The Critical And Dogmatic Agenda Of Albert Schweitzer’s The Quest Of The Historical Jesus -- By: Simon Gathercole

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 51:2 (NA 2000)
Article: The Critical And Dogmatic Agenda Of Albert Schweitzer’s The Quest Of The Historical Jesus
Author: Simon Gathercole


The Critical And Dogmatic Agenda Of Albert Schweitzer’s The Quest Of The Historical Jesus

S.J. Gathercole

Summary

This article seeks to explore the twofold agenda of Schweitzer’s The Quest for the Historical Jesus. The first element is well-known and obvious: Schweitzer’s intention to put to death the ‘liberal German’ Jesus and to reinstate the true historical Jesus whose preaching and actions were wholly eschatological in orientation. The second element lies below the surface, and this article argues that Schweitzer structured the book around Reimarus, Strauss, Weiss and himself, as they aim to show the impossibility of maintaining Jesus’ own dogmatic construction of eschatology in the modern era. It is also demonstrated (against some current understandings) that Schweitzer’s reconstruction of Jesus’ eschatology does not simply involve Jesus’ belief in the end of the space-time universe.

I. Introduction

The translator’s introduction to Schweitzer’s The Mystery of the Kingdom of God, his earliest work, describes the initial reaction of the German theological establishment to him.1 Schweitzer’s maverick dissertation was seriously questioned by two members of the Strassburg faculty who examined it: there was concern that Schweitzer’s ‘sort’ of historical research would confuse students.

Fortunately, the authority of his Doktorvater, H.J. Holtzmann guaranteed its acceptance, even though Holtzmann was one of the principal opponents in the thesis.2 When it came to be published, in 1901, the dissertation was greeted with ‘oblivion’, ‘passive hostility’, and ‘a conspiracy of silence’ by the German theological community.3 But it was Schweitzer’s The Quest of the Historical Jesus (Von Reimarus zu Wrede), published five years later,4 which broke the silence that surrounded his eschatological interpretation of the ministry of Jesus, and in Lowrie’s words, ‘compelled attention’.5

The structure of The Quest of the Historical Jesus, and particularly the focus on the four key figures of Reimarus, Strauss, Johannes Weiss and Schweitzer himself, was part of the key to its success. What persuaded both German and Anglo-American scholarship to take Schweitzer seriously was the masterful way in which he constructed the history of scholarship up to his own time of writing, and the way in whi...

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