- Strauss, David Friedrich
- ( 1808-1874 )German theologian and historianDavid Friedrich Strauss was born on January 27, 1808, in Ludwigsburg (near Stuttgart), Germany. He attended a seminary (1821-25) at Blaubeuren, where he met Ferdinand Christian Baur, the most important influence on his life. Strauss completed his studies at the University of Tübingen and became a Lutheran pastor at Kleiningersheim.In 1832, Strauss became an assistant lecturer in the theological college at Tübingen, but ceased lecturing the next year in order to concentrate on a biographical study of Jesus. His book, The Life of Jesus Critically Examined, appeared in the fall of 1835 and immediately turned him into one of the most controversial persons in Germany. The negative response destroyed his academic career. He moved back to Stuttgart as a freelance writer. In the third edition of his book, he made a number of concessions to his critics, but these were removed in the fourth edition.Strauss's Life tried to find a third way of understanding biblical miracles, especially the stories that are so integral to the Gospel accounts of Jesus. Strauss rejected what he termed the literal supernatural approach, but also rejected the rationalist approach, which saw the miracle stories as misunderstandings of mundane events, such as Jesus appearing to walk on water but actually walking on rocks just beneath the surface.For Strauss, the events described in the miracle stories never really happened. Instead, they are messages about the spiritual significance of Jesus, using imagery from the cultural milieu of the time and place. Thus, one could point to the account of God feeding the children of Israel with manna in the desert (Exodus 16:13-36) to make a claim that Jesus is the bread of life who regularly feeds his people with spiritual food. While Strauss seemed to retain some spiritual value for the text, his approach was unacceptable to traditional believers. It undercut Christianity as a faith in an incarnate Jesus whose actions provide salvation for humanity. At the time, while widely read, Strauss proved too extreme even for liberal Protestants, who, led by Friedrich Schleiermacher, were trying to redefine Christianity as something other than a salvation-oriented religion.Strauss's writings were later viewed as an important step in pushing forward the critical study of Gospel texts as other than simple historical accounts. While subsequent biblical scholars continued to disagree on just how historical the Gospels are, after Strauss it was impossible ever again to approach the text with the former naiveté.In the early 1840s, Strauss withdrew from the theological arena and wrote on various biographical and historical topics. He tried to make a comeback in 1864 with his Life of Jesus for the German People, somewhat in the vein of popular pious books on the subject. It was attacked by the reviewers as was his next book, The Old Faith and the New (1872). He died in February 1874.See also biblical criticism.Further reading:■ Edwina G. Lawler, David Friedrich Strauss and His Critics: The Life of Jesus Debate in Early Nineteenth-Century German Journals. American University Studies, series VII, Theology and Religion, vol. 16 (New York: Peter Lang, 1986)■ Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (New York: Macmillan, 1968)■ David F. Strauss, The Christ of Faith and the Jesus of History: A Critique of Schleier-marcher's Life and Jesus (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977); , The Life of Jesus Critically Examined (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1972)■ ----, The Old Faith and the New: A Confession, (London: Asher, 1873).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.