Friedrich Strauss was a German theologian and writer.
was born at Ludwigsburg, near Stuttgart. At twelve he was sent
to the evangelical seminary at Blaubeuren, near Ulm, to be prepared
for the study of theology. Amongst the principal masters in the
school were Professors Kern and FC Baur, who taught their pupils
a deep love of the ancient classics and the principles of textual
criticism, which could be applied to texts in the sacred tradition
as well as to classical ones.
1825, Strauss entered the University of Tübingen. The professors
of philosophy there failed to interest him, but he was strongly
attracted by the writings of Schleiermacher. In 1830 he became
assistant to a country clergyman, and nine months later accepted
the post of professor in the high school at Maulbronn, where he
would teach Latin, history and Hebrew.
October 1831 he resigned his office in order to study under Schleiermacher
and Georg Hegel in Berlin. Hegel died just as he arrived, and,
though he regularly attended Schleiermacher's lectures, it was
only those on the life of Jesus that exercised a very powerful
influence upon him.
tried to find kindred spirits amongst the followers of Hegel,
but was not successful. While under the leading of Hegel's distinction
between Vorstellung and Begriff, he had already conceived the
ideas found in his two principal theological works: the Leben
Jesu ("Life of Jesus") and the Christliche Dogmatik
("Christian Dogma"), the Hegelians generally would not
accept his conclusions.
1832 he returned to Tübingen, lecturing on logic, Plato,
the history of philosophy and ethics with great success. However,
in the autumn of 1833 he resigned this position in order to devote
all his time to the completion of his Leben Jesu. It was published
in 1835, when he was 27 years old.
the Hegelians in general rejected his, "Life of Jesus",
in 1837 Strauss had to defend his work against the Hegelians in
a booklet entitled, "In Defense of My LIFE OF JESUS against
the Hegelians." The famous Hegelian scholar, Bruno Bauer,
led that attack on Strauss. Bauer continued to attack Strauss
in academic journals for years. When a very young Friedrich Nietzsche
began to write criticisms of David Strauss, Bruno Bauer gave the
young Nietzsche every support he could afford.
The Life of Jesus Critically Examined was a sensation. One reviewer
called it "the Iscariotism of our days" and another
"the most pestilential book ever vomited out of the jaws
of hell." When he 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. According to at least one authority, the
Slovenian scholar Anton Strle, Friedrich Nietzsche lost his faith
around the time he was reading Leben Jesu.
made his book so controversial was his analysis of the miraculous
elements in the gospels as being "mythical" in character.
The Leben Jesu closed a period in which scholars wrestled with
the miraculous nature of the New Testament in the rational daylight
of the Enlightenment. One group consisted of "rationalists",
who found logical, rational explanations for the apparently miraculous
occurrences; the other group, the "supernaturalists",
defended not only the historical accuracy of the biblical accounts,
but also the element of direct divine intervention.
dispels the actuality of the stories as "happenings"
and reads them solely on a mythic level. Moving from miracle to
miracle, he understood all as the product of the early church's
use of Jewish ideas about what the Messiah would be like, in order
to express the conviction that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. With
time the book created a new epoch in the textual and historical
treatment of the rise of Christianity.
1837, Strauss replied to his critics with the book Streuschriften
zur Verteidigung meiner Schrift über das Leben Jesu. In the
third edition of the work (1839), and in Zwei friedliche Blättler,
he made important concessions to his critics, which he withdrew,
however, in the fourth edition (1840). In 1846 the book found
an outstanding English translator in George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans),
who later wrote Middlemarch and other great novels.
was her first published book and has recently been republished
(see Reference). 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.
1841 - 1860
With the publication of his Glaubenslehre, Strauss took leave
of theology for over twenty years. In August 1841, he married
Agnes Schebest, a cultivated and beautiful opera singer of high
repute, who was not suited to becoming the wife of a scholar and
literary man like Strauss. Five years afterwards, after two children
had been born, they agreed to separate. Strauss resumed his literary
activity by the publication of Der Romantiker auf dem Thron der
Cäsaren, in which he drew a satirical parallel between Julian
the Apostate and Frederick William IV of Prussia (1847).
1848 he was nominated member of the Frankfurt parliament, but
was defeated by Christoph Hoffmann. 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 Morklin, 1851; Nikodemus Frischlin, 1855;
Ulrich von Hutten, 3 vols., 1858-1860, 6th ed. 1895).
In 1862, with a biography of H.S. Reimarus, he returned to theology,
and two years afterward (1864) published his Life of Jesus for
the German People (Leben Jesu für des deutsche Volk) (13th
ed., 1904). It failed to produce an effect comparable with that
of the first Life, but the replies to it were many, and Strauss
answered them in his pamphlet Die Halben lend die Ganzen (1865),
directed specially against Schenkel and Hengstenberg.
The Christ of Belief and the Jesus of History (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
Darmstadt, and in 1870 he published his lectures on Voltaire.
last work, Der alte und der neue Glaube (1872; English translation
by M Blind, 1873), produced almost as great a sensation as his
Life of Jesus, and not least amongst Strauss's own friends, who
wondered at his one-sided view of Christianity and his professed
abandonment of spiritual philosophy for the materialism of modern
science. To the fourth edition of the book he added a Afterword
as Forword (Nachwort als Vorwort) (1873). The same year symptoms
of a fatal malady appeared, and death followed on the 8th of February
Strauss's approach was analytical and critical, without philosophical
penetration or historical sympathy; his work was rarely constructive.
His Life of Jesus was directed against not only the traditional
orthodox view of the Gospel narratives, but likewise the rationalistic
treatment of them. He criticized the manner of Reimarus, whose
book The Aim of Jesus and His Disciples (1778) is often marked
as beginning the historical study of Jesus and the Higher criticism,
and that of Paulus.
applied his theories with merciless vigour, especially his mythical
theory that the Christ of the gospels, whose life was built upon
the meagerest of details, was the unintentional creation of early
Christian Messianic expectations. His operations were based upon
fatal defects, positive and negative. Strauss also held a narrow
theory as to the miraculous, and a still narrower one as to the
relation of the divine to the human. He has been criticized as
having had no true idea of the nature of historical tradition.
F. C. Baur once complained that his critique of the history in
the gospels was not based on a thorough examination of the manuscript
traditions of the documents themselves.
Albert Schweitzer wrote in The Quest for the Historical Jesus
(1906), 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."
in that same book, Albert Schweitzer admitted 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."
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 (see Links). 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."
it is appropriate to note that David Strauss made a historical
impact on Protestant theological scholarship for all time for
positive reasons. For example, Strauss was bothered by the modern,
scientific criticism of the virgin birth of Jesus. The approach
that Strauss took to respond, his 'Demythologization,' was reminicent
of the German Rationalist movement in Protestant theology, but
perhaps clearer and more direct.
to Strauss, the legend of Jesus' virgin birth was added to the
biography of Jesus in order to honor him in the way that Gentiles
most often honored their greatest historical figures. However,
they didn't realize at that time that they were at the same time
insulting Joseph, the rightful father of Jesus. By recognizing
the virgin birth as a legend, then, we are presented with the
correct historical facts of the biography of Jesus -- that Joseph
was his legitimate father.