Baker Academic

Was Rudolf Bultmann's impact on biblical studies generally positive or generally negative?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Paul Anderson on Bultmann's Legacy

In reply to Butlmann week here at the Jesus Blog, Paul Anderson writes:

Thanks for your pointed question on Bultmann’s contribution, Anthony and Chris; in addition to the excellent collection on Bultmann’s New Testament theology edited by Longenecker and Parsons, I have just gotten his commentary on John back into print in paperback as Vol. 1 in the new Johannine Monograph Series (as of August 15, Wipf & Stock) edited by Alan Culpepper and myself (https://wipfandstock.com/browse/series/Johannine%20Monograph%20Series). Here’s what I say in the rather extensive Foreword (pp. i-xxviii), fyi:

“As the first volume in the Johannine Monograph Series, The Gospel of John: A Commentary by Rudolf Bultmann well deserves this place of pride. Indeed, this provocative commentary is arguably the most important New Testament monograph in the twentieth century, perhaps second only to The Quest of the Historical Jesus by Albert Schweitzer…. In contrasting Bultmann's and Schweitzer's paradigms, however, we find that Bultmann’s is far more technically argued and original, commanding hegemony among other early-Christianity paradigms. Ernst Haenchen has described Bultmann's commentary as a giant oak tree in whose shade nothing could grow, and indeed, this reference accurately describes its dominance among Continental Protestant scholarship over the course of several decades.”

Any familiar with my treatment of Bultmann’s approach to John (in over 100 pages of analysis in The Christology of the Fourth Gospel) or in the treatments by Jörg Frey will know that while Bultmann’s highly diachronic approach to John’s composition does not convince overall, his theological sensitivity to John’s tensions and riddles is first rate. Therefore, even in a synchronic approach to John, such as the recent thoughtful-yet-traditional New International Commentary, Ramsey Michaels declares that the most helpful single resource in writing his commentary was that of Rudolf Bultmann. That sentiment is confirmed by your informal poll, and I would concur overall, although I differ with Bultmann in seeing John’s tradition as being more coherent and autonomous, in addition to being developed theologically.

Interestingly, despite Bultmann’s treatment of dialectical thinking as the basis for theological and historical reasoning in his 1927 Eisenach address, he refuses to allow the Fourth Evangelist to be seen as a dialectical thinker. He thus wrongly attributes John’s material to inferred alien sources, rather than seeing them as elements of an individuated tradition. In that sense, Bultmann also fails to note the highly dialectical intratraditional engagement of the evangelist, in addition to his intertraditional work, and more recent studies have cast valuable light on the highly dialectical Johannine situation. What Bultmann would concur with, however, is the evangelist’s treatment of the human-divine dialogue, which the Revealer conveys to humanity, calling forth an existential response of faith to the divine initiative. Hence, in the light of John’s dialogical autonomy, we might infer that…in the beginning was…the Dialogue!

Paul Anderson

McGrath reviews the Fortress's Inkling Project for the Bible

Over at exploringourmatrix, James McGrath offers his initial impressions of this project:



I was part of the team that turned Sumney's introduction into an e-book with tags, pop-out boxes, e-quizzes, maps, and photographs that enhance the digital experience of the student and professor.

-anthony

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Meaning of Crucifixion - Le Donne

There have been a handful of excellent studies on crucifixion circa Jesus’ context in the past ten years. Here are two monographs to consider: Samuelsson and Chapman. Unfortunately too many folks still fumble a bit with vague explanations of crucifixion. I've done a bit of fumbling myself at times. The popular notions of crucifixion as "the slave's death" and as "reserved for insurrectionists" are perhaps close to the mark, but not quite as helpful as they could be. As these two vague descriptions stand, it is hard to see how both could be true without qualification. I've previously attempted to explain that we see a particular status demotion to enemies of the state in crucifixion. In other words, the victims might have aspired to grandeur, but died as slaves. But I don't think that this quite hits the mark either.

Last week I was reading an essay by Joel Marcus published in 2006. Marcus writes:

"…this strange exalting mode of execution [crucifixion] was designed to mimic, parody, and puncture the pretensions of insubordinate transgressors by displaying a deliberately horrible mirror of their self-evaluation. For it is revealing that the criminals so punished were often precisely people who had, in the view of their judges, gotten "above" themselves. Rebellious slaves, for example, or slaves who had insulted their masters, or people of any class who had not shown proper deference to the emperor, not to mention those who had revolted against him or who had, through brigandage or piracy, demonstrated disdain for imperial rule. Crucifixion was intended to unmask, in a deliberately grotesque manner, the pretension and arrogance of those who had exalted themselves beyond their station; the authorities were bent on demonstrating through the graphic tableau of the cross what such self-promotion meant and whither it led. Crucifixion, then, is a prime illustration of Michael Foucault’s thesis that the process of execution is a “penal liturgy” designed to reveal the essence of the crime. …. The greater the insolence, the higher the cross; the proper response to excessive haughtiness was, in the words of the Clint Eastwood film, to "Hang ‘Em High!" (“Crucifixion as Parodic Exaltation,” JBL 125 [2006]: 73-87, here pp. 78-79.)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Translating Ioudaios ("Jew" or "Judean") on Marginalia—Chris Keith

If you're not on the Marginalia train, get on.  I'm convinced that T. Michael Law, the editor-in-chief (pictured here), has seen the future and is leading Biblical Studies and Religious Studies in the right direction.  In short, he's figured out how to do online peer review in a format that's better than anything else out there, basically combining the best of old-school peer review, articles, and the interactive possibilities of blogs, not to mention the fact that reviews can run much longer because there's not a word limit in this format.  A case in point is the recent discussion on Marginalia on how to translate Ioudaios ("Jew" or "Judean").  Adele Reinhartz published a short article on Marginalia ("The Vanishing Jews of Antiquity") about the recent trend in scholarship of using "Judean" instead of "Jew."  The comments section went nuts with all kinds of people weighing in.  Law then organized a forum on the topic with contributions from Reinhartz, Steve Mason, Daniel Schwartz, Annette Yoshiko Reed, Joan Taylor, Malcolm Lowe, Jonathan Klawans, Ruth Sheridan, and James Crossley.  Those familiar with the scholarly literature will recognize that these are basically all the important voices on the topic past and present.  The forum is now appearing on Marginalia and you can link to it here.  Marginalia is also making the entire forum available for download as an e-book. 

I think it's worth pointing out just how incredible not only this collection of scholarly voices is but also the manner in which this has arisen.  Even twenty years ago, if you wanted to find out what all these people thought about the topic, you'd have to wait six to eighteen months after any one of them published an article, because that's when the responses would eventually get published, and that's if the respondent wrote immediately after the initial article came out.  The whole discussion would take two to three years to occur, at least.  Now, Reinhartz publishes a provocative and important piece on June 24 and just two months later we have a published forum from the leading scholars on the topic.  My hat is off to T. Michael Law.  Lead on.

Monday, August 25, 2014

British New Testament Conference 2014—Chris Keith

The British New Testament Conference is just around the corner.  This year it's on Sept 4–6 and is being held at the University of Manchester.  Along with Helen Bond, I chair the Jesus and Gospels Seminar.  We're pretty proud of the lineup we've arranged for this year.  One session will feature a panel discussion of Rafael Rodriguez's and Eric Eve's new books on orality.  Another session will be a panel review of Jens Schröter's From Jesus to the New TestamentThe middle session will feature papers from Jesse Nickel, Crispin Fletcher-Louis, and Markus Bockmuehl.  The full information, with abstracts for the papers, is below.  By the way, because Jens needs to leave early on Saturday, the panel review for his book will start at 8:30 am, not the typical 9:00 am.



Session 1 (Friday morning)
 
“Orality and the Gospels”: A Discussion with Eric Eve and Rafael Rodríguez

Eric Eve (Fellow and Tutor in Theology, Harris Manchester College, Oxford), author of Behind the Gospels: Understanding the Oral Tradition (SPCK, 2013)

Rafael Rodríguez (Professor of New Testament, Johnson University, USA), author of Oral Tradition and the New Testament: A Guide for the Perplexed (T&T Clark, 2014)

Discussion (30 mins.)

 
Session 2 (Friday afternoon)

Paper 1 (30 mins.)—The Battle with Beelzebul: Eschatological Violence, Jesus’ Exorcisms,
and the Coming of the Kingdom of God (Jesse Nickel, PhD Candidate, University of St Andrews)

Abstract: 

All three Synoptic Gospels record the accusation made against Jesus that it is through being in league with Beelzebul, the archōn of the demons, that Jesus is able to exert his mighty power over the evil spirits he encounters (Mt. 12.22-32 // Mk. 3.19b-30 // Lk. 11.14-23). In all three, Jesus responds with familiar words about kingdoms divided against themselves and the binding of the strong man. However, Matthew and Luke both add an intriguing extra statement, with which Jesus makes it clear that his casting out of demons, rather than indicating partnership with the powers of evil, in fact signifies the presence of the kingdom of God (Mt. 12.28 // Lk. 11.20). Using this pericope as a starting point, in this paper I will explore the connection between Jesus’ exorcisms and the inauguration of the kingdom of God in the Synoptic Gospels, in the context of the historical eschatological expectations of second-Temple Judaism. Although the portrayals of eschatological events in Jewish writings from this period are diverse, one of the nearly unanimous expectations was that the arrival of the kingdom of God would entail the violent destruction of all the enemies of God and/or his people (cf., e.g., Dan. 7; 1 En. 85-90; 1QM). I will discuss how this component of second-Temple Jewish eschatology was represented and manifested in the kingdom-ministry of the Synoptic Jesus. I will argue that, counter to many of his Jewish contemporaries, who expected that this would involve a holy war waged by the faithful against their Gentile oppressors, Jesus understood himself to be prosecuting the expected eschatological battle in his encounters with evil spirits – the true enemies of God and his people. In these mighty deeds, the anticipated victory which would attend the inauguration of the kingdom of God was being won.

 Paper 2 (30 mins.)— Jesus’ divine self-consciousness: a proposal (Crispin Fletcher-Louis, Research Director, Whymanity Research and Training)

 Abstract:
This paper will sketch the conceptual framework for a new approach to the study of the historical Jesus; specifically Jesus’ own contribution to the origins of the early Church’s so-called “Christological monotheism” and Christ devotion. The paper will summarise the relevant sections of the second volume of my forthcoming book (Jesus Monotheism: A New Paradigm for the Shape and Origins of the Earliest Christology), in which I argue that, taken together, the OT and the NT—along with the historical evidence for Second Temple life and thought—all point to Jesus’ own self-consciousness as a heaven-sent, and uniquely “divine”, priest-king of a new eschatological order (or covenant) as a decisive, determining, factor in Christological origins.

Paper 3 (30 mins.)—The God of Israel and the Eschatology of Jesus (Markus Bockmuehl, Lady Margaret's Professor of Divinity, Oxford)

Contrary to recent critiques of monotheism’s supposedly intrinsic authoritarianism, Jesus of Nazareth's strongly theocentric eschatology shaped a nonviolent opposition to evil—whether its manifestation appeared individual or communal, moral or political, demonic or structural. At the same time, an active negotiation of eschatological tension and deferral arises from another characteristic thread of the Jesus tradition: the Synoptic Jesus buttresses his calls for constant watchfulness with the strangely ambivalent insistence that ‘the day' or 'the hour’ is unknown even to him. Jesus’ teaching is marked by both urgency and restraint, and surprisingly short on unambiguous specifics; proximity and postponement keep close moral company here. An urgent eschatology of definitive judgment and redemption thus stands side by side with the charge to cast out demons and ‘bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame’ (Luke 14.21; cf Mark 3.15 par.). 

 
Session 3 (Saturday morning) *beginning at 8:30 am

Panel review of Jens Schröter’s From Jesus to the New Testament: Early Christian Theology and the Origin of the New Testament Canon (Baylor University Press, 2013).

Jens Schröter (Professor for Exegesis and Theology of the New Testament and New Testament Apocrypha, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin)

Helen K. Bond (Senior Lecturer in New Testament,University of Edinburgh)
James Crossley (Professor of Bible, Culture, and Politics, University of Sheffield)
Edward Adams (Professor of New Testament, King’s College, London)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Quarterly Quote of the Month about Jesus for this Week

"This is the paradox which runs through the whole gospel: the "glory" is not to be seen alongside the "flesh" as through a window; it is to be seen in the flesh and nowhere else. If man wishes to see the glory, then it is on the flesh that he must concentrate his attention, without allowing himself to fall victim to appearances. The revelation is present in a peculiar hiddenness."

    ~Rudolf Bultmann

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Life in Galilee


Professor Jonathan Reed describes what life would have been like in first-century Galilee. He sets the stage for Jesus' teachings by emphasizing his agrarian society.

http://www.bibleodyssey.org/en/tools/video-gallery/l/life-in-first-century-galilee.aspx

-anthony

Friday, August 22, 2014

Cross-checking Crossley: Did Jesus Baptize?

There are few voices in contemporary Jesus studies more interesting than that of James Crossley. James (or “Jimbo” as his friends call him) is also one of the genuinely pleasant blokes in the field. So it was only a matter of time before I exploited his good nature for my own personal gain.

Yesterday Dr. Crossley argued that John’s Gospel offers little help to the historian interested in reconstructing Jesus’ life. He takes on Paul Anderson and Richard Bauckham who have recently attempted to revive the use of John for historical reconstruction. He makes a couple compelling points, but I will take issue with this one:
Maybe there are some things we can see as part of earlier tradition (e.g. John the Baptist and Jesus working simultaneously, visiting Jerusalem more than once, archaeological details, date of the Passover, prediction of a rebuilt Temple etc.). Even so, some of these issues are again too general and sometimes just reflective of cultural practices, or could even be worked out from the Synoptics.
In a facebook conversation that followed his post I suggested that even if we consider the Fourth Gospel to be revisionist history (a category in which I’m mildly invested) it offers valuable information to the historian. I wrote, “I think that we can learn a great deal about a time and place by close analysis of the revisionist histories that emerge shortly after.” Crossley answered with a question, “what can we get from John? I can see some general points but do you think there is anything we can't already get from, for e.g., the Synoptics?”

Crossley is happy to affirm that the Fourth Gospel may offer us a few generalities, but he claims it doesn’t offer specific data that can’t already be learned from Matthew, Mark, or Luke. So “what can we get from John?” he asks. I can think of a few specifics that we could discuss, but it might be more useful to point to a single example:

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Was Bultmann's Impact Generally Positive or Negative?

As I was reminded by Joel Watts, it was Bultmann's birthday yesterday. I would therefore like to resurrect a poll that I tried to post a few months ago. Unfortunately we had some technology problems and the poll never worked. But judging from the emails that I got in response to this poll, others are interested to see the results. So let's try again.

Disclaimer: I realize that Bultmann's legacy cannot be reduced to a mere word. I have found, however, that Bultmann tends to be either revered or despised among theologically trained folks. Feel free not to vote if you think that this exercise is banal. Also feel free to comment below to qualify your answer.

thanks,
-anthony

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Jesus and Guitar Violence - Le Donne

Woody Guthrie's guitar famously announced
"this machine kills fascists" - an example
of a violent metaphor with an ideological referent
In a previous post I suggested that applying the label "nonviolent" to Jesus is slippery business. In short, violence is perhaps too vague and broad a term to be helpful. Indeed we might point to a few of Jesus' parables and say that he promoted a kind of divine kickassedness. Also he seems to have gone all Pete Townshend on those tables in Jerusalem. So in black and white terms, Jesus cannot be labeled nonviolent.

But does this all-or-nothing approach to the question of violence help? Little and less. I think it is ultimately misleading. To say that Jesus was "violent" gives the wrong impression. To say that Jesus was "nonviolent" is too superficial. Previously I pointed to Muhammad Ali who was perhaps the most famous conscientious objector to the American war in Vietnam. My point was simply that Ali occupies a complex place in the history of "nonviolence." To call Ali "nonviolent" gives the wrong impression. To call him "violent" doesn't tell the whole story.

James Crossley Joins the Criteria of Authenticity Skeptics—Chris Keith

I'm back from vacation in the US and finally catching up on some things.  In case you missed it, Prof James Crossley (I found this hilarious picture of him on Jim West's blog) has a new blog called "Harnessing Chaos."  He also has a new historical Jesus book coming out, Jesus and the Chaos of History, and I can't wait to read it.  I just finished his Jesus in an Age of Neoliberalism and will have some further thoughts on it shortly. All I can say at this point is that I learned a lot from it and that Crossley is doing some of the most interesting work in the field right now, some of which, really, no one else is doing.  In Neoliberalism, Crossley already had some mildly critical remarks about the criteria of authenticity (110-114).  As I understand it, he has positioned Jesus and the Chaos of History as "post-criteria" historical Jesus study and is strongly joining those of us who are skeptical of the usage of criteria of authenticity in historical Jesus studies.  He took a step in this direction on his blog recently in a post called "The 'Criteria of Authenticity' and (Not) Writing about the Historical Jesus."  Readers of this blog will likely be interested in this post as well as Crossley's forthcoming book.  We'll definitely see if we can do a giveaway here on the blog.  Here's a snippet from the blog post, and I draw specific attention to Crossley's conclusion that what we're left with sans criteria is simply where we have, in reality, always been:  interpreting the material and putting forth hypotheses.  I have argued similarly in some of my work, stressing that abandoning the criteria does not mean embracing some uncritical perspective but rather returning to the messiness of historical work.  Some historical Jesus scholars don't like this and view it as too unrefined or unscientific.  But, with Crossley, I too think Rafael Rodriguez (link below) has shown that the criteria approach only added further layers to that general process; it never allowed the discussion to escape it.  Here are Crossley's concluding comments from his blog post:

So what can we say in (what is hopefully) a post-criteria world? To some degree, we are simply left with an old fashioned view of historical interpretation: interpretation of the material (and, as Rafael Rodriguez has stressed, we are doing nothing but relentlessly interpreting even when using the criteria), guesswork about contexts and the combining of arguments to make an argument of collective weight. But an argument for what? Certainly not proof of what Jesus said or did. Jesus may or may not have said word-for-word what some of the Gospel passages claim but we have no idea if this is in fact the case. All we can do is make a general case for the kinds of themes present in the early Palestinian tradition.
I think this is actually a good thing. It gets us away from the obsession with, and impossibility of, trying to extract Jesus the Great Man from the swirling mix of traditions. It also allows a range of material (which might simultaneously be contradictory) which may, for all we know, have come from Jesus, may have come from his earliest interpreters, may have come from fictional haggadic traditions, and may have been associated with people other than Jesus. We might then be able to make some general cases for the ways in which people (not just this elusive and supposedly overwhelmingly influential Great Man) engaged with the social changes in 20s and 30s Palestine.
And we haven’t yet mentioned the negative: showing traditions that really do not come from 20s and 30s Palestine…

Friday, August 15, 2014

Class Offering: NT and Suffering

I will be offering a class through United Theological Seminary (Dayton, OH) called "The New Testament and Suffering." This will be a seminar-style, on campus, night class. It will run from mid-September to mid-December (Tuesday nights, 6:30-9:20 pm). If you live in the Dayton / Cincinnati / Columbus areas, I'd love to include you!

This class will follow three primary threads: (1) How is suffering represented in the Bible (esp. the NT)? (2) How have Christians perpetrated, participated in, and responded to suffering as guided by New Testament texts? (3) How did the conditions of suffering shape the New Testament and the message of the Gospel?

If you have any questions about the class, please email me at acledonne at united dot edu. If you have general questions about registration, you can email the campus registrar at registrar at united dot edu.

-anthony