D. F. Strauss 1808-1874

Strauss entered Tubingen Stift in 1825

In going to Tubingen, Strauss entered an institution pulled in several ways according to demands upon it.

Strauss and others followed Romanticism and mysticism.

They studied Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit (1807) - Hegel had studied at the Stift.

Two main events and considerations led him to write his ground breaking book, Life of Jesus.

  1. In 1828 Strauss wrote a prize essay on the resurrection which was a proof by biblical analysis and philosophy. He reflected afterwards that on finishing it he realised it was a sham and there was nothing in the resurrection. In 1831 Strauss corresponded with a friend Christian Marklin about having to preach as if Christian details are literally and miraculously true when Hegel had taught it was a subset of a higher truth. The only possible solution was they might shift their parishioners slowly to a more mythic position without destroying their currently literal faith.
  2. A piece for a journal in Berlin was rejected on the grounds that it was too radical.

He'd been appointed (in 1832) as Assistant Lecturer at Tubingen Stift. He decided he'd had enough and, suspending lecturing (there were jealousies), he wrote Das Leben Jesu, or in English and in full, The Life of Jesus Critically Examined (translated by George Eliot). It was 1500 pages in two volumes.

The result was his theological career was over.

Yet Strauss himself realised that his position was not because he was a perverse individual but because of what had happened to theology over time.

We would understand today from social anthropology, studying differences between contemporary cultures, that there is, on the one hand, some cultural distance between the times of the Tanakh (Old Testament), the Inter-Testaments period and changes even within the New Testament, and, on the other hand, a huge cultural distance between that time and contemporary times. We even recognise the differences between the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment (high modernism or postmodernism). But these differences are nothing compared with the fundamental beliefs about the nature of reality of the world: their beliefs in supernatural interventions and happenings to come which we cannot understand or share. Religious traditions bring these forward but into changed times, and so claims about causality then are rejected now.


Adrian Worsfold

Cupitt, D. (1985), The Sea of Faith: Christianity in Change, London: BBC, 92-96.