Gunkel, Hermann°

views updated


GUNKEL, HERMANN ° (1862–1932), German Bible scholar. Gunkel taught at the universities of Halle from 1888 to 1894 and 1920 to 1927, Berlin from 1894 to 1907, and Giessen from 1907 to 1920. The work of Gunkel has been a learned stimulant in biblical scholarship. His conviction that historical criticism, which seeks an ideal history of Israel based on the chronological and biographical terms and exemplified classically by the J. Wellhausen school, was inadequate in writing a history of Israel's literature led him to discover the importance of determining the oral prehistory of the written sources, and of classifying the source material into the appropriate categories of literary "forms." He thus pioneered the methods of form criticism to biblical studies, and introduced the traditional historical point of view in writing Israel's history. His first major work, Schöpfung und Chaos in Urzeit und Endzeit (1895, 1921), was a study into the mythology underlying the biblical ideas concerning the beginning and the end of the present world order. By piecing together the existing variants of the surviving texts, mainly in the poetic sections of the Bible, he made the first scholarly attempt to reconstruct the original myth of creation. His commentary on Genesis (1901, 19636) argued for the great antiquity of the sagas, legends, and traditions of the first book of the Bible. The introduction, published separately and translated into English as The Legends of Genesis (1901, 19645), was primarily interested in the characteristics of the story (German "Sagen" is better translated as "stories" than as "legends") as a genre and its historical development. His most successful attempt at a literary history of Israel, based primarily on an analysis of the types and forms of Israel's speech, appeared in the volume on Die orientalschen Literaturen (1906) in Hinneberg's series Die Kultur der Gegenwart. His approach has proved most fruitful in his studies on the Psalms: Ausgewaehlte Psalmen (19174); Die Psalmen uebersetzt und erklaert (1926); and Einleitung in die Psalmen (published posthumously and under the joint authorship of J. Begrich, 1933), where the Psalms are classified according to their principle types (Gattungen) and each type is related to a characteristic life setting (Sitz im Leben). Gunkel's book on Esther (1916, 19582) is fundamental for understanding the literary character of the book. A number of crucial studies related to form criticism are found in two series of published essays: Reden und Aufsaetze (1913) and Was bleibt vom Alten Testament (1916; What Remains of the Old Testament? and Other Essays, 1928). His Das Maerchen im Alten Testament (1917) historically traces the genre of the folktale in the Bible in light of Near Eastern culture. In addition to his many writings he served as an editor of Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (1909–13 and 1927–322), and, with W. Bousset, of the series Forschungen zur Religion und Literatur des Alten und Neuen Testaments.


Festschrift…H. Gunkel (1923), incl. bibl.; db, s.v. (incl. bibl.); H.J. Kraus, Geschichte der historisch-kritischen Erforschung des Alten Testaments (1956), 309–34; H.F. Hahn, The Old Testament in Modern Research (1956), 119–28. add. bibliography: J. Scullion, in: dbi, 1:472–73.

[Zev Garber]