In 1901 William Wrede, a German Protestant biblical scholar, published his earth-shattering work, Das Messiasgeheimnis, “The Messianic Secret.” It overturned in a rather devastating way the entire scholarly consensus about the Gospel of Mark and, more important and relatedly, undercut the whole enterprise scholars had undertaken to use the Gospels to reconstruct the life of the historical Jesus.
When five years later, Albert Schweitzer (later famous as a great humanitarian, medical doctor to Africa, who had abandoned his career as a biblical scholar and concert organist to engage in his mission; he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952) published his even-better known and justifiably classic study The Quest of the Historical Jesus, he gave it the rather uninspiring title Von Reimarus zu Wrede: “From Reimarus to Wrede.”
This was a history of scholarship on the historical Jesus, written to explain the attempts scholars had made since the Enlightenment down to Schweitzer’s own day to describe what Jesus really said and did given the problem of our Gospel sources. Starting with Hermann Samuel Reimarus in the 1770s, Schweitzer discusses every single major scholar (and eviscerates a good number of them) who had taken on the task, down to Wrede, who overturned the whole apple-cart.
Each and every one of these critical scholars of the 18th to very early 20th century realized that we cannot simply accept the Gospels at face-value as giving a historically accurate depiction of Jesus; instead, they realized that there are discrepancies, contradictions, historical mistakes, etc. in the Gospels, and that therefore they have to be used critically in order to reconstruct what really happened in Jesus’ life.
Schweitzer starts with …
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