The last, the least dishonorable, and the most plausible, of the false theories of the life of Christ, is the hypothesis of poetical fiction. This may, again, assume two forms, -- the mythical and the legendary. The former derives its support mainly from the formation of the ancient myths of heathen gods and demigods; the latter, from the medieval legends of Christian martyrs and saints.
The one was matured and carried out by Dr. David Frederick Strauss, with all the patient research, learning, and solidity of a German scholar; the other, by Prof. Joseph Ernest Renan, with all the brilliancy, elegance, and levity of a Parisian novelist: the one was written for students, the other for the people; the one rests on the philosophical basis of a speculative or logical pantheism, the other on that of a sentimental or poetical pantheism. Strauss's |Leben Jesu| is related to Renan's |Vie de Jésus,| as the heavy armor of a mediæval knight to the parade uniform of a holiday-soldier, or as a siege-cannon to a popgun, or as an iron statue to a tawdry wax figure; but both start essentially from the same naturalistic premises, and arrive at the same conclusions. They are equally opposed to the miraculous and supernatural in the life of our Saviour, and leave a mere spectral shadow, the corpus mortuum, of the real Jesus of the Gospels.