The end of the ‘Old Quest’: Albert Schweitzer
Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) is often portrayed as the man who put an end to the ‘old’ quest. It is certainly true that Schweitzer placed a nail in the coffin of the ‘romanticised’ portraits of Jesus but more conservative scholarship, with less tendency to either adopt a enlightenment epistemology or a romanticed sketch pad, seems to have continued unabated.1 If Schweitzer did hammer a the nail into the coffin of ‘Romanticised’ pictures of Jesus, then coffin, to continue the metaphor, was already in production as t 15 years previously when Martin Kahler rebuked the ‘entire life of Jesus movement [‘Old/First Questers’] for leading scholarship into a ‘blind alley’.2
However, the impact of Schweitzer is not to be minimised, as he sought to offer a comprehensive overview and devastating enthusiastic critique of previous attempts at ‘life of Jesus‘ scholars. Jesus, as Schweitzer saw it, was being portrayed as a preacher of ethical ideals and his Judaic eschatological message was being ignored.
There was a danger that we should offer them a Jesus who was too small because we had forced him into conformity with our human standards and human psychology. To see that, one need only read the lives of Jesus written since the [eighteen] ‘sixties, and notice what they have made of the great imperious sayings of the Lord, how they have weakened down his imperative world-condemning demands upon individuals, that he might not come into conflict with our ethical ideals, and might tune his denial of the world to our acceptance of it. Many of the greatest sayings are found lying in a corner like explosive shells, from which the charges have been removed. No small portion of elemental religious power needed to be drawn off from his sayings to prevent them from conflicting with our system of religious world-acceptance. We have made Jesus hold another language with our time from that which he really held.3
In contrast to the ‘romanticised’ portraits of Jesus, Schweitzer sought to paint a picture of Jesus who was not acceptable to the modern world. This Jesus was a fiery eschatological prophet who was convinced that the end of the word was at hand. His message was less about ethical ideals but about the future kingdom which God would bring. Jesus goes to the cross to bring the kingdom of God, laying ‘hold of the wheel of the world to bring it to a close. It refuses to turn, and he throws Himself upon it. Then it does turn; and crushes Him.’5 Schweitzer’s Jesus is a ‘stranger and enigma’6 to both modern society and Christianity.
1 See Porter The Criteria of Authenticity 37 who offers a critique of the monolithic understanding of the history of Jesus research. Also Bock Studying the Historical Jesus 144-145 ‘To call this period one of ‘no quest’ is probably an overstatement’ 144
2 Kähler, Martin: The So-Called Historical Jesus and the Historic Biblical Christ, trans Braaten 46-71
3 Neill, Stephen ; Wright, N. T.: The Interpretation of the New Testament, 1861-1986 215
Eschatology for Schweitzer is
5 Schweitzer Quest for the Historical Jesus as cited in Dunn Jesus Remembered 47
6 ‘In either case, He will not be a Jesus Christ to whom the religion of the present can ascribe, according to its long-cherished custom, its own thoughts and ideas, as it did with the Jesus of its own making. Nor will He be a figure which can be made by a popular historical treatment so sympathetic and universally intelligible to the multitude. The historical Jesus will be to our time a stranger and an enigma.’ Schweitzer Quest for the Historical Jesus 399