Protestant NT scholar; b. Lübeck, Germany, Sept. 3, 1865; d. Giessen, Germany, March 8, 1920. He taught Scripture at Göttingen from 1896 to 1916 and at Giessen from 1916 until his death. At Göttingen he was one of the cofounders of the school of comparative religion, and together with W. Heitmüller he successfully applied its method in the field of NT studies. He opened new paths with his commentary on the Apocalypse [Offenbarung Johannes (Meyer Kommentar 16; Göttingen 1896, 6th ed, 1906)], his Die Religion des Judentums im ntl. Zeitalter [Göttingen 1902; rev. ed., H. Gressmann, ed., Die Religion … im späthellenistischen Zeitalter (Göttingen 3d ed. 1926)], his Die Hauptprobleme der Gnosis (Göttingen 1907), and his chief work, Kyrios Christos (Göttingen 1913, 4th ed. 1935; new ed. in preparation in 1965). In these works he endeavored to show that so-called late Judaism was influenced by Iranian and especially Hellenistic ideas and that Hellenistic gnosticism borrowed religious concepts from the Near East. While A. von harnack regarded the history of dogma as a history of the Hellenization of Christianity, according to Bousset, primitive Christianity had been deeply influenced by Hellenism, and the decisive turning point in the history of Christianity lay not at the end of the NT period, but was the transitional period when the faith of the primitive Judeo-Christian community of Palestine in the Son of Man with its expectation of His Parousia changed into the faith of Gentile Christianity of the Hellenistic world with its veneration of Kyrios already present. Thus the inner bond between the theology of the NT and that of the early Church could be explained. Bousset's ideas continued to affect NT scholars in the 20th century, particularly R. Bultmann and his disciples.
Bousset founded the Theologische Rundschau (1897), which he edited together with W. Heitmüller until 1917. With H. gunkel he published the Forschungen zur Religion und Literatur des Alten und Neuen Testamentes (1901–20). With Heitmüller he prepared the third edition of Die Schriften des Neuen Testaments neu übersetzt und für die Gegenwart erklärt (Göttingen 1917–19).
Bibliography: h. gunkel, Evangelische Freiheit 42 (1920) 141–162. l. thomas, Dictionnaire de la Bible, Suppl. ed., (Paris 1895–1912) 1:989–992. h. schlier, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, (Freiburg 1957–65) 2:632. e. kamlah, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (Tübingen 1957–65) 1:1373–74.