Why Germans Recommend Gathercole, Not Bultmann – A Münster Experience!

Posted: July 10, 2012 in General

“Whether the Bultmannian era still continues or it fades away?” My South Afrikan friend Frederik Mulder discusses about his experiences in Germany. Frederik Mulder has completed his theological education from Pretoria (South Africa) and Durham (UK). Currently, he is working on his PhD Dissertation under Prof. Jan van der Watt (Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen, Holland). He lives with his family in Cambridge, UK.

Frederik Mulder writes…

[I had the privilege of giving a paper at the  Neutestamentliches Seminar of the Evangelisch-Theologische Fakultät der Westfälischen Wilhelms-Universität, Münster on July 4th. In my paper I focussed on Willi Marxsen (former professor in Münster), N.T. Wright and the continued quest to make sense of Paul’s view of the future resurrection body. There was a lively discussion afterwards during which many interesting issues were raised. A big thank you to Professor Hermut Löhr, Professor Dietrich-Alex Koch (from Göttingen), Dr Sebastian Fuhrmann and all the other attendees for the valuable advice, and also those challenging questions raised by Prof Koch in particular! I had such fun engaging both Willi Marxsen and N.T. Wright’s very different approaches to the study of Jesus’ resurrection.

Afterwards, some of us had a lovely dinner at a traditional German restaurant. The discussion was, to say the least mind blowing! We spoke about people like Martin Hengel, Adolf Schlatter, Rudolf Bultmann, Karl Barth, Peter Stuhlmacher, Erich Gräßer, Walter Schmidtals, Klaus Berger to name a few.

A few interesting reflections:

Which British biblical scholars’ works are read in Germany? There are probably more but the only names I recall were that of C.K. Barrett, James D.G. Dunn, John Barclay, Francis Watson and Simon Gathercole. I was quite surprised, but very thankful that The Pre-existent Son, Simon Gathercole’s important 2006 monograph is “recommended” reading in Münster!

I asked one of the scholars whether Rudolf Bultmann’s dominance started to fade in Germany, and if so, when? He replied that it did fade and occurred in the 1970’s. We then spoke about the significance of Ernst Käsemann’s “bomb shell” in 1962 when he rejected his doktorvater (Bultmann)’s exegesis in public…

But why did Bultmann’s insights fade? One person replied that it was because Bultmann’s existentialism, which he got from Heidegger, took away the “surprise” of the biblical texts. The scholar went on to say that he does make reference to Bultmann’s form criticism in his classes, but only for its “heuristic value”. German scholarship has apparently moved “beyond” Bultmann’s form criticism. These reflections on Bultmann (by German scholars!) fascinated me tremendously, in part because a month or two ago, I read on Facebook of a South African New Testament scholar who still requires his B.A. students to read Bultmann’s History of the Synoptic Tradition. With respect, one wonders whether South African scholars will take note of the fact that some German scholars are recommending Simon Gathercole’s The Pre-existent Son, a work that attempts to deconstruct particular trajectories created by German form criticism.

As is fitting for a New Testament PhD student, I did visit the Institut für neutestamentliche Textforschung where I was pleasantly surprised to find Dr Christian Askeland, a Coptic textual-criticism guru who did his PhD at Cambridge, with Dr Peter William as his supervisor.]

See the original post here.

  1. Paul Anderson says:

    Thanks, Frederick, for the state-of-the-discipline update, and thanks, Johnson, for posting it!

    I had a similar experience two years ago, serving under the gracious hospitality of Ruben Zimmermann on a DAAD grant at Mainz. My students felt some pressure to understand Bultmann’s theory, as their final exams would be requiring such, and yet most of the New Testament scholars with whom I engaged had moved beyond Bultmann, looking for an alternative paradigm. Among those of Bultmann, Barrett, and Brown (which I’ll be presenting on at SNTS next month), I’ve been putting forward an overall theory of John’s Dialogical Autonomy–drawing on the most plausible of inferences; we’ll see how that develops.

    In addition to presenting on the John, Jesus, and History Project at Nijmegen and Mainz, I received very warm welcomes at Muenster and Marburg, where I presented on a Bi-Optic Hypothesis. Volker Siegert (Muenster) is arguing a diachronic model of John’s composition, but it is only partially Bultmannian–seeing John’s final editors gathering material on Jesus in Ephesus during the reign of Trajan.

    A delightful conversation ensued at Marburg, where Professor Avemarie had been working his class all semester on the Johannine riddles–culminating with Bultmann’s treatment of John 6, where the various sources should be evident. As we walked into that discussion, I started inductively–asking what students and faculty alike what points they thought were strong with Bultmann’s model. Interestingly, there were more questions than satisfactions; so, we worked from there to a modest two-edition theory of John’s composition (following Lindars, largely, as does Ashton–see website, below), and then examining particular relations with other traditions. If John and Mark are the Bi-Optic Gospels, while Matthew and Luke built upon Mark, the first edition of John (in my view) built around Mark–it is different ON PURPOSE.

    Anyway, a really fine discussion emerged, and positive and creative critical engagements continued throughout my nearly four months in Germany–including a course on the Historical Jesus involving a “Fourth Quest” (including John instead of leaving it out). Nearly two dozen students from around the country signed up for that one, and the wonderful faculty and research assistants (Ruben Zimmermann, Dieter Roth, Eckart Schmit, Susanne Luther, Jörg Röder) and others (Annette Merz and James Charlesworth helped out from afar) made that summer seminar a memorable experience, indeed!

    Then again, Bultmann’s work was amazing, and I consider his commentary on John the most important book in New Testament studies in the 20th century, though I find many of his judgments wrong and assumptions questionable. It reminds us, though, that scholarship continues to move, therefore opening doors for advances.

    Here are a couple of websites, taking things a bit further.


    Thanks so much,

    Paul Anderson

  2. I am really inspired by all your works, Dr. Anderson. May God guide you further.

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