Wagnerian Christ

It’s one of the most famous passages in Schweitzer’s The Quest of the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede , perhaps the most famous in all New Testament studies : “The 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.”

I’ve long thought Schweitzer’s book is the funniest book of New Testament scholarship ever published (not much competition, admittedly). His critiques of lame earlier lives of Jesus are hilarious. But I realized today that it is also the most operatic book of New Testament scholarship ever published.

Which is ironic, since the thrust of Schweitzer’s critique of earlier scholarship is that everyone before had molded Christ into his own image. It seems – forgive me, it’s hard not to purplish thinking about Schweitzer – that Schweitzer too gazes deep into the well of the past and sees reflected his own wild Wagnerian features.


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