The period of biblical criticism that followed did not prove very fruitful. lt was concerned above all with the miracles performed by Jesus.
The issue was considered entirely from the rationalist point of view, with a senior theologian at Heidelberg, Professor Paulus, producing a natural explanation for every single miracle, without exception. Even D. Fr. Strauss was later to refer to his work as being beside the point.
Ernst Renan (1823-1892) was enormously successful with his book The Life of Jesus (1863). This was published in 15 languages, in 70 editions. Judging by today's standards, it is difflcult to understand how a book containing so much that makes no real sense could find such acclaim. Renan wrote in the style of a novel, and gave his imagination free rein, yet it appears that more faith was put in him than in the Gospels. He wrote, among other things: "Jesus did not shun pleasure, and enjoyed attending wedding parties. Thus he moved through Galilee in a constant round of festivities." 37
"The lovely climate of Galilee made the life of these honest fisherfolk one of constant magic."38
lt is hard to believe that this was a book that went as far as 70 editions. With matchless presumption, Renan believed that he had solved the problem of historical and critical analysis of the gospel story in a way that "will wholly meet the requirements of history. 39
Renan saw Jesus as a teacher who wanted to set up a kingdom on earth." 40
F. Ch. Baur (1792-1860) considered the synoptic Gospels to represent a dispute entirely among the evangelists. Matthew and Mark are in his view defending the Jewish point of view (Judaism), while the Paulinic approach used by Luke is intended to exclude Judaism (Paulinism). The hypothesis of contradiction, and in fact there actually is no such sharp contrast, is now refuted by all scholars. Baur considered John's Gospel to be valueless, for in his view it was trying to mediate between approaches. Some scholars tried to show Christianity from late Judaism. Others - the history of religion considered it to have arisen from elements of Hellenism, others again maintain that Christianity is merely a "syncretic religion", i.e., based on elements from all kinds of religions existing at the time, and particularly from occult rites. This is not the place for a fuller discussion of these various theories, particularly as they are no longer generally accepted today.
In the modern literature, the vagaries of those earlier scholars are referred to as follows:
"Despite much speculation by the undiscerning, the extensive work done on religious history has not resulted in 'Jesus' and Christianity being regarded mere variations of Jewish and Hellenistic religiosity as well as others. They have ... shown their unmistakable uniqueness." 41
Attampts to force acceptance of Jesus' teaching in a hostile world merely by an intellectual approach are doomed to failure, for Chrstianity has its roots in a dimension that is not accessible to empirical cognition. The way this force works cannot be explained on the basis of history.
Protestant theologian David Friedrich Strauss (1808-1874), a student of E Ch. Baur, went against others in his day by believing in the existence of Jesus of Nazareth, but considered the Gospels a myth - pure invention. 42 He allowed his rationalistic views to culminate in the statement that he saw "Jesus very close to madness. * H. Daniel-Rops aptly commented that a fool could never be successful, and that in this case the ridiculous aspect was far greater than any offence that might be taken. 43
Strauss, too, was a tremendous literary success. It is strange that books modern scholars consider to be based on misinterpretation did have such great influence on the public in their day. The narrow, rigid attitude of the churches with regard to verbal inspiration clearly had already greatly shaken the credibility of the churches in intellectual circles.
In the present century, a number of authors consider Jesus a political revolutionary, but Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) took exactly the opposite view. He maintained that Jesus was "decadent", "a hypersensitive person" who had not been able to cope with life in the raw. He considered him an "idiot" in the Dostoevsky sense. 44 Nietzsche called Jesus a "sainted anarchist" or political criminal"; in his eyes he was a "seducer" or, like "Francis of Assisi, an epileptic, visionary, neurotic". 45
Furious, Nietzsche gave vent to his hatred, writing that the root of all evil was that "slave morals", humility, chastity and selflessness had been victorious. Accordingly, it was Prometheus, who could not bear a god to be above him, who became Nietzsche's symbol. (284a)
Werner Post said, quite rightly, that "there is no more radical criticism of Jesus than Nietzsche's. " 46
* Strauss lost his position in the Protestant church.