The chapters in this volume provide the general reader an opportunity to learn from one of the greatest biblical scholars of the twentieth century. Beginning with the most general and moving to focused topics, this work provides a rationale for continuing to engage the Old Testament in the modern world. Combining his research strengths in the literary history of Israel, form criticism, tradition history, and the history of religion, this volume covers narrative, prophecy, and the Psalms.
Rather than artifacts of a former generation, these essays are as fresh as ever in their perspective. To make it more helpful for students, each essay has been expanded with additional notes and bibliography to show where the discussion has continued since Gunkel. This work will provide an excellent supplementary textbook for courses in the Old Testament or Bible.
Born in Springe, Germany, in 1862, Gunkel taught Old Testament at the universities of Halle, Berlin, and Giessen. He retired from Halle in 1927 and died in 1932 after being ill for several years. What began as a career in New Testament scholarship was sidetracked into Old Testament studies. Gunkel's publication in 1888 of Die Wirkungen des heiligen Geistes (The Influence of the Holy Spirit; trans. 1979), when he was only twenty-six, created difficulty in his getting a university position in Germany, where theological faculties were influenced by church concerns. But his probing mind and skillful control of the ancient sources allowed him to move on to Old Testament research.
Gunkel was a pioneer among the scholars who became identified as the Die religionsgeschichtliche Schule ("the History of Religion School"). Their concern was to get at the essence of religion itself. They were interested in studying the histories of the variety of religions, but also what was fundamental to religion itself—that is, the history of religion. They went about this task by exploring religious traditions as widely as possible; and they were interested in tracing the histories of religious ideas, traditions, and practices—in short, the whole development of religion. Led by the older Albert Eichhorn (history of Christianity), other members in this movement were all approximately the same age as Gunkel: Hugo Gressmann (Old Testament), William Wrede (New Testament), Wilhelm Bousset (New Testament and history of Judaism), and Ernst Troeltsch (history of theology). Because of his religio-historical method, one of the things that makes Gunkel's work of continuing interest is that he always paid close attention to literary, historical, and cultural parallels from Egypt, Babylon, and even later Arab cultures. He unfortunately died too soon to benefit from the enormous explosion of textual discoveries from Ugarit, Mari, Nuzi, and Bogazköy, to say nothing of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi Library. But he was especially cognizant of the importance of the Babylonian discoveries made in the late nineteenth century. This was first shown in his Schöpfung und Chaos in Urzeit und Endzeit (Creation and Chaos in Primeval-time and End-time) in 1895, the first systematic use of the religio-historical method on biblical texts.
Beyond his groundbreaking religio-historical work, he was the father of form criticism. Building on the insights of German folklorists (especially Wilhelm Wundt and the Grimm brothers), he clearly saw the relationship of genres, setting in life, and intention in texts. Integral to this methodology was paying attention to oral traditions that eventually took shape in written documents. This was particularly evident in his major commentaries on Genesis (1st ed. 1901) and the Psalms (1929), and also Das Märchen im Alten Testament (1921; The Folktale in the Old Testament, trans. 1987). But his posthumously completed work Einleitung in die Psalmen (1933; An Introduction to the Psalms, trans. 1998), completed by his son-in-law and student, Joachim Begrich, demonstrates his remarkable attention to detail, sense of traditio-historical development, and wide-ranging coverage of ancient sources: Hebrew Bible, New Testament, Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, and ancient Near Eastern texts. This form-critical method had further impact on New Testament studies because of his influence on Rudolf Bultmann and Martin Dibelius. Gunkel is one of those handful of biblical scholars whose work has not faded with time. Not only did he open new doors for research, his insights have maintained their importance for more than a century.
The reader should be aware that I have edited Gunkel's essays in a number of ways. Most importantly, I have provided numerous corrections to the earlier English translations. In addition, I have: (1) moved some citations from the essays to the footnotes, adding all the relevant data; (2) deleted some side comments (especially about German schooling and church catechetical practices) that are not germane to the topic; (3) added footnotes (marked by square brackets) and bibliographies in order to bring the reader up-to-date in the discussion; (4) employed the RSV for biblical translations in most cases; and (5) added biblical citations for some of Gunkel's biblical allusions. I have also made occasional modifications in the RSV quotations by changing RSV's "Lord" to "Yahweh" and changing words such as "thou" to "you."
K. C. Hanson, editor
- Why Engage the Old Testament?
- Israelite Literary History
- The Jacob Traditions
- Two Hagar Stories
- Prophets as Writers and Poets
- The Religion of the Psalms