While doing a little background research on folklore and oral tradition, I happened upon something written by David Aune that confused me. Aune edited The Blackwell Companion to the New Testament, and wrote the chapter on form criticism (pp. 140-155).
You probably recognize Wiley-Blackwell’s well-regarded Blackwell Companions to Religion series. Generally, I admire their clarity and reliability, so when I read Aune’s remarks regarding Karl Ludwig Schmidt, I was taken aback.
One of the corollaries of the view that the Jesus tradition originally circulated in relatively short oral units is that the framework of the life of Jesus in the gospels has no claim to historicity. K. L. Schmidt, who did not himself use the term “form criticism,” argued that Mark was made up of short, originally independent episodes or pericopae that were linked together editorially by a variety of chronological and geographical bridge passages inserted by the evangelist with the intent of creating a connected narrative. (Aune 2010, p. 142, emphasis mine)
The problem, as you can see immediately, is that Schmidt did use the term form criticism (Formgeschichte). In fact, the editors of the RGG II specifically asked him to write the section on it (see volume II, “Formgeschichte” pp. 639-640). He also used the term in his 1923 work, The Place of the Gospels in the General History of Literature, acknowledging the methodology in section A.5 — “Methodologisches: Literarkritik und Stilkritik (Formgeschichte).” So, what could Aune have meant?
I think perhaps he’s referring to the fact that in Schmidt’s magnum opus Der Rahmen der Geschichte Jesu (The Framework of the Story of Jesus), he never refers to Formgeschichte or the formgeschichtliche Methode. Yet, this revelation should surprise no one, least of all a scholar entrusted with the history of form criticism.
Primary and Essential
Why would a foundational work in the world of form criticism never mention the term itself? We find our first clue to the mystery of the missing term in the book’s subtitle: “literarkritische Untersuchungen zur ältesten Jesusüberlieferung” (A Literary-Critical Study of the Oldest Jesus-Tradition). Before any serious, detailed form-critical research could begin in earnest, somebody needed to complete the task of analyzing the synoptic gospels to determine which parts were most likely the oldest traditions about Jesus and which parts were the redactional cement that held the aggregate together. Schmidt completed that task at the tender age of 28.
Schmidt focused on the topographical and chronological assertions in the gospels, while noting the obvious stylistic habits and formulaic tendencies of the gospel compilers. As we pointed out, this task is a literary-critical endeavor, not a form-critical one.
Unfortunately, since no publisher has undertaken an English translation of Schmidt’s book, we sometimes find authors musing over what they assume the work is about. For example, in the Wikipedia entry for K. L. Schmidt, we find this blunder:
In 1919, his book Der Rahmen der Geschichte Jesu (“The Framework of the Story of Jesus”) showed that Mark’s chronology is the invention of the evangelist. Using form criticism, Schmidt showed that an editor had assembled the narrative out of individual scenes that did not originally have a chronological order. (bold emphasis mine)
Fortunately, the purported source for the second sentence above, The Historical Jesus: a Comprehensive Guide, does not make the same mistake.
After noticing Aune’s bizarre statement, I took some time out to translate and annotate Schmidt’s “Formgeschichte” article from the second edition of Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart,* with the intention of publishing it here. I regret to say that Mohr Siebeck still holds the copyright on this 90-year-old work. As for his Framework, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft renewed the copyright in 1964. They own the worldwide rights and appear to have no intention of providing an English translation.
However, although my plans for translating and publishing these works under the Creative Commons License have hit a major snag, I have decided on a new path forward. I will translate them for myself, and then write detailed reviews of the works here on Vridar. These reviews, of course, will contain pertinent quotations (in English) where applicable.
- Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart: Handwörter für Theologie und Religionswissenschaft, Vol. 2, Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 1928
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