North American Review Advertiser (review date January 1864)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Renan's Life of Jesus.North American Review Advertiser (January 1864): 195-233.

[In the following review, the critic praises The Life of Jesus for its vivid portrayal of Jesus while condemning the book for its rejection of Jesus' divinity.]

When we take up a new book on any old and familiar subject, on which many books have been written, we naturally ask, first, Was there any need of a new book on this subject? and if so, then, Was its author the man to write it?—and the second of these questions there are two ways of answering: either to inform ourselves from other sources who and what the man is, or to read the book itself, and judge...

(The entire section is 15426 words.)

Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine (review date October 1864)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Life of Jesus.Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine 96, no. 588 (October 1864): 417-31.

[In the following review, the critic condemns the skeptical tone of The Life of Jesus.]

It is a reproach frequently addressed to the Church, that she is more disposed to utter fulminations against the heretics who assail her, than to reply with sound reason and argument to their attacks. People say that the clergy are as ready as ever to denounce, and, when the occasion serves, to persecute, but that they are very slow to do manful battle for their faith, and meet their antagonists with their own opinions. Such a reproach has a specially severe meaning in an age...

(The entire section is 10327 words.)

John Tulloch (lecture date 1864)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Tulloch, John. “General Remarks; Positivism and the Supernatural.”1 In The Christ of the Gospels and the Christ of Modern Criticism: Lectures on M. Renan's ‘Vie de Jésus,’ pp. 1-31. London: Macmillan and Co., 1864.

[In the following lecture, Tulloch argues against the philosophical positivism that underpins Renan's position against miracles.]

The publication of M. Renan's Vie de Jésus marks a crisis in the present course of philosophical and religious opinion. This is its chief significance. The book itself has been judged very differently, from different points of view—denied all merit by some—loudly applauded by others; but the...

(The entire section is 4274 words.)

William G. Hutchison (essay date 1897)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hutchison, William G. Introduction to Renan's Life of Jesus, translated by William G. Hutchison, pp. ix-xxxii. London: Walter Scott, 1897.

[In the following essay, Hutchison examines the early criticism of The Life of Jesus as well as the sources Renan used to write his biography.]

The year 1860 marked an important point in the life of Ernest Renan. Having acquired, by years of hard work and unremitting study, a European reputation as man of letters and as a writer of authority on the Semitic languages and Oriental archæology, he was commissioned by the Imperial government to proceed to Syria and undertake an expedition in quest of ancient Phœnician...

(The entire section is 7166 words.)

Lewis Freeman Mott (essay date 1921)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Mott, Lewis Freeman. “Syria; Henriette Renan; Professor of Hebrew; ‘Life of Jesus.’” In Ernest Renan, pp. 207-41. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1921.

[In the following excerpt, Mott praises the intellectual courage and literary imagination of The Life of Jesus.]

[The] greatest scandal to Renan's opponents was the publication of the Life of Jesus on June 24, 1863. Though certainly not so intended, it seemed like a gage of defiance designed to insult and irritate. That Renan had such a work in hand was no secret. Taine, who saw much of him at Chalifer, writes:

He read me a long piece of his Life of...

(The entire section is 3765 words.)

John Haynes Holmes (essay date 1927)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Holmes, John Haynes. Introduction to The Life of Jesus, by Ernest Renan, pp. 15-23. New York: The Modern Library, 1955.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1927, Holmes argues that The Life of Jesus was one of the most important and revolutionary books written in the nineteenth century and that the work remains a classic because of Renan's scholarly breadth and literary clarity.]

“Ernest Renan's Vie de Jésus,” said the late Joseph Henry Allen, famous scholar and church historian, “is the one great literary monument of a century of New Testament criticism.” This tribute to the immortal Frenchman's masterpiece was paid in 1895,...

(The entire section is 2662 words.)

M. J. Lagrange (essay date 1928)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Lagrange, M. J. “Antecedent Leanings, Negative Prejudice, and Positive Aspiration.” In Christ and Renan: A Commentary on Ernest Renan's “The Life of Jesus,” translated by Maisie Ward, pp. 5-17. London: Sheed & Ward, 1928.

[In the following essay, Lagrange criticizes the theological and historical arguments of The Life of Jesus, concentrating on how Renan's work differs from nineteenth-century German biblical exegesis.]

From the very first, and in explaining his method, Renan is determined to distinguish himself from the German schools. And, in fact, the Life of Jesus was only discussed in Germany during the nineteenth century by...

(The entire section is 3136 words.)

John T. Noonan (essay date 1949)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Noonan, John T. “Renan's The Life of Jesus: A Re-examination.” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 11 (1949): 26-39.

[In the following essay, Noonan argues that The Life of Jesus is a deeply flawed work expressing many of the prejudices of nineteenth-century religious skepticism.]

They admit certainly a real and historical Jesus, but their historical Jesus is not a Messiah or a prophet or a Jew. They do not know what He wanted; they understand neither His life nor His death. Their Jesus is, in His own way, an eon, an impalpable, intangible being. Pure history does not know any such being.


(The entire section is 6088 words.)

Harold W. Wardman (essay date 1964)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Wardman, Harold W. “1860-1863: The Middle East and the ‘Vie de Jésus.’” In Ernest Renan: A Critical Biography, pp. 72-90. London: The Athlone Press, 1964.

[In the following excerpt, Wardman places The Life of Jesus in a tradition of nineteenth-century romantic humanism and focuses on Renan's depiction of Jesus as a historical figure on whom the myth of Christianity was constructed.]

Though not his best historical work, the Vie de Jésus is too important a landmark in his life and in nineteenth century French literature to merit merely a passing attention. There can be no denying the importance of a work, whatever its actual worth, which...

(The entire section is 2183 words.)

Richard M. Chadbourne (essay date 1968)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Chadbourne, Richard M. “Comedy of History.” In Ernest Renan, pp. 65-84. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1968.

[In the following excerpt, Chadbourne discusses Renan's biographical and historical treatment of Jesus, concentrating on the author's groundbreaking effort to recreate a modern and believable image of Jesus as man.]


The first paragraph of Chapter One of Vie de Jésus (“The Place of Jesus in World History”) states three ideas that will govern the entire Origines du christianisme: first, the “revolution” of Christianity is “the principal event in the history of the world”; second,...

(The entire section is 5391 words.)

Elisabeth Hurth (essay date 1992)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hurth, Elisabeth. “The ‘Uses’ of the ‘Literary’ Jesus: Ernest Rénan's Life of Jesus in New England.” ESQ 38, no. 4 (1992): 315-37.

[In the following essay, Hurth argues that although The Life of Jesus inspired much discussion and even imitation in nineteenth-century New England, the work's central position rejecting the divinity of Jesus was usually dismissed.]

“There are two ways of writing the Life of Jesus,” the North American Review observed in 1864. “The one is simply to ascertain and arrange the facts of his external history; the other is, then to go on and so interpret and explain those facts as to make it seen and...

(The entire section is 6848 words.)

Terence R. Wright (essay date summer 1994)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Wright, Terence R. “The Letter and the Spirit: Deconstructing Renan's Life of Jesus and the Assumption of Modernity.” Religion and Literature 26, no. 2 (summer 1994): 55-71.

[In the following essay, Wright examines The Life of Jesus in postmodern terms, concluding that part of what makes the work timeless is Renan's own awareness that all evaluation of Jesus' life and teaching, including his own, is conditioned by the age in which it is written.]

To rewrite the life of Jesus from a rational historical perspective is clearly central to the project of modernity, which is normally portrayed as sweeping away all superstition and replacing it with...

(The entire section is 7245 words.)

David C. J. Lee (essay date 1996)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Lee, David C. J. “Fiction Christ.” In Ernest Renan: In the Shadow of Faith, pp. 187-206. London: Duckworth, 1996.

[In the following excerpt, Lee asserts that Renan structured Vie de Jésus in accordance with the conventions of the novel genre.]

L'humanité … veut un Dieu-homme. Elle se satisfera.

Drames philosophiques, Oeuvres complètes III, 559.

There can scarcely be a sense in which Vie de Jésus does not mark a crossroads. The book's publication in June 1863 led to Renan's first serious encounter with international celebrity. Of all his works it perhaps...

(The entire section is 11840 words.)