Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Taylor-made Bultmann, again

In his book, The Formation of the Gospel Tradition (London: Macmillan and Co., 1933), Vincent Taylor has a remarkably perceptive comment about the potential authenticity of material in the gospels that scholars might, for whatever reason, judge secondary. In context, Taylor is discussing Rudolf Bultmann's radical scepticism ("[I]t is not strange that [Bultmann] has been looked upon as Strauss Redivivus" [14]) and the "Barthian sympathies" evident in Bultmann's 1925 book, entitled simply Jesus.
In this book "community-sayings" often become a transparent veil. Bultmann will point out how characteristic they are, and that they could never have been formed if Jesus had not taught this or that. The procedure of the community, he argues, "is the best witness for the teaching of Jesus" (J. 72). The certainty with which the community put the eschatological message into His lips is hard to understand if He did not actually proclaim it, and one cannot doubt that the most important words which demand complete obedience to God's will go back to Him.The book did us the service of showing what ought perhaps not to have been doubted, that a "community-saying" is not an invention ex nihilo, but a construction which could not have existed apart from the movement created by Jesus Himself. (Taylor 1933:14–15)

To many of us, the idea of Jesus' followers creating any saying of Jesus will be inappropriate. But scholars have recently come to appreciate that even verbatim reproduction of another person's words is to (re)create them as our own (not unlike how I have recreated Taylor's words in this post, and Taylor himself recreated Bultmann's words). (Re)Creation is not necessarily falsification. Matthew may have said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit," but he did so as a representative of the Jesus tradition and to the community of Jesus' followers. Apparently, Matthew expected his audience to accept that his words were also Jesus' words. Taylor's explanation of Bultmann's work clearly communicates this idea.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this; these are some good points. I wonder to what extent the recreation idea might be applied to John.

Rafael said...

THAT is the $64,000 question, isn't it?! Later this spring and this summer I'll begin my first sustained and serious foray into John's gospel, so I might have more to say later. My initial sense, however, is that the principle still applies, but the dynamics differ significantly from the synoptics. In other words, I affirm that John, like the synoptics, purports to relate historical tradition (John 20.30–31!), but that affirmation means something different for John. At least, that's where I'm at now.

BTW, I'd be interested in your thoughts on Hebrews and the function of HB traditions to frame "Christian" theologizing. I've read (and reviewed) a few books on Hebrews, but I'm no expert here. My sense, however, is that the author to the Hebrews navigates the trauma of the Temple's destruction by means of reading the scriptures and Jesus together. I've made various comments here.

Anonymous said...

I echo your sentiments about historical tradition meaning something different for John. I read Matthew last month as a part of this GNT Challenge thing I'm doing, and it was interesting to note the bits that sounded Johannine. That signaled to me that John focuses on certain bits of tradition but expands on them interpretively. Just how much of the interpretation is authentic to Jesus, I don't know. Even if not much is authentic, you're getting from John his understanding of Jesus, which seems to me is what you get in any reported history, though in John you get more of the interpretive aspect.

Regarding Hebrews, I'm beginning to explore a typological approach to its use of the OT. In some cases this is explicit, but I think typology can be expanded fairly broadly if understood in the sense of greater fulfillment rather than in the sense of an example. I haven't thought much about the trauma of the temple as an interpretive factor. That is something I need to consider.

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