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Bultmann is known for his belief that the historical analysis of the New Testament is both futile and unnecessary, given that the earliest Christian literature showed little interest in specific locations. Bultmann argued that all that matters is the "thatness", not the "whatness" of Jesus,[a] i.e. only that Jesus existed, preached, and died by crucifixion matters, not what happened throughout his life.
Bultmann relied on demythologization, an approach interpreting the mythological elements in the New Testament existentially. Bultmann contended that only faith in the kerygma, or proclamation, of the New Testament was necessary for Christian faith, not any particular facts regarding the historical Jesus.
Bultmann became friends with Martin Heidegger who taught at Marburg for five years. Heidegger's views on existentialism had an influence on Bultmann's thinking. What arose from this friendship was a "sort of comradery" grounded on an active and open dialogue between Bultmann and Heidegger from 1923-1928. However, Bultmann himself stated that his views could not simply be reduced to thinking in Heideggerian categories, in that "the New Testament is not a doctrine about our nature, about our authentic existence as human beings, but a proclamation of this liberating act of God."
He was critical of Nazism from the beginning and his career between 1933 and 1941 was marked by a series of struggles with Nazis regarding their influence upon the universities and the Protestant Church. As a Lutheran who held that the Church could not expect the Nazi State to be Christian, he did not directly denounce its anti-Semitism. But he objected to its claim to have authority over all aspects of German life including the universities and the Protestant church and believed it was his responsibility to preach that it was unChristian, especially after his friend Martin Heidegger gave his pro-Nazi rectorial address in 1933. He particularly rejected the Aryan paragraph that disenfranchised all people racially Jewish from civic organizations and many professions including clergy, entailing defrocking any Christian clergy with Jewish ancestry. He stated that the Aryan paragraph was "incompatible with the essence of the Christian church", since the church made no distinction between Jew and Gentile. He joined the Confessing Church, a Protestant movement in Nazi Germany that arose in opposition to government-sponsored efforts to unify all Protestant churches into a single pro-Nazi Reich Church.
Bultmann received many honors during and after his career, including honorary doctorates from many universities and elections to honorary societies. In 1974, the Federal Republic granted him the highest level of the Order of Merit.
Bultmann's History of the Synoptic Tradition (1921) remains highly influential as a tool for biblical research, even among scholars[which?] who reject his analyses of the conventional rhetorical pericopes (narrative units) which comprise the gospels, and the historically-oriented principles of "form criticism" of which Bultmann was the most influential exponent.
According to Bultmann's definition, "[t]he aim of form-criticism [sic] is to determine the original form of a piece of narrative, a dominical saying or a parable. In the process we learn to distinguish secondary additions and forms, and these in turn lead to important results for the history of the tradition."
In 1941 Bultmann applied form criticism[b] to the Gospel of John, in which he distinguished the presence of a lost Signs Gospel on which John -- alone of the evangelists -- depended. His monograph, Das Evangelium des Johannes, highly controversial at the time, became[when?] a milestone in research into the historical Jesus. The same year his lecture New Testament and Mythology: The Problem of Demythologizing the New Testament Message called on interpreters to demythologize The New Testament, in particular he argued for replacing supernatural biblical interpretations with temporal and existential categorizations. His argument, in many ways, reflected a hermeneutical adaption of the existentialist thought of his colleague at the time, the philosopher Martin Heidegger. This approach led Bultmann to reject doctrines such as the pre-existence of Christ. Bultmann believed his endeavors in this regard would make accessible to modern audiences -- already immersed in science and technology -- the significance (or existential quality) of Jesus' teachings. Bultmann thus thought of his endeavor of "demythologizing the New Testament proclamation" as fundamentally an evangelism task, clarifying the kerygma, or gospel proclamation, by stripping it of elements of the first-century "mythical world picture" that had potential to alienate modern people from Christian faith:
It is impossible to repristinate a past world picture by sheer resolve, especially a mythical world picture, now that all of our thinking is irrevocably formed by science. A blind acceptance of New Testament mythology would be simply arbitrariness; to make such acceptance a demand of faith would be to reduce faith to a work.
Bultmann saw theology in existential terms, and maintained that the New Testament was a radical text, worthy of understanding yet questioned in his time because of the prevailing Protestant conviction in a supernatural interpretation. In both the boasting of legalists "who are faithful to the law" and the boasting of the philosophers "who are proud of their wisdom", Bultmann finds a "basic human attitude" of "highhandedness that tries to bring within our own power even the submission that we know to be our authentic being". Standing against all human high-handedness is the New Testament, "which claims that we can in no way free ourselves from our factual fallenness in the world but are freed from it only by an act of God ... the salvation occurrence that is realized in Christ." Bultmann remained convinced that the narratives of the life of Jesus offered theology in story form, teaching lessons in the familiar language of myth. They were not to be excluded, but given explanation so they could be understood for today. Bultmann thought faith should become a present-day reality. To Bultmann, the people of the world appeared to be always in disappointment and turmoil. Faith must be a determined vital act of will, not a culling and extolling of "ancient proofs". Bultmann said about salvation and eternity: "As from now on there are only believers and unbelievers, so there are also now only saved and lost, those who have life and those who are in death."
Bultmann carried Form criticism so far as to call the historical value of the gospels into serious question. Some scholars, such as Craig L. Blomberg, criticized Bultmann and other critics[which?] for excessive skepticism regarding the historical reliability of the gospel narratives. The full impact of Bultmann was felt with the English translation of many of his works, notably Kerygma and Mythos (1948).
Bultmann, Rudolf K. (1921). Die Geschichte der synoptischen Tradition. - German original
——— (1976). History of the Synoptic Tradition. San Francisco, CA: Harper San Francisco. ISBN0-06-061172-3. (seminal work on form criticism)
——— (1954). Die Frage der Entmythologisierung. - German original
———; Jaspers, Karl (1958). Myth & Christianity: An Inquiry Into The Possibility Of Religion Without Myth. New York: Noonday Press. OCLC186641. - In this dialogue with philosopher Jaspers, Jaspers first makes the case that Christianity can not be understood apart from its mythical framework, and that myth is a necessary form of communication through symbol. Bultmann responds that modern scientific analysis of the text is required to separate the genuine from the miraculous claims, thereby revealing the true message.
——— (1957). History and Eschatology: The Presence of Eternity (1954-55 Gifford Lectures). Edinburgh: University Press. ISBN9780852241035. OCLC752549.
^"Form criticism" in this instance is a tenet of Hegelian dialectics of which Bultmann applied to theology. The dialectic of Form and Content is explained by Hegel using an example of a book: a book's Form (whether or not it was handwritten, or a hardback copy, etc.), cannot neither determine nor influence its inner Content, yet, at the same time, that Content requires a form to be read.
Broadhead, Edwin K. (2011). "Implicit Christology and the Historical Jesus". In Holmén, Tom; Porter, Stanley E. (eds.). Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus. 2. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill. pp. 1169-1182. ISBN978-90-04-17092-6.
------ (1991). "Jesus and the Eschatological Kingdom". In Johnson, Roger A. (ed.). Rudolf Bultmann: Interpreting Faith for the Modern Era. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press. pp. 91-102. ISBN978-0-8006-3402-5.
------ (2004). "New Testament and Mythology: The Mythological Element in the Message of the New Testament and the Problem of Its Re-Interpretation". In Evans, Craig A. (ed.). The Historical Jesus: Critical Concepts in Religious Studies. Volume I: The History of the Quest: Classical Studies and Critical Questions. London: Routledge. pp. 323-358. ISBN978-0-415-32751-0.
Busse, Roger S. (2014). To Be Near the Fire: Demonic Possession, Risk Analysis, and Jesus' War on Satan. Eugene, Oregon: Resource Publications. ISBN978-1-62564-811-2.
Congdon, David W. (2015a). Rudolf Bultmann: A Companion to His Theology. Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books. ISBN978-1-62564-748-1.
------ (2015b). The Mission of Demythologizing: Rudolf Bultmann's Dialectical Theology. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press. ISBN978-1-4514-8792-3.
Dennison, William D. (2008). The Young Bultmann: Context for His Understanding of God, 1884-1925. American University Studies VII: Theology and Religion. 241. New York: Peter Lang. ISBN978-0-8204-8113-5. ISSN0740-0446.
Dorrien, Gary (2003). The Making of American Liberal Theology: Idealism, Realism, and Modernity, 1900-1950. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press. ISBN978-0-664-22355-7.
Ericksen, Robert (2012). Complicity in the Holocaust : churches and universities in Nazi Germany. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN978-1-107-01591-3.
Hobbs, Edward C., ed. (1985). Bultmann, Retrospect and Prospect: The Centenary Symposium at Wellesley. Fortress Press. ISBN978-0-8006-7075-7.
Hammann, Konrad (2013). Rudolf Bultmann: A Biography. Salem, Oregon: Polebridge Press. ISBN978-1-59815-118-3.
Jensen, Alexander S. (2014). Divine Providence and Human Agency: Trinity, Creation and Freedom. Farnham, England: Ashgate Publishing. ISBN978-1-4094-3530-3.
Markschies, Christoph (2014). "Individuality in Some Gnostic Authors, with a Few Remarks on the Interpretation of Ptolemy's Epistula ad Florum". In Torrance, Alexis; Zachhuber, Johannes (eds.). Individuality in Late Antiquity. Abingdon, England: Routledge (published 2016). pp. 11-28. ISBN978-1-315-58841-4.
Meier, Holger (2011). Rudolf Bultmann und sein hermeneutischer Ansatz der Entmythologisierung als existentiale Interpretation [Rudopf Bultmann and His Hermeneutic Approach to De-Mythologization as Existential Interpretation] (in German). Munich: GRIN Verlag. ISBN978-3-656-09464-7.[self-published source]
Mournet, Terence C. (2005). Oral Tradition and Literary Dependency: Variability and Stability in the Synoptic Tradition and Q. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament. 2. Reihe. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament. 195. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck. ISBN9783161484544. ISSN0340-9570.
Pagliarino, Guido (2018) . Diavolo e Demòni (un approccio storico) (in Italian). Tektime. ISBN978-88-7304-437-6.
Raupp, Werner (2003). Bultmann. Rudolf (Karl): Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL). 21. Nordhausen: Bautz. pp. 174-233. ISBN3-88309-110-3. - (with compact introduction and detailed bibliography)
Schild, Maurice E. (2016). "Review of Rudolf Bultmann / Günther Bornkamm: Briefwechsel, 1926-1976 Edited by Werner Zager". Lutheran Theological Review. 50 (1): 89-90. ISSN0024-7553.
Watson, Duane F.; Hauser, Alan J. (1994). Rhetorical Criticism of the Bible: A Comprehensive Bibliography with Notes on History and Method. Biblical Interpretation Series. 4. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill. ISBN978-90-04-09903-6. ISSN0928-0731.