Boston Collaborative Encyclopedia of Western Theology

David Friedrich Strauss (1808-1874)

Table of Contents
1. Background
2. Works (Selected List)
3. Themes
4. Outline of Major Works
5. Relation to Other Thinkers
6. Bibliography and Works Cited
7. Internet Resources
8. Related Topics

1. Background

David Friedrich Strauss was born on January 27, 1808 in Ludwigsburg near Stuttgart in Germany as the son of a merchant. During the period of 1821-25, Strauss attended the theological seminary in Blaubeuren as a student of the historian F. C. Baur who became and remained his most influential teacher. In 1825 Strauss went to Tubingen where he spent his first two years focusing on philosophical studies such as romanticism, mysticism, and natural philosophy. There, he was associated with a romantic circle including Eduard Morike and Ludwig Bauer, studying intensively J.G. Fichte and Schelling's philosophy of nature. Later Strauss was acquainted with the medieval mystic Jacob Boehme, and the Swabian mystic Friedrich Christian Oetinger. In the spring of 1827, Strauss visited the poet-physician Justinus Kerner at Weinsberg, who treated a woman there with magnetic or hypnotic means. Strauss was deeply affected by this and other similar experiences which turned out to be "the source of his fascination with the cures of certain types of physical ailments. . . a fascination that was to play a fateful role in the third edition of The Life of Jesus (Hodgson 1972, xx).

From 1827 to 1830, Strauss moved on to commit himself to theological studies at Tubingen but he was not satisfied with the faculty except for Baur. During this period, he started reading for the first time Schleiermacher's Glaubenslehre, "which served to facilitate a transition from his romantic and mystical affinities to the rigor of Hegelian dialectic" (Hodgson 1972, xx). In the winter of 1828-29, Strauss began with his friends to thoroughly examine Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, "which they interpreted in the 'liberal sense', i.e., as superseding religion and theology in a purely philosophical vision" (Hodgson, xx). After his theological study at Tubingen, he was appointed to serve briefly a local parish in Kleiningersheim near Ludwigsburg as an assistant pastor.

While staying in Kleiningersheim as a pastor, in the spring of 1831, Strauss produced a doctoral dissertation on "The Doctrine of the Restoration of All Things in Its Religious-Historical Significance," the only theological writing by him before the appearance of The Life of Jesus, which is perceived to provide a significant clue for an interpretation of The Life of Jesus. It argues that "the restoration of all finite things to the creator, and the concomitant overcoming of the awareness of contradition between finite and infinite spirit must be de-eschatologized," which, Strauss believes, was resolved only through Schleiermacher (ambiguously) and Hegel (fully) (Hodgson, xxi).

In October of 1831, Strauss decided to go to Berlin to attend the lectures of Schleiermacher and Hegel in order to resolve his inner tension between his interpretation of Hegel and his desire to remain a theologian and pastor by talking with the great philosophers directly. Unfortunately, however, Hegel died of cholera right after Strauss arrived and Strauss soon lost his interests in Schleiermacher's thoughts.

In the summer of 1832, Strauss came back to Tubingen and accepted a position as an assistant lecturer in the theological college where he delivered his lectures on logic and metaphysics, history of philosophy since Kant, and history of ethics. But, after only three semesters he came to the decision to stop the lectures and began to work on a life of Jesus in the fall of 1833. In the late fall of 1835 at the age of twenty-seven, his masterpiece The Life of Jesus Critically Examined (Das Leben Jesu kritische bearbeitet) was published in two volumes, which made him at once the most controversial figure in Germany. He expected a warm welcome for his work "by serious and enlightened men of all persuasions as a liberation from the fetters of dogmatism and as a basis for the revitalization of the true essence of the Christian faith" (Hodgson, xxiv). Instead, what he received from the people in Germany was extremely negative reactions against his work. These negative reactions totally destroyed any opportunities for his further advancement in either the university or Church. He was immediately removed from his post as a lecturer and his academic career stopped. Depressed by severe attacks upon his work, Strauss returned to Stuttgart to stay for years and defended himself by writing to his critics and preparing new editions of The Life of Jesus. In the spring of 1836, a second edition of the book was published with no significant alterations but some additions accorded with the suggestions of his teacher, F.C. Baur.

Since the fall of 1836, staying in Stuttgart to be a free-lance writer, Strauss started doubting his radical conclusions in his work, which was caused by his fear of no more offers of teaching appointments coming his way. With this kind of inner fear and a change of heart, a third edition of the book was issued, a thoroughly revised one with the three major points resulting from consultations with Baur: "the possible authenticity of the Fourth Gospel, the unity of the divine and the human in the religious consciousness of Jesus, and of the allowance of an intermediary category of miracles (cures based on unusual powers of nature, analoguous to animal magnetism)" (Hodgson, xxxviii). This third edition was quite "irenical in spirit and conceded many points to his critics" (Livingston 1971, 174). Strauss also produced a series of monologues entitled "Transient and Permanent Elements in Christianity" which includes clear influences from Schleiermacher as well as from Baur, and "represents the closest approximation to positive (i.e., historical) Christianity of any of Strauss' writings" (Hodgson, xxxvii). It seemed that these moderate actions might help him come back to the academic world (Livingston, 174).

During the period from June 1836 to January 1839, Strauss was proposed by liberals at Zurich for a position there thrice but their first two offers were rejected by conservative oppositions. They won the last one and Strauss was finally appointed Professor of Dogmatics and Church History. But under the severe pressure from the public against his appointment, the government revoked the appointment and Strauss was pensioned off. Financial support from the government and the money he inherited from his father upon his death gave Strauss financial freedom and "turned him, once for all, against all attempts at compromise" (Livingston, 174).

In 1840, Strauss published a fourth edition of The Life of Jesus that "restore[d]] the more radical readings of the first. . . , but its substantive position is nearly identical to the second" (Hodgson, xivii). His feeling of no significant influences of the third edition upon his orthodox opponents made Strauss realize that it was a big mistake to revise the third edition. It was at the same year in The Christian Doctrine of Faith, Its Doctrinal Development and Conflict with Modern Science (Die christlische Glaubenslehre in ihrer geschichtlichen Entwicklung und im Kampfe mit der modernen Wissenschaft dargestellt) that Strauss tried to show the historical developments of Christian doctrine coming out of its ancient environment into harmonization with later philosophical speculation. In this book, Strauss claimed the replacement of traditional supernaturalism with a purely secular, Hegelian theology of Absolute Spirit.

Since the early 1840's until 1864, Strauss drew himself from any kind of theological debate just to remain a journalist, writing biographies of Ulrich von Hutten and H. S. Reimarus, and entered politics. In 1864, Strauss tried to come back again to theological arena with his second book on Jesus' life, entitled A Life of Jesus for the German People (Das Leben Jesu fur das deutsche Volk bearbeitet), totally different in scope from his first The Life of Jesus. While the first book called into question the possibility of historically reconstructing a life of Jesus, the second one is "hardly a notch better than the common, garden-variety lives of Jesus that became so popular in the latter decades of the nineteenth century" (Livingston, 174). Strauss expected what Ernst Renan caused to French people but he failed, and this new life of Jesus was seen as "stiff and sober, devoid of movement and feeling" (Livingston, 174). In 1872, Strauss published his last book The Old Faith and the New which with The Life of Jesus of 1864, was recognized by critics to be worthless. These last years were the most painful and desperate time for Strauss. Right after the publication of his last book, Strauss started suffering from an internal ulcer for a short period of time and died in February 1874.

2. Works (Selected List)

The Life of Jesus Critically Examined (Das Leben Jesu kritische bearbeitet, 4th ed., 1840); The Christian Doctrine of Faith, Its Doctrinal Development and Conflict with Modern Science (Die christlische Glaubenslehre in ihrer geschichtlichen Entwicklung und im Kampfe mit der modernen Wissenschaft dargestellt, 1840); A Life of Jesus for the German People (Das Leben Jesu fur das deutsche Volk bearbeitet, 1864); The Old Faith and the New (1872);

3. Themes

The Political Meaning of The Life of Jesus

In her book, Christ Unmasked: The Meaning of The Life of Jesus in German Politics, Marilyn Chapin Massey argues that Strauss' The Life of Jesus should be understood in the light of its social context because the readings of The Life of Jesus by the past interpreters from Strauss' own religious intentions tend to ignore the text's political meaning rather to focus only on its religious radicalism. In order to examine the political meaning of the text, the author compares the text to Karl Gutzkow's Wally the Skeptic, a contemporary novel about a young German woman's tragic life and suicide, and analyzes the reactions from literary critics, philosophers, and theologians in the 1830's.

According to Massey, Strauss' contemporaries perceived The Life of Jesus along with the ironic novel Wally the Skeptic to be a threat to the existing political order in terms of their claim to reject any dependency on external authorities. In Strauss' work, especially in the first edition of it, they saw an expression of a "radical democratic politics" with the ideal of social and economic equality similar to that raised by Heinrich Heine and the young Karl Marx (Massey 1983, 12). Actually, The Life of Jesus did not attack upon Christianity itself but attempted a reinterpretation of it, saying that the true identity of the God-man resides in the idea of the human species. Here, one may so easily see a shift in focus from the heroic individual to the general community: "the potentiality seeming to belong only to one exalted human belonged, rather, to humanity itself" (Massey, 79). From the perspective of those who already had power to control the existing society, however, that shift can be read as politically vigorous and dangerous.

It is very interesting to notice that this political meaning of the text was not the result of Strauss' conscious decision to write a politically subversive document but, rather, the result of the comic-ironical structure of his theological work. It is "ironic" because it unmasks the alleged historical reality of the narratives about Jesus as the product of the human consciousness of Jesus' age; and it is "comic" because Strauss views this loss of the historical reality of the biblical narratives, and the concomitant rejection of Jesus as the unique human embodiment of divinity, not with regret, but with a sense of relief and "spiritual freedom" (Massey, 74-5). The political meaning of The Life of Jesus, then, can be found in the fact that it discloses its own power to liberate "readers from submission to an exalted figure of the past and from the correlative stagnation of their own religious development", and "rais[es] their consciousness to a recognition of their own human potential as bearers of truth and meaning and as agents of historical change" (Madges 1985, 287). This "comic irony" turns out to be blunted in the third edition in which an individual being is more elevated, political impact being more aristocratic but less threatening to the parallel between the God-man and the monarch drawn by several of Strauss' contemporaries by focusing on the Gospel of John as an authentic representation of an individual uniquely endowed with God-consciousness.

Massey concludes that The Life of Jesus "unmasked" an individual Jesus Christ as merely a product and expression of human society. By using the Hegelian language of the contemporary cultured Germans, it elevated human society itself to the status of God incarnated, a political implication of which is: "radical democracy." In his radical reinterpretation of Christianity in terms of myth, Massey claims, Strauss unmasks the true Christ as being a democratic Christ, the ideal of the human species in substituting humanity for God-man, implicitly suggesting a model of popular sovereignty instead of the prevailing monarchy. However, it did not inspire a successful democratic revolution, but rather provided "a rallying point for antidemocratic forces in Germany" (Massey, 144). The shaping influences of Strauss' work ran through the political and theological right as well as through the left-wing criticism of religion. Massey concludes with the following remarks:

The 1835 Life of Jesus caught up and changed the idioms of German culture to present an image of people struggling collectively for their freedom, an image which because of its capacity to call the status quo into question was associated with that of a Wally diseased and destroyed by her culture. The 1838 Life of Jesus offered the palliative of an aristocratic Christ, a genius Jesus, who was the epitome of the perfection of the inner life. Behind this image flickered that of Wally slowly and painfully losing her struggle for freedom in a boundless interiority. What is "important" and "real" about The Life of Jesus is that it evoked these images of struggle. (Massey, 149)

4. Outline of Major Works

The Life of Jesus Critically Examined

The questions that Strauss raised and tried to solve in his work of The Life of Jesus Critically Examined were the historical questions concerning the origins of Christianity--questions which had been easily ignored by most theologians at his time. Strauss claimed that the study of the New Testament had been dominated either by supernaturalism or by naturalism in terms of biblical interpretation, and insisted that myth was the hermeneutical key to the New Testament, especially to the study of the Gospel accounts of Jesus. Myth, for Strauss, is the natural mode of perception of human mind in primitive ages. It is "the natural language of religion" (Livingston, 177). On the other hand, the supernaturalists tended to regard all the events in the Bible as literally and historically true without any consideration of the natural laws, while, strongly occupied by the natural laws, the rationalists kept insisting on the errors of witnesses to be misinterpretations or misinformations of what happened. Both parties were wrong, Strauss claimed, and they did not accept another possibility called mythical interpretation. This interpretative tool so-called myth was not new but it had never been applied to the New Testament in a radically consistent manner until the appearance of Strauss' The Life of Jesus (Strauss 1840, 63-65). Therefore, the task assigned to Strauss in his The Life of Jesus was to examine and test the historical claims of the New Testament concerning Jesus by using the new tool called myth.

The Life of Jesus Critically Examined consists of three sections: Introduction, main body of Part I/II/III, and Concluding Dissertation. The seemingly long introduction to the book includes an analysis of the historical developments of biblical interpretation up to Strauss' own time, an examination of the mythical point of view with reference to several scholars' positions on the matter, and a detailed consideration of why mythical interpretation was so long rejected.

In the second part, equipped with these rules of historical criticism which will be elaborated later, Strauss examines each separate pericope in the Gospels concerning the life of Jesus. Each incident is carefully considered, first as it was traditionally explained according to supernaturalism and then according to rationalism. Here, Strauss adopts the so-called "negative-critical or dialectic method" that refutes the one type of interpretation by using the other one in order to finally establish the relevance of mythical interpretation in explaining the events and discourses about Jesus in the Bible. There are two principles to support his conclusion of the priority of the mythical viewpoint: 1) there are lack of external testimonies sufficient to assure eyewitness reports; therefore, any historical value ascribed to the reports should be seen as later additions; 2) prophecies from the Old Testament were applied by the Gospel writers to Jesus and to prophetic statements which he was supposed to have spoken (Strauss, 69-75, 86-87). In the third part which deals with the dogmatic exposition, Strauss feels that the positive elements of Christian beliefs which have been destroyed by his critical method are to be restored. In this section, thus, he develops his position concerning the union of the divine and the human with the help of Hegelian speculative philosophy. We will come back later to this third part and now focus on Strauss' dealing with mythical interpretation of the biblical narratives.

According to Strauss, one of the main reasons for rejecting the concept of myth in New Testament studies is due to its long connection with pagan religions and a false idea that myth is mainly found in primitive cultures in which written records of events were not common. (Strauss, 66 and 69). On the other hand, the opponents claim, the Bible is a Christian book which is "historical" and "literal" because it was written by eyewitnesses, which can be seen as another reason for rejecting the idea of myth (Strauss, 70). In response to these oppositions, Strauss replies that there are possibilities for the narrators to take mythic forms to record the events due to their being "separated by a long interval from the facts" (Strauss, 69-70), and introduces the investigations of myth by several scholars such as Heyne, Eichhorn, Gabler, Bauer, and de Wette, pointing out that it is clear that the history in the Gospel is mixed with mythical materials even though it is not altogether mythical.

Christian G. Heyne (1729-1812), a classical philologist, regarded the concept of myth as the universal mode of thinking and expression in the ancient world. According to him, the mythic mode of thought belongs to earlier stage in the developments of human intelligence, likened to human infancy. It was Johann Gottfried Eichhorn (1752-1827) who introduced Heyne's mythic interpretation into biblical scholarship in his book Urgeschichte which was later republished by Johann Philipp Gabler (1753-1826). With their efforts to elaborate and apply the concept of myth in a more comprehensive and consistent manner, Eichhorn and Gabler "overcame any remaining rationalistic element in biblical exegesis which sought to explain the temporal conditionality of biblical representations as intentional accommodation to local and temporal factors" (Lawler 1986, 25). It is ironical to see that Eichhorn and Gabler made double impacts on both naturalists and the Bible defenders. With his rejection of the literal truth of the Bible, Eichhorn was welcomed by the naturalists; but due to their theory of "deceptive intentionality", Eichhorn and Gabler were on the side of the Bible defenders against the naturalists "by asserting that the mythic form of thinking and expression was a necessary, early form of thought in the development of reason" (Lawler, 27). Georg Lorenz Bauer (1755-1806) systematically developed the work done by proponents of mythical interpretation into a comprehensive theory and then applied it. Basically he followed the line already discussed. The decisive criteria for Bauer as to whether a narrated event in the Gospels was myth or history was "the ascertainability of the probability of the narrated event" (Lawler, 30). Baur distinctively claimed that it belonged to the essence of primitive thought to attribute human insights and knowledge to divine influence, and regarded inspiration itself as a myth. Now, with Baur, mythic interpretation was expanded in scope to include dogmatic assertions. With the appearance of Wilhelm Martin Leberecht de Wette (1780-1839), the underlying rationalistic tone in the concept of myth disappeared, which sees myth as a form of reason in its infancy. De Wette did not begin with individual narratives but rather focused on a mythic whole which constitutes individual mythic stories. According to him, individual mythical stories are the products of a total mythic idea in which historical aspects and philosophical aspects are mingled. Under this understanding of myth, a narrative can be perceived as historical only if it reflects the spirit of the people. This consideration led de Wette to admit that it is meaningless to demarcate historical myth and philosophical myth if one considers the concept of "the creative story-producing potency of myth" (Lawler, 32). In this sense, furthermore, it is impossible to separate historical facts from mythical structure in particular narratives, and, for de Wette, this inseparability from the historical belongs to the essence of myth. With de Wette, myth became "a unique and independent phenomenon of the human spirit", no longer "a step in the development of mankind that has to be overcome" (Lawler, 32). For de Wette, myth is "the only form, however unsuitable it might be, for conveying the relationship between the eternal and the finite because myth was the free poetic use of supersensible images as they related to the finite" (Lawler, 32-33). By Ferdinand Christian Baur (1792-1860), myth was once more expanded to be a medium to represent idea or spirit. Baur saw myth as "the figurative representation of an idea through an action; it did not reflect real, external history but reflected an image of an external action, the unhistorical, immanent activity of spirit" (Lawler, 33). His idealistic tendency led him not to make any distinction between historical and philosophical myths and to have interest only in philosophical myth. Interestingly enough, he made no influence on Strauss in terms of the idea of myth, but in terms of historical criticism.

What, then, is Strauss' concept of myth? Strauss regards myth as "the representation of an event or idea in a historical form but characterized by the pictorial and imaginative thought and expression of primitive ages" (Lawler, 42). Strauss agrees with his predecessors and also retains the three classes of myth: 1) the historical which reflects a real event; 2) the philosophical in which a thought, precept, or idea of that time is presented in the guise of history; and 3) the poetic which refers to "historical and philosophical mythi blended together, and partly embellished by the creations of the imagination, in which the original fact or idea is almost obscured by the veil which the fancy of the poet has woven around it" (Strauss, 53). But his primary interest is in the historical myth (Strauss, 86)

How were the historical myths in the Bible formed? According to Strauss, the pure evangelic myth, "a narrative relating directly or indirectly to Jesus" (Strauss, 86) has two sources: 1) "the Messianic ideas and expectations according to their several forms in the Jewish mind before Jesus, and independent of him" and 2) the "particular impression which was left by the personal character, actions and fate of Jesus, and which served to modify the Messianic idea in the minds of his people" (Strauss, 86). The mythical conceptions from these sources were "seized upon by religious enthusiasm, and twined around" a definite individual fact to create the historical myth which is found in the Bible (Strauss, 87). Here, Strauss makes a clear distinction between myth and legend or saga, the latter having its origin in the long course of oral tradition, but does not seem to employ this distinction in his critical analysis.

The next question, then, is how one can recognize the presence of myth in particular cases, i.e., "the criteria for distinguishing the mythical and the historical in the Gospels" (Livingston, 177). Strauss suggests both negative and positive criteria for determining the presence of myth. There are two moments or "phases" of the myth: 1) "it is not history", and this affords the negative criterion; 2) "it is fiction" which is poetry from the spiritual tendency of a particular community, and this provides the positive criterion (Strauss, 87). The negative criterion consists in the contradiction of the reported event with itself and with other events and in its nonconformity to "known and universal laws", "the laws of succession", and "all those psychological laws" (Strauss, 88). On the other hand, positive identification of a myth requires that it be written in poetic form and that its contents "strikingly accords with certain ideas existing and prevailing within the circle from which the narrative proceeded, which ideas seem to be the product of preconceived opinions rather than of practical experience" (Strauss, 89). In addition, if the context in which a particular narrative appears has already been shown to have a "connexion with the other supernatural incidents", it is possible to say that the particular narrative itself would be mythic (Strauss, 90).

There are two more additional factors to be considered because of the difficulty to draw a clear borderline between myth and history which are so close to each other. First, if two narratives are contradictory to each other in terms of the contents, only one could be historical or both could be regarded as unhistorical. "[T]he historical accuracy of either two such accounts cannot be relied upon, unless substantiated by its agreement with some other well authenticated testimony" (Strauss, 90). Secondly, in terms of particular parts of the same story, "it is at once apparent that that which is credible in itself is nevertheless unhistorical when it is so intimately connected with what is incredible that, if you discard the latter, you at the same time remove the basis on which the former rests" (Strauss, 90-91) and the particular parts have to be considered as mythic. These rules mentioned above are the tools used by Strauss in the second part of his book to test the historical claims about the life of Jesus in the Gospel narratives.

In the third part of The Life of Jesus, which deals with the dogmatic exposition, recognizing himself as a believer as well as a critic, Strauss feels and tries "to re-establish dogmatically that which has been destroyed critically" (Strauss, 757). In this section, he recounts the orthodox christology and the objections to it, and examines alternatives to the classical christology by rationalism, Schleiermacher, Kant or de Wette. Finally, he develops his own position concerning the union of the divine and the human, so-called speculative christology, with the help of Hegelian speculative philosophy which explains God as Infinite Spirit. According to this philosophy, God as the Infinite Spirit "does not remain as a fixed and immutable Infinite encompassing the Finite, but enters into it, produces the Finite, Nature, and the human mind, merely as a limited manifestation of himself, from which he eternally returns into unity" (Strauss, 777). Man as a finite spirit has no truth as long as "limited to his finite nature", on the one hand; God as an Infinite Spirit has no reality if God has no contact with the finite, on the other. It leads to an insight that "[t]he infinite spirit is real only when it discloses itself in finite spirits; as the finite spirit is true only when it merges itself in the infinite. The true and real existence of spirit, . . . but in the God-man" (Strauss, 777). Strauss continues to claim that "[i]f God and man are in themselves one, and if religion is the human side of this unity: then must this unity be made evident to man in religion, and become in him consciousness and reality" (Strauss, 777). In other words, "there must appear a human individual who is recognized as the visible God" (Strauss, 778) who is Jesus Christ claimed by the orthodox christology. At this point, however, Strauss takes the opposite direction from that of the orthodox Church. While the orthodox Church asserts that the unity of the divine and the human is necessarily realized only in this particular person, the historical Jesus, Strauss claims that this union could be realized in everyone, in the entire humanity. For Strauss, to claim the necessity of the union of God and man only in one person is "to confuse reality in general with a particular reality" (Lawler, 42). He says:

This is the key to the whole of Christology, that, as subject of the predicate which the church assigns to Christ, we place, instead of an individual, an idea; but an idea which has an existence in reality, not in the mind only, like that of Kant. In an individual, a God-man, the properties and functions which the church ascribes to Christ contradict themselves; in the idea of the race, they perfectly agree. Humanity is the union of the two natures. . . . (Strauss, 780)

For Strauss, it is logically impossible to say that the union of the divine and the human was necessarily realized only in a particular figure, Jesus. The reality of this idea could be realized "in all of mankind, in the fullness of many examples" (Lawler, 42).

Strauss applied the myth concept more consistently than his predecessors had done, in the sense that he tested without exception all the incidents in the life of Jesus from his birth to death including his miracles and teachings. It is clear, however, that Strauss recognized some historical elements within the Gospel narratives, such as Jesus' being a historical figure as an extraordinary man, his growing up in Nazareth, his baptism, his calling disciples, his teachings on the Kingdom of God, his struggles with Pharisees, his deep influences on people, his crucifixion, and the fact that after his death, people recognized his Lordship based on their experiences of him, etc. But, Strauss denied the claim that Jesus was the incarnated God, and also refused the historicity of Church dogmas concerning the person of Jesus on the basis of historical criticism and speculative philosophy (Lawler, 44-45).

5. Relation to Other Thinkers

Strauss was the first figure to raise in such a radical way the questions of the historical accessibility to Jesus, and of the possibility to separate the Jesus of history from the Christ of faith. It was before the publication of Strauss' Life of Jesus that the Gospel traditions were widely assumed as historical, reliable sources for the life of Jesus. People before Strauss believed that the so-called historical Jesus could be easily distinguished from the sources and tried to reconstruct the actual life of Jesus, including the development of his own self-consciousness. With the appearance of The Life of Jesus, however, these kinds of hopes for the historical reconstruction of the life of Jesus totally collapsed. Strauss called radically into question all of these assumptions by using a critical method for the study of the Gospel with the application of mythical principle. Of course, he did not deny that there remains no historical facts in the sources but emphasized instead that these traditions are fundamentally mythical-religious ideas formed in poetic imagery. He also made sure that it would be impossible to reconstruct the actual history of Jesus that we can rely on as a basis for Christian faith because there is too little evidence. One of the reasons for his significance as a theologian stems from raising this historical question (Livingston, 179; Hodgson, xvii-xviii). And it should be noticed that his proposal for radically immanent theology instead of futuristic eschatology opened a path to "the mystical vision of divine immanence propounded by Thomas Altizer and others in our time" (Hodgson, xviii).

6. Bibliography and Cited Works

Strauss, David Friedrich. 1840 [1972]. The Life of Jesus Critically Examined. Tr. from the fourth German edition [1840] by George Eliot [1846]. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Hodgson, Peter C. 1972. "Editor's Introduction: Strauss's Theological Development from 1825 to 1840." The Life of Jesus Critically Examined. Tr. from the fourth German edition by George Eliot [1846]. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Lawler, Edwina G. 1986. David Friedrich Strauss and His Critics: The Life of Jesus Debate in Early Nineteenth-Century German Journals. [American University Studies, Series VII, Theology and Religion: Vol. 16.] New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.

Livingston, James C. 1971. Modern Christian Thought: From the Enlightenment to Vatican II. New York: Macmillan Company.

Madges, William. 1985. Review of Christ Unmasked: The Meaning of the Life of Jesus in German Politics. Journal of Religion 65 (April 1985): 286-287.

Massey, Marilyn Chapin. 1983. Christ Unmasked: The Meaning of The Life of Jesus in German Politics. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.

7. Internet Resources

Wikipedia article

8. Related Topics

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831)

Friedrich Schleiermacher (1786-1834)

Thomas Altizer (1927- )


Editor: Derek Michaud, incorporating material submitted by Jee Ho Kim (1998).


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