Bruno Bauer

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Bruno Bauer (September 6, 1809 – April 13, 1882), was a German theologian, philosopher, and historian. Bauer was associated with the Young Hegelians, who interpreted Hegel in a revolutionary sense and attempted to develop a rational political and cultural reality. As such, Bauer had considerable influence on Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Marx wrote The Holy Family and The German Ideology in response to Bauer.

Bauer was also a pioneering figure in the development of biblical criticism, who asserted that the Gospel of Mark was the original gospel, that the New Testament incorporated many Greco-Roman elements, and that some texts were second-century forgeries. Today, biblical scholars accept many of Bauer’s hypotheses as correct, or at least highly plausible.


Bruno Bauer was born September 6, 1809 at Eisenberg, Thuringia in Saxe-Altenburg, the son of a painter in a porcelain factory. In 1815, Bauer's family moved to Berlin, where he studied at the University of Berlin directly under G.W.F. Hegel until Hegel’s death in 1831, and under Schleiermacher, and the Hegelians Hotho and Marheineke. In 1829, Hegel recommended the young Bauer for the Prussian royal prize in philosophy for an essay criticizing Immanuel Kant. In Berlin, Bauer attached himself to the so-called Right Hegelians under Philip Marheineke. In 1834, he began to teach in Berlin as a licentiate of theology.

In 1838, he published his Kritische Darstellung der Religion des Alten Testaments (2 vols.), which shows that at that date he was still faithful to the Hegelian Right. In 1839, he was transferred to the theology faculty at Bonn after publishing an attack on his colleague and former teacher Hengstenberg. Soon afterwards, in three works, one on the Fourth Gospel, Kritik der evangelischen Geschichte des Johannes (1840), and the other on the Synoptics, Kritik der evangelischen Geschichte der Synoptiker (1841), as well as in his Herr Dr. Hengstenberg. Kritische Briefe über den Gegensatz des Gesetzes und des Evangeliums (1839), Bauer announced his complete rejection of his earlier orthodoxy. Bauer became associated with the radical Young Hegelians or "Left Hegelians."

Bauer taught in Bonn from 1839 until the spring of 1842, when he was dismissed for the unorthodoxy of his writings on the New Testament. His dismissal followed a consultation by the ministry of education with the theology faculties of the six Prussian universities, which could not arrive at any consensus. Bauer was dismissed because the king of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm IV, had decreed the suspension from state employment of participants in a banquet held in Berlin in 1841 to honor the South German liberal Karl Welcker. At the banquet, Bauer had proposed a toast to Hegel's conception of the state. After his dismissal, Bauer retired for the rest of his life to Rixdorf, near Berlin, where he worked in his family’s tobacco shop and spent his evenings writing. Bauer never married.

From 1842 to 1849, Bauer was active in political journalism and historical research on the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. He took a deep interest in modern history and politics, as well as in theology, and published Geschichte der Politik, Kultur und Aufklärung des 18ten Jahrhunderts (4 vols. 1843-1845), Geschichte der französischen Revolution (3 vols. 1847), and Disraelis romantischer und Bismarcks socialistischer Imperialismus (1882). He argued against the emancipation of Prussian Jews in 1842-1843, on the grounds that it would be making particular religious interests politically legitimate. Bauer became the object of polemical attacks by Marx and Engels in The Holy Family (1844) and The German Ideology (written in 1845-1846). With his brother Edgar, Bauer founded the Charlottenburg Democratic Society in 1848, and stood unsuccessfully for election to the Prussian National Assembly on a platform of popular sovereignty.

After the German revolutionary events of March 1848, and the defeats of 1848-1849, Bauer remained in Prussia and continued to publish works on Biblical criticism and political analysis. He wrote for the government-sponsored newspaper Die Zeit, and contributed articles on European affairs to other newspapers, such as Die Post, the Kleines Journal, and the New York Daily Tribune. In 1850-1852, he published Kritik der Evangelien und Geschichte ihres Ursprungs, a criticism of the gospels and a history of their origin; and a criticism of the Pauline epistles, Kritik der paulinischen Briefe. From 1859-1866 he collaborated with F.W.H. Wagener on his conservative Staats- und Gesellschafts-Lexikon, editing almost all 23 volumes, and writing numerous articles, several with anti-Semitic themes. In 1865 he acquired a small farm in Rixdorf, on the outskirts of Berlin, where he died in April 1882.

Thought and Works

Bruno Bauer was a prolific thinker and writer. Between 1838 and 1848 alone, Bauer published 12 books and over sixty articles on Hegel, the Bible, modern theologies, the Enlightenment, and the French Revolution and its aftermath. Most of Bauer's writings have not yet been translated into English. Only two of his books have been formally translated; a comedic parody, The Trumpet of the Last Judgment Against Hegel the Atheist and Antichrist (1841, translated by Lawrence Stepelevich, 1989), and Christianity Exposed: A Recollection of the 18th Century and a Contribution to the Crisis of the 19th (1843, ed. Paul Trejo, 2002). In 2003, Douglas Moggach published The Philosophy and Politics of Bruno Bauer, a comprehensive overview of Bauer's life and works.

Bauer’s work and his ideas have been interpreted in various ways, and it is sometimes difficult to understand his viewpoint with clarity. He published anonymously and under pseudonyms, as well as collaborating with others, so that some of the claims attributed to him are disputed. Differences exist between Bauer’s statements in his published works and in his private correspondence. The anonymous Trumpet of the Last Judgement (1841) and Hegel's Doctrine of Religion and Art (1842), were parodies in which Bauer posed as a conservative critic of Hegel, attributing to Hegel his own revolutionary views. His own early right-wing orthodox religious views contradict his later skepticism and liberalism. Bauer’s ideas seem to have been eclipsed by his involvement in political crosscurrents and the battles between the left-wing and right-wing intellectuals at the end of the nineteenth century. In 1836, Bruno Bauer tutored a young Karl Marx; later Marx and Engels strongly criticized Bauer in two books, The Holy Family, and The German Ideology, turned their backs on him and never spoke to him again. His banishment by the Prussian monarch, Friedrich Wilhelm IV from any professorial position effectively removed him from official intellectual circles and made him into a journalist and a private critic.

A number of twentieth-century references to Bauer presume that he was an atheist. However, many nineteenth-century theological works make reference to Bruno Bauer as a Christian. Bauer's philosophy was no less complicated and controversial than that of Hegel, which was adopted both by the religious right and the atheistic left. One modern writer, Paul Trejo (2002), makes a case that Bauer remained a radical theologian who criticized specific types of Christianity, and that Bauer maintained a Hegelian interpretation of Christianity throughout his life. Bauer's infamous, banned book, Christianity Exposed (1843), was actually a mild affair, exposing only one sect of Christians against another.

Bauer has been criticized for his attitude towards Jews in his article Die Judenfrage (On the Jewish Question, 1843) in which he argued against the emancipation of Prussian Jews on the grounds that doing so would be making particular religious interests politically legitimate. Bauer's attitude toward Civil Rights for German Jews can be summarized in his question, "How can Jews obtain Civil Rights until Germans themselves obtain Civil Rights?" Bauer's attitude toward the Jewish writers of the first century, Philo and Josephus, was one of open admiration.

Biblical Criticism

Bauer's criticism of the New Testament was highly deconstructive. David Strauss, in his Life of Jesus, had accounted for the Gospel narratives as half-conscious products of the mythic instinct in the early Christian communities. Bauer ridiculed Strauss's notion that a community could produce a connected narrative. His own contention, embodying a theory of Christian Gottlob Wilke (Der Urevangelist, 1838), was that the original narrative was the Gospel of Mark.

Bauer claimed that the Gospel of Mark had been completed in the reign of Hadrian (whereas its prototype, the 'Ur-Marcus,' identifiable within the Gospel of Mark by a critical analysis, was begun around the time of Josephus and the Roman-Jewish Wars). Bauer, like other advocates of this "Marcan Hypothesis," affirmed that all the other Gospel narratives used the Gospel of Mark as their model within their writing communities.

Although Bauer did investigate the Ur-Marcus, it was his remarks on the current version of the Gospel of Mark that captured popular attention. Some key themes in the Gospel of Mark appeared to be purely literary. The “Messianic Secret” theme, in which Jesus continually performed wonders and then asked his witnesses not to tell anybody about them, seemed to Bauer to be an example of fiction. If that was the case, Bauer wrote, then the redactor who added that theme was probably the final redactor of our current version of the Gospel of Mark. Bauer was not alone in these speculations. Some influential theologians in the Tubingen School regarded several Pauline epistles as forgeries of the second century. Bauer agreed with some of their conclusions and added his own penetrating theological analyses. He suggested that the Pauline epistles were written in the West as an antagonistic response to the Paul of The Acts. Bauer argued further that the Greco-Roman element was preponderant over the Jewish element in the Christian writings, and supported his theory with a wealth of historical background. (Modern scholars such as E. P. Sanders and John P. Meier have disputed this theory and attempted to demonstrate a mainly Jewish historical background.)

Albert Schweitzer declared that Bruno Bauer's criticisms of the New Testament raised the most interesting questions that he had seen about the historical Jesus. Schweitzer's own theology was partly based on Bauer's writings. He said that Bauer had "originally sought to defend the honor of Jesus by rescuing his reputation from the inane parody of a biography that the Christian apologists had forged." Bauer eventually came to the conclusion that his biography was a complete fiction and "regarded the Gospel of Mark not only as the first narrator, but even as the creator of the gospel history, thus making the latter a fiction and Christianity the invention of a single original evangelist" (Otto Pfleiderer).

According to Bruno Bauer, the writer of Mark's gospel was "an Italian, at home both in Rome and Alexandria"; that of Matthew's gospel "a Roman, nourished by the spirit of Seneca"; Christianity was essentially "Stoicism triumphant in a Jewish garb." He pointed out that Mark was obviously a Roman name, not a Jewish name. He also showed that many key themes of the New Testament, especially those that are opposed to themes in the Old Testament, can be found in the Greco-Roman literature that flourished during the first century. (Such a position was also maintained by some Jewish scholars.)

Bauer's final book, Christ and the Caesars (1877) offered a penetrating analysis showing that common key words appeared in the works of first century writers like Seneca the Stoic, and New Testament texts. Early Christian scholars had explained this by claiming that Seneca "must have been" a secret Christian. Bauer was perhaps the first to attempt to demonstrate that some New Testament writers freely borrowed from Seneca the Stoic. (A modern explanation drawn from socio-rhetorical criticism is that common cultures share common thought-forms and common patterns of speech, and that similarities do not necessarily indicate borrowing. Nevertheless, the key words cited by Bauer are at the core of New Testament theology, and their similarities point to Greco-Roman sources in Stoic and Cynic writings, rather than in Jewish Scripture.)

In Christ and the Caesars, Bauer argued that Judaism entered Rome during the era of the Maccabees, and increased in influence in Rome after that period. He cited literature from the first century to support his suggestion that Jewish influence in Rome was far greater than historians had yet reported. He claimed that the Imperial throne was influenced by the Jewish religious genius, referring to Herod's relation with the Caesar family, as well as the famous relationship between Josephus and the Flavians, Vespasian, and Titus, and also one of the poems of Horace.

Young Hegelians

Hegel acted as teacher and mentor to Bauer when he was a young student at the University of Berlin. When Hegel unexpectedly died of cholera, the twenty-two-year-old Bauer lost a powerful protector and found he had few supporters in academic circles. In 1840, a chance came for Bauer to prove himself. In 1835 the theologian, David Strauss, had published The Life of Christ (1835), arguing that much of Jesus' biography was legend, and that de-mythologization was the correct approach of Bible interpretation. Strauss claimed that he had obtained these ideas from the philosophy of Hegel. The Fundamentalist Christian monarch, Friedrich Wilhelm IV, demanded that the Hegelians respond. The Old Hegelians selected Bruno Bauer (now twety-six years old) to represent them. Bauer did not defend fundamentalist Christian beliefs, but he took care to show that David Strauss’s ideas were not the same as Hegel's.

Strauss responded with, In Defense of my Life of Jesus Against the Hegelians (1838). Strauss insulted Bauer and refused to debate with him, saying that his arguments were "a foolish bit of pen-pushing." Strauss coined the terminology of left-right Hegelians, identifying himself with the left-wing and portraying Bauer as a right-wing radical. However, Strauss had no effective arguments against Bauer and never published another major book.

Bauer never considered himself as either left-wing or right-wing, but as a Young Hegelian. The Young Hegelians were mostly indirect disciples of Hegel who interpreted Hegelianism in a revolutionary sense, and attempted to develop a rational political and cultural reality, finding in Hegel’s dialectic the ammunition to attack the existing bourgeois, religious, monarchical social order, now regarded as only a moment in the forward development of history. They included Ludwig Feuerbach, Richter, Karl Marx, and Otto Strauss. Another Young Hegelian, Max Stirner, became Bauer's life long friend. Although Bauer was not a radical egoist like Stirner, he preferred the writings of Stirner to the writings of Marx, Engels, and Ruge. In 1856, when Stirner died in Berlin, alone and impoverished, Bauer arranged his funeral and was the only Young Hegelian present.

Major works

  • Kritik der evangelischen Geschichte des Johannes (1840)
  • Kritik der evangelischen Geschichte der Synoptiker, 2 vols. (1841)
  • Die Posaune des jüngsten Gerichts über Hegel, den Atheisten und Antichristen (1841)
  • Die gute Sache der Freiheit und meine eigene Angelegenheit (1842)
  • Hegels Lehre von der Religion und Kunst von dem Standpunkte des Glaubens aus beurteilt (1842)
  • Das Entdeckte Christentum (1843, banned and destroyed, into oblivion until 1927: ed. Barnikol)
  • Die Judenfrage (1843)
  • Geschichte der Politik, Kultur und Aufklärung des 18. Jahrhunderts (1843-45)
  • Geschichte Deutschlands und der französischen Revolution unter der Herrschaft Napoleons, 2 vols. (1846)
  • Kritik der Evangelien und Geschichte ihres Ursprungs, 4 vols., 4 suppl. (1850-52)
  • Russland und das Germanentum (1853)
  • Philo, Renan und das Urchristentum (1864)
  • Christus und die Cäsaren (1877)
  • Zur Orientierung über die Bismarck'sche Ära (1880)
  • Disraelis romantischer und Bismarcks sozialistischer Imperialismus (1882)


"We save the honor of Jesus when we restore His Person to life from the state of inanity to which the apologists have reduced it, and give it once more a living relation to history, which it certainly possessed." – Bruno Bauer, SYNOPTIKER, 1840
"Therefore, criticism has to direct itself against itself, and against the mysterious Substance in which it has up to now hid itself. In this way criticism must resolve things such that the development of this Substance drives itself forward to the Universality and Certainty of the Idea of its actual existence, the Eternal Self-consciousness." – Bruno Bauer, SYNOPTIKER, 1840
"The pure Christian State is a State in which theological law prevails. This law attains to real power or, to be more exact, absolute power, when through its results which are identical with those of opium, it puts all parts of humanity to sleep. If some occasionally awake they carry out crimes that horrify humanity which has not yet become Christian in the full sense of the word or has already abandoned the Christian framework." – Bruno Bauer, 1841, THE CHRISTIAN STATE AND OUR TIMES
"After fulfilling its destructive urge towards everything that is noble and good on earth, it [naive Religion] sketches, in its opium intoxication, a picture of the future situation, which differs drastically from the order of this world, since everything changes and is renewed." – Bruno Bauer, 1842, THE GOOD CAUSE OF FREEDOM AND MY OWN CASE
"Reason is the true creative power, for it produces itself as Infinite Self-consciousness, and its ongoing creation history. As the only power that exists, Spirit can therefore be determined by nothing other than itself, that is, its essence is Freedom...Freedom is the infinite power of Spirit...Freedom, the only End of Spirit, is also the only End of History, and history is nothing other than Spirit's becoming *conscious* of its Freedom, or the becoming of Real, Free, Infinite Self-consciousness." – Bruno Bauer, 1842, HEGEL'S LEHRE VON DER RELIGION UND KUNST VON DEM STANDPUNKTE DES GLAUBENS AUS BEURTEILT, trans. Moggach, 2001
"It is not as uncommon ... [for some to] accept the reality of phenomena that are not yet understood, as it is very common for physicists to disbelieve the reality of phenomena that seem to contradict contemporary beliefs of physics" – Bruno Bauer

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Barnikol, Ernst, Peter Reimer, and Hans-Martin Sass. 1972. Bruno Bauer. Studien und Materialien. Assen: Van Gorcum. ISBN 9023209176 ISBN 9789023209171
  • Gargano, Antonio. 2003. Bruno Bauer. Il pensiero e la storia, 105. Napoli: La città del sole. ISBN 8882922448 ISBN 9788882922443
  • Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. 1975. The holy family: or, critique of critical criticism: against Bruno Bauer and company. Moscow: Progress Publishers.
  • McLellan, David. 1969. The young Hegelians and Karl Marx. New York: F.A. Praeger.
  • Moggach, Douglas. 2002. The philosophy and politics of Bruno Bauer. Modern European philosophy. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521819776 ISBN 9780521819770
  • Rosen, Zvi. 1977. Bruno Bauer and Karl Marx: the influence of Bruno Bauer on Marx's thought. The Hague: Nijhoff. ISBN 9024719488 ISBN 9789024719488
  • Strain, Charles Raymond. 1976. Bruno Bauer's theory of alienation during the critical years, 1839-1843. Thesis (Ph. D.)—University of Chicago, Divinity School, August 1976.

External links

All links retrieved November 21, 2023.

General Philosophy Sources


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