The Quest of the Historical Jesus
|Original title||Geschichte der Leben-Jesu-Forschung|
Published in English
- This article is about a book. For history of academic Jesus research, see Quest for the historical Jesus.
The Quest of the Historical Jesus (German: Geschichte der Leben-Jesu-Forschung, literally "History of Life-of-Jesus Research") is a 1906 work of Biblical historical criticism written by Albert Schweitzer during the previous year, before he began to study for a medical degree.
The original edition was translated into English by William Montgomery and published in 1910. A second German edition was published during 1913, containing theologically significant revisions and expansions. This revised edition was not published in English until 2001.
In The Quest, Schweitzer reviews all prior work on the question of the "historical Jesus" starting with the late 18th century. He points out how Jesus' image has changed with the times and with the personal proclivities of the various authors. He concludes with his own synopsis and interpretation of what had been learned over the course of the previous century. He takes the position that the life and thinking of Jesus must be interpreted in the light of Jesus' own convictions, which he characterizes as those of "late Jewish eschatology", and that Jesus defies any attempt at understanding him by making parallels to the ways of thinking or feeling of modern men. In Schweitzer's view, Jesus genuinely believed that his ministry would bring about the end of history and did not see any prolonged period elapsing between his time on earth and God's final judgment.
The 1913 second edition of Quest included a rebuttal to the "mythicists" of his day, those scholars who maintain that no historical Jesus ever existed.
Schweitzer wrote that Jesus and his followers expected the imminent end of the world. He became very focused on the study and cross referencing of the many Biblical verses promising the return of the Son of Man and the exact details of this urgent event, as it was originally believed that it would unfold. He noted that in the gospel of Mark, Jesus speaks of a "tribulation," with nation rising against nation, false prophets, earthquakes, stars falling from the sky, and the coming of the Son of Man "in the clouds with great power and glory." Jesus even tells his disciples when all this will happen: "Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done." (Mark 13:30) The same story is told in the gospel of Matthew, with Jesus promising his rapid return as the Son of Man, and again saying: "Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled." Even St. Paul believed these things, Schweitzer observes (e.g. 1 Thessalonians 4), and Schweitzer concludes that Christians of the first century theology literally believed in the imminent fulfillment of Jesus' promise.
Schweitzer concludes that critical 1st century theology has been ignored by the faithful. Almost all early followers are known to have been illiterate. Only those few literate leaders, then in power, could be aware of the critical unfulfilled First Century promise indivisible from the original theology of Jesus. Schweitzer observes that the early church leaders introduced a modified theology, once the prompt return of Jesus failed to occur. Obviously, the early leaders would surely lose power, and their employment, if they failed to modify the original theology.
Schweitzer writes that the many modern versions of Christianity deliberately ignore the urgency of the message that Jesus proclaimed. Each new generation hopes to be the one to see the world destroyed, another world coming, and the saints governing a new earth. Schweitzer thus concludes that the First Century theology, originating in the lifetimes of those who first followed Jesus, is both incompatible and very different from those beliefs later made official by the Roman Emperor Constantine in 325 CE.
Schweitzer established his reputation further as a New Testament scholar with other theological studies including The Psychiatric Study of Jesus (1911) and his two studies of the apostle Paul, Paul and his Interpreters, and the more complete The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle (1930). This examined the eschatological beliefs of Paul and (through this) the message of the New Testament.
This book established Schweitzer's reputation. Its publication effectively stopped for decades work on the Historical Jesus as a sub-discipline of New Testament studies. This work resumed however with the development of the so-called "Second Quest", among whose notable exponents was Rudolf Bultmann's student Ernst Käsemann. Richard Webster writes that the messianic fantasies associated with the story of the crucifixion in the Gospels are perhaps still best understood by way of The Quest of the Historical Jesus.
- Biblical criticism
- Quest for the historical Jesus
- The Human Christ: The Search for the Historical Jesus
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