The Witnesses to the Historicity of Jesus/Part 4/Section 11

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11. General Result.[edit]

This examination of the parables contained in the gospels confirms our conclusion that it is impossible to see in the words of Jesus any proof of his historicity. Theologians are shocked that the Christ-Myth is unable to agree with the usual unrestrained admiration of the ethical principles of Jesus. Yet it has a companion in this in Schneider, who writes:—

Jesus remains pre-Hellenic in ethic. He is a prophet, not a philosopher; an instrument of God, not a freethinker. His highest conceptions are anthropomorphic; his whole nature is semi-scientific, scholastic, clear in collecting instances to support his statement, but incapable of appreciating and properly presenting instances to the contrary. If we look only at details, we imagine that Jesus has exhausted all the possibilities of ethics; if we regard the whole, we see that he skims the surface and thinks he can hold all things, because he can penetrate none. It is only children that can unite everything. Thus Jesus is not the highest and freest personality of history, but only the highest in ancient Judaism, restricted and not free in comparison with the greatest Greek thinkers. If, in spite of this, he had succeeded to their heritage with his ethic, he owes this to his reactionary character. The romanticists of Hellenism, sated with the rational, were impressed by the irrationality, the paradox, the authoritative and primitive, the sentimental-social element in his teaching; romanticists easily become Catholics. To the masses the prophet of Nazareth becomes a Tammuz-form; the authoritative foundation of his ethic becomes a blunt command of a strong God to weak men; the utilitarian idea of redemption in this world (?) becomes a common (immoral, in the sense of the highest Greek morality) and material hope as regards the other world, of which Jesus himself knew, and could know, nothing (p. 478).

Thus we can sufficiently understand the “mighty, life-controlling impression” which the gospel figure of Jesus has made on millions of people. “Some magic or power must have gone forth from him,” says Weiss, and he points to the fact that art has at all times gone to the gospels for material. “The true artist has a sure feeling for the sincere and living; he is for us an impartial witness that”—Jesus was an historical personality? No, no; but that—“the gospel tradition, however it arose, is not an insignificant thing, but something alive and true” (p. 46). As if that were in contradiction to our thesis that the “words of the Lord,” because they are supposed to come from Jesus, are immeasurably overrated and their defects overlooked, and therefore in no circumstances can they be used to prove the historical reality of the god-man Jesus in the usual sense! This argument—we cannot repeat it too often—runs in a circle, like all the others. No one betrays this more clearly than Weiss himself when he exclaims to the reader at the close of his work: “Take and read!……Read the words of Jesus, as if they came from Jesus, and thou wilt recognise that this is not merely the simplest, but the safest, theory” (p. 170). That is exactly what we charge against theology, even when it professes to be critical: it has hitherto always read the words of the gospels as if they came from Jesus, without considering the opposite theory. This may very well be the “simplest” and most convenient way of dealing with the gospels; but is it on that account the correct way? In such circumstances theologians naturally find what they assumed in advance, just as the believer finds in the gospels the Jesus whom he seeks—the Jesus that heredity, education, and custom have suggested to him. But that this is a “scientific method,” or has anything whatever to do with sound historical research, is exactly what we deny.