Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Tom Wright's non-historical Jesuses and the Systematic end of Apartheid

Tom Wright often relies on an interesting and famous lecture by Ernst Kasemann in 1953, as hermeneutical background for serious historical Jesus studies. Wright usually offers Bultmann's "gemeinde theologie" and "non-historical Jesuses" as the fertile soil for Hitler and the Nazi ideology. As someone who has benefitted from Wright's scholarship, including his work on critical realism and historical methodology, my South African experience paints a different picture when it comes to the motivation to engage in historical Jesus studies.

Johann Heyns (renowned professor of Systematic Theology, who studied under Hendrik Berkhouwer in Amsterdam) was an early prophetic voice against apartheid, while at the same time being quite sceptical about historical Jesus studies. He became famous for his Kingdom of God theology, developed as a systematic theologian, which provided an hermeneutical framework for a socially just society. There can be little doubt that the latter contributed to a relatively calm and smooth political transition from old to new South Africa.

Beyers Naude, formerly head of the Afrikaner Broederbond, and later famous anti-apartheid activist, in later life indicated that it was BB Keet, his Systematic Theology professor at Stellenbosch, that laid the foundation for his theological dissent.

It could be argued that it was Systematic Theologians, and not a large majority of South African New Testament biblical scholars, who confronted the "non-historical Jesuses" of the old South Africa.
Personally, I am in favour of historical Jesus studies, but thinks Tom should probably nuance his 1953 Kasemann prop in light of the South African counter story ... 

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