This term refers to a group of German biblical scholars centered in Tübingen, Germany, including Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834), David Friedrich Strauss (1808-74), and Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-72), who began in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries to analyze the historical records of the Middle East from Christian and Old Testament times, in search of independent confirmation of the events related in the Bible. The very idea of such research was shocking: if as most Christians believed every word in the Bible was divinely inspired, its truth was guaranteed. Clearly, these critics thought of truth as something that God had left for man to discover, putting their theology in obvious conflict with Evangelicalism and making them the intellectual descendants of Locke, Hume, Kant, Lessing, Fichte, Hegel, and the French rationalists.
Their ideas were communicated to England first by Coleridge and then more directly by George Eliot's translations of Strauss's Life of Jesus (1846) and Feuerbach's Essence of Christianity (1854). Strauss, as the first to fully describe the historical Jesus, took the brunt of the reaction: you will occasionally see the movement referred to as Straussism. In fact Feuerbach is more radical, holding that the idea of God was created by man to express the divine within himself, and that the beginning, middle, and end of Religion is MAN.
This idea is often what present-day Evangelicals are attacking as "secular humanism" if they are not more specifically talking about the positivism of August Comte, to which Feuerbach's theology bears much general resemblance. La Vie de Jesus (1863), by a Frenchman, Ernst Renan (1823-92), continued the same tradition. But three years earlier before the appearance of La Vie de Jesus, liberal Anglican theologians had begun the process of incorporating this historical criticism within the spectrum of Christian doctrine in Essays and Reviews (1860).
Suggested Readings and Available On-Line Texts
- The Life of Jesus by Ernest Renan (HTML at TAMU)
Last modified 1988; links last added 1999