About 18 years ago, I was reading an article from the 1850s about the attacks that were then coming on Christianity in Europe. The attacks were in the form of doubting the historical validity of the New Testament narratives of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. The author referred to a paper of 1837/8 which argued that those attacks on the historicity of Christianity will eventually result in the death of history as a discipline.
So, I have been searching for that paper, on and off, for about 18 years.
I had already come across a pamphlet by Richard Whately who made a clever application of the arguments of the 18th century philosopher, David Hume.
Hume had claimed that a miracle is an impossibility, or at least, no account of a miracle was to be believed. He said that it was more likely for a witness to a ‘miracle’ to be mistaken than for a miracle to have occurred.
In 1819, Whately applied the interpretive principle of Hume to the history of Napoleon, claiming that the accounts of his victories were clearly miraculous accounts, so any supposed witness to those alleged events were not to be believed. Pop! goes that history of Napoleon, four years after the Battle of Waterloo, if one really accepted Hume’s premise.
This was the beginning of an idea. If one were to apply the techniques of unbelieving Biblical criticism to everything, nothing of reality will remain.
Now, at last, I think I’ve found the 1837 article. It is entitled, THE FALLACY
OF THE MYTHICAL THEORY OF DR. STRAUSS ILLUSTRATED FROM THE HISTORY OF MARTIN LUTHER. The author was a German professor, J. F. Wurm at the seminary in Blaubeuern.
In 1835, David Strauss had published The Life of Jesus. In it he claimed that the accounts that we have of the life Christ in the New Testament are mythical; that is, they are elaborate constructs that have little connection with actual events. In response, Wurm wrote his satirical paper applying Strauss’ methods to the life and works of Luther, as he supposed an academic might reconstruct them in the year 2836.
In his postscript, Wurm said that he hoped that people, a thousand years in the future, would not write general history as some in his day were writing New Testament history:
But perhaps it was worth our while to endeavour to see how they might write at that date, if a criticism which is seeking to establish its sway in the nineteenth century should again come into existence in that far distant age. Applied to a portion of history which lies only three hundred years behind us, this criticism appears, not only repulsive, but absurd. But, when a thousand years more have elapsed , it may sketch the caricature of the reformation history with the same appearance of philosophy, and of freedom from prejudice, with which it now seeks to throw a new light upon the evangelical history.
In my view, it has taken less than 150 years to reach that point of absurdity. We have already seen this sort of abuse of the critical method destroy the craft of historical research.
What began as a hatred for truth as revealed in the New Testament documents, has increasingly become a hatred for objective truth in any discipline.