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The life of Jesus (Lives of Jesus series) Paperback – 1975
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He was the first scholar to lecture publicly (beginning in 1819) about the life of Jesus. (David Friedrich Strauss, author of the monumental The Life of Jesus: Critically Examined, was inspired by these lectures in printed form to begin his own studies of the four gospels.) Scheliermacher actually never wrote a book on the subject, but his lecture notes were assembled by his students and finally published in 1864 as this volume.
He states, "it is undeniable that we cannot achieve a connected presentation of the life of Jesus. We must limit out task in accordance with the material at our disposal. Consequently the only question remaining is: How far can we unite the reports that we have in order to form an outline by which we wish to proceed?"
Rather than concentrate on "historical" questions (which he concluded did not much interest him) such as Jesus' resurrection, Schleiermacher focused on Jesus' own inner religious feelings, such as his "consciousness of his utter dependence on God." He gives complete primacy to the fourth gospel (which he thought had been written by the apostle John), which he regards as having been written to supplement the oral tradition incorporated in the other gospels. For Schleiermacher, Jesus did not teach anything about Satan, and his teachings about the Last Judgment were non-historical "parables." Jesus himself did not institute any "sacraments," and did not even organize a community of disciples in his own lifetime. Schleiermacher, however, does not reject the possibility of miracles. (He says, "I only wish to maintain that we do not need to assume anything supernatural, anything that is at the same time contrary to nature...")
He concludes on the note, "The theologian has the task of bringing everything to the highest possible level of conceptual clarity and certainty. This is the point of view that governed my treatment of the life of Jesus. I make no claim to have succeeded. However, I was able to carry out my work only on the presupposition that our Gospels belong to the series of historical phenomena and are to be regarded as products of a definite time. Therefore much that I have presented in our description of the life of Christ will be quite uncongenial to those who want to assume in the Gospels an inspiration of the letter and a completely settled unity."
Schleiermacher's book is quite contrary to most of our current interpretations of Jesus' life; but I think it remains of continuing historical interest to students of Jesus, the "historical Jesus," and New Testament studies.
If the book serves us well as an historic account, it has little value for anyone searching for the historical Jesus. Schleiermacher is religious and he accepts the New Testament as an inviolate source (not the word of God, but he never questions the source material, except to point out discrepancies). Moreover, his drone academic style, with its German flavor, makes difficult and tedious reading. In addition, he usually avoids taking sides and seems to enjoy raising issues without having the courage to have opinions.
This book is certainly interesting from an historical perspective, but adds little of consequence to anyone looking for information about the historical Jesus.