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Bauer, Bruno


BAUER, BRUNO (18091882), left-wing Hegelian critic of the Bible, Christianity, and Prussian society. Bauer began his career as a conservative (right-wing) Hegelian theologian. His earliest writings on the Old Testament (1838) argued that the Hebraic idea of a deity distinct from creation gradually developed toward the Christian doctrine of the immanence of God and humanity. As a Hegelian, he interpreted this to mean that the finite had become conscious of itself as infinite. In an essay of 1840 he also argued that the union of the Reformed and Lutheran churches in 1818 further confirmed the Hegelian view that the Prussian state had become the embodiment of true spiritual life.

Appointed to the faculty of Bonn University in 1839, he turned his attention to the New Testament and wrote what is now considered his most important work: Kritik der evangelischen Geschichte der Synoptiker. In it he tried to show that biblical criticism could advance the self-consciousness of humanity by extracting the kernel of truth in the Christian narrativesthat is, that human self-consciousness is divinefrom the contradictions resulting from the historical form of those narratives. He treated the New Testament Gospels as purely human documents and as literary products of the creative imagination of the authors, therefore concluding that they record little about the real Jesus but much about the mentality of the early church.

Dismissed from the faculty at Bonn, he returned in bitterness to Berlin and wrote attacks on Christianity, the Prussian state, and even Hegel. He came to believe that unremitting, rational criticism, unallied with any political party and without presuppositions of any kind, could bring about a transformation of society. Scornful of revolutionary action in 1848, he became disillusioned with Prussia until the advent of Bismarck. Although he returned to the problem of the origins of Christianity in later works, his views were largely ignored. He spent his last years working in his family's tobacco shop.


Unfortunately, not only is there no edition of Bauer's entire work, but there are no English translations of major individual works. His two best-known and most influential works, so far as New Testament criticism is concerned, are Kritik der evangelischen Geschichte der Synoptiker, 3 vols. (Leipzig, 18411842), and Kritik der Evangelien und Geschichte ihres Ursprungs, 4 vols. in 2 (Berlin, 18511855). His attack on Christianity is best represented by Das entdeckte Christentum, now reprinted in an edition by Ernst Banikol (Jena, 1927).

There are surprisingly few books on Bauer. Recommended are Dieter Hetz-Eichenrode, Der Junghegelianer Bruno Bauer im Vormärz (Berlin, 1959), Douglas Moggach, The Philosophy and Politics of Bruno Bauer (Cambridge, 2003), and Zvi Rosen, Bruno Bauer and Karl Marx: The Influence of Bruno Bauer on Marx's Thought (The Hague, 1977). There is a fine discussion of Bauer and his significance for Christian thought in Karl Löwith's From Hegel to Nietzsche: The Revolution in Nineteenth-Century Thought (Garden City, N.Y., 1967). Nor should one neglect Albert Schweitzer's discussion of Bauer's critical work in The Quest of the Historical Jesus, 2d ed. (1911; reprint, London, 1952). Other helpful secondary sources are The Young Hegelians by William J. Brazill (New Haven, 1970), which contains very useful bibliographies, and From Hegel to Marx: Studies in the Intellectual Development of Karl Marx by Sidney Hook (New York, 1936).

Van A. Harvey (1987 and 2005)

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