Reviews of and Quotes From Dr. Schweitzer's Books

Here are my reviews of some of Albert Schweitzer's books. It is far from a comprehensive list of Schweitzer's books. All are English translations from French or German. Some of them are out of print, but generally can be found in a good research library or by a book search from a good used-book dealer. Also included here are reviews of compilations of his writings. See The Albert Schweitzer Page for reviews of books about Dr. Schweitzer and related information.

The Quest of the Historical Jesus

Written By:  Albert Schweitzer

Translated By: F. C. Burkitt

Reviewed Edition:  The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998

Paperback, 413 Pages

ISBN 0-8018-5934-4

Table of Contents

This is Dr. Schweitzer's opus on the history of the search for the historical Jesus. Subtitled A Critical Study of Its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede, the book describes each significant step towards--and many wrong turns away from--an understanding of the historical Jesus (apart from the Christ of faith). Originally published in 1901 when Schweitzer was a young man, the book established his reputation as a theologian.

The first 300 pages or so follow a pattern of a summarization of the work of a particular author followed by a critical examination of the work and its influence. The work of well over 50 authors is discussed, with special attention paid to the work of Hermann Samuel Reimarus, David Friedrich Strauss, Christian Hermann Weisse, Bruno Bauer, and Ernest Renan. While heaping praise on those who produced cogent, internally consistent work, Schweitzer does not hesitate to lambast inferior work. Schweitzer's own views come forth in the final 100 pages, where he presents what he calls Thoroughgoing Eschatology.

As usual, Schweitzer's writing is clear and concise. However, I found the lengthy discussion of 18th and 19th Century works--none of which I had ever heard of before--rather dry. While experts in the field will no doubt be gratified to finally have this work available again in English, most lay readers interested in the historical Jesus would likely be more interested in The Mystery of the Kingdom of God, which presents Schweitzer's view more forcefully and without the full background material.

Quotes from The Quest of the Historical Jesus

"But the others, those who tried to bring Jesus to life at the call of love, found it a cruel task to be honest. The critical study of the life of Jesus has been for theology a school of honesty. The world had never seen before, and will never see again, a struggle for truth so full of pain and renunciation as that of which the Lives of Jesus of the last hundred years contain the cryptic record."

"When we have once made up our minds that we have not the materials for a complete Life of Jesus, but only for a picture of His public ministry, it must be admitted that there are few characters of antiquity about whom we possess so much indubitably historical information, of whom we have so many authentic discourses."

"To say that the fragment on [Reimarus'] The Aims of Jesus and His Disciples is a magnificent piece of work is barely to do it justice. This essay is not only one of the greatest events in the history of criticism, it is also a masterpiece of general literature. ... At times ... it rises to heights of passionate feeling, and then it is as though the fires of a volcano were painting lurid pictures upon dark clouds. Seldom has there been a hate so eloquent, so lofty a scorn; but then it is seldom that a work has been written in the just consciousness of so absolute a superiority to contemporary opinion."

"There is silence all around. The Baptist appears, and cries: 'Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.' Soon after that comes Jesus, and in the knowledge that He is the coming Son of Man lays hold of the wheel of the world to set it moving on that last revolution which is to bring all ordinary history to a close. It refuses to turn, and He throws Himself upon it. Then it does turn; and crushes Him. Instead of bringing in the eschatological conditions, He has destroyed them. The wheel rolls onward, and the mangled body of the one immeasurably great Man, who was strong enough to think of Himself as the spiritual ruler of mankind and to bend history to His purpose, is hanging upon it still. That is His victory and His reign."

"For a hundred and fifty years the question has been historically discussed why Judas betrayed his Master. That the main question for history was what he betrayed was suspected by few and they touched on it only in a timid kind of way ... The traitorous act of Judas cannot of consisted in informing the Sanhedrin where Jesus was to be found at a suitable place for an arrest. ... The betrayal by which he brought his Master to death, in consequence of which the rulers decided upon the arrest, knowing that their cause was safe in any case, was the betrayal of the Messianic secret. Jesus died because two of His disciples had broken His command of silence; Peter when he made known the secret of the Messiahship to the Twelve at Caesarea Philippi; Judas Iscariot by communicating it to the High Priest. But the difficulty was that Judas was the sole witness. Therefore the betrayal was useless so far as the actual trial was concerned unless Jesus admitted the charge. So they first tried to secure His condemnation on other grounds, and only when these attempts broke down did the High Priest put, in the form of a question, the charge in support of which he could have brought no witnesses.

But Jesus immediately admitted it, and strengthened the admission by an allusion to His Parousia in the near future as the Son of Man.

The betrayal and the trial can be rightly understood when it is realized that the public knew nothing whatever of the secret of the Messiahship."

"The study of the Life of Jesus has had a curious history. It set out in quest of the historical Jesus, believing that when it had found Him it could bring Him straight into our time as a Teacher and Saviour. ... But He does not stay; He passes by our time and returns to His own. ... He returned to His own time, not owing to the application of any historical ingenuity, but by the same inevitable necessity by which the liberated pendulum returns to its original position. ... Jesus means something to our world because a mighty spiritual force streams forth from Him and flows through our time also. This fact can neither be shaken nor confirmed by any historical discovery. It is the solid foundation of Christianity."

"He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lake-side, He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same word: 'Follow thou me!' and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is."

Table of Contents of The Quest of the Historical Jesus

Foreword, 1998, by Delbert R. Hillers
Preface, by F. C. Burkitt, D.D.
  1. The Problem
  2. Hermann Samuel Reimarus
  3. The Lives of Jesus of the Earlier Rationalism
  4. The Earliest Fictitious Lives of Jesus
  5. Fully Developed Rationalism--Paulus
  6. The Last Phase of Rationalism--Hase and Schleiermacher
  7. David Friedrich Strauss--The Man and His Fate
  8. Strauss's First "Life of Jesus"
  9. Strauss's Opponents and Supporters
  10. The Marcan Hypothesis
  11. Bruno Bauer
  12. Further Imaginative Lives of Jesus
  13. Renan
  14. The "Liberal" Lives of Jesus
  15. The Eschatological Question
  16. The Struggle Against Eschatology
  17. Questions Regarding the Aramaic Language, Rabbinic Parallels, and Buddhistic Influence
  18. The Position of the Subject at the Close of the Nineteenth Century
  19. Thoroughgoing Scepticism and Thoroughgoing Eschatology
  20. Results
  21. Index of Authors and Works, Including Reference to English Translations 

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