Form Criticism, Biblical

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Term used for the method of interpreting the books of the New Testament, particularly the Gospels, by investigating not only the literary forms employed in their composition, but also the preliterary formation of these writings. This method will be considered here according to its objective, its nature, its classification of various types in the Gospels, and its value for exegesis; a historical, bibliographical synthesis of the studies connected with this method will then be given, followed by a brief account of the literary genres employed in the New Testament apart from the Gospels.

Objective. The theory of the Biblical literary genres and its practical application as a hermeneutical method originated and developed in the field of Old Testament studies. Around 1920 this method was extended to the field of New Testament studies, more particularly to the study of the Gospels. Here, where it received the name of form criticism (Formgeschichte, history of forms), it underwent certain adaptations caused by the difference in subject matter, without however concealing its ancestry. H. gunkel, in the Old Testament field, went beyond the theory of the written documents (J, E, D, and P) older than the present Pentateuch and penetrated back to literary units, complete in themselves, classifiable according to types, units that were born and grew in the life of the people and that were ordinarily transmitted by oral tradition. Similarly, in the New Testament field, M. Dibelius and R. Bultmann went beyond the two-source theory (Mark and Q) in the solution of the Synoptic problem and penetrated back to small units, classified according to type, that were born and developed and transmitted orally in the early Christian community before these units were gathered and wrought into the Gospels by the Evangelists.

The objective of the form-criticism school is, in fact, to offer a genetic explanation for the accomplished fact of the Gospels as the outcome of earlier oral traditions. For this purpose literary forms are analyzed as an intermediary step in the process, on the supposition that from the "forms," conclusions can be drawn regarding the "formation." This method purports to go behind the four Gospels back to the original gospel; it seeks to carry the modern Christian back into the life of the early Christian community in order that he may, with it and like it, hear the original preaching of the gospel (M. Dibelius).

Method. In order to attain this objective, the method requires that these three steps must be taken: (1) the literary units must be isolated; (2) they must be classified according to types; (3) their place of origin and transmission must be determined.

Isolation of Units. For the purpose of isolating the literary units, the Gospels offer data sufficiently firm for laying the foundations of a working hypothesis. The Gospels give clear evidence of being collections; they are compositions in the sense of being composite, made up of preexisting parts. This can be seen in the grouping of units around a common theme, in the repetition of certain catchwords, and in certain numerical arrangements (groups of three each, seven each, etc.); the transitions, the literary sutures, the framework around the units, etc., can easily be apprehended. This apprehension, of which one becomes reasonably sure in an attentive reading of any individual Gospel, becomes all the more certain when one Gospel is compared to another; in parallel pericopes there is only a change in the framework, in the introduction or the conclusion, in the position of a unit within the whole narrative, etc. In this way it is possible to arrive at a clear distinction between what is redactional and what is traditional; the redactional part is due to individual Evangelists, while the traditional part is the material derived from an earlier stage of oral transmission. The last step in the method is that of progressive analogy, i.e., from a series of units isolated with certainty, it is legitimate to conclude by analogy to others less certain or even doubtful.

Classification by Types. The units thus isolated are then classified according to types. Strictly speaking, the criteria of classification should be formal, i.e., drawn up on the basis of form; actually, various scholars combine three kinds of criteria: formal, thematic (according to the different themes), and purposive (according to different intentions or tendencies). This is quite legitimate because the theme often determines the selection of the form that is used, and the purpose has a strong effect on the style. Since many of the literary units are very short, formal criteria alone would not be sufficient for a satisfactory classification. Other criteria, such as those of literary or topical motifs or those of "tone," can easily be brought under the criteria mentioned above. Theoretically, according to the leading scholars of the form-criticism school, form is a great superpersonal power; in reality, many doubtful, intermediate, or contaminated forms are encountered. In such cases the investigator can simply set forth the state of the material and not attempt a rigorous classification, or he can work over the material for the purpose of bringing it under exact forms. For the sake of classification, recourse may be had to a comparison with literatures that are historically or culturally close to the New Testament literature, especially to rabbinical or Hellenistic religious literature. The names given to types and subtypes are of but subordinate value; of much more importance is the exact description of the type. This is necessary for the sake of overcoming differences in terminology.

Origin and Transmission of the Units. To each type and to each unit belonging to this type there is assigned a Sitz im Leben, a certain situation in life, in which it receives and transmits its own proper form. One thus passes from the form back to its formation, from the literary fact back to its preliterary history. The Sitz im Leben is a concept, not in the historical, but in the literary sense. It is not a determination established by coordinates of space, time, or person. There is no intention or even possibility of drawing from the form conclusions regarding the date, place, or author of the analyzed form. Rather, it is in the activity of the community that the literary type has its situation in lifethe community's worship, catechesis, and apologetics. As the literary type is a genus, so also its situation in life is generic. To find the situation in life of a genus, its form is helpful, since the form has been determined by the necessities and motives of the life of the community. This is the analytical way. Moreover, a unified picture of the life of this community may be obtained by bringing together and reconstructing into a unified whole the scattered, casual data of the other New Testament writings, the Acts of the Apostles, and the Epistles. This is the constructive process. This double process is completed by a comparative view, since the phenomenon of oral transmission is not limited to the early Christian community. The technique of such transmission in Judaism has been recognized and investigated, and the laws governing the oral transmission of popular traditions have been studied [see M. Jousse, Le style oral et mnémo-technique chez les Verbo-moteurs (Paris 1925)]. Moreover the apocrypha and the Synoptic Gospels themselves, when compared one with the other, can reveal certain tendencies that play a part in the transmission of this material. Such comparative material has a purely formal application, i.e., to discover the technique of transmission; it would be hazardous to use it for passing judgment on the contents.

When this third stage of study is finished, the literary method has not the right to advance without further ado to the facts, to pass positive or negative judgments on their historicity. This is the task of historical criticism, which, however, makes use of the literary method both as an instrument and as a preliminary step. Thus the form-criticism method seeks to classify the literary types and to describe the history of their transmission, but nothing else. It has not the right, in its own name, to decide that something is pure invention or actual fact.

Descriptive Classification. A primary, obvious classification divides the isolated pericopes into deeds and sayings, narratives and discourses; in such a division the criterion according to theme coincides with the criterion according to form. However, since narratives usually include dialogues, statements, and maxims and since sayings generally appear in the context of a narrative, one more criterion is needed for making a clearer division; this is the purpose of the passage. A deed may be told for its own sake, for the sake of the person who does it, or for the sake of a saying that serves as its climax. This diversity of purpose usually conditions the form and for this reason leaves certain traces in the style. Thus, for example, neither the purely thematic criterion of miracle nor the purely formal criterion of story would be sufficient, because the whole purpose of a miracle story might be to lead to the statement of some teaching. In the case of sayings, the difficulty in classifying them is much less, because the circumstances in which they are placed are often merely redactional; and they disappear when the pericope or literary unit is isolated in separating the part derived from tradition from the work of the redactor.

For the public life of Jesus, excluding the Passion narrative, the classification according to type that is commonly accepted is that of R. Bultmannprescinding from his opinions on historicity, which are foreign to the method as such. L. Randellini has summed up the various types and illustrated them by examples. This classification is schematized below.

It is to be noted that, granted the cases that fall between the various types as well as the diversity of opinion among the scholars, no classification can be perfect. Thus for Bultmann disputations and didactic dialogues are reckoned as subtypes of apothegms. On the other hand, Dibelius calls paradigm what Bultmann calls apothegm, and he establishes a major type that he calls Novelle (short story), which frequently coincides with the miracle story. The sayings in the first person often coincide with the legal sayings, and it is not always easy to decide between the sapiential exhortations and the prophetic admonitions, etc.

Deeds. Certain literary units in the Gospels are concerned primarily with recounting the doings or deeds of Jesus. Besides special stories that cannot well be classified under a more general heading, there are miracle stories, cultic and biographical legends, and possibly, if understood in a special sense, myths.

The point of interest in miracle stories lies in the miracle that is recounted. In the most common type of miracle, the cure of a person who is ill, the narrative shows three steps in its development: (1) description of the sick man and his sickness and of others who are present; (2) the performance of the miracle, with certain gestures or words, which in the case of an exorcism may consist in a dialogue with the demon in the possessed man; (3) the effects of the miracle, especially the reaction of those present. The description is usually very sober; naturalness and power stand out. The motif of faith appears frequently. The tripartite scheme, mentioned above, grows quite clearly out of the theme. Miracle stories have their place in the preaching of the Apostles both as testimony to the person of Jesus and as signs of the salvation already at work.

Cultic and biographical legends are pious stories that explain a cultic act or exalt a saint. (According to Bultmann, the concept of legend excludes historicity; according to Dibelius, it prescinds from it.) The Last Supper would be a cultic legend, with ultimate cultic significance. The story of the sinful woman in Lk 7.3650 would be a biographical legend, with ultimate hagiographical reference. Since Christ is over and above every saint and since the whole interest of the Evangelists is concentrated in Him, legends are less common in the Gospels than in Acts. The story of Zachaeus in Lk 19.110 could be a biographical legend. The story of Judas's suicide in Mt 27.310 (cf. Acts 1.1820) could be an etiological legend connected with a certain place. In other cases there remain only some legendary motifs. The purpose of the community in recounting legends is the honor of a saint, edification, or imitation.

The concept of myth must be adapted if examples of it are to be found in the Gospels. Dibelius finds a mythical style throughout St. John's Gospel, without derogating from its historicity. For Bultmann's idea of myth in the Gospels and the need for giving modern significance to their mythical language, see demythologizing.

Under the heading of special stories would come the stories of Jesus' baptism, temptations in the desert, transfiguration, triumphal entry into Jerusalem, etc. Neither the theme nor the manner of development is constant. The style shows a certain amplitude and dramatic movement. No useful purpose is served in grouping these stories under a common heading, and exegetes study each one by itself.

Sayings of Jesus. The principal types of Jesus' sayings are: (1) discussions and dialogues; (2) sapiential sayings; (3) prophetic sayings; (4) legal sayings; (5) sayings in the first person; (6) parables. Note that the division into sapiential, prophetic, and legal sayings reechoes the classical division in Jer 18.18: instruction from the priests, counsel from the wise, messages from the prophets.

The occasion of a discussion may be a miracle that has just been recounted, something done by Jesus or His disciples, or a polemical question. Didactic dialogues usually begin with a sincere question. The answer may be another polemical question, a quotation from Scripture, or a maxim. The style strives for brevity, intensity, effectiveness. Bultmann claims that these disputes were born in the apologetic and polemic atmosphere of the community. M. Albertz [Die Synoptischen Streitgespräche (Berlin 1921)], while granting the apologetic and didactic purpose of the community, derives the original form from Jesus Himself.

Sapiential sayings are a clear-cut type, with numerous parallels in the Old Testament. It is sufficient here to cite a few examples: exhortation (Mt 10.16), question (Lk6.39), maxim (Mt 5.14), macarism (Mt 5.312), argument a minore ad maius (Mt 10.29). Bultmann regards metaphors, hyperboles, antitheses, parallelisms, and paradoxes as ornamental motifs. Such sayings have their Sitz im Leben in the teaching of the community, and the principles of thematic grouping by means of key words plays a part in their transmission. Bultmann adds the principle of duplication, amplification, analogous creation, and false attribution.

Prophetic sayings include proclamations of salvation (Mt. 11.56), threats of woe (Lk 6.2426), and warnings (Lk 21.3436). Apocalyptic prediction is represented, e.g., by the foretelling of the destruction of the Temple (Mk 13.2). Noticeably absent are prophetic visions and the classical formulas of the Old Testament, "The word of the Lord to " and "Thus says the Lord," etc.

Some of the legal sayings have their Sitz im Leben in the laws and customs of the Jews (Mk 7.15; 2.27); others give practical rules for the life of the Christian community (Mt 18.120). The Sitz im Leben of the latter is the counseling and instructing of the community.

As for sayings in the first person, Jesus proclaims His mission, His office, and His commission to the Apostles (Mt 15.24; Lk 10.18) in the first person.

In the generic term of parable certain related forms can be included. In the use of imagery the figurative element is combined with the doctrinal one without the use of a particle of comparison (Lk 6.4345). In the metaphor the doctrinal element is not explicitly stated but is implied in the imagery (Mt 7.13). In the simile or comparison the two elements are joined by an explicit particle of comparison (Lk 7.3135). Common to all three types is their combining of the two elements, the material one on the mundane level and the transcendent one on the religious level; likewise common to all three is the didactic religious purpose. The formal difference between them is slight. The parable in the strict sense uses a story as the material element. Its construction is usually quite simple: the introduction announcing the comparison, the narration of the story, at times with an emphatically marked climax ("I assure you"), and the conclusion or application joined to the preceding by different formulas. The narrative style follows the laws of the folk epic (A. Olrik), e.g., in brevity, economy of personages, construction of little scenes in which only two persons are involved, unencumbered dialogues, and linear development. The parables originated in a Palestinian environment, and the early Christian community transmitted them with didactic purposes in view, adapting the application to their concrete needs.

Apothegms. These are minute scenes in which an important saying is placed. The statement is the center of interest; it determines the brevity of the scene, and it usually comes at the end. Bultmann, who introduced the Greek term πόφθεγμα, regards the scene as a pure invention created for the sake of finding a place for the saying. He thus turns most of the disputes and didactic dialogues into subtypes of apothegms. Dibelius employs the neutral term παράδιγμα, and he abstains from passing any judgment on its historicity.

Passion Narratives. The account of Christ's Passion is a unique case, and therefore it cannot be subject to classification. Here the principal task of the form-criticism school has no place; one can merely admit the uniqueness of this kind of narrative. However, the secondary task of form criticism is pertinentto analyze the history of the tradition (which, showing remarkably fixed form and concord, precedes the redaction of the Gospels) and to discover the religious motives that sustain and impel the transmission of the tradition in the bosom of the early Church.

The Passion, joined to the Resurrection, is, first of all, the central theme of the Apostolic kerygma. The Gospels develop in narrative form what many passages elsewhere in the New Testament, both in Acts and in the Epistles, proclaim in brief form. In the narrative development, the kerygma becomes articulate in dogma and theology, especially in its frequent recourse to the Old Testament prophecies. Subordinate to the theological interest, an apologetic and even polemic interest is revealed, which has recourse to the arguments of Christ's own preaching. In the second place, the Passion narrative holds a privileged place in Christian worship. Traces of it are found in the hymns of Phil 2.611; 1 Tm 3.16; 1 Pt 1.1821; 2.2124; 3.1822; and in the heavenly liturgy of Rv 5.614, while explicit references to the Passion are made in the Eucharist and Baptism rites. Mention should be made here of the radical theory of G. Bertram, a disciple of A. Deissmann, who finds in the Christian cult the origin of the apotheosis or deification of the hero Jesus. In the third place, the Passion narrative shows an exemplaric interest, presenting the self-sacrificing Jesus as a model for Christian living.

Resurrection Narratives. It is difficult to reduce to one common type the various accounts of the apparitions of the risen Christ. Certain common motifs; however, can be seen: the disciples' lack of faith, Christ's sudden appearances, the disciples' fear, their recognition of Him, and their joy. Some of these motifs coincide with apparition motifs in the Old Testament. Actually, however, the variety of motifs is predominant. It is evident that before the tradition was fixed in writing, a consecutive narrative of the apparitions had not been formed, as was the case with the Passion. On the contrary, the Sitz im Leben of these narratives is very clear: they are witnesses of a decisive fact, and they are adduced as such with theological and apologetic value. The Resurrection event is joined to the Passion in the most simple formulas of the Apostolic kerygma. (It is logical that the rationalist critics declare these narratives to be pure inventions of the Christian community.)

Infancy Narratives. Apart from the Davidic descent and the virginal birth of Jesus, an account of His childhood does not form part of the programmatic preaching of the Apostles. It is absent from the samples of the kerygma in Acts, as well as from the Gospels of Mark and John, and the episodes of the infancy narratives in Matthew are quite different from those in Luke. This is the specific problem of the Infancy narratives. It has led some Catholic scholars to compare them with Old Testament and even extra-Biblical narratives. P. Gaechter sees behind Luke's version a tradition originating in Jerusalem, and he makes an analysis of the history of the tradition. R. Laurentin finds in Luke's redaction a collection of imitations of the story of Samuel's childhood or a procedure typical of midrash. For Matthew's Infancy Gospel certain extra-Biblical parallels are adduced from narratives of the life of Moses. These literary findings, which in some way imply judgments on the historicity of the narratives, have provoked a contrary reaction that has completely stopped further study in this field. Prescinding from questions of historicity, it is beyond dispute that Annunciation accounts in Luke repeat a consecrated schema used in such accounts in the Old Testament, and likewise certain are the cases of coincidence of motifs and literary formulas with passages in Samuel and extra-Biblical texts.

Evaluation. Form-criticism, or as it is called in German, die formgeschichtliche Methode (the method of the history of forms), can be considered from the viewpoint of its objective or from that of the method it employs. Its objective is to go back from the written Gospels to the preliterary oral stage in which tradition was in the course of formation; it is a sort of paleontology of the Gospels (Dibelius). This objective is, in itself, quite legitimate, and historically it supplanted a literary criticism that had already exhausted itself. But one must remember that a literary reality cannot be adequately identified with the process of its formation, that is, that the Gospels cannot be adequately explained without the Evangelists. Finally, the canonical and authoritative texts for the Church are the four Gospels, not some hypothetical or probable forms that may have existed before them. Form criticism, therefore, is a licit, interesting, and promising undertaking; but it cannot be called the only task of Gospel exegesis. Viewed as a method, die formgeschichtliche Methode is precisely thata method of work. As such, it is neutral and disposable, to be evaluated according to its usefulness and its results. But it should not be forgotten that any method, especially one that is concerned with the sciences of the spirit, suffers under the influence of those who use it. For this reason it is very difficult to pass a neutral judgment on a method that, in theory, is neutral. Nevertheless, an evaluation will be attempted here, following the three stages of the method as described.

Value of Isolation of Units. To isolate the literary units of which the Gospels are composed is relatively easy and reliable. Likewise, the isolation of the editorial work that was done on the oral tradition can be achieved with sufficient certitude; the wide agreement of exegetes in this regard confirms the results. (In the Old Testament there is not the same favorable situation of the presence of three or even, at times, four parallel documents.) In otherwise doubtful places, what is lacking in objective evidence is supplied by the picture of the whole that the investigator has seen in formation or that he has brought with him. The method, however, becomes more uncertain or even dangerous when it pursues more and more minute divisions, separating a maxim from its scene, breaking a binary formula into its component parts, or isolating a piece from its natural series. The shortest is not always the oldest. Together with the aggregative force of thematic or formal combination, there are also at work the forces of selection, of partial citation, etc., as shown by the use of the Old Testament in the New Testament. Uncontrolled analysis can lead to an atomism that loses sight of the large or even the small connections. Bultmann is not free from this defect.

Value of Classification by Types. Every classification simplifies the understanding of an object and permits, by comparison, the appreciation of the individual. The convergence of the three criteriatheme, form, and purposecan guarantee the results. Classification places the literary units in a new context, which means placing them in a new light. But it would be sterile to be content with a pure, quasi-botanical classification. The dangers in such a step are the following.

There is a danger of carelessly confusing the form and the thematic criteria and of drawing inferences as a result of such confusion. The same theme of miracle may appear in the form of miracle story or in the form of apothegm; the same form of miracle story may hold for a tempest theme or a deafmute theme. Therefore, before drawing conclusions it is necessary to determine clearly whether the differences are those of theme or of form.

Another danger is to apply foreign types to the Gospels and to draw unwarranted conclusions from them. Bultmann borrowed the term and type of apothegm from Greek literature. Actually, however, such a type is found in many different literatures, and therefore it could be useful for seeking the differential of the Gospels. The type of legend is taken from medieval Christian literaturewritten, not oral; but in Bultmann it is surcharged with a negative evaluation that has been imposed on it by the enlightenment. Dibelius's term of Novelle (short story) is not felicitous, and the deficiencies in the term myth are evident. Moreover, in using a type that is common to other literatures, there is the danger of jumping from analogy to dependence, e.g., to explain the stories of Jesus' miracles as imitations of Greek miracle stories created for the purpose of setting up Christian, in opposition to pagan, propaganda.

A third danger is to define a type so as to raise it to an absolute norm for judging all the individual units that may fall under this type. In assuming that the pure form is the original, primary one, a certain pure type is reconstructed that is never met with in any individual case, and then this pure type is applied as the ideal norm on the individual unit until they are equalized. The result is a mechanical stylization of life as if in a laboratory. Bultmann, for instance, finds that precise topographical data do not correspond to the style of the apothegm, and therefore, when they occur in Gospel apothegms, he considers them very suspicious. One runs the risk of going in a vicious circle in thus defining a certain literary genre with absolute rigor, applying this definition to the literary units, and then drawing conclusions. Bultmann is frequently guilty of such faulty methodology, thereby falsifying the form-criticism method in its very birth. It should be noted, however, that the fault lies not in using a well-established form as a criterion but in turning it into an absolute criterion.

A final danger lies in passing, without further ado, from conclusions regarding the form to judgments regarding historicity: e.g., it is cultic, hence not historical. As far as mere terminology regarding the form is concerned, one is justified in saying that it is a legend and that therefore it is not history. What this means is that the matter is narrated in the form of a legend, not in the form of historynothing more. But it is wrong to draw the conclusion that since the thing is told in the form of a legend the thing itself is legendary, not historical. Such a conclusion is to leap from a judgment regarding the form to a judgment regarding the historicity. Naturally, the question concerning the historicity interests the investigator. Yet it is a question that cannot be answered by merely typological criteria: other "real" criteria (concerning the things themselves) must be added to these. Dibelius, in general, is cautious in his conclusions, modestly skirting this field. On the contrary, according to E. Schick, this is the capital sin of Bultmann: to jump from conclusions regarding the form (which are often merely hypothetical) to judgments of historicity, i.e., nonhistoricity. It is clear that frequently a judgment that something is not historical is simply a prejudgment (prejudice) placed at the end of the study. L. Köhler says of Bultmann's analyses of Jesus' disputes that they seek to find how they could have come into being, on the supposition that they are not historical. And Bultmann himself lays the burden of proof on anyone who wishes to go back from the Gospel text to the life of Jesus.

Part Played by the Community. With the classification according to the various literary forms the work is not yet finished. The next step is to investigate the history of the forms. This is where the Geschichte (history) of the formgeschichtliche Methode fits in: to go back through the "forms" to the "formation," back from the four Gospels to the original one gospel, from the Evangelists to the community. Thus there appears a new view of oral tradition, a new view of the early Church and its life. Before the Scripture there was oral tradition, as a living force united with Jesus, as a force that was, to a large extent, formative, so that Scripture is, to a large extent, a fixing of the oral tradition. The bearer of this tradition tradition in the sense both of the act of transmitting and of the material transmittedwas the early Christian community, the early Church. Scripture was born in the Church and from the Church; the New Testament is the Church's book. This Church displayed a life of many different activities: it proclaimed the good news, it preached, it defended itself, it celebrated its liturgy. This rich and varied life vitalized the transmitted material and its fixed form in writing; it produced a living bookthe New Testament.

In a certain sense, therefore, this new method has, no doubt, made an important contribution; and for this reason it has been welcomed, though with various degrees of reserve, by many Catholic scholars. Yet, if the investigator twists these concepts, the method can turn out to be catastrophic. Instead of a faithful transmission by controlled witnesses pledged to preserve, interpret, and actualize the material, we are offered a tradition that preserves but little and invents almost everything, indebted more to Judaism and Hellenism than to Jesus, a tradition that cannot bring us with certainty to the person and life of Jesus. "Of the life and personality of Jesus practically nothing can be known." This tradition can lead us merely to the early Christian community. Yet this community is not the Church as it is shown to be in the other writings of the New Testament and even in certain passages of the Gospels, but a community borrowed from a positivistic and romantic sociology that has already become outdated in the scholarly field of history and literature. It is an anonymous, amorphous community, an undifferentiated mass, without personalities; it is creative in a strict sense, collectively engaged in a work of invention. This community scarcely remembers Jesus, but it compensates for this by having a fantastically prodigious power of creation. It has created something marvelously new without anyone's being able to explain who created the community itself. It is precisely this that has discredited a Formgeschichte directed by certain determined religious conceptions or negations: the Gospels are first cut up into minute literary units, these are then dissolved in an amorphous community, and the result is set forth as a scientific explanation of the Gospels.

Historical and Bibliographical Conspectus. Although the opinions of the leading proponents of this method have already been mentioned, it will be useful to set forth here a brief historical synthesis of many of the scholars connected with this theory, together with the basic bibliographical data.

Early Background. It was from Johann Gottfried von herder that the first intuitions arose regarding this theory: the early preaching, oral tradition, the Apostles' preaching and the instruction of the first communities, the Palestinian and Hellenistic color; see his Vom Erlöser der Menschen. Nach unseren drei ersten Evv. (Leipzig 1796); Nach Jo-Ev. (Leipzig 1797). J. K. L. Gieseler developed the theory of the common oral tradition, with its conservative and formative principles, and he compared this with the tradition of the Rabbis; see his Historischkritischer Versuch über die Entstehung und die frühesten Schicksale der schriftlichen Evangelien (1818). This was followed by the period of literary criticism of the New Testament until, at the end of the century, there was a return to the ideas of Herder. C. F. G. Heinrici, in his book Die Entstehung des New Testament (Leipzig 1899) and in several articles, separated the Gospels from other surrounding literary works, in practice distinguished tradition from redaction, pointed to the formation of the traditions in the early preaching and teaching, and found their roots in the life of the community. H. Gunkel's influence was felt after World War I, and in about a year the new school was born. Decisive for the community and cult aspect of the theory was the work of Adolf Deissmann, Licht vom Osten (Tübingen 1908).

Basic Studies. Urged on by Gunkel, or on the strength of their own independent efforts, five men produced the following basic works: (1) M. Dibelius, Die Formgeschichte des Evangelium (Tübingen, January 1919); (2) K. L. Schmidt, Der Rahmen der Geschichte Jesu (Berlin, March 1919); (3) R. Bultmann, Die Geschichte der synoptischen Tradition (Göttingen, March 1921); History of the Synoptic Tradition, tr. J. Marsch (New York 1963); (4) M. Albertz, Die synoptischen Streitgespräche (Berlin, May 1921); (5) G. Bertram, Die Leidengeschichte Jesu und der Christuskult (Göttingen 1922).

These scholars remained active until the beginning of World War II, publishing books and articles and contributing to the second edition of the dictionary Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart: Bertram, "Entstehung des Christentums" 1:153135; Bultmann, "Evangelien: Gattungsgeschichtlich"2:418422, "Urgemeinde" 5:140814; Schmidt, "Formgeschichte" 2:638640, "Geschichtschreibung im New Testament" 2: 111517, "Jesus Christus" 3:110115; Dibelius, "Bibelkritik des New Testament" 1:103335. The following are other works by these authors that should be cited: Bertram, "Die Bedeutung der Kultgeschichtlichen Methode für die ntl. Forschung" [Theologische Blätter 2 (1923) 2536], in which he made his own method somewhat different by a different terminology; Bultmann, Jesus (Berlin 1926) and the first edition of his collected articles, Glauben und Verstehen (Tübingen 1933). Dibelius, "Zur Formgeschichte der Evangelien" Theologische Rundschau 1 (1929) 185216 and other articles in which he widened the field of study, such as "Zur Formgeschichte des New Testament ausserhalb der Evangelien" Theologische Rundschau 3 (1931) 207242; "Stilkritisches zur Apostelgeschichte" Eucharisteion für H. Gunkel 2 (1923) 2749; "Rabbinische und evangelische Erzählungen" Theologische Blätter 11 (1932) 112. Schmidt, "Die Stellung der Evangelien in der allgemeinen Literaturgeschichte" Eucharisteion für H. Gunkel 2 (1923) 50134; "Die Persönlichkeitsfrage im Urchristentum" Theologische Blätter 3 (1925) 153161.

Reaction. Comments and criticisms on the new school or new method were not slow in making their appearance, and they came from different sides. On the Protestant side the following studies in criticism of this theory may be mentioned. O. Cullmann, "Les recéntes études sur la formation de la tradition evangelique" Revue d'histoire et de philosophie religieuses 5 (1925) 459477, 564579. E. Fascher, "Die formgeschichtliche Methode: eine Darstellung und Kritik" Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 2 (1924). L. Köhler, "Das formgeschichtliche Problem des New Testament" in Sammlung gemeinverständlicher Vorträge und Schriften aus dem Gebiet der Theologie und Religionsgeschichte (Tübingen 1925). M. Goguel, "Une nouvelle école de critique évangelique" Revue d'histoire des religions 2 (1926) 114160.

On the Catholic side the following critical studies, among others, have been published. H. Dieckmann, "Die formgeschichtliche Methode und ihre Anwendung auf die Auferstehungsberichte" Scholastik 1 (1926) 379399. F. M. Braun, "Une nouvelle école d'éxégèse" La Vie intellectuelle (1931) 180199; Où en est le problème de Jésus (Brussels 1932); "Formgeschichte" Dictionnaire de la Bible, supplemental ed. L. Pirot, et al. 3 (1938) 312317. E. Florit, Il metodo della "Storia delle Forme" e sua applicazione al racconto della passione (Rome 1935).

Although the attitude of Catholic scholars has been rather negative, efforts are being made to distinguish the method used in this theory from the whole theory itself. During World War II, E. Schick brought out his Form-geschichte und Synoptikerexegese: eine kritische Untersuchung über die Möglichkeit und die Grenzen der formgeschichtlichen Methode (New Testament Abhandlungen 18, Münster 1940). This Catholic study, which explains the new method, evaluates it with balanced judgment and endeavors to apply it, is a work of basic importance and is still very useful. (Extensive use of it has been made in preparing this article.) After the war, various Catholic scholars began to accept the method as purged of the errors contained in the rest of the system. Special mention should be made of T. Soiron, who was able, in 1941, to publish (at Freiburg) his work, Die Bergpredigt Jesu: formgeschichtliche, exegetische und theologische Erklärung. However, although K. H. Schelkle defended his thesis, Die Passion Jesu in der Verkündigung des New Testament, in 1941, it was not until 1949 that he was allowed to publish it (at Heidelberg). Other Catholic scholars who have published valuable studies on this matter are L. Cerfaux, L. Léon-Dufour, H. Schürmann, A. Vögtle, J. Dupont, F. Mussner, the commentators in the Regensburg New Testament, etc. Abundant and clear information can be found in L. Randellini, "La tradizione evangelica," Introduzione al New Testament (Brescia 1961) 35138.

After 1950 there appeared a new method and school that extended and integrated the results of form criticism by paying more attention to the intelligent and important work that the Evangelists did on the material they received from tradition. W. Marxsen gave the name of Redaktionsgeschichte (redaction history) to this new method. Some of the main representatives of this school, with their important studies, are G. Bornkamm, "Matthäus als Interpret der Herrenworte" Theologische Literzturzeitung 79 (1954) 341346; H. Conzelmann, Die Mitte der Zeit: Studien zur Theologie des Lukas (Tübingen 1954); W. Marxsen, Der Evangelist Markus: Studien zur Redaktionsgeschichte des Evangeliums (Göttingen 1956).

Other New Testament Literary Genres. The form-criticism school has concentrated its efforts on the Synoptic Gospels, with only an occasional excursus (e.g., by Dibelius) on the Acts of the Apostles.

The New Testament Epistles can be all grouped in one common literary genre, though with certain differences among them, from the short personal note to Philemon through the letters occasioned by certain situations, such as Galatians and 2 Corinthians, up to those Epistles, such as Romans and Hebrews, that approach the form of a theological treatise.

The Revelation to St. John belongs to the apocalyptic literary genre that was highly developed in the late extra-Biblical religious literature of the Jews. It evidently gives more space to eschatological visions, which are described in symbolic terms, than to visions concerning actual history related in allegorical style.

Although all these writings are strictly literary works, the incorporate a certain amount of preliterary, traditional material. To some extent, therefore, they too can be analyzed according to the principles of the history of tradition, yet without the advantage of a possible Synoptic comparison, as in the case of the Gospels. According to Bornkamm (Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart 1:100205) the following types of literary genre may be mentioned as found in these writings: kerygmas, in which the faith is briefly set forth, and creeds, in which it is professed (1 Cor 15.35; 8.6); hymns (Phil2.611); sermons made up of a kerygmatic argument from Scripture combined with an exhortation to repentance (Acts 2.2239); and admonitions, which occur toward the end of many of the Epistles and which contain, among other things, lists of vices and virtues (Rom1.2931), comparisons taken from everyday life (1 Cor9.24), and advice on the various states of life (Eph5.216.9).

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