Thursday, October 29, 2009

All about Bultmann

I am taking a Gospel class and am amused by how often Jesus' identity is raised in the Gospels. "who do they say that I am?" is a typical question.

I have another identity mystery to solve however. Who is this Bultmann? As I do research on the Gospel John I keep running into his name. He seems to be a mythic figure to all the towering giants of exegesis. It’s hilarious in a way, I almost have to do research on the researcher. In John Ashton’s book, Understanding the Fourth Gospel, (boy is that misnamed) which left me cross-eyed and belligerent because of its insider, referential impenetrability (perhaps I should just say it’s a scholarly work), he treats Bultmann as a God.

And of course the name BULTMANN has the heavy sound of German authority; if God's name wasn't Yahweh it might just be Bultmann.

Ashton actually treats Bultmann as more of an idol than a God, because he is always trying to refute him. I put it down to an obsession by one exegete to an older, authority figure. Perhaps Bultmann was Ashton’s old professor, he has to be respectful while he undermines his pet theories.

But then I find in Raymond Brown (who himself is a towering something or other) this little bon mot "I do not think that the evangelist was either anti-sacramental (in a Bultmannian sense) or anti-ecclesiastic." Raymond Brown is more accessible than Ashton is, although not much. I cannot fathom the above quoted sentence though, and cannot imagine ever writing anything where I used the Biblical scholar Bultmann as an adjective.

Oh, then Malina and Rohrbach, who are very modern and try and be understandable, mention Bultmann as if everyone knows who he is and what he stands for.

They seem so happy and oblivious these Biblical scholars. It’s such a tempest in a teapot sort of environment where everyone knows everyone. These scholars of the Bible - not so long ago all male - obviously intelligent - very detail-oriented - learned - unemotional tinkerer’s of the Gospels. It’s as if the Gospels were car engines and they just have to have a go at them.


After writing a mild screed about Bultmann above, I felt a little guilty so I looked him up. He is all that I said, but also someone I think I might have agreed with. Wikipedia says "He carried form-criticism so far as to call the historical value of the gospels into serious question. Some scholars criticized Bultmann and other critics for excessive skepticism regarding the historical reliability of the gospel narratives." Interesting, he was really saying that the Gospels should be looked at in a different way -- actually sounds like he came to the post -modern conclusion that you cannot just take the Bible back and back until you finally have the truth of it, you need another paradigm. He was influence by Kierkegaard more than most people are now. His movement away from exegesis had a different flavor than it would have if he was writing today.

But Bultmann, it looks like you were all right, in a Bultmannian sense that is.


Anonymous said...

Here's my favorite Bultmann quote:

It may be said that myths give to the transcendent reality an immanent, this-worldly objectivity. Myths speak about gods and demons as powers on which man knows himself to be dependent, powers whose favors he needs, powers whose wrath he fears. Myths express the knowledge that man is not master of the world and his life, that the world within which he lives is full of riddles and mysteries and that human life also is full of riddles and mysteries.

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