Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Form Criticism

"For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve." 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 (St. Paul, written circa 55 CE)

When Paul says that he handed on to the community at Corinth what he received, he is pointing us to perhaps the earliest strata of Christian belief. Paul's Letters--the ones in the NT that he actually wrote anyway--are older than the Gospels.

We see here the earliest belief of the Christian community.

Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.
Was buried, was raise on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures
and appeared.

Rudolf Bultmann, whom some consider the greatest NT scholar in history, called this the kerygma--the Greek word for proclamation, annoucnement, preaching.

Bultmann was a real genius NT studies. He is credited with bringing to light the distinction between the Jesus who preached the Kingdom of God and the early Christian community who preached Jesus who died for our sins, buried, rose, and appeared, in accordance with the Scriptures. The earthly historical Jesus and the Risen Christ.

Bultmann also is the father of the term "de-mythologization." 19th century Liberal Protestant theology had made Christ essentially into a ethical philosopher-sayer of wise words. Very Enlightenment model.

Bultmann's teacher, Johannes Weiss, was one of the first scholars to bring back elements some would consider irrational into the discourse of Jesus--words of apocalypse, healing stories, legends, etc.

Butlmann saw the distance between Weiss' conception and the modern technological world and argued that modern human could not bridge that gap. Moderns no longer lived in a world where miracles occurred, where angels/demons/spirits/gods ascended and descended, and all the rest.

For Bultmann then, the reader must gain the key existential kerygma and strip it from the mythological context of the NT. Hence, de-mythologization. Bultmann then interpreted the existential need for meaning in our life according to his colleague (at Marburg) Martin Heidegger's work, in e.g. Being in Time.

Other scholars would take Bultmann's de-mythologization but not necessarily re-interpret according to Heideggerian lines.

Bultmann is also one of the founders of form critical Biblical studies. [The guy was truly a path-breaker, whatever the limitations of some of his interpretations].

Form criticism identifies the common literary forms (genres) of Bbilical texts and how these forms mould the content therein. More imporatntly, form criticism works to decipher the life situation/lifeworld (sitz im leben) of the community that wrote the specific text.

Why did the community need the text to be this way precisely? What did the message in this text mean to them? [Note Heidegger's influence here. Heidegger worked especially on lifeworlds, communal discourse, and the forms of social discourse].

In the next post--a reading through form analysis.


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