Renan, Ernest (1823–1892) By Sanzo, Joseph Emmanuel
Joseph Ernest Renan was a French rationalist philosopher, orientalist, and historian of religion. He was a professor of Semitics at the Collège de France. Renan is best known for his influential Vie de Jésus (1863), a biography of Jesus written in the tradition of David Strauß’s (1808–1874) Das Leben Jesu (1835–1836). Against his Roman Catholic upbringing, Renan disputed the compatibility of history and theology, questioned the divine inspiration of the Bible, precluded the possibility of miracles, and rejected Jesus’s divinity (and Jewishness). Although Vie de Jésus was immediately criticized for its many unsupported claims and Renan was, as a result, subsequently suspended temporarily from his post at the Collège, the book’s popularity made its publication a watershed in French intellectual history.