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Reimarus, Hermann Samuel


Deist exegete; b. Hamburg, Germany, Dec. 22, 1694;d. Hamburg, March 1, 1768. After being an instructor of philosophy at Wittenberg (171923) and the rector of a Protestant church in Wismar (172327), for the rest of his life he was professor of Oriental languages at the Gymnasium Johanneum in Hamburg. Early influenced by C. wolff and the English Deists (see deism), Reimarus was opposed both to the French rationalists, such as J. O. de La Mettrie, who scoffed at the idea of natural law, and to the defenders of traditional Biblical Christianity, as he showed in his first works, Die vornehmsten Wahrheiten der natürlichen Religion (Hamburg 1754) and Die Vernunftlehre (Hamburg 1756). Although personally pious and attentive to the externals of Protestantism, he based his faith on reason alone, and the only miracle that he admitted was creation itself.

In his endeavor to make Christianity entirely "reasonable," i.e., totally free of the miraculous and the supernatural, Reimarus spent 20 years on the composition of his most influential work, the Apologie oder Schutzschrift für die vernünftigen Verehrer Gottes, in two voluminous manuscripts, an earlier one and a revised one. Fearing the consequences of publication, however, he left the work unpublished. After his death, his children lent a copy of the earlier manuscript to G. E. lessing, who published seven abstracts ("fragments") of it under the title Fragmente eines Wolfenbüttelschen Ungenannten (Berlin 177478); (1) On Sufferance of the Deists, (2) On Decrying Reason from the Pulpit, (3) The Impossibility of a Revelation That All Men Could Reasonably Believe, (4) The Passage of the Israelite through the Red Sea, (5) That the Books of the OT Were Not Written to Reveal a Religion, (6) On the Resurrection Story, and (7) On the Aim of Jesus and His Disciples. The publication of the abstracts soon produced the so-called Fragmentenstreit (quarrel about the fragments), in which they were attacked not only by the conservative Protestant J. M. Goeze, but also by the liberal J. S. Semler and others. The main controversy was waged over the seventh abstract. In it Reimarus maintained that Jesus was a mere man who had messianic illusions and preached a simple, practical morality in preparation for the imminent establishment of the kingdom of God; after His death, His disciples stole His body, preached that He had risen, and founded a community with a newly developed Christology. Although most of Reimarus's theories had no lasting influence, the question that he raised concerning the historical value of the Gospels for the life of Jesus is still a live issue.

Bibliography: f. mussner, in Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d new ed. Freiburg 195765) 8:113738. h. hohlwein, in Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 7 v. (3d ed. Tübingen 195765) 5:937938. f. l. cross, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (London 1957) 1148. a. c. lundsteen, Hermann Samuel Reimarus und die Anfänge der Leben-Jesu-Forschung (Copenhagen 1939).

[l. f. hartman]

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