Thursday, January 06, 2011

is Bultmann's idea of Mark schizophrenic?

In my last post I presented, in his own words, Martin Dibelius's conception of those responsible for the Jesus tradition as the anonymous, unskilled community that passed on the tradition until the evangelists (especially Mark and Matthew, but also Luke) got their hands on it.

In his own landmark form-critical study, Rudolf Bultmann exhibits a different conception of the evangelists (or at least of Mark). Bultmann begins Die Geschichte der Synoptischen Tradition (1921) with a recapitulation of the previous generation's estimation of Mark as "the actual course of historical events" in the life of the historical Jesus, and he then revisits William Wrede's devastating critique of that view. In his revisitation Bultmann writes,
Mark is the work of an author who is steeped in the theology of the early Church, and who ordered and arranged the traditional material that he received in the light of the faith of the early Church—that was the result; and the task which follows for historical research is this: to separate the various strata in Mark and to determine which belonged to the original historical tradition and which derived from the work of the author. (History of the Synoptic Tradition [trans. by John Marsh; Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1963], 1)

Dibelius, if I read him rightly, considers Mark and Matthew, especially, to be collectors of tradition, hardly authors at all and certainly not in any meaningful sense of the word. So he can dissolve the gospel narratives into their individual pericopae, because the evangelists strung them together, leaving the traditional units they collected more-or-less intact. Bultmann, following Wrede, sees Mark as a much more revolutionary presentation of Jesus. Mark—in this way of reading him—casts Jesus as Israel's messiah, but he well knows that no one during Jesus' lifetime thought of him in messianic terms. So he weaves a narrative in which the messianic secret develops organically from the very beginning, in which Jesus himself at first silences and then gradually affirms his messianic status.

So Bultmann's Mark—again, if I'm reading rightly—is a strange hybrid between two competing conceptions. Bultmann affirms Wrede's innovative Mark, who tells the story of man who never was and so is responsible for both the story and the man. But Bultmann also affirms Dibelius's traditional Mark, who collects the traditions told by others and so is responsible only for anthologizing stories already in circulation. Hence Bultmann's program: "to separate the various strata [viz., the innovative (Wredian) and traditional (Dibelian) strata] in Mark and to determine which belonged to the original historical tradition and which derived from the work of the author."

Those of you more familiar with the history of form-critical scholarship: Is this a helpful way to understand what I'm reading?

No comments:

My Visual Bookshelf