Friday, July 03, 2009

Martin Hengel Passes Away

When I got to work today, I sat down to drink my tea and read my googlereader feed, and I was saddened to hear of the passing away of Martin Hengel.

Hengel was a luminary among the German academy, his command of primary sources was brilliant, he exposed how many of the suppositions of critical scholarship weresimply not critical enough. He destroyed the Bultmannian taxonomy of Hellenistic vs. Palestinian Judaism, he was viscious as he was right when attacked form criticism (note his words: "Therefore nothing has led research into the Gospels so astray as the romantic superstition involving anonymous theologially creative community collectives, which are supposed to have drafted whole writings"), he boldly asserted that Acts might actually have more historical value than what most of his contemporaries would allow, and despite his historical-critical endeavours he sincerely believed that Theology really was a good thing (see my summary here of Hengel). Of course, Hengel was not an "inerrantist" either, not this remark:

"This may seem to us to be quite an extreme case [Osiander on harmonizing the Gospels], but a similar sort of unbiblical, and ultimately rationalistic, apologetics remains the rule in Protestant orthodoxy until the beginning of historical criticism in the eighteenth century, and indeed in some evangelical fundamentalist circles to the present day. Such a “fundamentalistic rationalistic” exegesis which makes the New Testament a law book does little service to the real historical and theological understanding of the Gospels (the two cannot be separated) as the radical ahistorical scepticism which seeks to investigate the text only by a literary approach in terms of its aesthetic value or by a dogmatic approach in terms of its unalterable fixed “truth content” and prohibits any authentic historical investigation, or at least is not interested in it."

I shall remember him for his work on the Gospels (esp. the origins of the superscriptions and his work on the Fourth Gospel), his writings on Paul's early years, and his SNTS lecture on the tasks of New Testament studies. My recent book, Are You the One Who is to Come? was partly inspired by his own essay "Jesus, the Messiah of Israel" and I was sincerely hoping to send him a personal copy thanking him for his own work.

Note also my post about Larry Hurtado's tribute to Hengel in ExpTim a while ago. Roland Deines will be providing the Tyndale Fellowship NT lecturer next week on God and History and it includes a section on Martin Hengel. I look forward to hearing that from one of Hengel's former students.

Several people have blogged on this too and I sharen't add much more other than concur with Sea Winter: "Tübingen has lost a great Neutestamentler. If God writes footnotes, then at least Hengel will be on hand to add a judicious classical reference or two, probably from memory. Requiescat in pacem".


hrobins said...

Hi Mike--I've tried repeatedly to email you, but I keep receiving "Message Undeliverable" notifications, despite my removing everything that even looks like a hyperlink. I just heard you'd be at NPU at the end of the month and wondered if you wanted to get together if you have time. Let me know!

Michael F. Bird said...

Try me on mnaabird[at]