The Controversy Between Lessing and Goeze

In May 1770, Lessing put an end to his long career as a freelance journalist to take up public service as a librarian at the famous Herzog-August-Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel.1 Beginning 13 February 1772, the Duke of Brunswick permitted him immunity from censorship on condition that he never take advantage of this immunity to attack Christianity. Two years later Lessing began to publish valuable manuscripts and other library acquisitions in a series entitled Contributions to Literature and History from the Treasures of the Ducal Library at Wolfenbüttel (Zur Geschichte und Literatur: Aus den Schätzen der Herzoglichen Bibliothek zu Wolfenbüttel). Into this series, he quietly inserted certain portions of the unpublished manuscripts of the late Hermann Samuel Reimarus,2 publishing them as Fragments from an Unnamed Author These documents, as we have seen, Lessing had borrowed from the author's son and daughter, Johann Albert and Elise Reimarus. In publishing them, he must have made a shrewd calculation. For he first published a small and inoffensive portion as if it were nothing important. He seems to have thought that publication of this innocuous portion would facilitate the later publication of more radical portions. In any event, he first brought out this harmless portion under the title On Tolerating the Deists. He even went so far as to camouflage the author's identity by offering the false surmise that the author might be Johann Lorenz Schmidt, the deist who had translated the banned Wertheimer Bible of 1735. As he had expected, this initial publication elicited no significant reaction. Three years later, Lessing published five more manuscripts, attaching to them his own "Editor's Counterpropositions." The titles of the five manuscripts, translated into English, are: "On the Decrying of Reason in the Pulpit," "The Impossibility of a Revelation that All Men Can Believe on Rational Grounds," "The Passage of the Israelites through the Red Sea," "That the Books of the Old Testament Were Not Written to Reveal a Religion," and "On the Resurrection Narrative." In these extremely radical and by no means innocuous manuscripts, Reimarus presented his sharpest attacks on the Christian doctrine of revelation. Their publication evoked sharp reactions of refutation and reproach, especially from representatives of Lutheran orthodoxy. This marks the beginning of the "fragments controversy" (Fragmentenstreit).

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