Mark 12:1-11 (Parable of Vineyard) and Bultmann's form criticism
- This is my first post to the list, and I'm hoping it will not be ruled
I'm currently reading Steve Moyise, "Introduction to Biblical Studies"
(T & T Clark Approaches to Biblical Studies: Continuum, 2004) in
preparation for beginning a distance degree in Theology and Religious
studies -but this post, let me stress, has nothing to do with any kind
of coursework: I have yet to begin actual study.
To illustrate form criticism, Moyise looks at Bultmann's treatment of
the parable of the vineyard, and summarizing Bultmann's view, writes:
"the thrust of the parable has been completely changed by Christian
additions. First, the extravagant description of the vineyard is now
intended to evoke the allegory of Isaiah 5, where Israel is the
vineyard. Second, the introduction of the 'beloved son' (an obvious
reference to Jesus) is acheived at the expense of credibility, for why
would the tenants think that killing the heir would lead to them
receiving the vineyard?......Third, the transfer of the vineyard, which
is now associated with Israel through the allusion to Isaiah 5, to
'others' is a reference to the early church replacing Israel as God's
people. And fourth, the scriptural quotation (Psalm 118:22-23) that is
now attached to the parable completely changes its' tenor, for the abuse
of the servants and the killing of the son are now regarded as 'the
Lord's doing'" (Moyise, p. 38).
I'm wondering whether this is a poor summary of Bultmann's view, or
whether Moyise has chosen a poor example to illustrate form criticism,
because it seems to me that much of this can be safely challenged.
1. The reading of the scriptural quotation seems to be a blatant (almost
wilful) misinterpretation: surely it is the vindication of the rejected
stone which is 'the Lord's doing', not the abuse of the servants and the
killing of the son?
2. Why on earth should the reference to the vineyard parable of Isaiah 5
be considered a Christian addition? Is it really so unlikely that Jesus
-who must at the very least be considered as a charismatic Jewish
travelling preacher- should have referred to the scriptures of Israel?
3. I will happily grant that Mark is viewing Jesus in the light of the
cross and empty tomb traditions, and this -together with the development
of the early church- colours his picture. Nevertheless,
Moyise/Bultmann's opposition of Israel and the church can be considered
anachronistic. We know that various renewal movements in second-Temple
Judaism conceived of themselves as the true Israel, an elect group
chosen from within the nation. Equally, Jesus' calling of twelve
apostles is commonly considered a sign that he was in some sense
intending to (at least symbolically) constitute a new/renewd Israel
gathered around himself. Does this not supply an equally (or more
plausible) context within which to interpret the transfer of the
vineyard to 'others'?
4. The introduction of the 'beloved son' is certainly a reference to
Jesus, and certainly Mark intends it to be read in the light of
subsequent events. However, given that sonship language can express a
sense of divine election by Israel's god, and that sociological studies
show considerable tension between absentee landlords and peasant
tenants, is Bultmann's objection not perhaps overstated, especially
since it seems fairly clear Jesus, understanding himself as a prophet,
felt his life was in danger?
I'm acutely aware I am an amateur theologian, and I want to know if any
of you serious scholars agree with any of this, or at least consider the
arguments valid (even if you disagree with me!)? Or am I missing
something that serious scholars just take for granted? Has Moyise
misrepresented Bultmann or has he chosen a poor example to illustrate
If I may make a heart-felt appeal, please don't tell me to read Bultmann
himself (or some other text)! I've nothing against doing that in
principle, but for the next six-eight years I am going to be fighting to
reconcile the demands of my job as a Salvation Army pastor and the
demands of the degree course, and I suspect all my reading time is going
to be dedicated to reading set texts for the course!
Major (The Salvation Army)