Hermann Samuel Reimarus

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Hermann Samuel Reimarus

Hermann Samuel Reimarus (22 December 1694, Hamburg1 March 1768, Hamburg), was a German philosopher and writer of the Enlightenment who is remembered for his Deism, the doctrine that human reason can arrive at a knowledge of God and ethics from a study of nature and our own internal reality, thus eliminating the need for religions based on revelation. He denied the supernatural origin of Christianity, and is credited by some with initiating historians' investigation of the historical Jesus.


  • [It is] evident that Jesus in no way intended to abolish this Jewish religion and introduce a new one in its place. ... From this it follows inevitably that the apostles taught and acted exactly the reverse of what their master had intended, taught, and commanded...
    • Reimarus: Fragments, ed. Charles H. Talbert, trans. Ralph S. Fraser (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1970), I/19, pp. 41–42

Fragments from Reimarus: Consisting of Brief Critical Remarks on the Object of Jesus and His Disciples as Seen in the New Testament[edit]

Fragments from Reimarus, Vol. I , ed. Charles Voysey, trans. G.E. Lessing (London and Edinburgh: Williams and Norgate, 1879)
  • That which is absurd and impossible, that which in any other history would be called falsehood, deception, outrage and cruelty, cannot be made reasonable, righteous, and true by the added words: "Thus saith the Lord."
    • p. 7
  • It was then clearly not the intention or the object of Jesus to suffer and to die, but to build up a worldly kingdom, and to deliver the Israelites from bondage.
    • p. 27
  • Thus the existing history of Jesus enlightens us more and more upon the object of his conduct and teaching, which entirely correspond with the first idea entertained of him by his apostles, i.e., that he was a worldly deliverer. It enlightens us also upon the fact that they had good reason to believe in him as such so long as he lived. It also shows that the master, and how much more his disciples found themselves mistaken and deceived by the condemnation and the death, and that the new system of a suffering spiritual Saviour, which no one had ever known or thought of before, was invented after the death of Jesus, and invented only because the first hopes had failed.
    • p. 28
  • The essential parts of Christianity are the articles of faith by the denial or ignorance of which we cease to be Christians. The principal of these are: the spiritual deliverance through the suffering and death of Christ; Resurrection from death in confirmation of the sufficient suffering of Christ; and, the return of Christ for reward and punishment, as the fruit and consequence of the deliverance. He who grapples with or disproves these first principles attacks the substance (or essence) of the object.
    • p. 69
  • By unessential things in reference to religion I mean first of all, the miracles, to which nevertheless such particular importance is attached by the Christian religion. No one can affirm that miracles of themselves establish a single article of faith. If we granted that articles of faith carried with them conviction and inherent credibility, how should we dare to require miracles in order to believe them? If we granted that the resurrection had been proved to be true by the most undoubted and unanimous witnesses, as in all fairness it ought to be, we could surely believe it without any assistant miracle. If we granted that Christ really did return in the clouds of Heaven, as according to promise he ought to have done, we should certainly want no miracles to prove it.
    • p. 69
  • Jesus himself could not perform miracles where the people had not faith beforehand, and when sensible men, the learned and rulers of those times, demanded of him a miracle which could be submitted to examination, he, instead of granting the request, began to upbraid them; so that no man of this stamp could believe in him. It was not until thirty to sixty years after the death of Jesus, that people began to write an account of the performance of these miracles, in a language which the Jews in Palestine did not understand. And this was at a time when the Jewish nation was in a state of the greatest disquietude and confusion, and when very few of those who had known Jesus were still alive. Nothing then was easier for them than to invent as many miracles as they pleased, without fear of their writings being readily understood or refuted. It had been impressed upon all converts from the beginning that it was both advantageous and soul-saving to believe, and to put the mind captive under the obedience of faith; and consequently there was as much credulity among them as there was "pia fraud" or "deception from good motives" among their teachers; and both of these, as is well known, prevailed in the highest degree in the early Christian church.
    • pp. 73–74
  • Other religions, indeed, are quite as full of miracles; the heathen boasts of many, so does the Turk; no religion is without them, and this it is which also makes the Christian miracles so doubtful, and provokes us to ask: "Did the events really happen? Were the attendant circumstances such as are stated? Did they come to pass naturally, or by craft, or by chance?"... those who would build Christianity upon miracles give it nothing firm, deep or substantial for a foundation.
    • p. 74
  • It is always a sign that a doctrine or history possesses no depth of authenticity when one is obliged to resort to miracles in order to prove its truth. Miracles do not possess in or by themselves any principle containing a single article of faith or conclusive fact. It follows not because a prophet has performed miracles that therefore he has spoken the truth, because false prophets and magicians also performed signs and wonders, and false Christs performed miracles by which even the elect might be deceived. It follows not because Jesus restored sight to a blind man and healed a lame one, ergo God is threefold in person, ergo Jesus is a real God and man. It follows not because Jesus awakened Lazarus from death that therefore he also must have arisen from death.
    • p. 75
  • The unerring signs of truth and falsehood are clear, distinct consistency and contradiction. This is also the case with revelation, in so far as that it must, in common with other truths, be free from contradiction. And just as little as miracles can prove that twice two are five or that a triangle has four angles, can a contradiction lying in the history and dogmas of Christianity be removed by any number of miracles.
    • p. 75
  • If a prophecy is to be called infallible, I fairly demand that it should state beforehand legibly, clearly, and distinctly that which no man could previously have known, and that the same should thereafter take place at the time appointed, but that it should not take place because it has been predicted. If, however, such a prophecy can only be verified through allegorical interpretations of words and interpretation of words and things; if it be only composed of dark and dubious words, and the expressions it contains are commonplace, vague, and uncertain; if the matter was thought probable, or was foreseen by human cunning; if it occurs because it was predicted; if the words used refer to some other matter and are only applied to the prophecy by a quibble; if it is only written down after the event has occurred; if a prophetic book or passage is given out to be older than it is; or lastly, if the thing predicted does not take place at all, then the prophecy is either doubtful or false.
    • pp. 76–77
  • In short, I may affirm that one cannot refer to a single quoted prophecy that is not false; or if you would have me speak more mildly, I will only say that they are all ambiguous and doubtful, and are not to be accepted from writers who trifle with things and words.
    • p. 78

Quotes about Reimarus[edit]

He had no predecessors; neither had he any disciples. His work is one of those supremely great works which pass and leave no trace, because they are before their time. ~ Albert Schweitzer
  • Before Reimarus, no one had attempted to form a historical conception of the life of Jesus.
  • To say that the fragment on "The Aims of Jesus and His Disciples" is a magnificent piece of work is barely to do it justice. This essay is not only one of the greatest events in the history of criticism, it is also a masterpiece of general literature. The language is as a rule crisp and terse, pointed and epigrammatic—the language of a man who is not "engaged in literary composition" but is wholly concerned with the facts. At times, however, it rises to heights of passionate feeling, and then it is as though the fires of a volcano were painting lurid pictures upon dark clouds. Seldom has there been a hate so eloquent, so lofty a scorn; but then it is seldom that a work has been written in the just consciousness of so absolute a superiority to contemporary opinion. And withal, there is dignity and serious purpose; Reimarus' work is no pamphlet.
  • His work is perhaps the most splendid achievement in the whole course of the historical investigation of the life of Jesus.
  • He had no predecessors; neither had he any disciples. His work is one of those supremely great works which pass and leave no trace, because they are before their time...
  • The first thing that struck him, and the first conclusion he came to, was that the Bible is not a book of religious instruction or a catechism.
  • Reimarus had too much sense of truth to endeavour to explain away by artificial demonstration the punishment of eternal Hell fire. If salvation was alone to be found in the name of Jesus, if all who did not believe in him were to be everlastingly damned, and as this creed must have been handed down from the sayings of Jesus himself, it followed that ninety-nine hundredths of the human race, those who either had never heard of Christ or of salvation to be obtained through him, or those who had not been able to convince themselves of it, were unmercifully sentenced, after this short life, to everlasting torment; and this not for the sake of making them better, but to punish them, and to satisfy God's unquenchable wrath, for a sin committed in the beginning of Creation, and a sin of which they themselves were guiltless. This seemed to banish all Divine perfection, all that was lovable and noble in God, and transformed Him into the likeness of a Satanic and hideous demon.
  • The idea of God, as the most perfect of beings, existed full and warm in the heart of Reimarus, as we see by the following words:—"Far be it from Thee, great Judge of the World, most lovable, most kind, most charitable, most merciful God, to pronounce so unjust a sentence upon the poor creatures Thou hast created!"

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