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David Friedrich Strauss: Conclusion, The Life of Jesus (c. 1835)

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their natural character and their climatic and historical conditions, and it reveals progress over the course of history. The Roman thought differently about man as he ought to be than the Greek, the Jew differently than either of them, the Greek after Socrates differently and undoubtedly more perfectly than before. Every morally outstanding person, every great thinker who makes the active nature of man the object of his investigation, has helped, in narrower or wider circles, to correct, supplement, and improve that idea. And among these improvers of the ideal of humanity, Jesus unquestionably ranks first. He introduced into this ideal features it lacked before, or which had at least remained underdeveloped; he reduced others that obstructed its universal applicability; he imparted to it a more exalted consecration through the religious form he gave it, and the most vivid warmth by embodying it in his own person; at the same time, the religious community that arose out of him ensured this ideal the widest diffusion among mankind. Needless to say, this religious community proceeded from things very different than the moral significance of its founder, and thus initially expressed the latter in a form that was less than pure – in the only text from our New Testament that may have been written by a direct disciple of Jesus, the Revelation of John, lives a Christ from whom little can be derived for the ideal of humanity; yet the traits of patience, gentleness, and charity, which Jesus made dominant in that picture, have not been lost to humanity, and are exactly the ones from which everything we now call humanity was able to sprout.

And yet, no matter how high Jesus ranks among those who have modeled more purely and clearly to humanity what it ought to be, he was neither the first nor the last to do so; rather, just as he had precursors in Israel and Hellas, at the Ganges and the Oxus, he has not been without followers – instead, even after him, that model has been developed further, more perfectly fashioned, its various features brought into greater balance. One cannot fail to see that in the model as exhibited by Jesus in his teachings and life, alongside the full development of some sides, others are only faintly outlined or are not indicated at all. Fully developed is everything that refers to the love of God and one’s neighbor, to purity of heart and the life of the individual; but already the life of man within the family recedes into the background with the teacher who had no family of his own, while his relationship to the state appears as merely passive; not only is he unconcerned with trade by virtue of his calling, he is visibly averse to it; finally, whatever concerns art and the enjoyment of the pleasures of life remains completely outside of his purview. That these are substantial defects, that we are dealing here with a one-sidedness that is grounded partly in the peculiarities of the Jewish people, partly in the conditions of the time, and partly in the special living conditions of Jesus – no one should seek to deny this, since it is impossible to deny. And the defects are not of the kind that only the complete implementation is lacking, while the ruling principle is given; rather, when it comes to the state, in particular, to trade and art, the proper conceptions are missing from the outset, and it is a futile undertaking to try and determine – by following the prescriptions or the model of Jesus – the activities of human beings as citizens, their efforts to enrich and beautify life through commerce and art. Instead, what needed to be added came from both other peoples and from the conditions of other times, states, and systems of education – some of which were found by looking back at what Greeks and Romans had produced in these respects, some of which were reserved for the further development of mankind and its history.

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