Monday, January 15, 2007

Renan and the "Fifth Gospel"

I thought I'd throw up a short post as a follow up to Joel's excellent series about his trip to Israel.

(Photo is Tiberias by the Sea of Galilee)

In the pre-Schweitzer book of Ernest Renan, The Life of Jesus (London J.M. Dent & Sons, 1927 [1883], 27-28), one finds this quote:

"Such are the rules which have been followed in the composition of this work. To the perusal of documentary evidences I have been able to add an important source of information -- the sight of the places where the events occurred. The scientific mission, having for its object the exploration of ancient Phoenicia, which I directed in i86o and 1861, led me to reside on the frontiers of Galilee, and to travel there frequently. I have traversed, in all directions, the country of the Gospels; I have visited Jerusalem, Hebron, and Samaria; scarcely any important locality of the history of Jesus has escaped me. All this history, which at a distance seems to float in the clouds of an unreal world, thus took a form, a solidity which astonished me. The striking agreement of the texts with the places, the marvellous harmony of the Gospel ideal with the country which served it as a framework, were like a revelation to me, I had before my eyes a fifth Gospel, torn, but still legible, and henceforward, through the recitals of Matthew and Mark, in place of an abstract being, whose existence might have been doubted, I saw living and moving an admirable human figure. During the summer, having to go up to Ghazir, in Lebanon, to take a little repose, I fixed, in rapid sketches, the image which had appeared to me, and from them resulted this history. When a cruel bereavement hastened my departure, I had but a few pages to write. In this manner the book has been composed almost entirely near the very places where Jesus was born, and where his character was developed. Since my return I have laboured unceasingly to verify and check in detail the rough sketch which I had written in haste in a Maronite cabin, with five or six volumes around me."

Read the whole work at (no surprises) Internet Infidels and Schweitzer's critique of Renan in chapter thirteen of his book Quest for the Historical Jesus.

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