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historical Jesus, quest of


Subject Religion

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631198963.2005.x


Precritical study of the Gospels assumed that they presented a straightforwardly ‘historical’ account of the life and teaching of Jesus. With the rise of critical study of the New Testament in the eighteenth century, this assumption was challenged. The resultant historical-critical approach to the Gospel records has come to be known as the ‘Quest of the Historical Jesus’, the phrase used as the title of the English translation of Albert Schweitzer's classic account of the earlier phase of this movement ([1906] 1910). Since Schweitzer's study (which was almost exclusively restricted to German scholarship) it has been usual to trace the beginnings of ‘the quest’ to a work originally published anonymously (and posthumously) under the auspices of G.E. Lessing in 1778 as the last of seven Fragmente eines Ungenannten , generally known as the ‘Wolfenbiittel Fragments’; the work was entitled ‘On the Purpose of Jesus and his Disciples’ and was later revealed to have been the work of Hermann Samuel Reimarus, a teacher of oriental languages at Hamburg, who had devoted much of his life to promoting a ‘rational religion’ largely based on English deism (see Reimarus, [1778] 1971 ). For Reimarus Jesus was a Jewish messianic leader whose ambition was nationalistic rather than religious, and who had no thought of starting a new religion. Christianity derived not from Jesus but from the determination ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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