Bruno Bauer, Christ
and the Caesars: The Origin of Christianity from Romanized Greek Culture.
Translated by Frank E. Schacht. Charleston House Publishing (Alexander
Davidonis, James Island P.O. Box # 12814. Charleston SC 29422)
Reviewed by Robert M. Price.
Bauer's name and some of his ideas have long been known second-hand
through Albert Schweitzer's The Quest of the Historical Jesus. But
until now none of Bauer's books has been translated, the result of the
extremity of Bauer's views, which were well beyond the pale even of the
most critical of mainstream scholars. Bauer played the same role vis a
vis his better known colleague Ferdinand Christian Baur (founder of
the Tübingen School of criticism) that Kaspar Schwenkfeld did re Martin
Luther. In both cases, the more famous pioneer set an example which
inspired another to go even farther in the same direction, and the
trailblazer balked at going the whole length of the trail marked out. If
F.C. Baur argued that the apostle Paul had written none of the "Pauline"
Epistles save Romans, Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Bruno Bauer,
following the same logic, concluded that Paul had written none at all! If
David Friedrich Strauss showed that the historical Jesus had become
obscured behind the myth-screen of the gospels, Bruno Bauer maintained
that the historical Jesus had never had any existence at all, being rather
a fictive character created by the evangelist Mark! Bauer's theories were
no mere flights of subjective fancy. He established a method, and even a
movement: the Dutch Radical School whose greatest flower was W.C. van
reader will surely conclude that Bauer spends altogether too much time on
the Caesars and not enough on Christian origins, but the while point of
the book is that the Christ figure is not so much the historical
incarnation of the divine Spirit as the literary incarnation of the
Zeitgeist. Bauer seeks to show how Christianity emerged at the
beginning of the second century as the synthesis of world-weary
Cynic-Stoic introspective piety with the Jewish belief in monotheism and
divine Law. For Bauer the most important individual catalyst for Christian
emergence was not Jesus (whom Mark created) but Seneca, many of whose
maxims and ideals appear unaltered at the heart of the New Testament. It
was Seneca who delineated what would come to be known as the Christian
ethic. And the origin of the Jesus Christ fiction was Seneca's prediction
that one day a human embodiment of the ideal should appear in the flesh.
All this received a boost from the Platonic-Stoic Jewish philosopher Philo
of Alexandria, whose ideas in turn are writ large in the Gospel of John.
In Bauer's reconstruction, it is only as an element of the Hellenistic
Roman mix that Judaism played a role at all in the formation of
Christianity. He even faults Strauss for naively accepting the assumption
that there had been a pre-Christian Jewish concept of a Messiah at all.
the prescient Bruno Bauer one has the eerie feeling that a century of New
Testament scholarship may find itself ending up where it began. For
instance, the work of Burton Mack, Vernon Robbins, and others makes a
powerful case for understanding the gospels as Cynic-Stoic in tone.
Abraham J. Malherbe and others have shown how great a debt to Cynicism and
Stoicism the Pauline Epistles owe. Walter Schmithals demonstrated how the
Corinthian Epistles deal with issues known to us from second-century
Gnosticism. Many now admit there was no single Messiah concept in
pre-Christian Judaism. Robert M. Fowler, Frank Kermode, and Randel Helms
have demonstrated how thoroughly the gospels smack of fictional
composition. Thus, from many directions, New Testament researchers seem to
be converging uncannily on the theses that Bruno Bauer set forth over a
absolutely necessary for Humanists to continue the work begun here by
Alexander Davidonis in publishing more books by Bruno Bauer and the Dutch
Radicals. This is a vital body of scholarship in our own tradition, and we
are at a severe disadvantage for not having it readily available in a time
when pseudo-scholarly fundamentalism is on the rampage.