Albert Schweitzer, Bruno Bauer, and the Early Jesus Myth Movement

 photo 220px-Bruno_Bauer_zps3264bce5.jpg
Bruno Bauer (1809-1882)

A poster called "Anonymous" left a question on my blog the other day, I find the question repeated, presumably by the same person on CADRE blog and Triblog. I suppose this person really wants an answer.

Anonymous said...
metacrock, this does not pertain to the article that i am commenting on but it relates to the christ myth. First a statement from wikipedia:
"In The Quest, Schweitzer reviewed all former work on the "historical Jesus" back to the late 18th century. He showed that the image of Jesus had changed with the times and outlooks of the various authors, and gave his own synopsis and interpretation of the previous century's findings. He maintained that the life of Jesus must be interpreted in the light of Jesus' own convictions, which reflected late Jewish eschatology. Schweitzer, however, writes: "The Jesus of Nazareth who came forward publicly as the Messiah, who preached the ethic of the kingdom of God, who founded the kingdom of heaven upon earth and died to give his work its final consecration never existed."" next, a statement found on a blog about the religion of Georg Freidrich Hegel: "Albert Schweitzer praised (Bruno) Bauer's scholarship as world class." Would you comment on these two pieces of information in a blog post and say if they are truthful or not.

Bruno Bauer was born in 1809 (AT EISENBERG, in the Dutchy OF Sachsen-Altenburg) died in 1882. He was a brilliant man, although a radical in many of his views and not taken seroiusly by the main stream. Schweitzer did admire his brilliance not in the sense of looking to him for answers.[1] He was not in agreement with Bauer's conclusions. Bauer was a student of Hegel, a rationalist in philosophy, leader of the left Hegalians or "republicans" or "young Hegelians.[2] Bauer was in line with the demands thninkers such as Marx and Feuerbach in rejecting religion.[3]  Bauer was also a friend of Marx and Engels for a time. He had writings about all of these issues, Hegelian philosophy, economics, history, politics, Marxism, and Biblical criticism.[4] I will focus on one narrow aspect of his thought, but only with the understanding that it is only a narrow aspect, that is his Jesus myth ideas.

There are two major ideas that I deal with but even they don't sum up the whole of his thinking on even this narrow aspect. The first is The Gospel of Mark, he saw as fiction and the date of which he got totally wrong (putting it up in 135 or so). The second is his idea that Jesus was a composite character created out of Stoicism and the Jewish religion. One of the major probelms that the Jesus myther types who try to use Bauer today enouncter is that they don't understand how prmitive his time was. They knew so litte about Biblical criticism. All he really did was raise quetions many of which have now been answered. The skeptics who champion him today place themselves in his time and act as though we know nothing.

Gospel of Mark

David Strauss, in his Life of Jesus, had accounted for the Gospel narratives as half-conscious products of the mythic instinct in the early Christian communities. Bauer ridiculed Strauss's notion that a community could produce a connected narrative. Rather, only a single writer could be responsible for the first Gospel. His own contention, embodying a theory of Christian Gottlob Wilke (Der Urevangelist, 1838), was that the original narrative was the Gospel of Mark.[5]

In concluding that the Gospel of Mark was a fictional work by one man (rather than a community) he also asserted it was the creation of the Jesus myth.[6] In that assertion we see the basis of modern atheist argument. How many times Have I observed that the atheists on message boards assume Mark was the creation of the story of Jesus? That whole assumption comes from Bauer but we see it used again and again. The same can be said of his take on Jesus as stoic philosophy which we find in Doherty (latter for that). Bauer's views on Mark are much more elaborate than just this one idea, that a community could not have produced it. I think I refute that notion pretty well in my essay "community as author."  It's the orderly possibility of the oral tradition that makes it possible for a community to produce a coherent narrative of this nature. See my blog piece on "trend toward early dates for the Gospels." There has been a massive shift toward seeing Mark written in the late 30s and the final version we know in the 60s and Matthew from 60-70 and Luke and John in 80s. In fact, this whole basis of Bauer's view point is the epitome of the out-modded form of thinking that guides atheist anti-apologetic.I've always said that atheists seem to be dredging up things from the ninteeth century. Here they are. I remember a myther posting on CARM who used to quote Bauer. They think this is big stuff and it's been out of date for over a century. The whole concept Mark is the first time the story of Jesus was ever written down is totally disproved. Read Hulmutt Koester's Ancient Christian Gospels and you can't hep but realize how badly out of date the view is.[7] He shows that there was a sinlge source that was circulating in writing as early as 50 or there about, and it became the passion narrative of all four Gospels. This was a pre Mark redaction of the passion narrative, and material before and after, up to the empty tomb. It's not just the dating of Mark that's out of fashion it's the whole concept that Mark is the original point of the story of Jesus and the first writing of it that's totally outmoded.(see my pages on "Gospel Behind the Gospels." ).

We know that Bauer's dating Mark is wrong. We know it by the basic Rosetta stone of all Gsopel dating the date of the John Ryland's Fragment. John Rylands found in 1920. Scholarly consensus places its writing at 135 so that rules out Mark having an origin in 135.[8]  Even though John is very different from Mark, it nevertheless does make use of Mark. Thus Mark had to exist first, thus it has to pre date 135. Bauer accepted the notion of the ur Mark and dated around the time of wars between Jews and Romans (60-70). Modern scholars date it in the 40's the original theory placed in the late 30s. In Bauer's day scholars tended to give the Gospels latter dates. Part of the reason for that was that they didn't have the John Ryland's fragment. Now days the UR Mark is placed late 30s-early 40s and teh finished product in 70. Modern scholar John A. Robinson (not death of God guy) dates the Ur Mark in 45 and the final version in 50 or so? [9] Scholars such as E.P. Sanders and John P. Meier have shown that these apects that Bauer took to be so Greek are actually very Hebrew. The Wikipedia article points out in contrast that Baultmann agreed with Bauer in that he saw Greek elements in the Gospels. 

The problem with that is that Baultmann was born in 1884 and died in 1976. Meier was born 1942 and still alive. E.P. Sandards was born in 37 and still alive. Bultmann did most of his work before the Dead Scrolls were discovered, the other two were born just a few years before the discovery. Bultmann was basically retired by the time the fermet of the DSS began to be understood. One of the major results of that find was to change the understanding of what was Heberw and what Greek in the NT. Meier and Sanders are going to win this fight because they have had time to absorb discoveries and ferment form them that came in after Bultmann was dead. Today most scholars understand that the Hebrews of Jesus day were much more Greek than was realized in Bultmann's day. Most of them spoke Greek and did business in Greek. Much of what was seen as Greek in the Gospels, especially John, are now understood to be Greek based Hebrew conventions. That's just a matter of how they expressed themselves, not of writing fiction.

Yet Bauer's reasons for dating Mark as he does are the Greek literary influences he thought he saw here, and that major thrust led him to think of Jesus himself as a fictional character. The reason the extent to which he seems to embody Greek Stoicism. Of course as just said, back then they thought there was a rigid line between Greek culture and Hebrew culture, they didn't realize that even "non Hellenized Jews" were fairly Hellenized. We see that same use of the stoics in Earl Doherty's "Evolution of Jesus."

We know this Hellenistic aspect of Hebrew life in palestine not only from Josephus but also from the widespread nature of the Roman empire. Greek became the standard language of commerce. The Galilee srounded by the cities of Decapolis would certainly have been Greek speaking. A huge range of inscription form Palestine also bears the marks of a Greek speaking culture."There is also a range of incriptional evidence (e.g., Jewish funerary inscriptions), numerous Greek papyri, and significant literary evidence, including Jewish books being written in or translated into Greek in Palestine. From this range of evidence, the logical conclusion can be drawn that in fact a sizeable number of Jews in Palestine used Greek." [10]

The Greek literary influences Bauer thought he saw seemed to be Stoic. He then assumed that Jesus was a fiction produced form the heavy influence of Stoic philosophy. That's a self defeating observation, however, becuase it means that the Jews had to have a heavy Greek influence which means the presence of Greek literary styles in the their writing is not a sign that that they are just quoting Greek philosophy and not discussing the actual history of the movement in terms of expression that were familiar to them. Stanly Stowers argued that the author of Matthew was not a Stoic but used Stoic elements in creating a picture of Jesus as an ethical teacher.[11] This is not because he's writing fiction. It's becuase Stoic philosophy was known to the Jews and it connects Jesus to the lofty philosophical tradition of the Greeks and shows that he was a major figure. Since the Lingua Franka of the Jews included elements of Greek culture it's presence in the Gospels do not signify the work of fiction necessary. Predestination is a considered by  many scholars to be a source of Stoic thinking, or a derivative of it. The Stoics believed in a form of determinism. Stoics believed in eventual cosmic conflagration which is seen in New Testament Eschatology. All of these points have their analogues in pre Hellinistic Hebrew thought and their use by Jews of Jesus day who were Hellinized. So the presence of similar concept is not proof of Stoic influence per se. There's no law that says Jesus could not have voiced similar ideas.[12]

Schweitzer and Bauer

Schweitzer did admire Bauer as a brilliant thinker but he rejects his view. Schweitzer's basic take on all previous understanding of Jesus was that they all shaped him into their own image. It's easy to use that against the chruch but few stop to think that Schweizter also used it against Bauer and the liberals. The liberals were molding Jesus into an eighteenth century enlightenment rational man. Bauer being an Marxist and an atheist logically molds Jesus into a fictional character. He thought there was no God so Jesus was a fiction. That's still just molding the image he wanted to see rather than seeking the historical figure. Schweitzer admired him but at the same time saw that his radicalism made is work unusable. He writes a whole chapter on Bauer in the Quest.Here is what I think is the seminal statement Schweizer makes about Bauer:

But the time is past for pronouncing judgment upon Lives of Christ on the ground of the solutions which they offer. For us the great men are not those who solved the problems, but those who discovered them. Bauer's "Criticism of the Gospel History" is worth a good dozen Lives of Jesus, because his work, as we are only now coming to recognise, after half a century, is the ablest and most complete collection of the difficulties of the Life of Jesus which is anywhere to be found.
Unfortunately, by the independent, the too loftily independent way in which he developed his ideas, he destroyed the possibility of their influencing contemporary theology. The shaft which he had driven into the mountain broke down behind him, so that it needed the work of a whole generation to lay bare once more the veins of ore which he had struck. His contemporaries could not suspect that the abnormality of his solutions was due to the intensity with which he grasped the problems as problems, and that he had become blind to history by examining it too microscopically. Thus for his contemporaries he was a mere eccentric.[13]

He asked great questions but didn't really want answers. These radical thinkers who tried to tear the Bible apart have all been given the gate by scholarship of the second half of the twentieth century. Emulating them is the reason why new atheism is so ignorant in terms of Biblical scholarship and why they always seem to be dreading up outmoded nineteenth century ideas.

 Post Script on Schweitzer:

Schweitzer is one of my all times favorite intellectual heros. He was brillian four times over (As philospher, Theologian, Bible Scholar and Musicologist/concert virtuoso and Organ builder. I can't even get one brilliant career going Schweitzer walked away form four brilliant careers he had going simultaneously in order to nurse the poor of Africa medically. He had to become a doctor to do it. He also did some of his most brilliant work in Biblical criticism in a fox hole on training exercises in the French Army.


[1] Albert Schweitzher, chapter 11 "Bruno Bauer," Question of the Historical Jesus, London:A&C Black Ltd. trans w. Montgomery, First English Edition 1910.First German Edition "Von Reimarus zu Wrede," 1906.159 On line copy on Early Christian Writings, Peter Kirby,
accessed 11/12/13
Table of contents for Online copy:

 [2] David James and Douglas Moggach, Bruno Bauer, Biblical Narrative, Freedom and Anxiety."

[3] Ibid.

[4] Neil Godfrey,  "Bruno Bauer and Today, (is this not the Carpenter?-- chapter 2)"Vidar, On line publication:
accessed 11/14/13

[5] Wikepeida, "Views on Bibilcal Origins," section of the article "Bruno Bauer," on line: 
accessed 11/14/13.

from Wikepeida, "Bruno Bauer,"  accessed 11/12/13

[6] Ibid. quoting Otto Pfleiderer.

[7] Helmutt Koester, Ancient Christian Gospels: Their History and Development. London, England: T&T Clark, first edition, 1992. 125, 218
The readers should read the whole book beasue this is an integral point thoughout the book and he gives us a wealth of knowledge supporting it. The pages 125, and 218 and around them are focal points.

[8] Wikepedia, "Rylands Papyrus P52." 11/14/13.

[9] John A. Robinson, Dating the New Testament. whif Paperback 2000.

[10] Stanley E. Porter, The Criteria for Authenticity in Historical-Jesus Research: Previous Discussion and New Proposals, London: T & T Clark, 2000, 134-5, 140-141.

[11] Stanly Stowers, "Jesus the Teacher and Stoic Ethics in the Gospel of Matthew," pdf
accessed 11/14/13

[12] Shandon L. Gutherie, "The Philosophy of the New Testament and the Question of Influence."

[13] Schweitzer, op.cit.