Friday, 6 July 2012

Why Germans recommend Gathercole, not Bultmann - a Münster experience!

          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.

Herr, ich danke Ihnen, dass die Deutschen lesen Simon Gathercole Arbeit. Gott arbeitet auf mysteriöse Weise ...