Origins of Christianity:
Pre-Christian Historical Background:
Will Durant had indicated:
“It was during the 18th century that the higher criticism of the Bible reached its greatest height with regard to the authenticity and veracity of the Bible.
(1) Johann Gottfried Von Herder pointed out the apparently irreconcilable difference between the Christ of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and the Christ of the gospel of St. John.
(2) Herman Samuel Reimarus “argued that Jesus can only be regarded and understood not as the founder of Christianity, but as the final and dominant figure in the mystical eschatology of the Jews – i.e. Christ thought not of establishing a new religion, but of preparing men for the imminent destruction of the world and Gods last judgment of all souls.”
(3) In 1818 – Heinrich Eberhard Gottlieb Paulus proposed a rationalistic interpretation of the miracles, i.e. accepted their occurrence but ascribed them to natural causes and powers.
(4) David Friedrich Strauss rejected this compromise; the supernatural elements in the gospel, he thought, should be
classed as myths, and the actual career of Christ must be reconstructed without using these elements in any form.
(5) Ferdinand Christian Baur attacked the Epistles of Paul rejecting as unauthentic all but those to the Galatians, Corinthians, and Romans
(6) In 1840 Bruno Bauer begana series of passionately controversial works aiming to show that Jesus was a myth, the personified form of a cult that evolved in the second century from a fusion of Jewish, Greek, and Roman theology.
(7) In 1863 Ernest Renan gathered together the results of German criticism, and brought the problem of the Gospels before the entire educated world.
Will Durant, Caesar and Christ: A History Of Roman Civilization and of Christianity From Their Beginning to A.D. 325 – The Story of Civilization: Part III (Simon And Schuster: New York), 1944:
Chapter XXVI: Jesus (4 B.C. – 30 A.D.:
“One of the most far-reaching activities of the modern mind has been the >higher criticism= of the Bible – the mounting attack upon its authenticity and veracity, countered by the heroic attempt to save the historical foundations of Christian faith; the results may in time prove as revolutionary as Christianity itself.
(1) 1706 – Johann Gottfried Von Herder, German philosopher, poet, and critic (1744-1803):
pointed out the apparently irreconcilable difference between the Christ of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and the Christ of the
gospel of St. John.
(2) Herman Samuel Reimarus, German scholar (1694-1768):
The first engagement in this two-hundred year war was fought in silence by Herman Reimarus, professor of oriental languages at Hamburg. On his death in 1768 he left, cautiously unpublished, a 1400-page manuscript on the life of Christ. Six years later Gotthold Lessing, over the protests of his friends, published portions of it as the Wolfenbuttel Fragments. Reimarus argued that Jesus can only be regarded and understood not as the founder of Christianity, but as the final and dominant figure in the mystical eschatology of the Jews – i.e. Christ thought not of establishing a new religion, but of preparing men for the imminent destruction of the world and God=s last judgment of all souls.
(4) In 1818 – Heinrich Eberhard Gottlieb Paulus, German protestant theologian (1761-1851):
Asummarizing the life of Christ in 1192 pages, proposed a rationalistic interpretation of the miracles, i.e.
accepted their occurrence but ascribed them to natural causes and powers.
(5) David Friedrich Strauss, German rationalistic theologian (1808-1874):
Arejected this compromise; the supernatural elements in the gospel, he thought, should be classed as myths, and the actual career of Christ must be reconstructed without using these elements in any form. Strauss=s massive volumes made biblical criticism the storm center of German thought for a generation.
(6) Ferdinand Christian Baur, German protestant theologian (1792-1860):
Galatians, Corinthians, and Romans
AIn the same year he attacked the Epistles of Paul rejecting as unauthentic all but those to the Galatians, Corinthians, and Romans.
AIn 1840 Bruno Bauer begana series of passionately controversial works aiming to show that Jesus was a myth, the personified form of a cult that evolved in the second century from a fusion of Jewish, Greek, and Roman theology.
(7) AIn 1863 Ernest Renan=s Life of Jesus, alarming millions with its rationalism and charming millions with its prose, gathered together the results of German criticism, and brought the problem of the Gospels before the entire educated world.
AThe French school reached its climax at the end of the century with the Abbé Loisy, who subjected the New Testament to such rigorous textual analysis that the Catholic church felt compelled to excommunicate him and other >modernists.=
Roman Emperor Tiberius
Roman Historian, Suetonius
AThe earliest non-Christian reference occurs in Josephus Antiquities of the Jews, XVIII, 3, (93 A.D.):
AAt that time lived Jesus, a holy man, if man he may be called, for he performed wonderful works, and taught men, and joyfully received the truth. And he was followed by many Jews and many Greeks. He was the Messiah.
Peter, James, and John
“The Christian evidence for Christ begins with the letters ascribed to Saint Paul. Some of these are of uncertain authorship, several antedating 64 A.D., are almost universally accounted as substantially genuine.
No one has questioned the existence of Paul, or his repeated meetings with Peter, James, and John, and Paul enviously admits that these men had known Christ in the flesh. [Footnote: Galatians, i, 19; I Corinthians, IX, 5].
The accepted epistles frequently refer to the last supper and the crucifixion. [Footnote: I, Corinthians, XI,23-26; XV, 3; Galatians, II, 20]
Ian Wilson, author, who converted to Roman Catholic Church in 1972 and participated in the 3-Part 1984 Channel 4 TV Series “Jesus: The Evidence” and wrote the accompanying book “Jesus: The Evidence (1984):
In the chapter “The Fallibility of the Gospels,” Ian Wilson stated:
“It is perhaps a reflection of today’s emphasis on a Jesus of faith that most modern Christians practicing and non-practicing, are quite unaware of the sort of conflicts that have riven the world of gospel studies during the last century or so. Few realize, for instance, that despite the fact that the canonical gospels bear the names Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, these names aremere attributions, and not necessarily those of their real authors. The earliest writers who referred to the gospels significantly failed to mention names of authors, it being apparent that each gospel, both those surviving and those that have failed to survive, was originally designed as the gospel for a particular community. A canon of the four ‘recognized’ gospels only gradually came into general usage, at the same time acquiring associations with specific names from Christianity’s earliest years, though the connectionwas not necessarily legitimate. It should be borne in mind that the earliest texts had none of the easy identification features that they bear now. Everything, without exception, was written in capital letters. There were no headings, chapter divisions and diverse divisions, refinements which were not to appear unjtil the Middle Ages. To make matters difficult even for the modern scholar, there was practically no punctuation or space between words.
“Given such considerations it does not need anyone with a Ph.D. in theology to recognize that the Christian gospels can scarcely be the infallible works fundamentalists would have us believe.”
Wilson referred to “higher criticism” of the Bible “parallel passage” technique with regard to passages in Mark 16:2-5, Luke 24:1-4, and Matthew 28: 1-4.
“In Mark the passage stated: “On entering the tomb they saw a young man in a white robe seated at the right-hand side of the stone at the entrance to the tomb..
In Luke the passage stated: They found that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb, but on entering discovered that the body of the Lord Jesus was not there. As they stood there not knowing what to think, two men in brillant clothes suddenly appeared at their side.”
In Matthew the passage stated: “Towards dawn on the first day of the week Mary of Magdala and the other Mary went to visit the sepulchre. And at once there was a violent earthquake, for the angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled away the stone and sat on it. His face was like lightning, his robe white as snow.”
Ian Wilson stated:
“Careful comparison of the three gospel passages above reveals a fundamental common ground – the time of morning, the day of the week, the rolling away of the stone, the visit to the tomb by women. But it also discloses some equally fundamental differences which serve to tell us something about the gospel writers.
“The Mark author, for instance, speaks merely of ‘a young man in a white robe,’ with no suggestion that this individual was anything other than an ordinary human being. In the Luke version
“In the Luke version we find ‘two men in brilliant clothes who appear ‘suddenly.’ Although not absolutely explicit, there is already a strong hint of the supernatural!
“But for the Matthew writer all restraints are abandoned. A violent earthquake has been introduced into the story.
“Mark’s mere young man has become a dazzling ‘angel of the Lord descending from heaven’ and this explicitly extra-terrestrial visitor is credited with the rolling away of the stone “
“The first forays into understanding the men and the facts behind the gospels began harmlessly enough. Many incidents concerning Jesus are related in two or more of the gospels and an early research technique, still extremely valuable, was to study the corresponding passages side by side, the so-called ‘parallel passage’ technique. This method is useful for showing up which episodes are common to all gospels, which are peculiar to a single gospel, the variations of interest or emphasis between one writer and another and so on. It is immediately obvious that while Matthew, Mark and Luke have a great deal in common, describing the same ‘miracles,’ the same sayings essentially sharing a common narrative framework, the John gospel is a maverick, describing different incidents and devoting much space to lengthy, apparently verbatim speeches that were quite unlike Jesus’ pithy utterances reported elsewhere. In about 1774 A.D. the pioneering German scholar Johann Griesbach coined the word ‘synoptic’ for the Matthew, Mark, and Luke gospels, from the Greek for ‘seen together,’ while that of John has become generally known as the ‘Fourth Gospel.’ It has always been regarded as having been written later than the other three.”As different theologians pursued the underlying clues to the gospel writers psychology revealed by the parallel passage technique so increasing scepticism developed, particularly in Germany during the early nineteenth century. There a century earlier, a faltering start on a critical approach had been made by Harrburg University oriental languages professor Hermann Samuel Reimarus. In secret Reimarus wrote a book, “On the Aims of Jesus and His Disciples,” arguing that Jesus was merely a failed Jewish revolutionary and that after his death his disciples cunningly stole his body from the tomb in order to concoct the whole story of his resurrection. So concerned was Reimarus to avoid recriminations for holding such views that he would only allow the book to be published after his death. His caution was justified. Following in the critical tradition in the years 1835-1836 Tubingen University tutor David Friedrich Strauss launched his two-volume “The Life of Jesus Critically Examined,” making particularly penetrating use of the parallel passage technique. Because of the discrepancies he found he cogently argued that none of the gospels could have been by eyewitnesses, but instead must have been the work of writers of a much later generation, freely constructing their material from probably garbled traditions about Jesus in circulation in the early Church.
“”Inspired by the materialistic rationalism of the philosophers Kant and Hegel – ‘the ‘real is the rational and the rational is the real’ – Strauss uncompromisingly dismissed the gospel miracle stories as mere myths invented to gtive Jesus greater importance. For such findings Strauss was himself summarily dismissed from his tutorship at Tubingen and later failed, for the same reason, to gain an important professorship at Zurich.”
“But the incursion into theology of the increasingly scientific outlook of the age was not to be checked so easily, particularly among Protestants. Under the professorship of the redoubtable Ferdinand Christian Bauer, a prodigious productive theologian who was at his desk by four o’clock each morning, Tubingen University in particular acquired a reputation for a ruthlessly iconoclastic approach to the New Testament, an approach which spread not only throughout Germany, but also into the universities of other predominantly Protestant countries.”