History and the Growth of Knowled-ge
In a conversation during 1860 two former student friends were reminiscing: Wilhelm Vatke looked back to 1835 as 'a good year for wine'. 'Yes', replied David Friedrich Strauss, '--and for theology too.' Strauss was thinking of three epoch-making books. First, the source of his own fame and troubles, The Life of Jesus Critically Examined; secondly, his friend Vatke masterpiece, Biblical Theology: The Religion of the Old Testament, i (never translated), which Wellhausen called 'the most important contribution to the historical understanding of ancient Israel'; and thirdly, perhaps, his one-time teacher Ferdinand Christian Baur's work on Christian Gnosticism. All three books remain landmarks in the history of theology, and they had one thing in common: they all owed much to Hegel, the philosopher who aimed to overcome the 'big ugly ditch' (above, p. 47) which Lessing and the Enlightenment had posited between the 'accidental truths of history' and the 'necessary truths of reason'.
The decade following Hegel's death in 1831 was the period of his greatest prestige and influence. We have noted (p. 50) Strauss's proposal for developing this system. In his 'concluding dissertation' he translated (i.e. reinterpreted) the mythical elements in the Gospels into a Hegelian 'idea', or concept, of the unity of the human and the divine, and then (unlike Hegel) referred this to the human race, rather than to Jesus. At the beginning of his book he explains how Hegel's philosophy had brought him 'internal liberation of the feelings and intellect from certain religious and dogmatic presuppositions' (ET, p. lii). It had freed him for untrammelled academic work by convincing him that 'the essence of the Christian faith is