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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.

Bruno 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 Manen.

The casual 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.

Reading 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 century ago.

It is 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.



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