Nineteenth-century critics of the New Testament worked as they did because of one simple idea: the idea that Catholic Christianity was a late synthesis which more or less seriously misrepresented the historical process that produced it. This simple idea sparked offa series of startling and original hypotheses about the date, authorship, unity, purpose, and meaning of every single book in the New Testament. I shall mention the more important moves in the game, and try to show how each move related to the leading idea that Catholic Christianity was a huge deception.
This leading idea had been imported from England to Germany, and in Germany it was made the basis of a complete scholarly discipline. In 1793 Johann Gottfried Eichhorn (1752–1827) put the position beautifully in a short review of a German translation of Conyers Middleton's miscellaneous essays.
This book has taken the reviewer back very pleasantly to the times at first light, just before the dawning of the present day in German theology, when the few bright ideas our compatriots had were gathered from British theologians. Thanks be to the courage and to the German diligence of the immediate past theological generation! Now the sons of the Britons’ grateful German pupils can give back to the Britons the light which was kindled for their fathers – and give it back stronger, purified and clarified.