Strauss’ criteria of myths

Among the criteria by which we are to distinguish the mythical, Strauss instances the following: A narrative is not historical (1) when its statements are irreconcilable with the known and universal laws which govern the course of events; (2) when it is inconsistent with itself or with other accounts of the same thing; (3) when the actors converse in poetry or elevated discourse unsuitable to their training and situation; (4) when the essential substance and groundwork of a reported occurrence is either inconceivable in itself, or is in striking harmony with some Messianic idea of the Jews of that age.(11)

We need not here enter upon a detailed exposure of the fallacies of this mythical theory. It is sufficient to observe, on the four critical rules enumerated above, that the first dogmatically denies the possibility of miracles; the second (especially as used by Strauss) virtually assumes, that when two accounts disagree, both must be false! the third is worthless until it is clearly shown what is suitable or unsuitable in each given case; and the fourth, when reduced to the last analysis, will be found to be simply an appeal to one's subjective notions. To these considerations we add that the Gospel portraiture of Jesus is notably unlike the prevalent Jewish conception of the Messiah at that time. It is too perfect and marvelous to have been the product of any human fancy. Myths arise only in unhistorical ages, and a long time after the per-sons or events they represent, whereas Jesus lived and wrought his wonderful works in a most critical period of Greek and Roman civilization. Furthermore, the New Testament writings were published too soon after the actual appearance of Jesus to embody such a mythical development as Strauss assumes. While attempting to show how the Church spontaneously originated the Christ of the gospels, this whole theory fails to show any sufficient cause or explanation of the origin of the Church and of Christianity itself. The mythical interpretation, after half a century of learned labors, has notably failed to commend itself to the judgment of Christian scholars, and has few advocates at the present time.

Other rationalistic methods

The four last-named methods of interpretation may all be designated as Rationalistic; but under this name we may also place some other methods which agree with the naturalistic, the mythical, the moral, and the accommodation the-ories, in denying the supernatural element in the Bible. The peculiar methods by which F. C. Baur, Renan, Schenkel, and other rationalistic critics have attempted to portray the life of Jesus, and to account for the origin of the Gospels, the Acts, and the Epistles, often involve correspondingly peculiar principles of interpretation. All these writers, however, proceed with assumptions which virtually beg the questions at issue between the naturalist and the super naturalist. But they all conspicuously differ among themselves. Baur rejects the mythical theory of Strauss, and finds the origin of many of the New Testament writings in the Petrine and Pauline factions of the early Church. These factions arose over the question of abolishing the Old Testament ceremonial and the rite of circumcision. The Acts of the Apostles is regarded as the monument of a pacification between these rival parties, effected in the early part of the second century. The book is treated as largely a fiction, in which the author, a disciple of Paul, represents Peter as the first to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, and exhibits Paul as conforming to divers Jewish customs, thus securing a rec-onciliation between the Pauline and Petrine Christians.(12) Renan, on the other hand, maintains a legendary theory of the origin of the gospels, and attributes the miracles of Jesus, like the marvels of mediaeval saints, partly to the blind adoration and enthusiasm of his followers, and partly to pious fraud. Schenkel essays to make the life and character of Christ intelligible by stripping it of the divine and the miraculous, and presenting him as a nacre man.

Against all these rationalistic theories it is obvious to remark that they exclude and destroy each other. Strauss exploded the naturalistic method of Paulus, and Baur shows that the mythical theory of, Strauss is untenable. Renan pronounces against the theories of Baur, and exposes the glaring fallacy of making the Petrine and Pauline factions account for the origin of the New Testament books, and the books account for the factions. Renan's own methods of criticism appear to be utterly lawless, and his light and captious remarks have led many of his readers to feel that he is desti-tute of any serious or sacred convictions, and that he would readily make use of furtive means to gain his end. He is continually foisting into the Scriptures meanings of his own, and making the writers say what was probably never in their thoughts. He assumes, for instance, as a teaching of Jesus, that the rich man was sent to Hades because he was rich, and Lazarus was glorified be-cause he was a pauper. Many of his interpretations are based upon the most unwarrantable assumptions, and are unworthy of any serious attempt at refutation. The logical issue lies far back of his exegesis, in the fundamental questions of a personal God and an overruling providence.

Exegesis controlled by speculative philosophy

The development of speculative philosophy through Kant, Jacobi, Herbart, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel has exerted a pro-found influence upon the critical minds of Germany, and has affected the exegetical style and methods of many of the great biblical scholars of the nineteenth century. This philosophy has tended to make the German mind intensely subjective, and has led not a few theologians to view both history and doctrines in relation to some preconceived theory rather than in their practical bearings on human life. Thus, the critical methods of Reass, Kuenen, and Wellhausen, in their treatment of Old Testament literature, seem based, not so much on a candid examination of all the contents of the sacred books of Israel, as upon the application of a philosophy of human history to the books. A dispassionate study of the works of these critics begets a conviction that the detailed arguments, by which they aim to support their positions, are not the real steps of the process by which their conclusions were first reached. The various assaults upon the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch have been noticeably a succession of adjustments. One critical theory has given place to another, as in the assaults on the credibility of the gospels, and the methods employed are largely of the nature of special pleading to maintain a preconceived theory. Reuss tells us in the Preface of his great work on the History of the Jewish Scriptures that his point of view is not that of biblical history, but one inferred from a comparison of the legal codes, and, beginning with an "intuition," he aimed to find the Ariadne thread which would lead out of the labyrinth of current hypotheses of the origin of the Mosaic and other bid Testament books into the light of a psychologically intelligible course of development for the Israelitish people.(13) His procedure is, accordingly, an ingenious attempt to make his philosophy of history in general account for the records of Israel's history, and, so far from interpreting the written records according to legitimate principles, he rearranges them according to his own fancy, and virtually constructs a new history conspicuously inconsistent with the obvious import of the ancient records.

To be continued . . .