apostolic letters, and the general ground of these particular forms is again, in its immediacy, the existence of the community. But this complement and totality of particulars is only an immediate one, is only there in itself and not yet really set. For almost two millennia the congregation has been far removed from the true totality in which the limitedness of the particular views would be abolished. For the previous attempts of apologetics to establish that real unity were only gospel harmonies, i.e. not a unity in which the defective and mutually alien forms of the moments were suspended and reconciled, but only a mechanical and forcible joining together of them. The moments were taken out as they were presented, they remained in the form in which they were found, and they were considered absolute truth, while the movement in which they cancel each other out was falsely and forcibly hindered.


4) Criticism.

The spirit of the church, because it is a living mediation, cannot remain in the contradiction that the memory of its first historical appearance remains this limited one. Hitherto it has had other tasks to solve, namely it was the ideal intellectual world of Dogma and its own constitution to which it devoted the millennial expenditure of its powers. However, the promise of the Lord that his own would be given the spirit that would remind them of everything, also applies to us, is also fulfilled in the present, indeed our time is preferably the time in which the historical spirit returns to itself from its previous development and expansion, gathers in itself, summarises in memory all the moments it has passed through and processes them into spiritual unity. While the apologetics of the past could only flourish as long as the general view of history was a poor one, and if it can only ever be the counter-image of the earlier lifeless contemplation of history, the process in which the self-awareness of the absolute spirit will complete and conclude the recollection of its historical revelation now falls into our time. For this recollection, no essential historical moment will be lost, least of all the true totality of historical appearance: on the other hand, nothing of the limitations and deficiencies of the previous view can remain standing for it, and the first step towards its completion consists in the reflection on those limitations, as they themselves dissolve in them. This business of purification, cleansing and transfiguration has been taken over by the newer critique.


If the process of criticism appears monotonous, as the repetition of one and the same act, this comes from its ideal simplicity and cannot be a reproach to it. For it is, to express it abstractly, the pure affirmation of Christian self-awareness, which also in the given, positive and in the particular evangelical data finally wants to be with itself. If criticism, as the activity of this self-consciousness, is always only one thing, then it is nevertheless the one thing that, after a thousand years of resisting it, is necessary. If it appears monotonous, it is not its fault, but due to the nature of the object, as it must always let particularities that want to be immediately accepted as universals, experience their fate.

In the beginning, criticism may appear destructive, dissolving or as empty self-awareness. However, in itself, that pure self-awareness of the Christian [critical?] spirit is not empty or arbitrary, like a random idea. It carries within its simplicity the result of the entire previous historical development, as it is set by that development itself. Then, this pure self-awareness is fulfilled and mediated through the process of criticism. It takes in all the content of the Gospels that corresponds to it, but in doing so, it takes it into the one spiritual [intellectual?] ground from which it reproduces it in a form in which the limitations of previous views are overcome.


Criticism must also appear monotonous because the task of the critique is to break through the same tautologies and convoluted expressions of apologetics in order to carry out its mission. Of course, it could take the easy route by imitating apologetics and settling for vague generalities or sweeping statements about the limited nature of previous consciousness. However, if it is a spiritual fire, it must penetrate thoroughly, examining leaf by leaf, sentence by sentence, and word by word. We must continue to observe this fiery trial.



More works of Bruno Bauer now translated and online

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

All three volumes of Bauer’s criticism of the gospels — works that led to his dismissal from his position at Bonn University — are now publicly available in English:

Critique of the Evangelical History of the Synoptics = Kritik der evangelischen Geschichte der Synoptiker — 1841

The third volume — 1842 — includes a comparison of the Gospel of John with the Synoptic Gospels in their treatment of the Passion Narrative.

I have also translated Bauer’s earlier analysis of the Gospel of John and plan to make that available here soon-ish, too.

Other works of Bruno Bauer now available in English:

Criticism of the Pauline Letters

Christ and the Caesars

Criticism of the Gospels and History of their Origin — this is a later publication than the one mentioned at the beginning of this post.

They are all listed in the right margin of this blog– just check the pages listed there.

Another title I hope to make available before long is BB’s treatment of the Acts of the Apostles.


§ 95. The report of the fourth

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey


§ 95.

The report of the fourth.

John 20, 21.

Not only do the contradictions which theology thought it would have to spend the whole of history dealing with to the end of the world resolve themselves easily and without effort, but they also resolve themselves without much loss of time as soon as the true key is found – a proof that mankind will no longer need to spend much time – – no! at all on these things.

In the fourth Gospel, the women no longer watch Jesus being buried — the fourth, as has been noted, has advanced them by a few lines; Nicodemus and Joseph already embalm the corpse so abundantly – with a hundred pounds of aloes and myrrh — that the women have nothing left to do the next day after the Sabbath – – so they stay at home. The fourth sends only the Magdalene to the tomb; he must send a woman to the tomb so that the matter may be initiated at all, he sends only one because the others are superfluous and also disturbing for the elaboration of the contrasts which the evangelist has in mind for the following conversation of Jesus with Mary.

Mary Magdalene finds the stone taken from the tomb and immediately runs — why only to these two? — to Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them that the stone had been taken from the tomb. She suspected the enemies of what Matthew’s priests had imposed on the disciples out of malice, but the outcome disproves their assumption.


She runs to Peter because the fourth reads in Luke’s writing that Peter ran to the grave at the women’s message. He has to do the same here, except that the Fourth makes him run a noble race with the other disciple. Already their walk to the tomb is a race, they both run together, but the other disciple arrives first, bends over — like Luke’s Peter to see into the tomb, and sees the linen lying there, but does not go in. Peter also arrives, goes in and sees – so that he also sees something special! O, wonderful discovery! — He sees the linen lying there and the face-cloth that was on Jesus’ head, not – no, not! — lying with the linen, but — oh, how important! how great! how glorious! – but wrapped together on one side in a special place. “The great Peter! And yet how small! His glory is only that he first went into the tomb and saw the face-cloth, but — he thought nothing of it! He did not know how to appreciate his find. Only the other disciple, who now also went into the tomb and now also saw the face-cloth, believed – as Luke’s Peter wondered at the incident.

Well, if he believed, why not Peter? Why not Mary Magdalene, who is now suddenly standing by the tomb again and weeping? She must not yet believe for the sake of the following contrasts. She must first see the angel or the two. She does indeed see Luke’s two, but the fourth – oh, how symmetrical! – places the one at the head, the other at the feet where Jesus had lain. But why must Mary be here again? The two angels did not answer her complaints, saying that Jesus’ body had been taken away. She has to come back to the tomb – how clumsy! – because the fourth reads in Matthew’s scripture that Jesus appeared to the women as they were going away from the tomb. Yes, but that is something else; that is at least an external connection; but the last trace of connection disappears, we lose sight and hearing when Mary, after walking back to the city, suddenly stands at the tomb again.


The tasteless web of contrasts, where Mary, when she expresses her complaint to the two angels, looks around and sees Jesus but does not recognize him, mistaking him for the gardener – of the garden created by the fourth gospel – asking if he – imagine! – has taken the body away, recognizing Jesus only when he calls her by name “Mary!”, and Jesus saying “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father,” these contrasts fall to the ground before any human eye. The last one is not even properly developed and is only explainable from the scripture of Matthew, which is not taken from it, but only the assumption of this page is silently derived from it. In fact, the women of Matthew approach Jesus and worship him, embracing his feet.

Matthew’s Jesus does not forbid them to worship at all, but only tells them not to be afraid, nor to endure, but rather to bring the good news to the disciples.

Suddenly and mysteriously, Luke’s Jesus appears in Jerusalem in the midst of the hurrying people, calling out “Peace!” to them, and when they are frightened, shows them his wounds with the words: “Touch me and see!

From this, the fourth gospel has made the story that Jesus – correctly! – suddenly appears among the disciples late in the evening of the same day, with locked doors, saying “Peace be with you” and showing them his wounds. But contrasts! Contrasts! The fourth gospel wants them. So this time, he only breathes on the disciples and gives them the Spirit through this breath – as he promises them the power from above at the same occasion in Luke – and thereby also gives them the power of forgiveness of sins (– Matthew 18:18).

But the contrasts! the contrasts! Thomas was not present this time. Therefore, after eight days, Jesus must appear once again because Thomas, in the meantime, had proven himself to be unbelieving against the report of his brothers, so that the previously omitted feature of touching could be supplied and Thomas could have the desired opportunity to touch the resurrected one. Poor Thomas! What has he suffered so far! *)

*) The assumption that Jesus had to fight with those who doubted the reality of His person, is very clumsily brought up by Matthew – and only in a few words – when he brings it up in C. 28, 17 at the only meeting of Jesus with the disciples and even at the same moment he lets some doubt that the disciples worshipped Jesus at all. Under these circumstances, since we do not know where some of them came from, Matthew’s account must have become as confused as it has in fact become. Only Luke’s account is coherent: first the disciples doubt, then they are taught, and afterwards, when the Lord departs from them, they worship Him.


But doesn’t Luke also tell the story that Jesus ate to prove his reality back then? Patience! The fourth gospel also reads in the scriptures of Mark and Matthew that Jesus met with the disciples in Galilee? Patience! The fourth gospel seems to end his writing right after the Thomas section (Chapter 20, verses 30-31), when he says: “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” The fourth gospel was impatient; he connected this reflection too early to the saying, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” As we are used to seeing from him, he made a mistake and will continue in his laborious and disconnected manner soon enough. But haven’t the greatest theologians proven that Chapter 21 is spurious and written by a later hand? We have proven, on the other hand, where the fourth gospel took his material from: from his imagination and from the writings of the Synoptics. We saw that he copied Luke everywhere – if one were to strike out as spurious what is borrowed from Luke, without lamenting the loss, this gospel would have to be struck out from the beginning, from the questioning of John until the end, with a mighty cross. The fourth gospel has just copied from Luke again: well then! He is now also copying what he had not yet copied last: he lets Jesus eat with the disciples, by letting him appear before the disciples in Galilee out of obedience to Mark and Matthew. He lets him appear before them at the Sea of Galilee because he believed he could bring in Luke’s story of Peter’s fishing here. He lets Peter be instructed with the office of the chief shepherd on this occasion because he reads in Luke that Peter should strengthen and establish his brothers, he brings this investiture of Peter here because it seemed to him to be a fitting conclusion for his writing and (according to Matthew) the laying of the foundation for the building of the Church. Finally, he could bring in a contrast here, which made it possible for him to mention “the other disciple” and to assure that he wrote the gospel of the heart.


It is no longer worth the trouble to point out how shapeless and inhuman the elements of the original report have become under the hand of the Fourth – for this reason alone it is not worth the trouble, since we have already proved how unsubstantial and vapour-like these elements all are already in the original report, in Luke’s report. What, then, they had to become under the hand of the Fourth! The disciples, among them Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, had spent the night casting their nets in vain on the lake: there stands Jesus on the shore! on the shore! they do not know him, like the disciples of Emmaus, and he asks them: Children, have you nothing to eat? — — — No! we avert our gaze from it for ever and ever!

Only the question remains, who is the “other”, the favourite disciple who wrote the Gospel? It is not John! He is hidden among the “two others” whom the Fourth mentions next to the sons of Zebedee (C. 21,2). The fourth man would have been so clever that he would not have mentioned the two Zebedees in this context and next to the unnamed one, if he had the Scriptures of Luke open in front of him, read the names of the two Zebedees here (C. 5, 10) and if he wanted the beloved disciple and author of the Gospel to be understood as John. In the very late time when the Fourth wrote, it was well known among the believers who the Zebedees were, and the Fourth should not have considered it even in one of his unguarded moments? Impossible!


But (parenthetically!) did he really write the last verses of his Scripture (C. 21, 24. 25)? Is not the assertion that Jesus did so much that, if one wanted to write it in one, the world would not contain all the books, a too conspicuous repetition of the early! Is it not too striking a repetition of the early conjecture (C. 20, 30) that Jesus had done many other signs? It is rather an exaggerated repetition, which can only belong to the fourth – or one would have to refute our whole previous work! – can belong to. But he says: “and we know that his testimony is true”? Well? doesn’t he say a moment later: “I mean, the world would not contain the books.” The Fourth (Gospel) loves such hyperboles, as we have already seen above in Chapter 19, verse 35, where he so excellently knows how to set up testimonies for himself. In this, as in everything else, he is lacking in restraint, and awkward, because he excessively exaggerates.

The other is also not, as Lützelberger thinks, Andrew, who together with an unnamed person is at the same time the first to follow Jesus (C. 1, 37 – 41). The fourth was so clever that he understood that if Andrew was acquainted with the high priest Annas, then Peter was also acquainted with him, and that he did not need to come to the palace of Annas through the mediation of another, the mysterious other. The other is rather the unnamed one next to Andrew, and with diligence the Fourth immediately has the great unknown appear the first time he introduces the disciples of Jesus.


So who is he? That would be a fine conclusion to our criticism if we were to be tempted to build hypotheses into the air.

Before we should stray so far, the contest that the unnamed and Peter wage in this Gospel should rather be more human, more sustained, and in general only be worked out to a more definite image. It is certain that the fourth wants to elevate his unnamed one by presenting him as a dangerous rival of Peter, even as a rival who often wins the battle. But what a battle it is and what matters it revolves around! They race against each other “ah the grave, and the quarrel revolves in the end around who sees the linen or the sweatcloths first; the unnamed one must arrange for Peter to enter the palace of Annas, and satisfy Peter’s curiosity about the Master’s fate! If only the Fourth Gospel had left out this competition and conflict! The struggle is in itself terribly petty and insignificant, and in the end so unsuccessful that the Fourth, through Luke and Matthew, is nevertheless forced to bestow the office of shepherd on Peter.

But in the end, the Fourth Gospel still considers Peter significant! He is the one to whom Jesus says: “No! No!” – it is not known when and how and where he said that he should stay until he comes again. And when does Jesus say that he may say this of the unnamed? When the fourth had copied from Luke’s account of Peter’s fishing expedition, now at so late a time, the note that Peter (C. 21:19,20) was told by the Lord to follow him, now that the fourth goes on to say that Peter turns round and stands following the unnamed man, and says to Jesus, “Lord, what shall he do?”– – Lord, what shall he do?

But if the fourth says that from that word of the Lord the opinion was formed that this disciple, the unnamed one, would not die, does he not then refer to a real conception of time? to a legend? Must the unnamed one not then be a certain, known person?


How can we still be impressed by a Gospel that is completely dissolved for us?

he Unnamed One is a nebulous figure, a foggy figure formed by the Fourth Gospel itself, and in this respect the Fourth Gospel has actually hit the mark. He first wanted to create the appearance that there was still a Gospel that came from an eyewitness, written directly by such a person. A nebulous figure was the only worthy author of such a scripture, as the Fourth Gospel has delivered.


In the Fourth Gospel, the Gospel story confronts us in its highest perfection, in its truth and as a revealed mystery. As a plastic representation of the same ideas, it might seem that the Synoptic Gospels stand above the Fourth, just as the theology of the Church Fathers, the mysticism of the Middle Ages, and the symbolism of the Reformation seem to stand as the plastic, completed forms above the narrowness, lack of content and nihilistic confusion of the new theology. But this is only an illusion. The relative priority of sculpture should not be denied to both, to those ecclesiastical creations and to the Synoptics – actually, if the whole is important, only to Mark. Only this more restrained, tighter form can itself not even be called plastic and human with any real right. Let us see a dogmatic execution of Augustine, Anselm, Hugo, Luther, and Calvin, which would have human form, inner form, support, and true coherence! Just one dogmatic sentence! The monstrosities of narrowness, of staggering contradiction, of stilted obtrusiveness, lie only hidden in the classical works of those men, and only poorly concealed under the deceptive cover of a tighter form. The newer ones, too, are classical if they present us only with narrowness, only with contradiction, only with obtrusiveness, and present it purely as such, without any further content. The newer ones have only peeled out the true kernel when they offer us the obtrusive nothing; they have betrayed the mystery, they are the true classics.


Thus the Fourth has betrayed the secret of the Gospel, which we have critically uncovered – a merit that predestined him to become the ideal and idol of the newer classical theologians and has truly made him an idol.


§ 91 Respite

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey


§ 91


We do not need to make or seek the transition to dogmatic criticism. Although the historical criticism that we have exercised above has never used so-called dogmatic arguments, such as that this or that miracle is impossible, in its result it is already the criticism of dogma. If we were to turn from it to the criticism of church dogma or the dogma of the New Testament letters, we would not be entering a new area, but would be considering the dogma that we have examined in the evangelical version in another stage of its development. The Christian dogma of the Redeemer is in itself both history – the history of his heavenly origin, his suffering, and his resurrection – and this history has been depicted in the Gospels as a real, empirical sequence of events. However, we have shown that it is only a dogma, only an ideal product of the Christian consciousness, so we have criticized the dogma at the point where it is most firmly rooted in reality and most inaccessible to doubt.

The idea of the Messiah, and specifically the idea that this is the Messiah, gave the Christian community its origin, or rather, both the formation of the community and the emergence of that idea are one and the same and coincide in terms of the matter and the time; but that idea was only the notion, i.e., the first vital impulse of the nascent community, the religious expression of an experience that the general consciousness of the world made and that expressed itself in the circle of religious concepts, presenting its content, its inner self, as a foreign person, as indeed the religious consciousness is a spirit that estranges itself from itself.


We have answered the question that our time has been so occupied with, namely whether Jesus is the historical Christ, by showing that everything that the historical Christ is, what is said about him, and what we know about him belongs to the world of imagination, specifically the Christian imagination, and therefore has nothing to do with a human being belonging to the real world. The question is thus answered, and it is eliminated for all future time.

Equally unfortunate is the ultimate fate of this question with regard to its concern with the determination of the sinlessness of the Redeemer. Just as the historical Christ dissolves into the opposite of what the imagination claims of him, namely from being a person with flesh and blood, a person who belongs to history with the power of his soul and spirit, into a phantom that mocks all laws of history, so has the imagined sinlessness of this phantom undergone the same fate. We simply refer to our critique, which at every step it took, had to become a feeling of indignation about a relationship in which one person is opposed to the general wickedness and stupidity, so that he always points to this contrast, always delights in this contrast, and without any moral connection with the world, dissolves all moral relationships in the thought of his pure self-consciousness, without reproducing them from it in any way. Nature must be blasphemed by the one, history and human relationships must be despised and ridiculed by him.


The fourth [gospel] has pursued all the relevant contrasts in his ruthless manner only up to the extreme pinnacle of the irony of the divine over all things human. But the contrasts themselves are already found in the synoptic Gospels and they belong necessarily to the religion which has raised itself to its ultimate abstract completion.

The result of our previous critique, that the Christian religion is the abstract religion, is the unveiling of the mystery of Christianity. The religions of antiquity had as their main powers nature, the spirit of the family, and the spirit of the people. The world domination of Rome and philosophy were the movements of a universal power that sought to rise above the limits of previous natural and national life and to become master of itself and of consciousness. For the general consciousness, this triumph of freedom and humanity, apart from the fact that Rome’s external world domination could not bring it about, could not yet be brought about in the form of free self-consciousness and pure theory, since religion was still a universal power and within it the general revolution had to take place. Within the sphere of the alienated spirit, if the liberation was to be thorough and for humanity, the previous barriers of general life had to be lifted, i.e., the alienation had to become total, embracing everything human. In the religions of antiquity, the essential interests conceal and veil the depth and horror of the alienation; the view of nature is enchanting, the family bond has a sweet charm, the interest of the people gives the religious spirit a fiery tension towards the powers of its worship: the chains that the human spirit wore in the service of these religions were adorned with flowers, like a sacrificial animal splendidly and festively adorned, man presented himself to his religious powers as a sacrifice, his chains themselves deceived him about the hardness of his service.

As the flowers of history withered away and the chains were broken by Roman power, the vampire of spiritual abstraction completed the work. He sucked out the sap and strength, blood and life of humanity until the last drop of blood: nature and art, family, nation and state were absorbed, and on the ruins of the fallen world, the emaciated self remained as the only power. After the enormous loss, the self could not immediately recreate from its depth and generality nature and art, nation and state; the only deed that engaged it was the absorption of everything that had hitherto lived in the world. Now it was all the self, and yet it was empty; it had become the universal power, and yet it trembled before itself on the ruins of the world and despaired of its loss. The empty, all-consuming self was afraid of itself; it did not dare to grasp itself as everything and as the universal power, i.e., it still remained the religious spirit and completed its alienation by confronting its universal power as something foreign and working in fear and trembling for its preservation and salvation. It saw its guarantee for its preservation in the Messiah, who represented only that which it was fundamentally, namely, itself as the universal power, but as the power in which all nature-view and the ethical determinations of family, nation and state life, as well as the artistic view, had perished.


The historical starting point for this revolution was given in Jewish national life, since in its religious consciousness not only nature and art had already been strangled, thus the struggle against the nature and art religion was already carried out in itself, but also the national spirit had already had to enter into dialectic with the thought of a higher universality in manifold forms – whose presentation I have given elsewhere. The lack of this dialectic lay only in the fact that at its conclusion the national spirit again made itself the center of the universe: Christianity eliminated this deficiency by making the pure ego the universal. The Gospels have carried out this transformation in their own way – namely in the way of historical representation: everywhere dependent on the Old Testament and almost only a copy of it, they have nevertheless allowed the power of the national spirit to be consumed in the omnipotence of the pure, pure, but estranged from actual humanity ego.


If we consider the Gospels in a way that disregards their mutual contradictions, that is, as the simple and unprejudiced faith abstracts a total picture from their confused content, we must already be amazed at how they could occupy humanity for eighteen centuries and do so in such a way that their mystery was not uncovered. For in none of them, not even in the smallest section, are there any views that do not offend, insult, or outrage humanity.

Our amazement must become even greater when we notice how the Gospels, with their statements and assumptions, are in contradiction with everything we know about the supposed time of their subject; the highest degree of amazement, however, must be reached when we consider the terrible contradictions into which they are entangled with their mutual assertions, with a historical narrative like that of Matthew and with a view like that of the Fourth. Has humanity had to suffer from such things for one and a half millennia? Yes, it had to, for the great and immense step could only be taken after such pains and efforts if it was not to be taken in vain and if it was to be appreciated in its true meaning and magnitude. Consciousness had to deal with itself in the Gospels, even if only with itself in its alienation, that is, with a terrible parody of itself, but still with itself: hence that magic that attracted, captivated, and forced humanity to offer everything to maintain its image until it had healed itself, and even then, to prefer it to everything else and to call everything else, like the apostle did, rubbish in comparison. In slavery under its own image, humanity was educated so that it could prepare the freedom all the more thoroughly and embrace it all the more intimately and fervently when it was finally won. The deepest and most terrible alienation was to mediate, prepare, and make freedom valuable for all time, perhaps also to make it expensive for the struggle that slavery and stupidity will wage against it. Odysseus has returned to his homeland, but not by divine grace, not sleeping, but awake, thinking, and through his own power: perhaps he will also have to fight the suitors who have squandered his property and want to withhold the most precious thing from him. Odysseus will know how to string the bow.


The battle with the theologians and their hypocritical twists and turns is over. We have told them so many times that, if they had ears to hear and eyes to see, there should be no more misunderstanding: their hypocrisy consisted in trying to maintain views that were refuted by their own secular education and all their circumstances, and that could only be sustained by pitiful arguments. They really thought they were serious about it, they really fought for those views, because they were still imprisoned by them and believed they would be lost, here and in the other world, without them. It was the general hypocrisy of the world: to consider and treat the maintenance of religious views as an intellectual task with the consistency of reason, while reason itself had outgrown and escaped those views. Now things have changed, criticism has been scientifically and ethically completed, the religious view explained and recognized, and humanity freed. If the theologian still believes that humanity should not devote itself to nobler purposes, higher tasks, and that history is only there to entertain us with his bickering, or that an explanation of one biblical passage displaces the other and the issue never comes to a decision, if the theologian still believes that humanity and history are only there for his sake, then he must now force himself upon us, while he used to rule the world, he must finally openly, willfully, and consciously deceive and lie, i.e. oppose the mediated knowledge and still harass us with his ideas.


But, as for my work, perhaps there would still be another task for him. If he managed to be thorough and concise and insisted on the belief that everything happening in the world is only for his sake, that everything is just a homework assignment in which he must prove his particular wisdom, he might come up with the idea of collecting the passages in my writing where I describe him himself. And since he knows only personal interests, he could use this to prove my rudeness, recklessness, and terrorism. In vain! You can’t get away from the issue! The only proof you have to provide is that you demonstrate that those outbursts of indignation about hypocrisy and the most frivolous mockery of the writing itself are not justified by the previous development; you must first prove that I am wrong about the matter; you must first prove that you have read the critical developments— in general, it must be proved that humanity does not have the right to throw off its chains. We would also be curious to see proof that a painter should not use a dark printer, and that a painting is judged perfectly if one says, “Look at this dark spot!” Theology is the dark spot in modern history, and as such, I could only describe it and confront it with the purity of criticism.

The historical Christ is the man whom religious consciousness has raised to heaven, i.e., the man who, even when he comes down to earth to perform miracles, to teach, and to suffer, is no longer the true man. The son of man in religion is also the reconciler of man with himself. He is not born like a man, does not live like a man in human relations, and does not die like a man. This historical Christ, the one raised to heaven, the one who became God, has overturned antiquity, conquered the world by draining it, and fulfilled its historical destiny when it forced the real spirit into immense turmoil, forcing it to recognize itself with a thoroughness and decisiveness that were not possible for the naive antiquity, to become self-consciousness.


If nothing in the Gospels can be considered as a statement about Jesus anymore, then for the theologian who fights for the distribution and disposal of this man’s clothes, who gave him this or that bitter drink on the cross, who sailed over the Sea of Galilee so many times, the matter has become very serious. We can already see the terrifying character this seriousness must take from the fact that they did not hesitate to use the note of Tacitus, that Christ was executed by Pontius Pilate under Tiberius, as the most striking proof that “a Christ existed.” When did Tacitus write? Did he not write when the preaching of the crucified one had already begun to unsettle the whole world? Does his meager note, which was then the subject of conversation around the world, say or indicate that it was taken from the “secret archive of His Majesty the Emperor” or from “ministerial files”?

If a man named Jesus existed, if this Jesus gave rise to the revolution that shook the world in the name of Christ and gave it a new form, then it is certain that his self-consciousness was not yet distorted and ripped apart by the dogmatic propositions of the evangelical Christ: then the character of his personality is saved. The evangelical Christ, thought of as an actual, historical phenomenon, would be a figure before which humanity would have to shudder, a figure that could only inspire terror and horror.


If the historical Jesus really existed, he could only have been a personality that triggered the opposition of Jewish consciousness, namely the separation of the divine and human in their self-consciousness, without creating a new religious separation and alienation from it, and who withdrew from the forms of legal servitude into his own inner world without worrying about new legal bonds.

But whether this personality existed, whether it opened up the happiness and depth of its self-consciousness to others, thus giving rise to struggle and ultimately the formation of a new religious principle, this question can only be answered when we have completed the work that must follow the criticism of the Gospels, the criticism of the New Testament epistles. We had to start with the criticism of the Gospels because these writings have captivated the mind most through their positive content, because their content seems to be the prerequisite for the epistolary Gospel, as this prerequisite has been assumed until now and this appearance had to be stripped away first. Now it is the turn of the epistles, and with their criticism, the criticism of the original Christian consciousness will also come to an end, and insight into the actual course of its historical development will be gained. We have not yet reflected on the factual and chronological relationship between the various often literal touches of the Gospels and the epistles. We could not do so because the criticism still needs to examine when, by whom, and in what circumstances the letters were written. It is even a question of when the epistolary literature of the New Testament began, and the investigation of the so-called Pauline epistles is still far from its conclusion. In this field, not much, but almost everything still needs to be done.


So far, we only know for certain that the Gospels are of late origin and a work of the long-existing community; however, when they were written and how they are to be classified in the development of the epistolary literature will be taught to us by the criticism of the latter. *)

*) It is indeed already incredulous, but still transcendent, to ask what age is associated with a work such as the one Jesus accomplished. The question is only properly posed as follows: what kind of development of the church and of Christian consciousness was necessary, and how long did it take, to lead to the composition of the Gospels and the creation of the Gospel story.

We had to proceed gradually. When the criticism has an immense library of theological books to burn, it must proceed thoroughly and cautiously, and no one will reproach it for replacing ten thousand books with a single octavo volume. Later, happier times will simplify the matter even more, and they must do so in order to completely set aside the necessary opposition to theological consciousness. However, even later, one may still need elaborations that touch upon the opposition, and give them some interest, as they are, in any case, the monument of a struggle in which freedom, dignity, and humanity of self-consciousness had to fight against a stupidity that had never existed and ruled in the world!

I have provided the characterization of evangelical historiography in every section of my work, and if a comprehensive treatise is required, I have given such in my book “The Divine Art of Holy Historiography” in a way that exhausts all related categories completely.


One more word about the fourth Gospel! What I had to leave undecided in the criticism of it has been fully explained in the present volume of my work, and I have only one more remark to add. The fourth evangelist also knew and used the Acts of the Apostles by Luke, especially in his accounts of the healing of the paralytic (Ch. 5) and the blind man (Ch. 9). It has already been noted that the paralytic of Bethesda is the same as the one mentioned in Mark’s Gospel, and that the fourth evangelist borrowed some of the more important incidents from the synoptic account. The healing of the lame man by Peter, as related in the Acts of the Apostles, is itself only a copy of the original account of the healing of the paralytic, which the fourth evangelist has also borrowed extensively in order to enhance his Gospel. That lame man, who had been afflicted from birth, is taken daily to a certain place (Acts 3:2), just like the paralytic of the fourth Gospel. Peter speaks to him first (ibid. 3:4), but for the natural reason that he had asked him for an alms beforehand. Unnaturally, the fourth evangelist has reversed this, so that Jesus speaks to his sick man first. The people take notice of Peter’s action and run to the apostles in the temple, where the miracle took place, and Peter seizes the opportunity to speak about the resurrection of Christ; the same, but unnaturally motivated attention of the people after the healing of the sick man from Bethesda and the same result of a speech about the resurrection. The sick man of Peter is over forty years old (Acts 4:22), while the fourth evangelist’s has been sick for thirty-eight years. We now know how the fourth evangelist arrived at his number, and we may now say that it is perhaps likely that if the number had a symbolic meaning, although he did not want to express himself definitely about the feast, he intended to give the appearance that it could have been the Passover. That he did not carry out the symbolic meaning purely and certainly can now be explained to us from his poor style of historical writing, just as we can now also say that he wanted to give a symbolic reference to the Samaritan people in that statement of Jesus to the Samaritan woman, a caricature of the synoptic Canaanite woman, but could not carry it out again because of his lack of all plastic power.


That Jesus must heal a blind man, the Fourth Gospel learned from Mark, but that this blind man was born blind is among other things the fault of the author of the Acts of the Apostles, for the story of the man born blind is a copy of the story of the lame man. The miracle of Peter is examined before the court, namely before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:5-7), as is the miracle of the healing of the blind man; the lame man of Peter also stands before the court (v. 14), as does the blind man of the Fourth Gospel. The Sanhedrin of the Acts of the Apostles forbids the disciples to confess the name of Jesus before the people (4:17); the Sanhedrin of the Fourth Gospel imposes the punishment of excommunication on the confession of the same name. In the account of the Acts of the Apostles, at least everything is coherent and understandable, as far as coherence is possible in the world of wonders, while in the account of the Fourth Gospel, everything is staggering, crazy, and falsified to the smallest detail, thrown out of joint by the overabundance of motifs and with reason completely dead. For example, even the minor detail that the Sanhedrin lets the accused disciples (and the healed man) leave, forms its decision, and then calls the people back into the council chamber to announce the sentence to them, even this minor matter the Fourth Gospel could not even reproduce properly; he has reproduced it in the way we have already characterized in sufficient detail above.

Finally, it should be noted that the leaders in the Acts of the Apostles (4:13) wonder about the language of the disciples, from whom they knew that they were ignorant and not learned in the scriptures, and also that they belonged to the entourage of Jesus, even an unlearned. The Fourth Gospel has reserved this trait for a later occasion (7:15), as he has also learned about the Hall of Solomon (10:23) only from this account in the Acts of the Apostles (3:11, compare 5:12) and in general has often used the structure of this narrative – that the miracle arouses the attention of the people, finally the leaders, and gives rise to speeches and negotiations – for his history, only making it more unnatural in his manner.


Regarding the Old Testament, the Fourth Gospel has also diligently used it and carefully observed some of its indications. The account of the hostility that Jesus experienced from his family, he directed to the point that it was his brothers who showed unbelief towards him, according to Psalm 69:8 and Jeremiah 12:6.  *) The emphasis with which Jesus often says that he has chosen the disciples, and finally the antithesis “you did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16), is an inappropriate rephrasing of the opposition that lies in the confession of the people in Psalm 100:3: “It is He who made us, and not we ourselves”. From Psalm 40:7, Jesus has taken the expression with which he says, “the Scriptures testify of me.” The Book of Wisdom of Solomon, Chapter 16, verse 6, has led the Fourth Evangelist to see that the ancient serpent is “a symbol of salvation”, and he is indebted to the Old Testament for a considerable amount of dogmatic categories.

*) Ps. 69, 8: απηλλοτριωμένος εγενήθην τους αδελφούς μου και ξένος τοϊς υιούς της μητρός μου. Jer. 12, 6: ότι και οι αδελφοί σου ήθέτησάν σου … μὴ πιστεύσῃς ἐν αὐτοῖς. To Mark, of course, these passages were not unknown either, namely Jer. 12, 7 gave him an element to his story of the transfiguration of Jesus in Nazareth  : ᾿Εγκαταλέλοιπα τὸν οἶκόν μου, ἀφῆκα τὴν κληρονομίαν μου, ἔδωκα τὴν . . . .  ψυχήν μου εις χείρας έχθρών αυτής.

The matter of the Fourth [Gospel] has been decided for all eternity, and should anyone still doubt the decision, the criticism of the resurrection story will thunder it in their ear.


To criticize the resurrection story, which will occupy us at the end, we have nothing else to do but to show how one report originated from another and how the contradictions between the reports were inevitable in the way they were created. It would be an insult to the critical method, and would question the purpose of our work, and finally, it would be an insult to honorable men, especially one among them who is counted among Germany’s greatest.

The resurrection of the historical Christ has fallen back into the realm of imagination, where his whole life and suffering had already returned. The idea of his resurrection is only possible for the religious spirit, who is inaccessible to general ideas, and who can only imagine the victory of a principle by thinking of the person who sacrificed himself for it as having risen from the dead as an incorporeal individual, and preserved as such for all eternity.

If the critical method had already proven itself before, and if the criticism of the story of Christ’s suffering was the test of our calculations, it would be unfair to start again from the end, to dissolve the late reports through their enormous contradictions and to work our way back to the original report. The case is decided. We start with Mark and move on to his followers, and it is no longer necessary to demonstrate in detail the groundlessness of the late reports – we have already exposed these baseless claims in their nakedness too many times – the simple reporting of the reports will already be their full and sufficient characterization.

How many weaklings have slandered Edelmann, insulted him without ever having seen a line of his writings. Lilienthal knew him, but did not refute him, and only the excerpts that he shared from his writings – which are not accessible to us – prove what kind of man he was, and with what noble rebellion he tore himself out of the theological fabric of lies. It would be an insult to his memory if we were to specifically expose the invention of the Roman guard by Matthew as an invention, and no theologian has yet refuted Edelmann’s statement, and none will refute it as long as the world stands, the statement that the resurrection of Christ, as the religious spirit imagines it, would not be a resurrection from the dead, but rather a new entry into the same death from which he was to rise. *)

*) Lilienthal, The Good Cause of Revelation II, 164.


Brave and honest Reimarus, you have brought to light the contradictions in the resurrection story as far as your pure and honest mind was able, given the state of criticism at the time, but no one has refuted you.

With Lessing, who defended the honest Fragmentist so chivalrously against the detractors, who knew the power of the ten paragraphs of the honest man and made them even more powerful, and who famously described the taste that theological dishes have for an uncorrupted palate, the theologians who always deal only with people and soul and salvation, that is, with the needs of their poor souls, and never with the matter and an uplifting principle, believe that they can handle it by murmuring languidly: “Lessing would think differently in our times.” You do not know his response, you have not read it; otherwise, you would know what he would say to your murmurings.

Finally, ask yourselves how the principle for which Lessing worked and suffered and for which he died will decide and must decide the matter in our times.


In doing so, it will dissolve the contradictions by representing and explaining them.




§ 82. Entrance

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey


Thirteenth section.

The tale of suffering.


§ 82.


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.




Closing comment (to Volume 2 of Kritik der evangelischen Geschichte der Synoptiker)

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey


I do not want to close this volume with a remark about Matthew’s servile dependence on his predecessors – it has already occurred and been confirmed too often in the above remarks. However, I cannot conclude the account between the Synoptics and the fourth evangelist here: not until later, when, after the critique of the former, we have overlooked both circles of evangelical historiography and can prove the test of our account in the critique of the history of the Passion and the Resurrection! The characterisation of the evangelical historiography will also follow later, in the following volume, which will conclude the critique of the Synoptic Gospels. With what, then, shall we conclude? Should we even apologise in the end for having carried out these investigations so thoroughly? First the newer theologians would have to prove that they are right when they dismiss the most important questions with a few slogans and are only indefatigable in repeating the same phrases in a thousand books. First they would have to prove that he who has the prospect of bringing a question to a conclusion is not obliged to be thorough. So give me a conclusion! The theologians give it to me. See how they stand there, theological hatred glowing again from their eyes! Ha! “Do you reach for the thunder? Well that it was not given to you wretched mortals!” So what should we do with them in the end? Well, based on the above explanations, we could ask them how long they think their Jesuitism can last, and whether they believe their deceit and lies will last forever? When the time comes that their lies must become conscious and deliberate, then judgment is not far away.

July 1841.





Printed by Breitkopf und Härte! in Leipzig.


Ninth Section Preamble on Apologists

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey


Ninth Section.

The parable lecture.

Matth. 13, 1-52.

If two opposing parties have reached the point where they both appear equally ridiculous, limited, and their disputes seem meaningless, and if taking a higher standpoint would make one appear ridiculous if they were to fight against both, and specifically against both as they oppose each other, then one can be certain that their hour has come. They can still turn their particular determinations of their narrow-mindedness against each other and fight, they can direct the general determination of their narrow-mindedness against the higher standpoint, and even prove their essential and heartfelt agreement through their actions. However, their cause is finished, and it remains that whoever seriously wanted to fight them as opposing parties would make themselves ridiculous.

Reason! Neither of them knew you, neither of them found you! Both were servants, both exercised the servant’s baseness against the master whom they had to serve, and like servants they fought against each other again. The supranaturalist martyred the Scripture by wanting to impose upon it the generally human and rationalistic reflections which time had thrown into his head; the rationalist betrayed reason, which, however, was to him at bottom.


In this section, we will again have the opportunity to notice how the servile attitude of both parties also betrays itself in the area where the form of the letter is concerned. They are both apologetic: they want to see reason – connection, mediation – signs of reason, where it cannot be discovered at all.


Understanding Bruno Bauer

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

I have been posting section by section my translations of Bruno Bauer’s gospel criticisms here and can note:

  1. he is a must-read author for anyone wanting to understand the evidence that the narratives arose from authorial creativity and not from inherited traditions;
  2. he is quite difficult for anyone who is not familiar with Hegelian thought to understand his explanations for historical origins of religious ideas.

I thought I would try to sort out my difficulty with #2 by picking up Douglas Moggach’s study of Bruno Bauer: The Philosophy and Politics of Bruno Bauer. Unfortunately, I found its opening pages virtually incomprehensible since they were clearly written for mature initiates into Hegelian philosophy. So after searching “Hegel for Dummies” online I settled on Stephen Houlgate’s An introduction to Hegel : freedom, truth, and history. It is excellent! Houlgate doesn’t assume any knowledge at all of Hegelian thought among his readers and he illustrates each explanatory step with real-world illustrations. I look forward to gaining enough of an understanding to turn again to Bruno Bauer and not be fazed by his references to “self-consciousness” in the context of historical discussions.

(To me, the words “self consciousness” bring to mind works by Patricia Churchland and others. I need to shift a gear when reading the Hegelian Bauer.)

What I have enjoyed the most about my new reading is discovering the political focus of Bruno Bauer — and his brother and his associates. He was a “republican” — though I am still to learn what that exactly meant to him, as it is clear that his republicanism opposed not only socialism but also liberalism.

As for the anti-semitism associated with his later years, I have read mixed accounts. Some say it was “blatant”, others that he stood opposed to the possibility of religion being the basis for a free and democratic society. (If the latter, one surely sees the truth of that view in the modern state of Israel with its extreme right-wing religiously dominated government.)  But my focus will be on his early years and his biblical criticism. I am curious to learn more about the reasons for his dispute with David Friedrich Strauss.

The Wikipedia page on Bruno Bauer concludes with an irrelevant little tirade against “mythicism”. The author clearly never read Bauer’s own arguments and grounds for thinking that the gospel narratives arose from the experience of the early Christian community rather than from oral or other “traditions”.



§ 42. Period of Rest

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey


§ 42.

Period of Rest.


1. The Miracle.

We have earned it honestly, and we certainly do not do it out of laziness when we take a moment of rest. But we must rest, and at this point, we want to take a breath, let our minds recover, collect ourselves, and before we move on, take another look at the path we have traveled. Ah, how it drove us in all directions, how we were suddenly hurled from the farthest point to the other, what all of that buzzed and teased us! Now, after we have pretty much extricated ourselves from this ghostly throng and calmed and ordered the elements that were so wild around us by bringing them back to their home in the world of self-consciousness, in their home, where they became a peaceful object of contemplation and regained their original determinacy, now we want to protect ourselves against a ghost or rather just state that this ghost, which could still be sent our way, cannot harm us anymore, for the simple reason that it does not exist for us.


It cannot be avoided and is inherent to the matter: the more the criticism is perfected, made into pure self-consciousness and rediscovers and conquers the original world of self-consciousness, the more the apologetics must lose importance and power, since its essential content is taken away from it, it must fall into the most terrible bondage of the letter, and if it wants to assert and complete itself against criticism, it must complete itself into the pure category of limitation and stupidity. One will certainly not accuse us of having denied the historical credibility of the reports we have considered so far for dogmatic reasons, for example because they are miracle stories: on the contrary, far from all a priori argumentation, we have dissolved the letter through its own determinateness and can only no longer accept miracles because we no longer have miracle reports. If now apologetics wants to complete itself to an equal purity and simplicity (not of self-consciousness, for it cannot assume its form, but of the sensory and interested consciousness), it must reverse the matter, completely establish the inverted world of its spiritlessness, and pointing to the letter, assert that the gospel story is a story of miracles because it is written that way.

In recent times, the apologists have already admitted to this crudeness of the sensory consciousness, but it will not help them, since we have come before them with greater audacity, having thrown ourselves ruthlessly and without dogmatic support into the letter and its prison in order to dissolve it through the pure power of self-consciousness, that is, through the same power that has set the letter and to let it speak as a witness to the infinite freedom of the spirit. It has spoken, it has freed us ourselves and as the recognized letter it is the charter of our freedom, the diploma that the apologists must first falsify and twist with pitiful lawyerly cunning if they want to rob us of our freedom in this area—at least here, for elsewhere they cannot even speak. In gratitude for the fact that the letter has spoken for our freedom, we—or rather, this is one and the same thing and is an act of emancipation—have freed it and secured it against the sneaky tricks of the apologists. It cannot be twisted anymore—or the theologian would have to resort to open lies—for it now lives its eternal, blissful life in the world of self-consciousness, after it has suffered under the hands of the apologists, it has risen, and with it, in the same world, the gospel story of miracles has risen to a new life. This story still exists, but—as a story of self-consciousness and indeed as a necessary story.


It is not the place here to elaborate at length that the pagan did not know the belief in miracles because he had not yet objectified the universality of self-consciousness in the thought of the divine, and therefore could not set the special powers of the spirit, which he worshiped as deities, in collision with the general power of nature. Only the Hebrew could grasp the pure idea of the miracle, for the One, the Universal, whom he worshipped, must set nature ideationally under his exclusive power altogether and bring its ideality before his consciousness in specific cases as well. Jehovah alone is the Mighty One, the Lord, so he alone performs miracles and man can at best, even when acting against nature, perform a miracle as his servant, messenger and authorized agent. It is only of the prophets that it is said they performed miracles out of the fullness of their inner power – naturally so! Their historical appearance must correspond to the standpoint from which they emerged and which they themselves worked on, which was based on the intuition of an inner connection between the divine and human, and as they themselves developed the intuition that the Messiah, in whom that connection would powerfully reveal itself, would directly overcome the opposition of the world and nature from the pure universality of his inner being, so they must also, even as types of the future, indicate in their personal appearance the power of the new principle.


The Christian community was formed and based on the idea that God and humans are not strangers to each other in their essence, and its views were drawn from the inner experience that the spirit in its individuality is not too weak and worthless to not be able to absorb or elevate itself to its universality. But as a religious entity, this consciousness, as it awakened and sought to express and shape itself, had to determine itself in the form of presenting its general content to itself and relating to it as consciousness: the idea of the true individuality of the spirit, which is one with its universality, became the perception of a particular, specific person who, as an empirical historical personality, encompasses and carries within itself the general power of the spirit, or rather, that idea did not become this perception but rather appeared as the latter in the world.

It was said of that statue that if it wanted to rise from its seat, it would lift up and shatter the temple roof above it. Up until that point, humanity had been frightened by the magic of natural power and oppressed by the burden of an unbearable law, and had been constrained by external regulations; but when it finally rose and stood up and raised itself up in the perception of the One who, as an individual, is the Universal, then all barriers and laws had to be shattered naturally, and everything positive that heaven and earth contain had to bow down at the feet of the One and acknowledge its powerlessness. That an individual as such is the Universal is in itself already a deadly collision, since in limited, immediate individuality, the Universal has lost its wealth of differences, determinations, and existences of self-consciousness, through whose cultivation and overcoming it alone is the Universal, on the one hand, and on the other hand, through this one limited existence to which it is chained, it must constantly come into collision with nature, with the moral determinations even of the family, and with history as a whole, which it can only lift up immediately, i.e., in a way that it works purely as such. This effectiveness of the Universal as such is the miracle that either overturns the natural context and family determinations and only then places this individual as an existence of the Universal, or happens to this individual to reveal its person as the site of the Universal, or is performed through its will itself, which has infinite scope.


As we are currently only concerned with the miracles that this One performed in the troubles, difficulties, and collisions of his historical life, it is sufficient to have pointed out that the reversal of all natural laws, this belief in miracles, was the necessary consequence of the miracle of the intuition for which the One had immediately become the Universal. When the Universal acts as such, all natural laws are immediately suspended. The latest confessors and advocates of the “credibility” of the evangelical story, when they refer us to the letter and try to persuade us that belief in miracles belongs not only to consciousness but also to empirical history as it is reported, we refer, as we have said, simply to our above critique, and still have time to repel the arguments of earlier apologists.

The earlier argument, this disbelief in the power of the spirit, proceeded from the assumption that the “revelation of a new communication from God to humanity” – we say, the rise of the Christian principle – “could not be derived from the natural connection.” *)  The hollowness of this proposition is immediately exposed when we dissolve the ambiguity of the term “natural connection” and ask whether the Christian principle is not explicable from history, from the nature of self-consciousness. Are the rich centuries before Christ, is human self-consciousness and its infinitude not an explanation? What is the point of playing with the word “natural connection” when the question is so serious?

*) Neander, p. 256


“New, higher powers” enter the world with the Christian revelation! What do we want to say about something higher than the elevation of self-consciousness, which as such is the rise of the Christian principle? Besides this highest, what are “effects that cannot be explained from the present natural context”? Indeed, a new principle also works with new powers, which are stronger than all the powers of the previous world combined and which arise solely from the inner determination of the principle, but these effects are not the wonders of ordinary imagination, but the influences of the new principle on the general nature of the spirit, which at first appear as an elementary power, grasp the spirit in its indeterminate depth, transform it, but become more precisely determined in the subsequent history until they are explicitly guided by will and reflection and finally indirectly bring about a new conception, contemplation, and treatment of nature as well. In the early days when the community arises and finally wants to orient itself in the world, but still under the initial elementary influence of the new principle and still cannot understand where the principle gets this power from, it can express its intuitions about the power of the same only in the form that we have received in the transmitted miracle reports about the life of its Lord. The category of the general nature of the spirit cannot use sensory perceptions for its religious consciousness; it adheres to natural determinations and still maintains an interest in them even when the relationship to the spiritual power of the principle has almost consciously produced a miracle story, as, for example, in the story of the centurion and the Canaanite woman.


The excuse to which apologists and religious rhetoricians ultimately resort when they run out of ideas, namely that “in the divine plan of the world, in the higher ideal nature of the universe,” *)  the contradiction between the miracle and “ordinary natural laws” is resolved, is only an empty excuse, a flight into an empty universality of thought in which every real contradiction must indeed disappear because it is devoid of content. On the other hand, self-consciousness, the truly universal, which actually contains the nature of the particular within itself, mediates the nature by elevating it to its spiritual essence, refining it in passions and making it the bearer of ethical determinations, or by setting the law in motion to raise nature out of the coarseness of its immediate appearance, or finally in art by elevating the natural determinations through form to express the spirit and its infinity. Faced with the struggle with passions, industry, and art – what does the miracle mean in this comparison? What can it be in this context? It is the expression of hasty impatience, which wants to see immediately what is only given through work and effort.

*) So Neander p. 257.

Self-consciousness is the death of nature, but in such a way that it brings about this death itself only through the recognition of nature and its laws, thus in an immanent manner, since it is the negation and negation of nature in itself. The spirit ennobles, honors, and acknowledges even that which is its negation. If it were to forcibly and externally abolish a power that is its own ideality, it would destroy itself, since it would destroy an essential moment of itself. The spirit does not rage, rage, or fume against nature, which it would do in the miracle, in this denial of its inner law, but rather it works through the law and, through this admittedly difficult work, brings it to consciousness and to a renewed representation, to a form that it does not have in natural immediacy. In short, the death of nature in self-consciousness is its transfigured resurrection, but not its mistreatment, mockery, and blasphemy, which it would have to endure in the miracle.


Recently, Weisse attempted to hold onto the concept of miracles without accepting its adventurous content. “The miracle of Jesus can only have been a specific one, in harmony with the laws of nature and history and limited by them, and by its own concept, which reveals its inherent determinacy and in turn enters as an essential moment into the elastic concept of that general regularity of lawfulness *)” — in other words, the miracle must be reduced and tamed at least in appearance, as much as possible! However, the only reasonable and successful taming is to recognize its non-being, its irrationality, and unreality. The miracle is not and, in its ideal origin, is the non-being of self-consciousness, which does not yet know its inner powers as its own, nor its mediations and relations to the world as mediations, but throws everything out of itself in a single point and from this point, lets it work naturally and in a way that perverts all the laws of the world. Furthermore, a miracle that is in harmony with the laws of nature, etc., is no longer a miracle, at least not the miracle described in scripture, and the elastic concept of general regularity is no less a mere phrase of embarrassment than that cliche of a higher world order in which all contradictions are supposed to fall silent. The law of nature becomes elastic only through the law of nature, that is, through the hard work of the spirit, which sets the specific law in motion through another law that is determined precisely for this work, and sees it ideally.

*) Source: I, 336


Neander continues *), “If we consider the miracles of Christ in relation to his contemporaries on whom he acted, it is certain that faith in him as Messiah, which was required for his activity, could not have been generated without miracles performed by him, and he himself could not have come to the belief that he was the Messiah and remained in it without the consciousness and experience that he was able to perform such miracles, for such miracles were essential features of the messianic calling, as is evident from so many passages in the Gospel.” What a sentence! It is worth the effort to transcribe it in its entirety, as it contains the essence of apologetic wisdom. With such lofty assertions, which betray the uncertainty of the theologian who utters them through their slippery turns, or with such bold expressions as that “for such miracles” which is really one of the boldest, the self-consciousness is to be captured and the unfortunate one who does not believe in miracles is to be crushed. No! the unbeliever is not unhappy, they have purified and freed their heart and mind from this murky mud and these unfounded theories and enjoy the pleasure that the contemplation of a humanized, i.e., no longer unnaturally bloated, history brings them. What a terrible “for such” and how naive – always the naivety of fear! – how naive is the assertion: “as is evident from so many passages in the Gospel!” Now, Jesus did not have to look around as anxiously as the Christologist at every turn, so that he always knew how to behave according to the Jewish messianic dogma, for this dogma with its locis theoIogicis and its locus of miracles did not yet exist in his time because it did not exist at all at his time and “as is evident from so many passages in the Gospel”, it only formed in the belief of the community after his resurrection.

Well, Jesus did not have to look around as anxiously as the Christologist after the horror of Jewish messianic dogmatics at every step, so that he would always know how to behave. For Jesus, this dogmatics with its loeis tkeoIoAieis and with its loeus of miracles did not yet exist, because it did not exist at all in his time and “as is evident from so many passages of evangelical history”, only formed in the faith of the congregation after his resurrection.

*) p. 258.


Certainly, Neander says, the belief in Jesus as the Messiah was necessary for his effectiveness; but then Jesus could never have acted and would have always been pushed back in the form of infinite regress, never able to come to real action, since at the beginning that belief was missing and as positive, as symbolic belief in him as the Messiah did not come to him until the end of his career.

Without performing miracles and solely through the idea for which he had suffered, Jesus had succeeded in conquering the world and gaining recognition as the Messiah after his death, to whom the ability to perform miracles was certainly not lacking. And now he could not have become certain of himself and his task “without the experience that he could perform miracles”? So the power of the mind, the inner root of self-consciousness, is nothing? Without miracles, can it only shoot out into a wavering reed?

But the miracles are necessary, “just this, says Neander, that he was aware of not being able to perform miracles, gave John the Baptist proof that he did not possess the fullness of the spirit that belonged to the Messiah.” As if any rational person could not know without the miracle test how things stood with him in his own skin, and as if any reasonable man did not know that he cannot fly off the handle! In short, if the Baptist really once had the idea to test whether he might be the Messiah in the end – but history knows nothing of him ever having had this crazy idea – he did not need to make the attempt or ask himself whether he could perform miracles, but the inner measure of his self-consciousness told him where he stood, or did not even allow him to have that idea. Moreover, we must not say: he performed no miracles, but: the evangelical view did not allow him to perform miracles, because he was not recognized as the Messiah by it.


Arguments such as, for example, that the miracles should “legitimize the absolute truth” of the doctrine *), that “the new faith could only (!) arise” if Jesus “used his miracle power himself to lift earthly needs and difficulties of his followers”, so that “the faith in his heavenly nature grew together with the belief in God’s care in all major and minor troubles **)” – arguments that are based on a decided disbelief in the inner power of truth and that, like the second one, lead to a God à la Stilling [?. =Stillingschen Gott], who must be above all a prompt treasurer, do not need to be judged; we actually do not even need to mention them, as they already belong to the history of disbelief.

*) Olshausen, l, 259.

**) Hoffmann, p. 368.

However, the men who first gave the specific form to the miracle view of the Christian community – because they were and remained human – could not completely deny the human, rational aspect; in fact, even in a domain where mediation is completely excluded, they feel a need for it. But the mediations that they insert into the miracle acts remain mysterious, and the apologists, who eagerly grasped for such mediating notes and elevated them into theories, but in fact only repeated the evangelical accounts with some general words, could not help their cause through such tautologies.


The evangelists demand faith as a starting point for Jesus’ miraculous works; even when it comes to the healing of a child, even if it is healed from a distance, at least the father or mother who request the miracle must give signs of firm faith, and Mark even formed the theory from this that Jesus could not perform miracles where he found no faith (Mark 6:5-6). “In healings,” says Olshausen *), “faith appears as the negative requisite that determines the receptivity of the powers of the Spirit emanating from Christ.” “The awakening of faith in the centurion of Capernaum, in the Canaanite woman, and in the father of the possessed was connected with the healing. The child is in a dependence of being from the parents **).”

*) l, 265. 264.

**) Ibid., p. 545.

Furthermore, a desire for mediation can also be found in the fact that Mark – the other two are already bolder and content themselves with the note that Jesus touched the sick in similar cases – allows the Lord to use natural means such as saliva; for example, in the story of the blind man from Bethsaida and the deaf-mute (Mark 7:33, 8:23). The other two do not include such mediations, rightly so, because at the moment saliva alone cannot work if the will of the miracle worker is not the main thing, and in the end, it is only the will that counts, so the natural means are insignificant in themselves, and apart from saliva, any other means could be chosen.

Mark describes in great detail how the blind man from Bethsaida gradually regained his sight. “So obviously,” Olshausen immediately picks up, “the healings of Jesus were not magical processes, but real processes.” But ask Matthew what he thought of notes like these. Nothing! Rightly so! They were the anxious attempts of the first creators of these figures to maintain a connection between the world of miracles and the rational reality through the appearance of a bond, and the other two no longer felt this anxiety and certainly did not dream that later theologians would form a theory of miracles based on the notes of their predecessor.


Also the prohibition of Jesus to speak about the miracles is a rational instinct of the religious view that is ashamed of its works, which are nevertheless indispensable, and does not want to boast and attract attention with them. The religious view cannot do without miracles – despite Jesus’ prohibitions they are almost always made known, and the news of them causes countless crowds to flock to him – but it does not come forward boldly and self-confidently with them. Even today, the theologian’s heart beats when he builds his miracle theory, and one need only look at his untenable, wavering and trembling sentences and compare them with the calmness and self-assurance with which reason defends its eternal laws, in order to see from this contrast alone on which side the truth stands.

Occasionally, however, even Mark has to deal with points and whole miracles where his quest for mediation not only fails, but where he cannot even bring it up. Yes indeed! says Neander *), “certain stages of transition from the natural to the supernatural can be distinguished in relation to the miraculous in the miracle.” There are, namely, among the miracles of Christ, those “in which the supernatural is presented more in analogy with the natural, and those in which the summit of the supernatural appears in a manner that excludes all such analogies.” Now, as long as the apologist does not come forward more specifically and does not bring that wavering “more in analogy” to a halt, as long as he does not prove to us that those miracles that are supposed to be closer to the natural really are not completely removed from the category of rational law-governed processes, then we will – no! we will now leave him the glory of that discovery and his entire miracle theory without envying him for it. To each his own!

*) p. 275.


In fact, theologians know very well how to keep us pleasantly occupied while resting; hardly have they presented us with their views on the miracles, when they move on to another topic and tell us what they think about the chronological transitions in the presentation of the Gospel.


2. The Chronological Transitions.

The fact that the synoptic accounts differ greatly from each other in the order in which they present events does not disturb us as much as it does the apologist, since we can admit without fear that even when the synoptics make the most indefinite transitions, they still want to indicate the actual sequence of events.

However, the theologian is not familiar with such fearlessness, since he does not know and cannot know how the individual accounts and the differences between them arose. In the past, he therefore tried to force the accounts into each other, while in more recent times, he has resorted to the assertion *) that the first three evangelists did not think of any specific order of events according to their chronological sequence when composing their works. The theologian and his system cannot exist without using force: in the past, he imposed a specific meaning on the chronological transitions in the Gospels, which they rejected with their actual specificity, and now he forces them into meaningless indeterminacy, even though they always want to be very specific, even if they are still so indefinite.

*) e.g. Olshausen, l, 24.


“According to Olshausen *), the neglect of time and place is even more noticeable in Mark than in Matthew; even those general time designations are mostly missing in Mark.” But they are missing only because Mark is extraordinarily precise in determining time and place. Olshausen continues, “Mark does not try, like Matthew, to link the facts together in a certain logical order.” And it is precisely Mark who, with a skill that we can almost call artistic, groups the events together in each section, in which a particular interest, a collision, or a special moment of Jesus’ determination is always developed. While Matthew also wants to follow a certain logical order of events, firstly, the order that he conceived and followed is more abstract than the one we find in Mark’s scripture (since in the latter, the individual materials are not excessively accumulated and the interest is developed in a lively alternation and very appropriate progression of collisions, while Matthew, as in the Sermon on the Mount and in the presentation of the second day’s work, stretches the material out to the formless and in arranging the whole, he cannot control the individual details); secondly, Matthew has arbitrarily mixed together the individual statements of his predecessors, especially of Mark, because he arranges things abstractly, and has placed events in places where their true meaning, which only makes sense in the specific act of the drama assigned to Mark, can no longer have an effect.

*) Ibid. p. 25.

So we see that apologetics failed to properly grasp any of the points that matter in this matter, and we will soon see that it was completely incapable of resolving the issue or even considering it from the right perspective, since it was solely and entirely guided and controlled by its material interests.


The synoptic reports were not only supposed to be considered credible, but the first gospel was to be entirely and forcibly attributed to Matthew, the apostle and eyewitness. To this end, it had to be asserted that Matthew did not care about chronology, and that he lacked the ability to vividly depict and perceive external circumstances. However, it has already been noted by others *) that Matthew actually strives for a very precise chronological connection of the facts, and if inaccuracies in the chronology and even occasional mistakes occur as a result of weakness or errors of memory, they cannot be considered an argument against the origin of a report from an eyewitness. Rather, this is especially the case when a writing strives for vividness and accuracy, which at every point proves to be false, arbitrary, and affected.

*) e.g. Schneckenburger, Contributions, p. 31. 36.

Regarding the vividness of the transitions from one report to another, it behaves in general as it does within the individual reports. According to his sensual standpoint, the apologist is only concerned that Matthew omits certain circumstances, which Mark and Luke, however, are aware of and inform us about. As if it were only the material that matters here, and not rather the artful totality to which the individual features of a narrative must be combined and which is instantly impossible if one or even several features are missing that make the point understandable and motivate it! If such features are missing and yet the point of the whole is maintained, then a vividness arises again, which appears very glaring, but is just too glaring and destroys itself, since we now suddenly see a beam of light springing out and do not know where, why it comes from and what it should hit and illuminate. This false vividness becomes even more false – if possible – when motives are not entirely missing, but are either superficial, where we expected a description, or are only half, or less than half, given in isolated words, in words and formulas that suddenly arouse an expectation and do not satisfy it. The reader who reads several such narratives in a row has the same feeling as the unfortunate one who is played individual beats from the middle, then from the end, and then from the beginning of different pieces of music, all mixed together. Instead of asking whether this ambiguity in the presentation, in which the specific is indefinite and the indefinite betrays that it is actually very specific, can originate from an eyewitness, instead of sending the apologist to school and assigning reading of historical accounts that come from eyewitnesses as homework, instead of finally noticing that the eyewitness, when he goes to depict what he experienced himself, works from a universality of perception, from which the individual naturally emerges and is explained, as it itself again explains the whole that condenses in the point, instead of saying things that the apologist does not understand and should not understand, we turn this consideration back to the starting point and show that the chronology in Matthew’s scripture is of a kind that otherwise does not appear in human historical works. Matthew forms extremely precise chronological transitions, but uses formulas that are not motivated in the preceding context; he forms relationships that lack the presuppositions on which they could be based, and he finally forms transitions that are not only unmotivated, but often impossible and excluded from the environment according to the context. But what is the use of words when the origin of these chronological transitions has already been explained to us, namely that Matthew has placed the narratives of Mark out of their context and still uses the formulas in the transitions that he finds in Mark’s scripture, but which are only explained here by the context?


Instead of the former harmonistic approach, which for the sake of its material interest destroyed and confused the most specific information and transitions in the first three Gospels – for if the true and singular chronology of the history of Jesus was to be worked out, then the chronologies of the three Synoptics had to be overturned in one way or another – in place of these tumultuous works, a completely different harmonistic approach emerges, namely criticism, which resolves the dissonances in the writings of Matthew and Luke by separating the tones that are combined here and tearing the ear apart, and returning to the harmony that united them in the work of Mark. This is the only true harmonistic approach, the aesthetic, free contemplation, which is also free from theological necessity, because it proves that the harmony in the Gospel of Mark is an ideal work of art and for this reason – if we disregard the fact that the individual narratives that Mark has so beautifully connected themselves correspond to the ideal perception – it cannot inform us about the chronology of the life of Jesus.

The material interests of the theologian, the anxiety and torment of self-awareness, the insidious struggle with the letter, all of these adversities that harm the human mind and the holy scripture cease when Mark is recognized and the evangelical perception is restored to its ideal home.

Finally, if the theologian comes to us with the fourth Gospel to describe its chronology as the only correct one – as Olshausen does – or to combine it with the synoptic chronology, as Paulus does, then we are also freed from this torment, as we have shown that the entire chronological pragmatism of the Fourth is purely a cleansed one. The only question that ultimately arises is again an aesthetic one, whether Mark or the Fourth has created a more beautiful whole, a more beautiful structure of the whole, a question that we no longer need to answer. Our criticism of the fourth Gospel has solved the question, and the structure of the historical work that Mark created will prove to be artistic at every step we take.




Why Genesis 1-3 is Different from Other Myths — [Biblical Creation Accounts/Plato’s Timaeus – 3b]

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

With thanks to Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, for the review copy.

(continuing the series on Russell Gmirkin’s Plato’s Timaeus and the Biblical Creation Accounts) ….

If the authors of Genesis were inspired by Plato’s discourse on the origins of the cosmos in Timaeus how can one explain the obvious contrast between Plato’s lengthy scientific and philosophical reasoning and the simple narrative in Genesis 1:1-2:3?

To answer this question Russell Gmirkin [RG] begins by explaining that there were “seven distinct modes of Greek discourse on cosmogony” and that authors adapted their rhetoric according to the particular audiences each had in view.

1. Scientific Discourse: Natural philosophers most often wrote for their elite, wealthy and educated peers. “Schools” or “universities” were established by prominent thinkers (e.g. Plato’s Academy, Aristotle’s Lyceum) and cosmogonies were written to expound their underlying philosophical reasoning.

2. Revealed Myth: Parmenides of Elea wrote cosmogonies addressed to two different audiences. In Way of Truth he wrote a detailed scientific discourse for his educated peers. In Way of Opinion he wrote a cosmogony in the form of a myth that was being taught by the goddess Justice or Necessity.

Bust of Parmenides discovered at Velia (Wikipedia)

In this mode of discourse, the aim was not to achieve knowledge but to induce belief in the theories being presented. Here Parmenides appears to have anticipated Plato, who advocated implanting beliefs in the citizenry as a necessary precursor to achieving true knowledge in a select few . . . . It appears that Parmenides (like Plato) saw a social utility in presenting theories of cosmogony to the general public under divine authority, since he named the appropriate goddess as Necessity or Justice, “who steers the course of all things,” suggesting that a mythical account on cosmogony that recognized a divine steering principle was needed to ensure a pious and just citizenry. It appears that the populace was induced to believe not only that this account of the origins of the universe was divine, but also had the endorsement of the scientific educated elites. The poetic form of the discourse may have been intended to enhance its appeal to the masses. (pp. 66f)

3. Myth as Discourse (Enchantment): Plato taught that in an ideal government philosophers should rule and oversee all aspects of education from infancy to adulthood. The curriculum for the young had to consist of myths that fostered “good” behaviour. These myths needed to be attractive to all ages, especially the young, and hence were to be relayed in songs, poems, theatrical performances and public readings at festivals. Existing myths that told of gods were useful but first had to be censored by the philosopher rulers to remove from them every negative and immoral act of the gods. Nothing bad about the gods was to enter the minds of the citizens. Education was to encompass the whole society, from mothers telling infants nursery rhymes to entertaining performances (singing, reading, acting) for the young and adults.

The aim and intended reception of discourse by myth was to induce belief, and thereby implement societal conformity to theological and ethical norms. Myth, whether in the form of song, story or theatrical performance, was chosen as the medium for inducing belief, due to the pleasant, entertaining, enchanting character of the myth . . . Myth was thus the chosen rhetorical tool to condition the emotions and convey theological and ethical truths on a pre-rational level to intellectually unsophisticated audiences. (p. 68)

Genesis 1 reads as an authoritative story. It was not entirely a myth like other creation myths. It presented a scientific account of the moving power over the primordial chaos bringing about a series of separations that led to day and night, earth and sea, the spontaneous generation of life forms from the ocean, and so forth.

A story format was highly suitable for instilling beliefs about God’s fashioning of the universe for audiences of all ages and was easily understood by school children and even the youngest children, important target audiences under Plato’s system of education. (p. 68)

The second creation account (Genesis 2:4ff) follows up the cosmogony with a mythical narrative about the origins of animals and humans, the reason humans dominate the animals, the introduction of sexual reproduction and clothing, etc. It is a story easily understood by all, from the very young to the old. The beginning of the account may be a subtle reminder of Greek myths:

These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created . . .  — see Gen 2:4 for the Hebrew text

Continue reading “Why Genesis 1-3 is Different from Other Myths — [Biblical Creation Accounts/Plato’s Timaeus – 3b]”


Hector Avalos has died

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

From Pharyngula

Hector Avalos has died

We corresponded on occasion. He was a very nice person. I read most of his books and gained a lot from him. I’ll miss him.

For Vridar posts on his views about the new atheism and various academic and biblical questions see https://vridar.org/tag/hector-avalos/


Why Scholars Came to Think of Jesus as an Apocalyptic Prophet

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

It has not always been so. Times change and so does the “conventional wisdom”. Judas, for example, began something of a rehabilitation in response to ecumenism and to the world being confronted with the horrific results of anti-semitism in the early half of the twentieth century. Instead of a malicious villain, he became in some quarters seen as a well-meaning zealot, a victim of misguided aspirations. The idea that Jesus taught a message that focussed on the cataclysmic “end of the world” as the way to establish the righteous kingdom of God may be off-handedly mentioned as if it is an established fact that is not questioned by most scholars, but something changed that brought about this common viewpoint.

One reason often given in support of this view of Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet is one that has often troubled me:

[T]he apocalypticism of Jesus is such a potentially embarrassing thing, so scandalous to the post-Enlightenment intellect of the twentieth century that its acceptance has long been considered a test of scholarly objectivity; anyone who would reject this hypothesis is viewed by his or her peers as a hopeless romantic, unable or unwilling to accept the scandalous reality that Jesus did not think like us. (Patterson, 30)

If there is one “certainty” about ancient authors, including biblical ones, that is in other contexts pointed out over and over, it is that if an author found a particular fact embarrassing he or she would be quite capable of simply glossing over it or, less often, re-writing it in a way that totally changed its character and left no room for any alternative interpretation. If the evangelists really believed that the prophetic utterances of Jesus failed to take place as he had promised then why on earth would they have recorded those failures in their gospels? One answer sometimes offered to this question is that, say, the Gospel of Mark was written just prior (by a matter of months) to the fall of the Jerusalem in the full expectation that it was about to be destroyed and that Jesus would then descend on clouds from heaven. Another, even less plausible notion, is that the gospel was written just after the fall of Jerusalem and the author was in daily expectation of the coming of Jesus. Both explanations are surely special pleading. Why even write a gospel if one sincerely believed one all saints were about to be transformed into immortality at any moment and the rest of the world judged? If one did write something that one only months, or even a year or two, later realized was undeniably wrong, then one would surely expect the work to have been re-written to either deny what had been said or to add an explanation for why it was not fulfilled in 70 CE, or scrapped entirely.

As self-evident as such a reading of the sources has seemed in recent years, it was not so self-evident in 1892

But I am changing the theme I began to address in this post. I will post later a more detailed case for a reinterpretation of the apocalyptic prophecies apparently put in the mouth of Jesus. For now, let’s return to the “conventional scholarly wisdom”.

As self-evident as such a reading of the sources (e.g. Mark 13, Matthew 24. Luke 21) has seemed in recent years, it was not so self-evident in 1892. Historical inquiry into the cultural miliew into which Jesus was born and within which he preached was still a relatively young field in the late nineteenth century. It was philosophical analysis, not history, that served as the interpretive key to understanding the Scriptures. Theologians such as Albrecht Ritschl, for example, were at work transforming the ethical idealism of Immanuel Kant into the full flowering of liberal theology. (Patterson, 30)

Johannes Weiss

The first scholar of note to have published an argument that Jesus did preach that the world was coming to a violent end and God’s kingdom was about to enter with cosmically-overturning violence was Johannes Weiss. His 1892 Jesus’ Proclamation of the Kingdom of God (German title, Die Predigt Jesu vom Reiche Gottes) had little impact. For Stephen Patterson the explanation was “the times” in which it appeared:

The German idealism of the nineteenth century was, above all else, optimistic about the future; the Jesus of Weiss would have been utterly irrelevant to its credo. Weiss would not find popular acceptance until after the year 1906 when another young scholar by the name of Albert Schweitzer published the book that established him as one of his generation’s great biblical scholars: The Quest of the Historical Jesus. (Patterson, 31)

Yet as most of us well know, Schweitzer’s thesis was widely acclaimed and its shadow remains cast over many modern interpretations of Jesus.

But why was Schweitzer able to succeed in 1906 where Weiss had failed in 1892?

The answer is simple. Times changed. The optimism of the nineteenth century had, by 1906, almost completely evaporated with the increasing political instability that characterized Europe in the years leading up to World War I. In its place, there arose a profound sense of dread and uncertainty as an increasingly dark future loomed ever larger on the horizon. The mood is captured most poignantly in the autobiography of Sir Edward Grey, who, on the eve of World War I, recalls having uttered to a close friend words that would be used repeatedly to capture the spirit of times: “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.” In the midst of the cultural optimism of 1892, Weiss’s apocalyptic Jesus was a scandal; in the atmosphere of cultural pessimism that was just beginning to come to expression in 1906, this apocalyptic Jesus was just what the doctor ordered.

This state of affairs in Western culture has not altered much over the course of this century. This has been true especially in Europe, devastated by two World Wars and the economic instability and collapse that fueled the fires of discontent, and disturbed by the specter of the Holocaust that hangs over the European psyche as a constant reminder of humanity’s potential to social pathology and unfathomable evil. (Patterson 32)

One could add more to the post-World War II situation — as anyone slightly aware of modern history will know.

North America, on the other hand, maintained its “cultural optimism” longer than Europe. World War 2 did not leave Northern America devastated as it had Europe. For the US the war was recollected as a victory.

But by the 1950s, the cultural pessimism that began with the political collapse of Europe and the catastrophe of two World Wars eventually began to wash up onto the victorious, self-confident, can-do shores of North America as well, as we faced the psychologically debilitating realities of the Cold War, the threat of nuclear or environmental disaster, and the social upheaval of the 1960s. We too began to experience the cultural malaise that had held its grip on Europe for the first half of the century. This change in attitude is expressed perhaps most eloquently by Reinhold Niebuhr in his 1952 essay, The Irony ofAmerican History:

Could there be a clearer tragic dilemma than that which faces our civilization? Though confident of its virtue, it must hold atomic bombs ready for use so as to prevent a possible world conflagration. . . . Our dreams of a pure virtue are dissolved in a situation in which it is possible to exercise the virtue of responsibility toward a community of nations only by courting the prospective guilt of the atomic bomb. . . . Our dreams of moving the whole of human history under the control of the human will are ironically refuted by the fact that no group of idealists can easily move the pattern of history toward the desired goal of peace and justice. The recalcitrant forces in the historical drama have a power and persistence beyond our reckoning.

What Niebuhr, as a member of the generation that created the nuclear age, saw as a tragic and bitter irony has become for the present generation an existential presupposition. The result has been a pessimism about culture and its future, pervasive throughout Western society, that has not gone unnoticed in the annals of philosophical history. The great historian of Western thought W. T. Jones has written about our age:

Students of contemporary culture have characterized this century in various ways — for instance, as the age of anxiety, the aspirin age, the nuclear age, the age of one-dimensional man, the post-industrial age; but nobody, unless a candidate for political office at some political convention, has called this a happy age. . . . The rise of dictatorships, two world wars, genocide, the deterioration of the environment, and the Vietnam war have all had a share in undermining the old beliefs in progress, in rationality, and in people’s capacity to control their own destiny and improve their lot.

(Patterson, 33)

There have been a few notable voices arguing for a non-apocalyptic Jesus. Marcus Borg, Robert Funk, John Dominic Crossan are relatively well-known. But the Jesus Seminar (with which they were associated) has been surprisingly (to me) dismissed out of hand, even ridiculed, by so much of the academy of biblical scholarship today. Their presentations of a “non-apocalyptic Jesus” appear to be relegated to curious oddities by popular names like those of Bart Ehrman.

My point here is not to argue the case against the apocalyptic Jesus. My point is to draw attention to the realization, at least among one scholarly quarter, that scholarly interpretations change over time and with the times. What is often addressed as “a fact” may “in fact” be an interpretation that is a product of the times and in other times it may well become nothing more than a “curious oddity”.

Patterson, Stephen J. 1995. “The End of Apocalypse: Rethinking the Eschatological Jesus.” Theology Today 52 (1): 29–48. https://doi.org/10.1177/004057369505200104.


conclusion … Biblical Narratives, Archaeology, Historicity – Essays in Honour of Thomas L. Thompson

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

With thanks to those contributors who encouraged and assisted me to obtain a review copy of this volume, and thanks, of course, to the publisher T&T Clark/Bloomsbury for sending it to me.

The previous posts in this series:

This post concludes my overview of the festschrift to Thomas L. Thompson on his 80th birthday. I hope to post soon a link to a single PDF file of all of these posts. Over the coming months, from time to time, I would further like to cover some of the essays in more detail. The book is expensive and I do appreciate all involved in enabling me to receive a review copy. Hopefully, a less expensive paperback or e-version will be available before long, but till then and for those who are not as financial as they would like to be don’t forget your state and local libraries since most of them will be able to assist you with an interlibrary loan service. So with thanks to those who put this volume together and contributed to it, and to Thomas L. Thompson whose scholarship has been so influential in biblical studies (and of course on me among so many others), here is the final post in my overview discussion of Biblical Narratives, Archaeology and Historicity: Essays in Honour of Thomas L. Thompson.

. . .

Lisbeth Fried’s essay, “Can the Book of Nehemiah Be Used as an Historical Source, and If So, of What?“, builds on Thomas Thompson’s emphasis on “the importance of looking beyond the situation in which the biblical story is set to the situation in which the book may have been written” (p. 210).

Following in that path, we recognize that while the biblical book Ezra-Nehemiah is set in the Persian period, it was written over a long period of time. Much of it is definitely Hellenistic (Fried 2015a: 4-5; Finkelstein 2018); some of it may be Persian, however, and may be used as an historical source if used cautiously and if confirmed by corroborating documents. I test this hypothesis by examining the portrayal of Nehemiah as the Persian governor of Judea during the reign of Artaxerxes I. Is Nehemiah’s portrayal historical, i.e., does his portrayal match what we know in general about provincial governors under Achaemenid rule? (p. 210)

Fried leads readers through a step by step comparison of Nehemiah’s actions with those that Persian inscriptions inform us were typical of the actions and responsibilities of Persian governors: jurisdiction over the temple and its operations, control of temple funds (temples functioned as collection centres for the Persian empire), religious practices of the priests and people, and control over marriages in order to safeguard against the emergence of alliances that might threaten the security of those appointed to administer state power. So though a late composition the book of Nehemiah appears to be consistent practices of Persian governors from Egypt to Asia Minor.

In Ehud Ben Zvi’s “Chronicles’ Reshaping of Memories of Ancestors Populating Genesis” we encounter many instances where the books of Chronicles rewrite events found in Genesis and how we might expect the literati of the day to have been influenced in their perceptions of those events in the more culturally significant book of Genesis.

Reading Chronicles and identifying with the message conveyed by the Chronicler2 led, inter alia, to processes of drawing attention to or away from some events, characters or some of their features, and led to a reshaping and re-signifying of implicit or explicit mnemonic narratives. (p. 225)

Details that on the surface look rather pointless to the lay reader take on fascinating meaning as Zvi takes us through several of those “little details”: Why does Genesis generally speak of “Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” while Chronicles of “Abraham, Isaac and Israel”? Why in Genesis do we follow the adventures of Esau and Jacob while in Chronicles it is Esau and Israel? Do we detect here a subtle attempt to snatch from the Samaritans in the north the identity of Israel for the Judeans in the south? Compare also Abraham’s wife Keturah in Genesis; why in Chronicles is she called a concubine-wife? and why in Genesis do we read that she bore “to Abraham” children but in Chronicles she simply “bore children”? Why are the Genesis and Chronicles narratives about Er so different? Is there significance in the different ways “Adam” is introduced at the beginning of each book? Why does Chronicles find it necessary to merely set out a list of unadorned patriarchal names whereas Genesis introduced some anecdote on the significance of some of those names? Why does the Chronicler think it appropriate to make no mention at all of the Garden of Eden or Flood stories while rewriting other episodes in Genesis? And so on and so on. I found it a most interesting journey of discovery.

The penultimate chapter is by another scholar who has appeared before on Vridar, Philippe Wajdenbaum. Some readers of Vridar will be reminded of Russell Gmirkin’s thesis that Greek authors inspired the books of the Bible when they read Wajdenbaum’s “The Book of Proverbs and Hesiod’s Works and Days“. Debt to Thompson is once again acknowledged in this context:

T. L. Thompson (1992, 1999, 2001) and N. P. Lemche (2001 [1993]) have raised the possibility that the Hebrew Bible was produced in the Hellenistic era. There is no physical evidence for the Hebrew Bible before the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the spread of Hellenism in the Levant after Alexander’s conquest provides the best context for its creation. Thompson’s vision has elicited a paradigm shift in biblical studies, inspiring several scholars to posit a direct influence upon the redaction of several Hebrew Bible books of such Greek classical authors as Homer (Brodie 2001: 447-94; Louden 2011: 324; Kupitz 2014), Herodotus (Nielsen 1997; Wesselius 2002) and Plato (Wajdenbaum 2011; Gmirkin 2017). (p. 248)

Some Hesiod passages:

    • He does mischief to himself who does mischief to another, and evil planned harms the plotter most.
    • The idle man who waits on empty hope, lacking a livelihood, lays to heart mischief-making.
    • For a man wins nothing better than a good wife, and, again, nothing worse than a bad one.

There are “similarities of vocabulary between Hesiod and the Septuagint text of Proverbs . . . even though the latter greatly differs from the original Hebrew” so one might well suspect that the translators had been familiar with Hesiod’s Greek poem. Yet Wajdenbaum goes further and argues that “the original Hebrew text itself may have been influenced by Hesiod.” Wajdenbaum lists very many possibilities and acknowledges similar observations other scholars have made concerning Proverbs and Greek moralistic works (including Aesop and Aristotle).

Not only Proverbs but the Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes are also brought into the discussion as well as other Greek poets such as Theognis.

The final essay is “The Villain ‘Samaritan’: The Sāmirī as the Other Moses in Qur’anic Exegesis” by Joshua Sabi — the second chapter taking a look at the Qur’an. Sabi’s discussion is probably the most technical of all in this volume and not the easiest of reads for those not yet initiated into the highly abstract conceptual terminology. It is worth engaging with, however, in order to see a control instance of how a religious text both challenged and rewrote earlier scriptures. Such a case study potentially deepens any discussion of the changes in Jewish-Christian scriptures that most of us are more familiar with. How does one understand the literary creation of a new figure (in this case the Sāmirī) as a rival counterpart to Moses (at the time of the golden calf apostasy) and ancestor of the Samaritans?

Muslim exegetes have been – and still are – obsessed with the historicity of the figure of the Sāmirī. . . .

The novelty in Islamic Qur’anic exegesis is not how these biographical accounts came about, but how the identities are constructed and construed literarily. In the minds of the exegete the ambiguity of theSāmirī figure’s Qur’anic identity left him with no option but to venture into the realm of mythologized understanding of history according to which the Qur’an is both the eternal word of God and his message of salvation to mankind. The invention of such a figure with all the theological elements of iconoclastic theology‘ and literary anatomy of mythology was construed as history. Exegetes had to invent another Moses whose biography is a mimicry of the biblical and Qur’anic Moses. In their trying to solve the ambiguity of the Sāmirī’s story and his culpability, exegetes failed to see the Qur’an’s restorative approach to Scriptures as well as to humans’ fragile relations to God.(pp. 271-72)

Niesiolowski-Spanò, Lukasz, and Emanuel Pfoh, eds. 2020. Biblical Narratives, Archaeology and Historicity: Essays In Honour of Thomas L. Thompson. Library of Hebrew Bible / Old Testament Studies. New York: T&T Clark.


part 3 … Biblical Narratives, Archaeology, Historicity – Essays in Honour of Thomas L. Thompson

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Earlier posts in this series: 25th August 2020 and 27th August 2020.

Thomas Thompson . . . is a pioneer in questioning more or less weak historical reconstructions done by Old Testament scholars, reconstructions that were mainly based on biblical texts and only sometimes supported by a few arbitrarily selected extra-biblical data. I still remember how his Tübinger Dissertation on the historicity of the patriarchal narratives struck like a bomb in Heidelberg during the preparation stage of the second volume of Westermann’s commentary on Genesis. 


Later on Thompson extended and radicalized his historical scepticism concerning the Hebrew Bible. According to him, all the texts from Genesis to 2 Kings constitute a ‘mythic past’ composed by redactors of the Persian and Hellenistic periods from many traditions. They show no historiographical interest but are intended to construct a Judean or Samarian identity and to enfold a theological and philosophical worldview. — Rainer Albertz

. . .

We come now to the third section of Biblical Narratives, Archaeology and Historicity and the one that is of special interest to me . . . .

Part 3. Biblical Narratives

With thanks to those contributors who encouraged and assisted me to obtain a review copy of this volume, and thanks, of course, to the publisher T&T Clark/Bloomsbury for sending it to me.

The opening essay is by another scholar also of the University of Copenhagen whose work has been discussed before on Vridar, Ingrid Hjelm: “The Food of Life and the Food of Death in Texts from the Old Testament and the Ancient Near East“. Hjelm interprets Genesis 1-3 intertextually with the Mesopotamian myth of Adapa, the book of Proverb’s discourse on Wisdom and Folly, and 1 Samuel’s narrative of Nabal and Abigail, finally extending even to thoughts on the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament.

I have a special interest in the Adapa myth as is surely evident from having posted fifteen times on it so far. It is about a pre-Flood mortal, Adapa, who is given perfect wisdom by the god Ea but not eternal life. Adapa offends the gods and is called to give account. The god Ea, who gave him wisdom, deceives him so that he unwittingly rejects the gift of eternal life offered by a higher deity, Anu. The details are quite different but the motifs are the same as we read in Genesis: a mortal being deceived by a divine agent, becoming wise but losing eternal life, the “sin” and a curse. There is surely some connection but exactly what that is is not immediately clear. Hjelm explores the questions common to both myths. The temple of the gods in the Adapa myth is replaced by the divinity’s garden in Genesis. Hjelm points out that Thompson himself has noted that the woman already “knows the good” before she eats of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and that insight changes the way we read the story. Yet God has already planted the tree of life in the same garden, so why is it that God appeared from the outset (before “the fall”) to turn the attention of Adam and Eve from that tree? Asking such questions brings us even closer to the character of the interplay between the gods and Adapa in the Mesopotamian myth.

The second part of the essay is another fascinating examination of Wisdom and Folly in Proverbs vis à vis Abigail and Nabal (meaning “Folly”) in 1 Samuel 25, with once more the motif of eating specially prepared food. A snippet of the discussion:

In a comparative analysis of the goddesses Athirat, Qudshu, Tannit, Anat and Astarte in texts from the ancient Near East, inscriptions mentioning Asherah (and Yahweh) from Khirbet el-Qom and Kuntillet Ajrud and Old Testament texts, Broberg finds so much similarity in the symbol of Ashera’s linking of trees, snakes, fertility and woman that it is plausible that McKinlay’s ‘agents of God’ hide an Ashera goddess (Broberg 2014: 50-64).19 The use of the plural forms in Gen. l:26’s and 3:22’s ‘let us’ and ‘like us’ functions as an inclusio around this hidden goddess (Broberg 2014: 64), who is present at the creation as god’s wife, but in the course of the narrative is transformed to become Adam’s wife as the ‘mother of all living’ (Gen. 3:20; Broberg 2014: 59; cf. also Wallace 1985: 158). A similar transformation takes place when Abigail as David’s wife ‘is moved into the ranks of the many wives’ (McKinlay 2014 [sic – 1999?]: 82).

If, as argued by Broberg (2014: 61), Genesis 2-4’s woman/Eve narratives contain a conscious dethronement of Asherah similar to the anti-Asherah bashing the in the books of Kings (e.g. 1 Kgs 18:19; 2 Kgs 21:7; 23:4-7), it is likely that Proverbs 1-9 and 1 Samuel 25 are written as contrasting narratives, aiming at transferring Asherah’s positive traits as mother of all living onto the female figure. As heir of the life-sustaining qualifications of the fertility goddess, the wise woman secures the good life and holds death in check. (pp. 171f. Broberg 2014 = a Masters thesis at University of Copenhagen. My highlighting in all quotations.)

Where does the Lord’s Supper enter this picture?

The study of ancient myths may also add to our understanding of the Lord’s Supper as a radical transformation of drinking from the ṣarṣaru cup of Isthar in Near Eastern covenant ideologies’ confirmation and remembrance of the covenant. (p. 173)

The artist’s imagination has reduced the gates to a far more manageable size than in the original narrative unless we are to imagine Samson here, as later rabbis did, as a monstrously large giant. Wikimedia Commons

But let’s move on. The next chapter pulls out for attention one of those very odd passages in Biblical narratives that seem to have no real connection with the surrounding text and seem to add nothing at all to the plot and appears to be nothing more than an outlandishly tall tale. It’s one of those “why did the author write that?” scenarios: “A Gate in Gaza: An Essay on the Reception of Tall Tales” by Jack M. Sasson.

Judges 16: 1 One day Samson went to Gaza, where he saw a prostitute. He went in to spend the night with her. 2 The people of Gaza were told, “Samson is here!” So they surrounded the place and lay in wait for him all night at the city gate. They made no move during the night, saying, “At dawn we’ll kill him.” 3 But Samson lay there only until the middle of the night. Then he got up and took hold of the doors of the city gate, together with the two posts, and tore them loose, bar and all. He lifted them to his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that faces Hebron.

Sasson asks how such a story was understood by its ancient audience. We have no motif for Samson’s visit to Gaza; the feat defies credibility even for a strong-man (given the size of city gates later rabbis deduced Samson’s shoulders spanned dozens of cubits; add to the weight and size we have a steep climb and journey of tens of kilometres). Why do Bible authors sometimes resort to what surely must have been acknowledged to be obvious fictions?

. . . the exaggerations are themselves the focus of the story, giving them a ‘fictionality’ that encourages transposal into other forms of comprehension, such as a parable or a paradigm. In such accounts, narrators tend to sharpen implausibility by multiplying clues, their main intent being to promote the didactic via the entertaining. In antiquity, any Samson reader acquainted with fortified cities would know that city gates, not least because of their size, bulk and weight, were not transportable on the back of any one individual, however mighty. . . .

Elsewhere in Scripture, narrators also use diverse tactics to alert perceptive readers or audiences on the fictionality of what lies before them by assigning moralistic or whimsical names to characters that no parents would wish on their children. Such a tactic is obvious in Genesis 14 with its series of the named kings of Sodom (Bera, ‘In Evil’), Gomorrah (Birsha,‘In Wickedness’) and one of their allies (Bela, ‘Swallower’, likely king of Zoar). (pp. 184f)

Continue reading “part 3 … Biblical Narratives, Archaeology, Historicity – Essays in Honour of Thomas L. Thompson”

%d bloggers like this: