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Mark 12:1-11 (Parable of Vineyard) and Bultmann's form criticism

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  • David Cavanagh
    This is my first post to the list, and I m hoping it will not be ruled off-topic ! I m currently reading Steve Moyise, Introduction to Biblical Studies (T &
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 15, 2008
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      This is my first post to the list, and I'm hoping it will not be ruled
      "off-topic"!

      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
      form criticism?

      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!

      David Cavanagh
      Major (The Salvation Army)
      Naples (Italy)
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