The Social Setting of Jesus and the Gospels

By Wolfgang Stegemann; Bruce J. Malina et al. | Go to book overview

4
Psychohistory-the Problem

Andries van Aarde


Psychohistory-the problem

The discomfort of many European exegetes with psychohistorical portrayals of Jesus can be attributed to Albert Schweitzer’s sharp criticism of psychopafhologists’ attempts to analyze Jesus ([1913] 2001:292–95; 1948:33, 46–53). Some of these psychological studies were triggered by Schweitzer’s own work. He had emphasized Jesus as an apocalyptic figure. This, and the reference in Mark 3:21 that Jesus’ own family thought him to be insane, led to psychologists questioning Jesus sanity. It caused Schweitzer to write his second dissertation on a psychopathological analysis of Jesus (1948). Schweitzer was not only interested, however, in therapeutic matters (see Joy 1948:23). He also had a problem with the psychopathologists’ unsophisticated use of historical and textual evidence.

In the same vein, Martin Kähler pointed out that a biography of Jesus would be impossible since sources did not mention Jesus’ “psychological disposition” ([1896] 1969:14). Rudolf Bultmann conceded that, “psychologically speaking,” we know virtually nothing of the “life” and “personality” of Jesus ([1926] 1988:8–19; see Käsemann 1960). But, according to Walter Schmithals, in the afterword to Bultmann’s Jesus book, a gross misunderstanding could arise here (1988). It is misleading to believe that Bultmann (or Schweitzer, for that matter) considered it impossible to carry out a historical investigation of Jesus. Bultmann also said that we know enough of Jesus’ message to be able to draw a coherent picture of him ([1926] 1988:13). The question remains, however, whether it is in any way possible to study Jesus from the viewpoint of social psychology without being guilty of a “psychological fallacy” (see, for example, Miller 1997).

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