- Publisher: Harper San Francisco; 1st edition (October 1976)
- ISBN-10: 0060611723
- ISBN-13: 978-0060611729
- Package Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 1.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 5 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,213,086 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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History of the Synoptic Tradition Hardcover – October, 1976
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Text: English, German (translation) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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He wrote in the first chapter of this 1921 book, “it was inevitable that the analysis of the Synoptics into literary sources should give way to an attempt to apply to them the methods of form criticism which H. Gunkel and his disciples had already applied to the Old Testament. This involved discovering what the original units of the Synoptics were, both sayings and stories, to try to establish what their historical setting was, whether they belonged to a primary or secondary tradition or whether they were the product of editorial activity.” (Pg. 2-3)
He continues, “The following investigation therefore sets out to give an account of the history of the individual units of the tradition, and how the tradition passed from a fluid state to the fixed form in which it meets us in the Synoptics and in some instances even outside them… The proper understanding of form-criticism rests upon the judgment that the literature in which the life of a given community, even the primitive Christian community, has taken shape, springs out of quite definite conditions and wants of life from which grows up a quite definite style and quite specific forms and categories. Thus every literary category has its ‘life situation’ [Sitz im Leben: Gunkel], whether it be worship in its different forms, or work, or hunting, or war.” (Pg. 3-4)
He goes on, “It is no objection to the form-critical approach… to find that one piece of the tradition is seldom to be classified unambiguously in a single category. For just as in real life we are able to convey a number of different ideas in a single saying, so it is with literary forms… It is essential to realize that form-criticism is fundamentally indistinguishable from all historical work in this, that it has to move in a circle. The forms of the literary tradition must be used to establish the influences operating in the life of the community, and the life of the community must be used to render the forms themselves intelligible.” (Pg. 4-5)
In the first chapter [‘Apophthegms’; “a short saying”], he explains, “I do not think that it is possible to have a scientific discussion as to whether the stories about Jesus or the tradition of this sayings first attained a fixed form… as to the starting point, my preference is to proceed analytically and draw conclusions from the material of the tradition, as to its Sitz im Leben, its point of origin and conservation in the community, for that, too is to be sure, the way in which the forms become fully intelligible… The subsequent course of this present inquiry will justify my taking the apophthegms before the sayings of Jesus that are not placed in a particular framework. The chief reason is that many apophthegms can be reduced to bare dominical sayings by determining the secondary character of their frame, and can thus be compared … with other sayings of Jesus.” (Pg. 11)
He outlines, “we must keep away at first from the question whether Jesus sometimes healed on the Sabbath day, or whether he used a certain expression … in a discussion with his opponents. Of course it is quite possible that he did; indeed, very probable; but the first question to be asked, methodologically speaking, must be about the literary form of the controversy dialogue, and its origin as a literary device… Hence it is methodologically false to start from some hypothetical ‘original dialogue’ and only afterwards to ask the question ‘In what historical life do the stories of controversy dialogues have their proper place?’ It is much more important that this question should be put first, and, if so, the answer would be: ‘In the apologetic and polemic of the Palestinian Church.’ In the form in which we have them the controversy dialogues are imaginary scenes illustrating in some concrete occasion a principle which the Church ascribed to Jesus.” (Pg. 40-41)
He states, “It hardly needs any proof to show that the sayings in the Synoptics exhibit the same forms---even if they are in part somewhat modified---as the proverbial wisdom of the Old Testament and of Jewish literature. Indeed, so far as I can see, the proverbial literature of all peoples exhibit more or less the same forms.” (Pg. 70)
He suggests. “we ought not too quickly to raise the question of ‘genuineness.’ Just as a saying with a unitary conception cannot without more ado be reckoned as a genuine saying of Jesus, no more is a secondary composition of necessity not genuine. For the tradition could have combined genuine sayings of Jesus and Jesus could have taken a saying already in circulation, and himself enriched it.” (Pg. 88) He admits, “As for the great majority of metaphorical sayings we have to confess that we can no longer determine their original meaning, if it was anything more than general proverbial teaching… So we have to reckon with a certain amount of the stuff of the tradition having been secular in its origin.” (Pg. 99)
Of the “Golden Rule” [Mt 7:12/Lk 6:31], he comments, “It is a piece of self-deception to suppose that the positive form of the rule is characteristic for Jesus, in distinction from the attested negative form among the Rabbis. The positive form is purely accidental, for whether it be given positive or negative formulation the saying, as an individual utterance, give moral expression to a naïve egoism.” (Pg. 103)
He acknowledges, “It is even more precarious to try to indicate which of the logia Jesus could have taken from secular wisdom and made his own. In itself it is obviously by no means impossible that he should have taken the widespread figure of the doctor who tends the sick and not the healthy… and used it to defend his own way of going to work… Or why could he not have used the saying about serving two masters [Mt 6:24] in his Sermon if he knew it already as a proverb?... One can go on asking questions like this about one saying after another, without getting any further. It is necessary to see that the tradition has taken many logia from popular wisdom and piety into itself, and to reckon with the fact that it has done so now and then because Jesus has made use of or coined such a saying. But it must also be seen that many a saying owes its reception into the tradition only to its suitability for a specific sphere of the Church’s interests. It will only be in a very few cases that one of the logia can be ascribed to Jesus with any measure of confidence…” (Pg 104-105)
He contends, “Jesus was not an apocalyptist in the strict sense.” (Pg. 109) He continues, “The prophecy of the destruction of the temple demands fuller investigation. I think there are a number of possibilities in regard to its origin and meaning… The prophecy of a cosmic catastrophe was perhaps already associated with the prediction of the destruction of the temple in Jewish heretical circles. In that case Jesus’ foretelling of the destruction of the Temple goes closely with the prophecies in Matthew 23… And that makes it possible for Jesus to have taken this prophecy up, as he did others, which spoke of the Son of Man. All this of course is nothing more than a possibility…” (Pg. 120-121) He mentions “the suspicion underlying all sayings about the coming of Jesus. The variant in Lk 19:10 is certainly a late formulation which… shows that it is an Hellenistic product. This applies also to Mt 11:18/Lk 7:33, though here some older saying might have provided the source, in which the Son of Man was not an apocalyptic figure, but like Mk 2:10/28… simply meant ‘man.’” (Pg. 155)
He summarizes, “finally, we must ask, in regard to the material that remains, whether it does not also contain some community formulations.’… We can only count on possessing a genuine similitude of Jesus where, on the one hand, expression is given to the contrast between Jewish morality and piety and the distinctive eschatological temper which characterized the preaching of Jesus; and where on the other hand we find no specifically Christian features.” (Pg. 205)
He observes, “If, as is probable, Mark, as an Hellenistic Christian of the Pauline circle, already looked on Jesus as the pre-existent Son of God, his Baptismal story would be contradictory to his Christology. But of this he was no more aware than many believers after him as a conscious belief. With others it was admittedly conscious; thus Matthew by … the heavenly voice makes a proclamation of messiahship out of the consecration of the messiah… another problem: how can Jesus undergo a baptism for the remission of sins? And each has tried, in his own way, to offer a solution.” (Pg. 253)
He asserts, “It is now quite clear that the fashioning of the second motif in Mt 28:16-20/Lk 24:44-49/Acts 1:4-8 with all the Johannine stories, is a quite late achievement of Hellenistic Christianity… For these stories presuppose the universal mission, as something authorized by a command of the risen Lord. The primitive Church knew nothing of this, as Gal 2:7 clearly shows. We can indeed hardly conceive of an earlier form of such a charge for the primitive Church as that of a mission to the Jews. For even if the task of preaching to Israel were given to the primitive Church in the certainty of the Resurrection… there could hardly have been a story of an appearance in which this charge was expressly given.” (Pg. 289)
He states, “The story of the empty tomb is completely secondary… The point of the story is that the empty tomb proves the Resurrection: the angel has no significance in himself… The story is an apocalyptic legend, as Mk 16:8… clearly shows. Paul knows nothing about the empty tomb, which does not imply that the story was not yet in existence, but most probably that it was a subordinate theme with no significance for the official Kerygma.” (Pg. 290)
He suggests, “There is no definable boundary between the oral and written tradition, and similarly the process of the editing of the material of the tradition was beginning already before it had been fixed in a written form… the enquiry can be conducted without any special source theory. I presuppose only the so-called two-source theory. I have no doubt that mark himself used written sources, and that Matthew and especially Luke had access to written sources other than mark and Q, but I do not propose to count on these as actual entities, for it matters little whether this or that editorial process peculiar to the written tradition took place before the Gospels were formed, or in them, even if there are differences in particular cases.” (Pg. 321)
He cautions, “It has been shown already how early the editing of the speech material began… There is a natural limit to such groups in the oral tradition, even if it cannot be precisely defined, a limit which can be exceeded for the first time in the written tradition. But even in the written collections the principles on which larger units are formed are at first no different from what they were in the oral tradition… some outward likeness (the use of the catchword) is the guiding principle, though now and then pure chance takes a hand.” (Pg. 322)
He concludes, “the Church did not itself create new literary genres but took over traditional forms that had long been used in Judaism, and which… Jesus himself had also used… Yet with all this the type of the Gospel was not yet formed, but only in preparation. For these methods served only for the handing down of isolated sections… It is in Mark that the Gospel type is first to be met. In no way is any one of his sources to be called a Gospel… the Gospel is a product of the Hellenistic Church. Its origin rests on two factors: (1) On the Hellenistic Church taking over the Palestinian tradition. (2) on new motives in the Hellenistic Church which produced the shaping of the traditional material into a Gospel… Mark was the creator of this sort of Gospel; the Christ myth gives his book, the book of secret epiphanies, not indeed a biographical unity, but an unity based up the myth of the kerygma.” (Pg. 368-369; 371)
Bultmann's exhaustively-precise analysis of the gospels is impossible to summarize in an Amazon review. Interested persons should simply obtain a copy and read for themselves.
Anyway, I am amazed that anyone could put something together like this. The book must have required immense amount of labor. One cannot help but feel saddened, however, that Bultmann has been so influencial. His works are rife with methodological fallacies and hyper-critical judgments. For a good critique of Bultmann - and one that is also easy to read - I'd recommend Bauckham's book, "The Gospel for all Christians" which seriously criticizes the whole form critical notion that scholars are able to determine - with any useful degree of accuracy - the Sitz im Leben of the Gospel traditions. For the serious students I'd also recommend Sanders' book "Tendencies of the Synoptic Tradition", which is a thoroughgoing critique of Bultmann but is, unfortunately, even more tedious and agonizing to read than Bultmann's book. For a good study on methodology that will address many of the conclusions Bultmann reaches in his "History", I'd further recommend, "New Testament Interpretation" by I.H. Marshall. It's a little old but still helpful.