DAVID FRIEDRICH STRAUSS (German: Strauß ; January 27, 1808 in
Ludwigsburg – February 8, 1874 in
Ludwigsburg ) was a German
liberal Protestant theologian and writer, who scandalized Christian
Europe with his portrayal of the "historical Jesus ", whose divine
nature he denied. His work was connected to the
* 1 Early life * 2 Das Leben Jesu * 3 Interlude (1841–1860) * 4 Later works * 5 Critique * 6 Works * 7 See also * 8 Notes * 9 References * 10 Further reading * 11 External links
Born and died in
Ludwigsburg , near
In 1825 Strauss entered the
University of Tübingen
In October 1831, Strauss resigned his office to study under
Schleiermacher and Hegel in Berlin. Hegel died just as he arrived, and
though Strauss regularly attended Schleiermacher's lectures, it was
only those on the life of Jesus that interested him. Strauss tried to
find kindred spirits among the followers of Hegel but was not
successful. While under the influence of Hegel's distinction between
Vorstellung and Begriff, Strauss had already conceived the ideas found
in his two principal theological works: Das Leben Jesu (Life of Jesus)
and Christliche Glaubenslehre (Christian Dogma). Hegelians generally
would not accept his conclusions. In 1832, Strauss returned to
Tübingen, lecturing on logic ,
Since the Hegelians in general rejected his Life of Jesus, Strauss
defended his work in a booklet, Streitschriften zur Verteidigung
meiner Schrift uber das Leben Jesu und zur Charakteristik der
gegenwärtigen Theologie (Tübingen: E. F. Osiander, 1837), which was
finally translated into English by Marilyn Chapin Massey and published
under the title In Defense of My 'Life of Jesus' Against the Hegelians
(Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1983). The famous scholar
DAS LEBEN JESU
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Strauss's Das Leben Jesu, kritisch bearbeitet (The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined) was a sensation. While not denying that Jesus existed, Strauss did argue that the miracles in the New Testament were mythical additions with little basis in actual fact. Carl August von Eschenmayer wrote a review in 1835 called "The Iscariotism of our days," a review which Strauss characterised as 'the offspring of the legitimate marriage between theological ignorance and religious intolerance, blessed by a sleep-walking philosophy.' The Earl of Shaftesbury called the 1846 translation by Marian Evans "the most pestilential book ever vomited out of the jaws of hell." When Strauss was elected to a chair of theology in the University of Zürich , the appointment provoked such a storm of controversy that the authorities decided to pension him before he began his duties.
What made Das Leben Jesu so controversial was Strauss's characterization of the miraculous elements in the gospels as being "mythical" in character. In analysing the Bible in terms of self-coherence and paying attention to numerous contradictions, he rejected the actuality of the stories as "happenings" and read them solely on a mythic level. According to Strauss, the early church developed these miracle stories in order to present Jesus as the Messiah of the Jewish prophecies. This perspective was in opposition to the prevailing views of the time: rationalism , which explained the miracles as credulous misinterpretations of non-supernatural events, and the supernaturalist view that the biblical accounts were entirely accurate.
Strauss's Das Leben Jesu closed a period during which biblical scholars divided and wrestled over the "miraculous" nature of the New Testament. The "rationalists", deriving their views from the principles of the Enlightenment , found logical, rational explanations for apparently miraculous occurrences. In contrast, the "supernaturalists" defended not only the historical accuracy of the biblical accounts, but also the implicit and explicit claims of direct divine intervention. Strauss's third way, in which the miracles are explained as myths created by early Christians to express their developing conception of Jesus, heralded a new epoch in the textual and historical treatment of the rise of Christianity.
In 1840 and the following year Strauss published his On Christian Doctrine (Christliche Glaubenslehre) in two volumes. The main principle of this new work was that the history of Christian doctrines has basically been the history of their disintegration.
With the publication of his Christliche Glaubenslehre, Strauss took leave of theology for over twenty years. In August 1841, he married Agnese Schebest (1813–1869), a cultivated and beautiful mezzo-soprano of high repute as an opera singer. Five years afterwards, after two children had been born, they divorced.
Strauss resumed his literary activity by the 1847 publication in
In 1848 he was nominated a member of the Frankfurt Parliament , but was defeated by Christoph Hoffmann (1815–1885). He was elected for the Württemberg chamber, but his actions were so conservative that his constituents requested him to resign his seat. He forgot his political disappointments in the production of a series of biographical works, which secured him a permanent place in German literature (Schubarts Leben, 2 vols., 1849; Christian Märklin, 1851; Nikodemus Frischlin , 1855; Ulrich von Hutten , 3 vols., 1858–1860, 6th ed. 1895)
David Strauss in 1874
Strauss returned to theology in 1862, when he published a biography
of H. S. Reimarus . Two years later in 1864, he published the Life of
Jesus for the German People (Das Leben Jesu für das deutsche Volk
bearbeitet) (13th ed., 1904). It failed to produce an effect
comparable to that of the first Life, but it garnered numerous
critical responses, which Strauss answered in his pamphlet Die Halben
und die Ganzen (1865), directed specially against Daniel Schenkel
Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg
His The Christ of Faith and the Jesus of History (Der Christus des
Glaubens und der Jesus der Geschichte) (1865) is a severe criticism of
Schleiermacher's lectures on the life of Jesus, which were then first
published. From 1865 to 1872 Strauss lived in
J. F. Smith characterized Strauss's mind as almost exclusively
analytical and critical, without depth of religious feeling or
philosophical penetration, or historical sympathy; his work being
accordingly rarely constructive. Smith found Strauss to strikingly
His theory,—that the Christ of the Gospels, excepting the most meagre outline of personal history, was the unintentional creation of the early Christian Messianic expectation,—Strauss applied with merciless rigour to the Gospel narratives. Smith felt Strauss's operations were based upon fatal defects, positive and negative, and that Strauss held a narrow theory as to the miraculous, a still narrower as to the relation of the divine to the human, and he had no true idea of the nature of historical tradition.
Smith notes that F. C. Baur once complained that Strauss's critique of the history in the gospels was not based on a thorough examination of the manuscript traditions of the documents themselves. Smith claims that with a broader and deeper philosophy of religion, juster canons of historical criticism, with a more exact knowledge of the date and origin of the Gospels, Strauss's rigorous application of the mythical theory with its destructive results would have been impossible.
Albert Schweitzer wrote in The Quest of the Historical Jesus (1906; 1910) that Strauss's arguments "filled in the death-certificates of a whole series of explanations which, at first sight, have all the air of being alive, but are not really so." He adds that there are two broad periods of academic research in the quest for the historical Jesus, namely, "the period before David Strauss and the period after David Strauss."
According to Peter C. Hodgson and James C. Livingston, David Strauss was the first one to raise the question about Jesus's historical character and open the way to separate Jesus from the Christian faith. In Strauss's "Life of Jesus", he disagreed with the previous ideas that historical Jesus can be easily reconstructed in conjunction with New Testament Manuscripts. Strauss pointed out that Christian tradition is fundamentally mythical, and that while he did not claim that there are no historical facts in the sources, there is too little evidence to reconstruct the historical image of Jesus to serve the Christian faith. Raising critical questions about Jesus's historical image made Strauss an important figure in the field of theology.
Marcus Borg has suggested that "the details of Strauss's argument, his use of Hegelian philosophy, and even his definition of myth, have not had a lasting impact. Yet his basic claims—that many of the gospel narratives are mythical in character, and that 'myth' is not simply to be equated with 'falsehood'—have become part of mainstream scholarship. What was wildly controversial in Strauss's time has now become one of the standard tools of biblical scholars."
One of the more controversial interpretations that Strauss introduced to the understanding of the historical Jesus, is his interpretation of Virgin Birth . In the Demythologization, Strauss's response was reminiscent of the German Rationalist movement in Protestant theology. According to Strauss, Jesus' Virgin Birth was added to the biography of Jesus as a legend in order to honor him in the way that Gentiles honored great historical figures. However, Strauss believed that the greater honor for Christ would have been to omit the Virgin Birth anecdote and to recognize Joseph as his legitimate father.
It has been claimed that Strauss's popularity was due as much to his clear and captivating style as to the logical force of his arguments.
All of Strauss's works—save Christliche Glaubenslehre—were published in a collected edition in 12 volumes by Eduard Zeller . Strauss's Ausgewählte Briefe appeared in 1895.
* Adam Karl August von Eschenmayer — his work Der Ischariotismus unserer Täge is a critique directed against Strauss * "David Strauss: the Confessor and the Writer " — Nietzsche's critique of Strauss *