Books of Reference on the Life of Jesus
1. A concise account of the voluminous literature on this subject maybe found at the close of the article JESUS CHRIST by Zockler in Schaff-Herzog, Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. Of the earlier of the modern works it is well to mention David Friedrich Strauss, Das Leben Jesu (2 vols.1835), in which he sought to reduce all the gospel miracles to myths. August Neander, Das Leben Jesu Christi, 1837, wrote in opposition to the attitude taken by Strauss. Both of these works have been translated into English. Ernst Renan, Vie de Jesus (1863, 16th ed.1879), translated, The Life of Jesus (1863), is a charming, though often superficial and patronizing, presentation of the subject. For vivid word pictures of scenes in the life of Jesus his book is unsurpassed. Renan's inability to appreciate the more serious aspects of the work of Christ appears constantly, while his effort to discover romance in the life of Jesus is offensive. More important than any of these is Theodor Keim, Geschichte Jesu von Nazara (1867-72, 3 vols.), translated, The History of Jesus of Nazara (1876-81, 6 vols.). The author rejects the fourth gospel and holds that Matthew is the most primitive of the synoptic gospels; he does not reject the supernatural as such, but reduces it as much as possible by recognizing a legendary element in the gospels. When the work is read with these peculiarities in mind, it is one of the most stimulating and spiritually illuminating treatments of the subject.
2. Critically more trustworthy, and exegetically very valuable, is Bernhard Weiss, Das Leben Jesu (3d ed.1889, 2 vols.), translated from the first ed., The Life of Christ (1883, 3 vols.). It is more helpful for correct understanding of details than for a complete view of the Life of Jesus. Rivalling Weiss in many ways, yet neither so exact nor so trustworthy, though more interesting, is Willibald Beyschlag, Das Leben Jesu (3d ed.1893, 2 vols.). The most important discussion in English is Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (1883 and later editions, 2 vols.). This is valuable for its illustration of conditions in Palestine in the time of Jesus by quotations from the rabbinic literature. The material used is enormous, but is not always treated with due criticism, and the book should be read with the fact in mind that most of the rabbinic writings date from several centuries after Christ. Schuerer (see below) should be used wherever possible as a counter-balance. Dr. Edersheim follows the gospel story in detail; his book is, therefore, a commentary as well as a biography.
3. Albert Reville, Jesus de Nazareth (1897, 2 vols.), aims to bring the work of Renan up to date, and to supply some of the lacks which are felt in the earlier treatise. The book is pretentious and learned. In some parts, as in the treatment of the youth of Jesus, and of the sermon on the mount, it is helpfully suggestive. The Jesus whom the author admires, however, is the Jesus of Galilee. The journey to Jerusalem was a sad mistake, and the assumption of the Messianic role a fall from the high ideal maintained in the teaching in Galilee. In criticism M. Reville accepts the two document synoptic theory, and assigns the fourth gospel to about 140 A.D. He rejects the supernatural, explaining many of the miracles as legendary embellishments of actual events.
4. The most important treatment of the subject is the article JESUS CHRIST by William Sanday in the Hastings Bible Dictionary (1899). It is of the highest value, discussing the subject topically with great clearness and with a rare combination of learning and common sense. S. T. Andrews, The Life of Our Lord (2d ed.1892), is a thorough and very useful study of the gospels, considering minutely all questions of chronology, harmony, and geography. It presents the different views with fairness, and offers conservative conclusions. G. H. Gilbert, The Student's Life of Jesus (1896), is complete in plan and careful in treatment, while being very concise. Dr. Gilbert faces the problems of the subject frankly, and his treatment is scholarly and reverent. James Stalker, The Life of Jesus Christ (1880), is a short work whose value lies in the good conception which it gives of the ministry of Jesus viewed as a whole. In simplicity, insight, and clearness the book is a classic, though now somewhat out of date. Studies in the Life of Christ, by A.M. Fairbairn (1882), is of great value for the topics considered. The title indicates that the treatment is fragmentary. The long treatises of Farrar (1875, 2 vols.) and Geikie (1877, 2 vols.) are useful as commentaries on the words and works of Jesus. Farrar often interprets most helpfully the essence of an incident, and Geikie furnishes a mass of illustrative material from rabbinic sources, though with less criticism than even Edersheim has used. Neither of these works, however, deals with the fundamental problems of the composition of the gospels, nor are they satisfactory on other perplexing questions, for example, the miraculous birth.
5. The most important accessory for the study of the life of Jesus is Emil Schuerer, Geschichte des Juedischen Volkes im Zeitalter Jesu Christi (2d ed.1886, 1890, 2 vols. A 3d ed. of 2d part in 2 vols., 1898), translated, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ (1885-6, 5 vols.). The political history of the Jews from 175 B.C. to 135 A.D., and the intellectual and religious life of the times in which Jesus lived, with the Jewish literature of Palestine and the dispersion, are all treated with thoroughness and masterful learning. W. Baldensperger, Das Selbstbewusstsein Jesu im Lichte der messianischen Hoffnungen seiner Zeit (2d ed.1892), furnishes in the first part a survey of the Messianic hopes of the Jews which is in many respects the most satisfactory account that is accessible. The second part discusses the problem of Jesus' conception of himself in a reverent and learned way. George Adam Smith, The Historical Geography of the Holy Land (1894), is indispensable for the study of the physical features of the land as they bear on its history, and on the work of Jesus. The maps are the best that have yet appeared.
6. Discussions of the Teaching of Jesus in works on Biblical Theology have much that is important for the study of Jesus' life. The most significant is H. H. Wendt, Die Lehre Jesu (1886, 2 vols.). The second volume has been translated The Teaching of Jesus (1892, 2 vols.); the first volume of the original work is an elaborate discussion of the sources, and has not been done into English. Reference may be made especially to H. J. Holtzmann, Lehrbuch der Neutestamentlichen Theologie (1897, 2 vols.), and also to G. H. Gilbert, The Revelation of Jesus (1899). Gustaf Dalman, Die Worte Jesu (1898), of which the first volume only has appeared, is a study of the meaning of the most significant expressions used in the gospel records of the teaching of Jesus, made with the aid of thorough knowledge of Aramaic usage and of the language of post-canonical Jewish literature.
7. A good synopsis or Harmony of the gospels is most useful. The best Harmony is that of Stevens and Burton (1894), which exhibits the divergencies of the parallel accounts in the gospels as faithfully as the agreements. A good synopsis of the Greek text of the first three gospels is Huck, Synapse (1892). Robinson's Greek Harmony of the Gospels, edited by M. B. Biddle, using Tischendorf's text, has also valuable notes discussing questions of harmony.