History of Religions and History of
The previous chapter focused on the two giants of nineteenthcentury historical criticism: Baur, who died in 1860, and Wellhausen, who dominated its later decades. These two men symbolize an astonishing growth in historical knowledge of Israel and early Christianity. Together with such supporting figures as Vatke and Strauss in the earlier period, and Holtzmann and Harnack in the later, they also illustrate another change which took place around the middle of the century: the shift away from synthesizing the new historical knowledge with philosophical and theological convictions to a new historical realism that was hostile to philosophical and theological speculation.
Both Baur and Vatke realized that their understanding of what a text meant to its author could not be entirely separated from what it meant to them. But they were nevertheless as conscious as their successors of the need to see the texts in their original setting; their theological reflection was integrated within conscientious historical research, whatever the flaws in their pioneering work. Subsequent theologically interested biblical interpretation has been historical rather than 'religious' in any pre-critical sense. Only very recently has this fundamentally historical orientation been challenged from within biblical scholarship itself (see Chapters 6 and 7).
The successors of de Wette, Vatke, and Baur fought shy of philosophical terminology and produced historical work that looks much like contemporary biblical scholarship. They were content to describe and reconstruct the past, to understand it from a distance,