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Ernest Renan

French philosopher and theologian

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 Ernest  Renan
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Joseph Ernest Renan was given a scholarship in 1838 by F A. Dupanloup to join the seminary of St.-Nicholas-du-Chardonnet at Paris. Through the study of German theology, historical criticism, and Semitic languages he came to doubt the truth of Christianity These doubts led him in 1845 to leave the seminary of St. Sulpice.

His most notable writing was La Vie de Jesus (Life of Jesus), which appeared in 1863. Using the results of biblical criticism, he portrayed Jesus as a gifted itinerant preacher, but he was not the Son of God. Immediately Renan set about to enlarge the book, and the result was his Histoire de Origines du Christiansme (History of the Origins of Christianity; seven volumes 1863-1881). This major work embraced the early expansion of Christianity under the apostle Paul throughout the ancient world. Subsequently Renan penned a parallel work bearing the title Histoire du Peuple d'Israel (History of the People of Israel; five volumes).

Throughout his career, Renan made frequent forays to the Near East, where he participated in archaeological digs. He was called to the chair of Hebrew at the College de France in 1862, but he was summarily removed after the publication of his Life of Jesus. In 1870 he was reinstated to the post, and under the secularist Third Republic the skeptic Renan was elevated to be director of the college in 1879.

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During Renan’s lifetime, Life of Jesus achieved considerable notoriety. It examined the life of Christ purely historically, following the trends of 19th century German higher criticism. Renan was wary of accepting the historicity of any supernatural elements in the New Testament, and his skeptical reading of the Gospels led him to deny the divinity of Christ. Since its publication, Life of Jesus has powerfully shaped the fields of modern biblical criticism and Christology. It has inspired many supplements, replies, and rebuttals, including Albert Schweitzer’s Quest of the Historical Jesus.

This book belongs to a seven-volume series, the first of which, Life of Jesus, is the most famous (or infamous). The Apostles, the second volume, is a sequel of sorts to Life of Jesus, telling the story of the events immediately following Christ’s death. The historian follows the spread of Christianity from the Apostles to all across Europe and the Near East, documenting Pentecost and the establishment of the first churches. Renan’s historical account reflects his background in 19th century German higher criticism of the Bible.

This book belongs to a seven-volume series, the first of which, Life of Jesus, is the most famous (or infamous). Saint Paul, the third volume, covers the life, conversion, missionary journeys, and death of Paul the Apostle. Comparing the events documented in the Book of Acts to other ancient sources, the historian concludes that the dates and places mentioned in Acts are historically accurate. Renan’s account reflects his background in 19th century German higher criticism of the Bible.

This book belongs to a seven-volume series, the first of which, Life of Jesus, is the most famous (or infamous). The Antichrist, the fourth volume, tells the story of Christianity from a few years after the Crucifixion up to the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. Much of the book concerns the persecution of early Christians by Nero, to whom the label “antichrist” applies. Renan’s historical account reflects his background in 19th century German higher criticism of the Bible.

This book belongs to a seven-volume series, the first of which, Life of Jesus, is the most famous (or infamous). The Gospels, the fifth volume, tells the story of the composition of the Synoptic Gospels. Renan covers such topics as the persecution of Christians during the Gospels’ composition and various theories concerning the Gospels’ underlying template. As he explains in the introduction, the composition of the Gospel of John, unlike the other Gospels, remains almost entirely shrouded in mystery. Renan’s historical account reflects his background in 19th century German higher criticism of the Bible.

This book belongs to a seven-volume series, the first of which, Life of Jesus, is the most famous (or infamous). The Reigns of Hadrian and Antoninus Pius, the sixth volume, tells the story of Christianity during reigns of two of the 2nd century’s Roman emperors. The book details the development and expansion of Christianity after the more intense persecution of the previous century had ended. No longer facing open persecution, Christians grew in number faster than before along with their various heresies, as Renan explains. The historian’s account reflects his background in 19th century German higher criticism of the Bible.

This book belongs to a seven-volume series, the first of which, Life of Jesus, is the most famous (or infamous). Marcus Aurelius, the seventh volume, concerns the development of the church during the reign of Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius. The historian argues that Marcus Aurelius, famous for his evenhanded rule and contributions to Stoic philosophy, influenced early Christianity greatly. During the emperor’s reign, Christianity adopted Stoic systems and standards of morality that have since survived into the present. Renan’s account reflects his background in 19th century German higher criticism of the Bible.

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