« AnteriorContinuar »
predominating tendency of the Oriental mind to cast argument and counsel in the form of stories. The extent, nature, and limits of this feature belong to the inner criticism of the gospels (see Carpenter's First Three Gospels, chaps. v., vi., an outline of competent and serious treatment; also Dr. G. L. Cary, in IH, i. pp. 74–77). It embraces the origin of the “ doublets ”—one incident existing in two slightly different forms, and finally shaped into two separate events—the phenomena upon which the mythical hypothesis rests, and also the three verce cause which, as even Dr. Sanday allows (DB, ii. 625), were " to some extent really at work” in shaping the miraculous narratives : (a) the influence of similar OT stories which naturally prompted the disciples to imitate them as they recorded the life and wonders of Jesus; (b) the translation of metaphor into fact, or of parable into the clothing of external reality, by which misunderstandings of language are the origin of certain
synoptic account of the baptism of Jesus is a case in point. Here the endowment of Jesus with spiritual power at this initial crisis of his career is explained pictorially by the descent of the holy Spirit in the form of a dove. So naïve a way of representing a religious experience was more than a popular conception; it formed an accepted category of thought in current Hellenistic and Rabbinical Judaism, where, as in Philo (Usener, Religionsgeschichte, i. p. 50 f. ; Holtzmann, HC, i. pp. 62, 63 ; Cony beare, Exp.4 ix. pp. 451-458 ; Dr. G. L. Cary, IH, i. 59, 60) wisdom or the divine spirit (Tóyos) was symbolised by a dove. In the third gospel the metaphor is more pointedly transmuted into fact. But evidently the process had already begun before the evangelic tradition acquired its most primitive form (Mk); which is an instructive piece of evidence for the mental atmosphere in which the sources and traditions of the gospels, no less than the gospels themselves, germinated. This method of representation, however, is analogous to the Eastern love of an apologue, with its circumstantial narrative, as the most suitable means of conveying instruction. To present the idea is the main point. “The Rabbi embodies his lesson in a story, whether parable or allegory or seeming historical narrative ; and the last thing he or his disciples would think of is to ask whether the selected persons, events, and circumstances which so vividly suggest the doctrine, are in themselves real or fictitious. ... To make the story the first consideration, and the doctrine it was intended to convey an afterthought, as we, with our dry Western literalness, are predisposed to do, is to reverse the Jewish order of thinking, and to do unconscious injustice to the authors of many edifying narratives of antiquity" (C. J. Ball: Speaker's Commentary, Apocrypha, vol. ii. p. 307. See also Cheyne on “the unconscious artists of the imaginative East,” Hallowing of Criticism, pp. 5-7).
narratives (a good example, e.g. in the cursing of the fig-tree, Mk 1112–14. 20–25 with Lk 136-9); (c) the exaggeration of what were originally quite natural occurrences. However such phenomena be estimated, they are not intelligible unless the writings are set in their true place as influenced by the dogmatic and didactic aims of a later age. Their contents must be judged from their function and atmosphere, as well as from the interval elapsing between their subject and themselves.
It appears, then, that under this common historical law the interval between the subject and the composition of a writing such as any one of the gospels, involves two aspects of reference—the retrospective and the contemporary. These do not in every case conflict, nor is the proportion between them uniform. It varies, and varies above all with the precise nature of the interval in question. For the significance of this interval is not to be estimated simply by the number of its years, any more than contemporaneousness is to be made a test of credibility (cp. Robertson, Early Religion of Israel, pp. 46, 47). It depends rather upon the aggregate and importance of the changes in belief, feeling, and situation which have occurred within the period. These may be as revolutionary in five years as in fifty, so that the mere space of time gives no proper clue to the inner spirit of the intervening age. But whenever any of the more serious forms of change occur, be it in manners or opinion, one consequence is that the past is rendered thereby less intelligible than ever to those who now live upon the other side of the gulf. The book of Acts is a case in point. Here the antagonisms of the early Church are sketched in a smoother and less violent form, so much so that the atmosphere of distant reflection tends occasionaliy to blur the sharp outlines of the past. But this feature proceeds not so much from conscious purpose or from ignorance, as from the inevitable change of interests which takes place whenever any movement is passing—as undoubtedly Christianity did from between 50 and 80— through rapid and urgent phases of development. The completer the development, the sharper the cleavage, the less able in proportion are posterity to realise with proper sympathy and accuracy a situation which already lies at a comparative distance from their surroundings and even their immediate antecedents, so rapidly has time turned it into what is almost a foreign memory. Thus the value of any historical reconstruction, like that offered in a gospel, varies rather with the character than with the area and the extent of its retrospect. The elements of that value consist in (a) the veracity, object, and opportunities of the author; (b) the psychological climate of his age, especially the relation, continuous or interrupted, between itself and the period which is being treated; (c) lastly, and only lastly, the amount of the intervening years. The framework of chronology is apt in this connection to become misleading; it does not correspond unerringly to the real historical " distance.” The fact is, no truth is more general in historical research than that a term of years may possess a real content quite other than that suggested by the space it occupies upon the printed page.
i Nothing better has been written upon the correct standpoint for such an estimate than Harnack's few paragraphs in Das Wesen des Christentums (1900), pp. 16-19.
When account is fairly taken of this factor of “ interval," any one of the historical narratives discloses itself at once as, in some scale and shade at least, a work of contemporary reference. It has been written at a certain distance from its subject, after the lapse of more or less significant changes, in a period of characteristic feelings and facts, by an author of certain sympathies and capacities. Put these elements together, and they throw upon the narrative a light of their own. Alongside of the primary retrospective aspect, they bring out the somewhat elusive“ contemporary” aspect of its pages. This latter is set out with special emphasis when a gospel is dated according to its composition. Written not as abstract treatises, but for the practical requirements of their age, the gospels—even Luke's, which most nearly resembles a biography of Jesus—indirectly witness here and there to the circumstances and conditions of the situation in which they originated. They are very far from being theological
pamphlets. The purely objective interest of the life they portray must have been absorbing in the highest degree. Yet even this could not altogether obliterate the reflection of that religious and social background, with its interests, oppositions, changes, developments, and beliefs, during the years 65–105 ; this the gospels, along with the other Christian documents and the Jewish literature, enable us to fill in with some detail of historical acquaintance. The synoptic narratives carry us into the life lived by Jesus among men. They also carry us into the life men set themselves to live“ in Jesus," a life moulded by his sayings and directed by his spirit, yet including ideas and experiences which could not have existed previously to A.D. 30.
The gospels, then, are not relentless automatic photographs. They are pictures, or rather portraits. Adequate justice is not done to them by resting, as we commonly and naturally tend to do, upon them as objective records which represent with substantial accuracy the life and teaching of Jesus. They are that, first and especially. But they are something more.? In all of them lies an element due to the questions and movements of the age in which they rose. It was their function not only to exhibit conceptions of Jesus which were dominant in the primitive communities, but also to present these impressions accurately and vividly in view of the religious and moral needs which pressed upon various circles of Christendom at the time of their composition. From and for the church of the second generation they were compiled. In
1 Vide, for example, Holtzmann, Die Synoptischen Evglien. chap. v., “Die s. Evglien. als Geschichtsquellen,” especially SS 26-28, and HC, i. pp. 18, 19; Weiss, NTTh, ii. pp. 161-166, 283–310; Bovon, NTTh, i. pp. 47–198 ; Harnack, HD, i. $S 3, 4 ; and Gardner, Explor. Evangelica, p. 478 f.
2 Especially in the fourth gospel, it is not easy to determine always where , the record ends and the interpretation begins, either in regard to the sayings or
to the events. For the latter, cp. a significant concession from the conservative side by Dr. Sanday (Contemporary Review, October 1891); also his articles in E.cp. iv., v., in reply to Schürer's Vortrag.
3 For their use as addresses in the church of the second century, cp. Justin Martyr's Apol. i. 67. On this “historical ” element and its religious significance for modern faith, op. Prof. Mackintosh's Essays tow. New Theology, pp. 384-396, and Herrmann's Verkehr (Eng. tr.), pp. 56-64, 177–183, with his
this factor of contemporary and practical reference, partly deliberate and partly unconscious, are involved the selection, omission, alteration, and addition of incidents and sayings in the tradition of Christ's life, possibly the creation of certain scenes, the naïve and actual attribution to him of ideas which were ultimately due to his spirit (as the later OT writers anticipate the course of development, and attribute to the pioneers and founders of Israel institutions and ideas which actually represent the later issues of their influence on the nation), the standpoint from which he is viewed in relation to Jew and Gentile, the hopes and experiences by which his life is coloured, and finally, the arrangement of the whole story. In many cases the authors could not help being subservient to the general tone and spirit of their age, or of the particular circle in which they moved. In some cases we can see they did not care to be indifferent. Even the opening words of Mark are a reminder that the evangelic motive in composition was devotional and didactic (to narrate history as “a normal precedent for religious belief and conduct”: Zeller), and it was natural-indeed necessary—that the visible and pressing interests of the church should occasionally dominate and modify their minds 2 as they worked upon the materials of the record. They express and they interpret. As will be noticed below, the variety of the synoptic gospels implies even more than this general atmosphere. Either their sources existed in very divergent forms—that is to say, different recensions had come into circulation under the memory and creative spirit of the primitive church to meet varied require
article in ZTHK (1892), pp. 232–273. The topic is often discussed in contemporary Ritschlianism. Also Kähler, Der sogen. historische Jesus u. der geschichtliche, biblische Christus, “ Die Evangelien als biographische Quellen,” pp. 14–127.
1 Renan (Les Evangiles, p. 441): Écrire l'histoire ad narrandum, non ad probandum, est un fait de curiosité désintéressée, dont il n'y a pas d'exemple aux époches créatrices de la foi. Cp. the important paragraphs in von Soden's essay, “ Das Interesse des apost. Zeitalters an der evang. Geschichte ” (ThA, pp. 135-165), and Reischle’s article, ZTHK (1897), pp. 171-264.
2 The failure to make tangible allowance for this reflex influence exerted upon the gospels by the age of their composition, is one flaw in Keim's great study of Jesus. No attempt to understand the age of Jesus or the age of the apostles will prosper if it uses the gospels as absolutely achromatic documents.