Thursday, October 1, 2015

Hidden from the world in German higher education

New Testament scholarship within the German system of higher learning works like this: You have to slog your way through the whole modern intellectual history of a topic and write at least two monographs with approximately 5000 footnotes. The second book is your postdoctoral thesis. At the end of this phase of research you will be rewarded with an academic title called “PD” (“Privatdozent”). With this title you still have one letter less than a PhD-holder in Anglophone countries—not to mention, that this person is very likely to be 15 years younger than you at this point. Perhaps the reason for this stony path is that, in the collective memory of Germans, the image of a widely educated scholar looks like this:

The generation of the so called “gro├če Gelehrte” to whom Bultmann belongs is to this day very influential. Especially in the case of Rudolf Bultmann young, ambitious New Testament scholars have to deal with the fact that this professor from Marburg set the agenda in New Testament research for several decades until now. In modification of a famous quote one could say: New Testament scholarship consists of a series of footnotes to Bultmann. The topic of my doctoral thesis is no exception. I, like many others, am still wrestling with the consequences of his insights. Taking serious the end of the “Leben-Jesu-Forschung”, Bultmann focused resolutely on the synoptic tradition, its origin, and its pre-literate forms. Some of his students, above all Helmut Koester, followed up on the trace of the synoptic tradition in various early Christian writings, including the Gospel of Thomas and the letters of Paul. The research interest was in pre-literate, catechetic collections of early Christian tradition and in the question whether Paul and other early Christian authors included such collections in their writings. If so, the early dates and perhaps even the historical reliability of the primitive Gospel tradition could be proven. As a consequence the analysis of parallel tradition aroused new interest in the historical Jesus. And New Testament research turned to the letters of Paul hoping to find sayings of Jesus who match the criterion of multiple attestations. Programmatic in this field was Dale C. Allison’s influential article on “The Pauline Epistles and the Synoptic Gospels: The Pattern of Parallels” (NTS 28), published in 1982.

Often discussed analogies to synoptic tradition can be found, inter alia, in Romans 12:14-21 and 14:14, 20. The passage in Romans 12 seems to allude to a part of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus commands non-retaliation and to love one’s enemies. Romans 14 on the other hand deals with purity. Paul here declares, that there is no impurity in “Kyrios Jesus” and hereby supposedly evokes the disputation passage in Mark 7:1-23. Traces of an “original Jesus tradition” have been claimed for this Pauline passage as it seemed necessary that Paul would use the authority of Jesus in a question as important as the suspension of the food laws. Following this thesis however, the lack of an original saying of Jesus seems all the more conspicuous. The missing command to love one´s enemy in Rom 12 is significant. Instead Paul cites Prov 25:21-22 as an example of how the congregation should deal with enemies! Wouldn´t it at this point have been much easier for the apostle to just cite Jesus and use his authority, had he possessed a such command from his master? And exactly how much is the criteria “multiple attestation” worth, when Paul in these cases doesn’t even mention Jesus? Even the only two unmistakable references to words of Jesus in 1 Cor 7:10-11 and 9:14 are actually just paraphrases. Paul creates his own context to use these words in and even changes the content of what the Lord had commanded. Paradoxically he sees himself authorized to do so by the lord Jesus Christ himself, since he himself in Jesus spirit can command independently (cf. 1 Cor 7:25,40; 14:37; Phlm 8-9). One could even go as far as to say, that Paul uses the authority of the lord against the Jesus tradition. 

And so the question remains, how much knowledge did Paul really have about the Jesus tradition? Furthermore, was at all important to him? He was surely not interested in Jesus of Nazareth in any modern historical sense and he seems to care very little for Jesus’ authoritative teachings.
Following Bultmann on this matter, Paul was much more convinced about the significance of the risen Christ, the healing implications of this event for the whole of humanity, and its overall influence on Christian living. It is precisely through this lens that Paul views the Jesus tradition. This circumstance raises the hermeneutic question as to whether it is even possible to examine the Pauline letters with an interest in the historical Jesus. As Paul’s letters follow a completely different agenda, on our search for traces of the historical Jesus do we not much more risk dragging our own interests into those texts?

Being a newcomer and researching, hidden from the world, in German higher education, I was able to meditate on and investigate these and other exegetical, theological and philosophical questions and surprisingly, many of my insights turned out to be very close to the theses of this famous man shown above. So I find myself asking: Are we living in a Bultmann-revival-era?

12 comments:

  1. Well...I enjoyed reading this. Thank you, Christine! I think I'll go back to my little blog and post something about my favorite Van Halen guitar solo (which, by the way, is in "Push Comes to Shove").

    Seriously though, this was really enjoyable reading. You raise great questions about Paul's knowledge, or not, of Jesus' words remembered eventually, and peculiarly in each of the Gospels.

    You are yet another reason why this is a great blog to visit.

    Now, on another note - I'm still waiting on the first post from El Duderino!

    -jack

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Haha, thank you, Jack! Actually, I shouldn't blog about my PhD subject. I can get completely lost in details...

      Delete
  2. Christine, thanks for this post and for giving us a window into your research!

    I noticed that you didn't say anything about Paul's explicit quotation of Jesus' words over the bread and wine in the so-called "words of institution" (1 Cor 11:24-25). Do you think these are relevant to Jesus research? If so, how do you factor them in to your understanding of Paul's use of the Jesus tradition? Any thoughts on their striking parallels with Luke's account of the Last Supper (Luke 22:19-22)? Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Brant! This is a really interesting question. Indeed, I think the quotation of Jesus' words in 1Cor 11 is an exception within Paul's attitude to refer to the Lord and to allude to Jesus tradition. But to my mind, this exception results from the fact that Paul quotes an early Christian tradition to which V.23b belongs, too. Jesus' words are included in this Christian tradition. This tradition was the way in which early Christians traced back their ritual to the earthly Jesus and to a particular event in his life. However, the historical background lies to my mind in a more general feature of Jesus' activity. The tradition of the last supper is somehow paradigmatic, and it is a very old tradition, as is seen in the striking parallels with Luke's account. In this sense the words of institution are very relevant to Jesus research as well as to the history of early Christianity.
      Regarding Paul, it is striking that even though Paul depends on other Christians from whom he received the tradition, in his introduction he directly refers to authority of the Lord (cf. V.23a "I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you"). I think with this he wants to stress the close relationship between himself and the Lord, neglecting other authorities in the chain of tradition. I hope I do not overinterprete the introduction. But taking into account that the words of institution could be regarded as eyewitness testimony, to my opinion Paul tries to downplay this.

      Delete
  4. Hi Christine,
    Anything worth exploring in 1 Cor 15:3-5?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Frederik,
      of course 1 Cor 15:3-5 demand a further explanation. What is striking here is the fact this text passage is introduced by Paul with nearly the same phrase as in 1 Cor 11:23: for what I received I passed on to you. Only, in the case of 1 Cor 15:3-5 Paul does not refer to the Lord as the origin of the tradition. Paul presents this tradition as something that he has received from other apostles. Here he doesn't mind depending on other early Christian teachers (unlike 1 Cor 11,23!). The reason for this might be the argumentative strategy of the quoted tradition about Jesus' death and resurrection. Paul wants to demonstrate that his gospel is consistent with a broad majority of apostles and eyewitnesses of the resurrected Jesus. Within this tradition, Paul reveals the key elements of his knowledge about the earthly Jesus, namely that Jesus died and was buried. Thus regarding the earthly Jesus, it is his death that matters most for Paul. To my mind this sounds again like Bultmann, but he is right in this case.

      Delete
  5. Christine, thanks so much for this. In my last two projects, I came to the conclusion as well that Gospels scholarship especially is essentially *still* immensely indebted to Bultmann. Although I, like many other kittens taking a swipe at a tiger, have argued against aspects of his work, I'm absolutely in awe of his brilliance and continued influence.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Many thanks, Chris! I agree. Although Bultmann has not definitely answered the question how the synoptic tradition emerged and developed, the very idea of a "history of the synoptic tradition" is brilliant....

      Delete
  6. In his book on James, Richard Bauckham suggests that we need to “shift our interest from identifying allusions to the sayings of Jesus (which has been the focus of most study in this area) to identifying creative re­expression of the wisdom of Jesus by his disciple the sage James.” I wonder if this might be the case for Paul also.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Yes, the final result of my book gets very close to this shift. The special character of Paul's reception of Jesus and Jesus tradition is, however, Paul's overriding concern in the risen, exalted Lord who is now present in the congregation through his apostle. From Paul's point of view, this even overrules actual Jesus sayings (cf. 1Cor 9:14). In order to elaborate these and other relevant aspects I have tried to combine a diachronic view on traces of Jesus tradition with a synchronic view on Paul's processing and receiving Jesustradition.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Wellkommen Chris. Personally, I think I'm left of even Bultmann! But Paul occupies a nice central position, accessible to all.

    ReplyDelete