Top Ten Spotlight

Of the many great books on the New Testament, there are some major works that have defined contemporary study.   See my top ten list here.  In spotlight today is Albert Schweitzer’s classic “The Quest of the Historical Jesus”
  1. Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus

After a tidal wave of of books in the 18th and 19th centuries swept across Europe, Albert Schweitzer built a dam at the turn of the 20th. He attempted to put an apparent end to the popular mistake of making Jesus into our own image. More so he recovered what was already made clear a century before but had been forgotten: Jesus can only be understood in his Jewish context. After completing this sweeping critique, Schweitzer then portrayed Jesus in the framework of thoroughgoing eschatology, in which Jesus appears to us as an introverted man who came to believe that he was the Messiah and needed to suffer and die to bring about God’s new age. And suffer and die he did. Jesus’s sprit lives on in the world as the central example of urgent eschatological living and suffering.   Schweitzer has provided us, even a century later, with a solid foundation for studying Jesus historically, even if his own portrait of Jesus has been significantly undercut. Here are some of his famous conclusions:

 The betrayal and the trial can be rightly understood only when it is realized that the public suspected nothing whatever of the messianic secret.

The same is true of the scene in the presence of Pilate. The people on that morning knew nothing of the trial of Jesus, but came to Pilate with the sole object of asking the release of a prisoner, as was the custom at the feast (Mark 15.6-8). The idea then occurred to Pilate, who was just about to hand over, willingly enough, this troublesome fellow and prophet to the priestly faction, to play off the people against the priests and work on the multitude to petition for the release of Jesus.

In this way he would have safeguarded himself on both sides. He would have condemned Jesus to please the priests, and after condemning him would have released him to please the people. The priests were greatly embarrassed by the presence of the multitude. They had done everything so quickly and quietly that they might well have hoped to get Jesus crucified before anyone knew what was happening or had had time to wonder at his non-appearance in the temple.

The priests therefore go among the people and induce them not to agree to the procurator’s proposal.

How? By telling them why he was condemned, by revealing to them the messianic secret. That changes him at once from a prophet worthy of honour into a deluded enthusiast and blasphemer.   But it could also be that the ‘people’ before Pilate’s house were the mob of which the priests were certain, and whom they directed there early in the morning in order to put pressure on the governor and secure confirmation of the verdict as soon as possible.

At midday of the same day – it was 14 Nisan, and in the evening the Passover lamb would be eaten – Jesus cried aloud and expired. He had refused the sedative drink (Mark 15.23) in order to remain fully conscious to the last.” 1906 (2001). QHJ 353-54.


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