Baker Academic

Monday, December 30, 2013

A Giant Has Left Us--Chris Keith

I'm very sorry to hear of the passing of Birger Gerhardsson.  I never met Gerhardsson personally but have only continued to appreciate all the more his work on the transmission of the Gospel tradition.  He was a contemporary of the form critics and probably their biggest opponent.  His Memory and Manuscript and Tradition and Transmission in Early Christianity, now conveniently available in a combined edition from Eerdmans, was pathbreaking and showed how much of the form-critical paradigm simply was not at home in a Jewish environment.  Unfortunately, his early work was harshly and unfairly characterized as a retrojection of rabbinic materials onto the first century.  In reality, and as is obvious to anyone who reads the book, he was much, much more careful than those early reviews indicated, which resulted in a delay of New Testament scholarship's recognition of just how innovative this Scandinavian scholar was.  (Fortunately, the more recent Kelber/Byrskog edited volume, Jesus in Memory, has clarified all the more his contributions.)  One author of such a review, Jacob Neusner, wrote a mea culpa preface to the Eerdmans combined edition of Gerhardsson's two major studies, which I highly recommend reading.  On this count, Gerhardsson provides an example for scholars not just in terms of his groundbreaking work but also in terms of handling unfair criticism (and, if you're lucky to be in this game for any amount of time, you will get it).  May he rest in peace.

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