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David Friedrich Strauss

1808-1874. German theologian. Born near Stuttgart, he studied under F.C. Baur* at Tübingen, where he obtained his doctorate and taught briefly. He achieved instant notoriety with his Life of Jesus, Critically Examined (2 vols., 1835-36; ET 3 vols., 1846). This destroyed for him all prospect of a career in theological teaching. The study consisted largely of a detailed examination of the events of the gospels, making extensive use of the concept of myth already known to German theology. Strauss admitted there was a basic historical framework behind the life of Jesus recorded in the gospels, but held that it had become so embellished and overlaid by pious reflection and fantasy that the life of Jesus had been mythically rewritten so as to make it repeat and fulfill the legends and prophecies of the OT. Thus the miracles of Jesus were virtually predetermined by popular expectation of how the Messiah should act. The true significance of Christianity is to be seen in the light of Hegelian philosophy. It is to be understood symbolically as the manifestation of the Absolute Spirit in man.

An enormous controversy followed. Strauss produced a sequel, Christliche Glaubenslehre (2 vols., 1840-41), arguing that biblical teaching cannot be harmonized with modern knowledge, and proposing a mixture of Platonic and Hegelian philosophy in its place. For the next twenty years he turned his back on theology, but returned with a study of Hermann Samuel Reimarus (1862) and a second life of Jesus (1864) which again ruled out the supernatural and miraculous and made considerable use of myth. But the Hegelianism of the first life was dropped in favor of the older rationalism of the Enlightenment.* A religion of humanity must supersede Christianity. Other writings include an attack on Schleiermacher* (1865) and a post-Darwinian statement of belief, The Old and the New Faith (1872; ET 1873).

In his day Strauss had more influence on freethinkers like George Eliot than on the mainstream of theology. His teaching on myth seems to have had little direct influence on Bultmann.*

See biographies by E. Zeller (1874) and T. Ziegler (2 vols., 1908); H. Harris, David Friedrich Strauss and his Theology (1973).