Thursday, January 15, 2009

Bultmann on the Jewishness of early Christianity

Rudolf Bultmann, Primitive Christianity in its Contemporary Setting (trans. R.H. Fuller; Leipzig: Thames and Hudson, 1956 [1949]), 175: ‘The eschatological community did not split off from Judaism as though it were conscious of itself as a new religious society. In the eyes of their contemporaries they must have looked like a Jewish sect, and for the historian they appear in that light too.’


Quixie said...

A huge Bultmann fan, for me this sentence of his is suddenly illustrative of the intrinsic vagueness of the enterprise of searching for Christian origins. The escape-hatch words here are "must have looked" and "appear in that light."
I think we might be assuming a bit much. If Martians landed in 1840s Missouri, for example, what would induce them to distinguish between the proto-Methodists, the nascent Mormon church, and the unaffiliated yet still-somehow-Christian stragglers?

It is only when the liturgies and theologies are compared and contrasted that they reveal themselves to be distinct. If this is so, I wonder how early the adoption of Jesus as a symbol of divinity took place. No Jew could seriously consider a sect whose central tenets sprout and derive from this divinity as Jewish. You'd have to be an outsider to confuse the two.
Don't mean to ramble . . . . just brainstorming my response, I guess.



Geoff Hudson said...

If you think of the emphasis on the Spirit in the extant NT, it doesn't take too much of a stretch to see the earliest 'christianity' as being simply a Jewish prophetic movement completely in keeping with the wish of Moses for all God's people to be prophets - no "intrinsic vagueness" there. The question then remains who was the prophet who took-up the challenge of Moses' wish, and that completely in keeping with the prophecy of Joel - no "intrinsic vagueness in that prophecy. The revolution was to dispense with the temple cult of animal sacrifice frowned upon many times in scripture - again no "intrinsic vagueness" about that. I just think some folk want to keep the myth of "intrinsic vagueness" going.