Saturday, March 23, 2013

Rudolf Bultmann

One of my hobbies is reading biographies and it just so happened that I came across a recently translated biography1 of a NT scholar from the early 20th century, so in this particular case, I get to double-dip in terms of my interest in NT studies but also my hobby in reading biographies. The person I am talking about is none other than Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976). He is arguably the most influential NT scholar of the 20th century; among others he has published books on the development of the synoptic tradition (rigorously applying form-criticism),2 theology of the NT,3 and a commentary on the Gospel of John,4 that still remain as important books for students of NT studies. I have worked through some of his commentary for a paper I wrote a while ago for a seminar on John, and while I sort of understood his well-known program of 'demythologizing' and his pioneering work in form-criticism, the biography does a good job filling out the portrait of a real human being who wrestled hard with questions posed by the text and the experiences of a person living in the world. Though keep in mind, much of what he has written and reacting against are issues that were at the foreground spurred on by the pains of modernity during the early-mid 20th century, but I think his writings are still interesting nonetheless. I will just quote one little snippet of something he wrote:

"The object of theology is God, and the reproach to liberal theology is that it has dealt not with God, but with human beings. God signifies the radical negation and cancellation of the human being; theology whose object is God, can on this account have only the λογος του σταυρου [message of the cross] as its content; but this is a σκανδαλον [stumbling-block] for the human being. Accordingly, the accusation against liberal theology is that it has sought to evade this σκανδαλον or to soften it."5

I'm only about 1/3 done (the biography is 536 pages!) but so far the book has done a great job opening up the mind and world of this fascinating figure of the early 20th century.




1 Konrad Hammann, Rudolf Bultmann: A Biography (trans. Philip E. Devenish; Salem, Or.: Polebridge Press, 2013).
2 Rudolf Bultmann, History of the Synoptic Tradition.
3 Rudolf Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament.
4 Rudolf Bultmann, The Gospel of John: A Commentary.
5 Rudolf Bultmann, "Die liberale Theologie," GuV, vol. 1, 2.



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