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between the period recorded and the recording literature some space does intervene, varying from a few years up to nearly a century. Any of the historical writings, then, may be considered with some reason to represent a more or less extended period which has elapsed between the time of its historical reference and the date of its composition. This factor of distance between the life and the corresponding literature is cardinal, and it is necessary to get a sight and sense of it. The difference of time is always significant, though not always to the same degree: it demands in any case to be estimated and weighed. By all scientific research, indeed, this feature is steadily presupposed, while its consequences and bearings upon questions of accuracy, historicity, subjective characteristics, and the like, are paramount and abundantly obvious.
It is worth while to start from the very clear and accepted instances of this principle offered by OT criticism. To take an extreme case, the books of Chronicles are significant, not merely for the period of the monarchy, but also and especially as witnesses to certain ideas and feelings in regard to the law and history of Israel current some five or six hundred years later in the age between the Return and the Maccabean Revolution. In P, the priestly document of the Hexateuch, we obtain not (some would prefer to say “not only ") a record of primitive history, but, to some degree, the hopes and religious emotions of an author who wrote in the later monarchy or under the actual shadows of exile and captivity. Similarly the book of the Judges, as we have it, presents a conglomerate of narratives which have been finally recast in the Deuteronomic spirit fully six or seven centuries subsequent to the date of the events which it professes to record. The period of the NT is considerably smaller than that covered by the OT, barely extending beyond a century and a quarter at the most. But its phases, none the less, are varied and successive; and if they are to be defined with any historical lucidity, the above-noted principle must be carried into the criticism of the NT literature and fairly tested there. This need is patent at the very outset. To the historical
student who is engaged in working back, by aid of sources, to or the facts, the Christ of the apostles is the forerunner to the j Winterreich Jesus of history. Through the witness of the one we reach the presence of the other. Even with the help of the vivid emotion and imagination current in the apostolic age, we see the central figure as through a glass darkly; but without that age and its memorials we would not see him at all. Certainly the primary question in regard to early Christianity is not what the early Christians believed about Jesus, but what Jesus himself believed. His faith, not faith in him, forms the spring of his religion as a historical force (Meyer, Die moderne Forschung ü. d. Geschichte des Urc. 1898, p. 1 f.). Yet for the investigator the faith of Jesus is only accessible through a preliminary survey of the faith which others had in him. Personally he left no written statement or expression of his views and deeds. For these, as well as for the sense of his personality, we are absolutely dependent upon the reminiscences of an after-age, together with the impression produced by him on one or two men of exceptional ability who subsequently joined his cause. Jesus is the author and finisher of the faith. But to arrive at any historical estimate of his conceptions and character, the inquirer must first of all be prepared to spend no slight research upon the materials furnished by the writings of the apostolic age. These are the indispensable record of the ways by which the early Christian faith was formed, transformed, expressed, and propagated. .
The sense of confusion, which commonly rises in this mental passage from the naïve to the scientific conception of the NT writings, is due for the most part not to the discipline itself so much as to the fact that it is a comparatively unpalatable and unfamiliar task for us to take into account this very factor of retrospective reference. Each document, we now discover, contains a standpoint as well as a subject. In using the records, one has to keep oneself alive to that, and to be ready to make allowance for what may be termed “the contemporary equation.” The trial-task of criticism is in fact to comprise not only the direct reference
of a book to some previous period, but also such delicate and elusive, though not unsubstantial, considerations as those of the place and time in which, the motives for which, and the author by whom, it was composed. For the sake of book and period alike, a just estimate refuses to leave out of account these contemporary tendencies and conditions. Historical inquiry seeks, often and chiefly from the data of the book itself, to determine the precise extent and unravel the actual character of the influence exerted by any particular period upon its literary products. By this means it is enabled to work back to some keener insight into the period itself, while at the same time it becomes competent to estimate with finer accuracy the varying value of the evidence which the writing in question offers with regard to the earlier period of which it treats. This procedure is legitimate, healthy, and remunerative. Tendency-criticism has become a detected idol. It stands exposed as a fanciful and arbitrary method of research. But it is quite another thing to ascertain the mental and social latitudes in which an author seems to have written, to use his work in common with other aids for the discovery and illustration of these latitudes, and again to use these for the elucidation of the book itself. This reflex method of study forms a delicate and necessary practice. Between a writing of the NT and the period at which it was finally composed there exists a more or less direct correspondence. To some extent any writing is moved by its atmosphere, while the period in its turn is set off and indicated by the contemporary writing—
“ Like as the wind doth beautify a sail,
And as a sail becomes the unseen wind.” The classic and abused instance of this relationship has been the book of Acts; but when fairly employed the principle touches almost the whole collection. Paul's writings are the most objective. Their standpoint and subject are practically one, and the date of their composition falls not far from the period of their historical reference. All that needs to be done, as a rule, is to put them in chronological order. That determined, they lie actually parallel to the life which thus
tells its own tale. On the other hand, the more historical narratives point often this way and that; their standpoint is considerably later than their subject, and sometimes different from it. In the criticism of these books—more especially of the synoptic gospels—the real problem is raised. Each falls to be read in its own character and circumstances; and the consequence is that as books they have all to be placed far down the history, considerably later than the events which they discuss and narrate, subsequent even to the Pauline letters. The best defence of this arrangement is an explanation of its significance for the study either of the literature itself or of the age, along with some account, given in suggestion rather than in detail, of the character and functions which actually belong to the gospels as historical records of the NT.
The conception of Jesus in the gospels represents not only the historical likeness so far as its traits were preserved in the primitive evangelic tradition, but also the religious interests of the age in which and for which these narratives were originally drawn up. It is in the balance and adjustment of these two elements that one real problem of NT criticism will always lie. For while such interests were in part created by the original and impressive personality of Jesus as his spirit continued to work upon receptive natures in the church (“ut quisque meminerat, et ut cuique cordi erat,” Augustine), some of them (and in particular the Messianic idea) are also to be viewed as later and partially independent reflections; for all their filiation to, or sympathy with, the primitive Christian consciousness, these cannot have exactly corresponded to it in every feature, and therefore may be conjectured to have inevitably coloured in some degree the delineation of its contents. Year by year the spirit of the historical Jesus went on quickening his receptive followers, and shaping 1 in them a life of wider and wider capacities. They remembered him, and they awaited him. Tradition was the main channel through which this force came to be
i This obvious and practical interest prompted the composition of early notes which contained sayings or deeds of the Master. But there is no evidence to prove any similar interest in the primitive apostolic deeds and speeches. These were occasional, not authoritative, and had no special importance at the
transmitted. Christ's words were a law, his service and | reign a life. The disciples, realising more freshly and fully
than ever as the years passed, the contents of their original faith in him, turned ultimately back to reflect with increasing solicitude upon the facts of its historic origin. The reflection had to be put into writing. To preserve these recollections was quite a spontaneous form of literature, and it was from such rudimentary sketches and reminiscences that the first gospels germinated by a process whose intermediate stages are no longer articulate. “ La plus belle chose du monde est ainsi sortie d'une élaboration obscure et complètement populaire.” Dr. Abbott (Common Tradition of the Synoptic Gospels, p. xi) suggests an interesting parallel in the oral tradition of the Mishna, whose contents have been handed down in a concise and even elliptical form, obscure through its very brevity. If the original evangelic tradition was transmitted by notes compiled in so condensed a fashion, and occasionally requiring some expansion to
render them intelligible, a clue might be got to explain the v divergent interpretations of the same incident or saying in the
synoptists. Some passages, at least, are cleared up in this way (op. cit. pp. xxvii-xxxix). And in any case the Mishna throws light upon two facts-(a) the retentiveness of memory, and (b) the persistence of oral tradition, among the contemporaries of the evangelists. Whatever may have been the steps, however, in the process of this literary evolution whose results lie before us in the synoptic gospels, the point is that its motives and surroundings differed seriously from those which would have belonged to the environment of a similar attempt some thirty or forty years earlier. It stands to reason that the outcome of the moment for their contemporaries. Consequently one must differentiate between the disciples' careful memory for Jesus and the subsidiary interest and impression produced by the early disciples themselves upon one another. That is to say, one cannot fairly argue from the early composition of “logia” to the equally early composition of notes and reminiscences like Ac 1-5 (16).