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Miracles by Craig S. Keener, book review part 1 — “Inability to walk?” No. “Cured?” Only temporarily. Keener's failure to try & make a famed critic of Gospel miracles look foolish.

Miracles by Craig S. Keener

Craig S. Keener wrote in his book, “Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts” (2 Volume Set), Baker Academic, 2011:

David Friedrich Strauss (1808-74) [author of The Life of Jesus Critically Examined] explained early Christian miracle stories as myths depicted as history… Interestingly, Strauss did hear of contemporary miracle claims involving Lutheran pastor Johann Christoph Blumhardt, and a friend of his found himself cured of inability to walk after visiting Blumhardt. Consistent with his worldview, however, Strauss apparently dismissed the friendʼs cure as psychosomatic.

Keener makes it sound like Straussʼs friend was incapable of walking, i.e., “inability to walk.” But no source I checked said that, not even Isingʼs book that Keener cited as his primary source. So Keener provides a perfect example of miracle enhancement in his summary retelling, or at the very least he has left it to his readers to imagine a worst case scenario of someone with no ability to walk. But that was not the case at all as we will see. Nor did the “cure” last.

The friend of D. F. Strauss who visited Blumhardt was the German romantic poet and pastor, Eduard Morike, see photo below. All three men knew each other in their youth.

According to the book by Ising that Keener footnotes, “Morike can walk only with difficulty.” He did not lack the ability to walk. Ising also adds:

Morike was planning on a treatment by ‘magnetizing’—that is, the stroking of hands on the head with inducement to hypnotic sleep, otherwise known as ‘mesmerizing,’ a form of hypnotism to help relieve pain. Blumhardt told Morike that magnetizing was harmful. Later that evening, when Blumhardt accompanies Morike to his lodging Morike says that he senses more strength in his body than usual. Blumhardt smiles. “There is something special in the Mottlingen air; he should remain with Blumhardt here; no where else will he find it better.” The weakness in his backbone that is seen as the cause of his walking difficulties disappears. Morike leaves Mottlingen and Blumhardt to visit hot springs in Bad Teinach for his rhematic pain but returns once again to see Blumhardt, and reports to Wilhelm Hartlaub that now he is able to go on mountain hikes in burning heat. But his improvement does not last. In Feb. 1850 rhematic complaints reappear; in June 1850 he tries a Mergentheim water cure to relieve arthritic pains in his feet and legs. Source: Johann Christoph Blumhardt, Life and Work: A New Biography by Dieter Ising and Monty Ledford

Another scholarly source tells the story this way:

[Eduard] Morike had back pain and limb numbness. At the end of his weekend with his old friend pastor Blumhardt he received a parting prayer and laying on of hands and soon exuded such energy that physicians believed Morike a healthy man for nearly a year. The two friends, however, viewed the healing less a ‘miracle’ than a ‘gift’ symbolizing Morikeʼs return to faith after a period of doubt…

The cure stories at [Blumhardtʼs church] are not extraordinary for their pronouncement of miraculous causes, located as they are in a century of ecstatic camp meetings, urban revivals and Marian apparitions…

[The accounts of healings at Blumhardtʼs church] illuminate… the significance that each of the actors [in the healing stories] attached to the rituals before participating in them. Blumhardt and his penitents approached the confession expecting a profound religious experience. Hence, while there are reports of laymen who expected a sensation that never arrived, there are none to my knowledge of those who were caught unaware…

Blumhardtʼs miracles… bolstered the devotion of thousands to the promises of the revival while planting seeds of interest in thousands more, the majority never cured of anything… [And] the exodus of pilgrims from neighboring villages brought the ire of fellow pastors, and stern admonitions… from the consistory in Stuttgart who ordered Blumhardt “to direct the foreigners to the means of edification that are available in their hometowns.”

SOURCE: Daniel Kohler, “Pilgrimage of Protestants: Miracles and Religious Community in J. C. Blumhardtʼs Wurttemberg, 1840-1880,” a chapter in Die Gegenwart Gottes in der Modernen Gesellschaft: Transzendenz und Religiose Vergemeinschaftung in Deutschland / The Presence of God in Modern Society: Transcendence and Religious Community in Germany (German) 2006 by Michael Geyer, Lucian Holscher.

Another source notes that “His [Morikeʼs] health never improved sufficiently to allow him more than a few hours of productivity for weeks or months at a time… His own illness caused him constant pain, and his death on June 4, 1875 was not unexpected.” In context the source reads:

[Morike] was subject to rheumatic pains and eye trouble, and in 1823 we hear of an undefined ‘weakness in the chest.’ Today we could venture the hypothesis that he was suffering from the aftereffects of scarlet fever, but at his time medicine was not advanced enough to make such a diagnosis… Patiently he tried to show her that it would be wiser to wait for a parish in a climate beneficial to his health [in the mid 1800s there was no pollution control but plenty of smoke stacks spewing black smoke as industrialization took off as well as a lack of proper sanitation in cities making people not want to take a deep breath due to the stink, nor were houses easily climate controlled but still employed fire or coal burning systems and lacked air conditioning, so moving to a different clime could indeed aid a personʼs health]… In the meantime, the old struggle with his poor health and his antipathy to preaching also continued in these outwardly idyllic years… In November 1842, his superiors gave him the choice of either doing his work without help or going into retirement on a very low pension. Morike chose retirement; and at thirty-nine he moved with his sister to the spa of Schwabisch-Hall to take the [therapeutic/healing] waters and then at that end of 1844, when the climate still proved too harsh, to Bad Mergentheim… [he was] a poet whose nerves reacted to the slightest change in atmosphere, which he so beautifully depicted in his poetry… It seems tragic, then, that he gained his freedom too late to enjoy it, since his health never improved sufficiently to allow him more than a few hours of productivity for weeks or months at a time… Morke married Margarete November 25, 1851, after they had known each other for seven years. The courtship [that began around 1845] put an end to the two yearsʼ silence of Morikeʼs poetic genius just after his retirement. The years after 1845 were very fruitful ones for the poet… But his happy home life began to show signs of strain as the poet and his wife became older. Gretchen had always been a very sensitive person and took her illnesses just as seriously as the poet took his… His own illness caused him constant pain, and his death on June 4, 1875 was not unexpected.
Source: Eduard Morike by Helga Slessarev, University of Cincinnati (New York: Twayne Publishers 1970)

Also, as Ising admits, Blumhardt “does not cover up the fact that there are disappointments; not everybody experiences healing. Among these are people with ‘black star’ [cataracts] or those with congenital blindness or deafness… his prayer also seems ineffective for his mother-in-law.”

Is it any surprise that D. F. Strauss was not impressed when he heard of Morikeʼs “cure” at Blumfeldtʼs church?

Morike at the time of his temporary ‘healing’ was also engaged to a young lady he was excited about marrying, so Strauss added in a letter that it was probably not Blumhardt who cured Morike but “the god of love [Cupid], who alone clearly delivered [Morike]…”

And Be Sure To Follow The Continuing Review Of Keenerʼs Book On Miracles By Matthew Ferguson Here.

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