Another Old German Treasure Translated into English

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by Neil Godfrey

When I translated Bruno Bauer’s studies of the New Testament writings I encountered numerous references to one of the pioneers of the Markan priority hypothesis, Christian Gottlob Wilke. Bruno often but not always deferred to Wilke’s judgments relating to the relationships among the synoptic gospels and how to account for their variations, what passages appeared to be earlier, which verses were intrusions of some kind, and so forth. My appetite was whetted and I wanted to read Wilke for myself. The work in question is Der Urevangelist oder exegetisch kritische Untersuchung über das Verwandtschaftsverhältniß der drei ersten Evangelien published in 1838. Translation: The Urevangelist [=Original Gospel] or exegetical critical study on the relationship of the first three Gospels.

I have just completed translating the introductory pages and part one — approximately 160 pages in all.

Part one addresses in depth the question of whether the synoptic gospels drew upon oral tradition. Wilke’s assessment is that they did not. The evidence that he advances to reach this conclusion is thorough in its detail. He also concludes part one with a discussion of variations of the standard notion of oral tradition and alternative hypotheses such as an Aramaic original.

I have read many modern studies about such questions and cannot help but think that many scholars would have written differently had they also read Wilke in the original. The original is in Old German or Fraktur font but I can offer a second best option. I have maintained the original pagination in the translation. Some of the paragraphs in the original exceed ten pages in length, and even a single sentence can sometimes run on beyond a page, but Wilke had the happy habit of inserting into his walls of text subdivisions — a, b, c, … α, β, γ…. 1, 2, 3 ….. aa, bb, cc,…. and I have broken the paragraphs at each of those points for easier reading.

For those who are seriously minded about these sorts of questions…. (you may have to do a bit of cursor clicking to make the files show)

Title page – Foreword – 3 TABLES to which the remainder of the study will constantly refer

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addressing the question of whether the synoptic gospels drew upon oral or written sources

Download (PDF, 408KB)

I hope to eventually translate the entire volume. That won’t be completed by next week, though.

Original text is available at archive.org, the Bavarian State Library and no doubt other places.

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34 thoughts on “Another Old German Treasure Translated into English”

    1. Please do email me, or post here, any suggestions for tidying up the presentation, fixing errors, making anything clearer, that come to you when you look at the files.

      I have maintained the “n” signifier for each pericope throughout.

      Some of the formatting of how bible verses was a bit confusing to me at first and with the the Part Two that I am working on I am trying to modify these to bring them into line with what is clearer for us moderns.

      Wilke sums up the main lines of argument against oral tradition in the last pages. But I found many snippets very interesting as I was translating it. I recall Maurice Casey trying to argue that the disciples followed Jesus around jotting down his words on wax tablets — Wilke completely pulled the rug from any such possibility: if only Casey had read Wilke! But there are other publications I have read in “recent years” that make arguments that Wilke addressed and, to my mind, thoroughly refuted. Again — it is very clear that Wilke is more known among scholars about what others have said about him than from a direct reading of his work for themselves.

    2. I should add — though you may have already read this yourself — that Wilke did not deny that Jesus’ disciples relayed their gospel orally over and over etc, but he makes it clear why such preaching could not reasonably be thought to have formed the basis of some “oral tradition” that fed the gospel authors with material. It was a pleasure to read such clear, methodical thinking on what is involved with “real life” memory and preaching situations and examining the details of what we find in the gospels as a foil to that context.

  1. Neil, your efforts open new vistas for scholars of history and Biblical exegesis. Almost nobody has cared to translate Bauer or Wilke into English for 180 years. It takes a special sort of intellect to see the great value that most English-speaking scholars have overlooked for 180 years.

    Translating a technical work from German to English in the 20th century required years of effort, and tons of cash — the kind available only to Universities and their grants.

    But if most scholars for 180 years overlook key texts of a key period — what can be done? The 21st century offers a way — computer app translations.

    It’s great that software designers have given us these great apps — but unless somebody knows what works are most important to translate — these apps tend to be used for business and commercial correspondence.

    Your work, Neil, has brought Bruno Bauer to the English reader — more than all other projects from 1990 to 2020 *combined*. Now, with this new translation of C.G. Wilke’s “Der Urevangelist” (1838), you have opened up the SOURCES that Bruno Bauer relied upon in his groundbreaking work.

    Christian theologians today are still learning facts about the Gospels that were pioneered by Weisse, Wilke, and Bruno Bauer — such as the Markan Hypothesis.

    Your work, Neil, turns a spotlight on the birth of the Markan Hypothesis for the English reader — like no other professor in the past 180 years.

    –Paul Trejo, M.A.

    1. Thank you, Paul. Yes, and as you can see in my reply to Steve above, i cannot help but notice how Wilke effectively “settled” several ideas that seem to continue to circulate in the scholarship today. The arguments I read by moderns about oral tradition come across to me as very naive, shallow even (not to mention my observation that several scholars dishonestly used the research of oral historians out of context to give them twists the oral historians never intended — that little battle I “waged” some years ago and some monuments to it are in my earlier posts here.)

      I don’t expect many biblical scholars to rush to use these works: that’s not how the academic world works, I understand that much. But I am confident there are a few who will benefit and pass on those benefits to wider audiences. In time.

      1. Yes, Neil — please translate Hermann Weisse! NT scholars widely agree with the Markan Hypothesis, yet many seem ignorant of the fact that it was revealed in great detail around 1840.

        In the 1840s, three giants revealed the Markan Hypothesis to academia, namely, Hermann Weisse, Gottlob Wilke, and Bruno Bauer.

        Yet these names are all but forgotten except by very few scholars. It’s quite expensive for a University to translate German works of the 1840s to English.

        You are the one who stepped forward to use computer apps to translate these great works of philosophy and Bible scholarship. Although the 1% errors made by computer apps will irk purists, the 99% accuracy opens up academic treasures for scholars.

        Please, Neil, translate Hermann Weisse.

        Thank you.

          1. One book by Weisse stands out among the rest — “Die evangelische Geschichte kritisch und philosophisch bearbeitet” (1838). In English, “A Critical and Philosophical Study of the Gospel History,” is more than 1150 pages long — but the world-famous Markan Hypothesis arguably begins exactly here — from the pen of Christian Hermann Weisse.

  2. Forgot to add — Part Two translation is going to be a long, long slog. I have reasonably good software — ABBY FineReader does a reasonable job of OCR, but the original text is not good quality — not even the OCR text file the Bavarian State Library provides is easy to use, and contains many errors — and Part Two requires many mixes on each page of Greek and German, Latin and sometimes Hebrew — and the only way I can get decent copies is to create a separate file for each language, and then copy and paste the machine translations into a mix and match page — before still having to do manual corrections. It’s a little project that’s going to fill in my spare time for a long time to come.

  3. I have now added this post and the embedded files as a stand-alone page — look for the “Pages” heading in the right hand margin, near the top. I have entered Wilke beneath Bruno Bauer.

  4. Oral tradition debunking aside, I’d be interested to see what the denizens of this forum think of Wilke’s Mk-Lk-Mt ordering. Mk-Lk is familiar enough reasoning, but L-Mt is a puzzler for me. It resolves the SoMT problem with the FH, I’ll give it that, but…

    1. I don’t like it. Whenever I read Bruno Bauer repeating that Mk-Lk-Mt sequence I do a mental adjustment each time. Surely Luke has to follow Matthew and Mark.

      1. I have problems with Alan Garrow’s MCH (Matthew Conflator Hypothesis) which tries once again to show that the Gospel of Matthew (MT) got most its stories about Jesus by copying from the Gospel of Luke (LK). It doesn’t convince me.

        Look at the problems; the problem of minor agreements between MT and LK; the problem of very high levels of agreement between MT and LK; the problem of MT’s elaboration of LK to write the Sermon on the Mount.

        Garrow also objects to the Farrer Hypothesis which implicitly requires that LK treated MK differently than he treated MT. But LK was the HARMONY of the other three Gospels. It was (along with ACTS) the final Gospel written in the finest Greek.

        But as a HARMONY, LK required multiple writers, and in this way we can explain why LK treated MK differently than he treated MT.

        1. Does the view that there was an ur-Luke that the author of our final canonical Luke used have anything to offer here? What are the objections to the ur-Luke having known Mark and the final author of the canonical version took more pains to address Matthew?

    2. Bruno Bauer wrote 180 years ago, and he delivered groundbreaking exegesis of the Gospels, along with Wilke and Weisse. They DISCOVERED the Markan Hypothesis. In that sense, they STARTED all future Gospel exegesis.

      As for the sequence of the Gospels after Mark, there are so many theories. Bart Ehrman cannot accept Mark Goodacre’s hypothesis, and neither have a majority opinion. Some still say the Q is real, while others say that MT was the original Q.

      Although most scholars today regard the Synoptics to be first, and JN to be a distant last, that is not a proved conclusion, and the scholars I read reject it. Here’s some ideas from Mark Matson and Morton Smith — both of whom regard LK as the final Gospel written — along with ACTS — long after the others.

      It make sense considering the content of ACTS.

      Years ago I read a very old scholarly criticism of LK, showing how he (and his large staff) would take the start a sentence from MK, and the ending of the same sentence from MT. (Anybody remember that author? I forgot).

      Anyway, Bart Ehrman follows the TEXTUAL critique exclusively. He is a master of that critique, but he neglects the others, e.g., the SOURCE, LITERARY, HISTORICAL, and REDACTION critiques.

      It’s the Redaction critique that interests me both, because it suggests dating CHAPTERS in the Gospels, rather than the books themselves!

      This was how Morton Smith could say that the Gospel of John contains the oldest part of the Gospel text, namely, JN 14-17. This was as close as we can get to the actual words of Jesus of Nazareth, according to Smith (cf. “Jesus the Magician,”
      1978), though he admits that most of JN is after MT.

      Here’s the sequence in my reading
      Q is the Gospel of the Baptist
      JN 14-17

      I reject the claim that MK was written after 70 CE, because of MK 13. First of all, it’s *absurd* to claim that no average Jew in 33 CE could predict the fall of the Temple! There is NOTHING I see in MK 13 that describes the Temple Fall in Josephus detail.

      In my reading, MK was written in the late 30’s. The Apostle Paul saw it, and he wrote in the 50’s, quoting Hymns known in the 40’s (e.g. Philippians 2:5-11). JN was finished in the 60’s.

      But LK-ACTS was written in the 90’s. Luke had all three Gospels before his eyes when he wrote — and he had Josephus, Philo, and much more. Also, Luke possessed written traditions that reconciled Peter and Paul, and he wove them together expertly.

      LK-ACTS could only be done in a mature Church. Theophilus was not a fiction — he was the Christian prince who commissioned the “Harmony” of the three Gospels. LK was that Harmony. Luke had a large staff of professional editors working with him. This is why the Greek in LK is so smooth — the best of all.

      There’s my reading. And I give Bauer-Wilke-Weisse credit for starting this ball rolling!

      1. On the dating of Mark — we have the prophecy that the disciples would live to see the coming of Jesus, but I wonder if we are misreading Mark’s gospel on that point. Mark is the master of ambiguities. In that context, and given the OT many references to the a visible coming of the Lord being a metaphor, of sorts, of the destruction of Jerusalem, and given Mark’s heavy reliance upon OT scriptures, I cannot help suspecting that the author was actually meaning the destruction of Jerusalem — even the same OT imagery is repeated, sun going dark, stars falling, that the OT used to describe that event. Psalms also speak of God coming down in clouds.

        1. Many scholars claim that Mark was written after 70 CE on the shabby argument that Mark 13 was a veiled reference to the Fall of the Second Temple in 70 CE.

          As if no Jewish citizen living in 33 CE would ever predict the Fall of the Temple!

          I give you the works of Geza Vermes on the Qumran community (aka. the Essenes) who boycotted the Temple in Jesus’ lifetime, there near the Jordan River. A likely offshoot, John the Baptist baptized people at the Jordan River, to forgive their sins FAR from the Temple!

          Jesus’ “cleansing’ of the Temple occurred shortly after his baptism by John the Baptist. Why would anybody doubt that Jesus could predict the Fall of the Temple? It was the politics of that day.

          My point is — Jesus told his disciples that their generation would not pass away until this End of the World (as they knew it) would come as the Roman Army was losing their patience with Jerusalem.

          It’s a plausible scenario in 33 CE. And that prediction did come true — before that generation passed away.

          1. Oi, not so “shabby” at all! ;-). But a major problem I think many would have with such an early date would be the notion that Jesus could have been so highly exalted as a Danielic Son of Man figure with the powers of God so soon after his death.

            (Further, we do have some indication that Jews expecting the destruction of a temple beginning to be rebuilt or a clamp down on efforts to rebuild it rose up en masse throughout the east in rebellious protest — in ca 115-117 under Trajan. No such active response is evident as Vespasian was marching towards Jerusalem, arguably because they were not expecting the temple’s destruction at that time.)

            1. Jesus claimed to be the Danielic Son of Man figure who would sit at the right hand of God in the heavenly throne room (Daniel 7:13-14) the very first days that he came out as an exorcist who could forgive sins on his own.

              I get this idea from Morton Smith (1978). Jesus claimed to be the Son of God from the very start, and his many healings were all the proof that many Jews needed during those crisis years in Judea.

              The Jews who literally clamored for the Fall of the Temple LEADERSHIP were the famous Qumran (Essene) community near the Jordan River, wrote Geza Vermes (1977). They likely influenced John the Baptist there at the Jordan River — who manifestly boycotted the Temple rites. Jesus’ hostile actions at the Temple were a reflection of THAT culture. This was during the days of Tiberius Caesar (14-37 CE).

              The Qumran community didn’t foresee the destruction of the Temple Walls, nor did they expect Rome to lead the charge — but they expected God’s angels to come from heaven to destroy the Temple LEADERSHIP so that they could take over.

              The underground Jesus movement would have had a few radicals among them — and Jewish hatred of their own Temple culture probably reached a peak in Jesus’ day.

              It would have been EASY, I say, for many Jewish citizens to openly predict the total destruction of the Temple. It was a political thing that didn’t stop with the Qumran community.

  5. I have had a lot of time of Mark Matson’s work, along with Mark Goodacre’s, Lawrence Wills’, Barbara Shellard’s and Joseph Tyson’s and have posted something on each of them in years past (e.g. More on Luke Being the Last and Luke’s Dialog with John but many others, too). But lately, since returning once more to Michael Goulder (and to Bruno Bauer, I have to say) I am finally leaning to John being the final one. The Lazarus account does appear to me to be a “transvaluation” of the Luke’s raising of the son of the widow of Nain, for example. I will probably revisit this question in the future and might elicit more criticisms to keep me honest.

    As for Luke following Mathew, I am planning on posting one more little data point (from classicist John Moles) that makes that a very likely scenario — Moles sees “typically classical” digs by “Luke” against his rival “Matthew”.

    But I am persuaded by Joseph Tyson’s and John Knox’s case for our version of Luke-Acts being produced well into the second century. (Walter Cassells’ case in Supernatural Religion for Justin Martyr not knowing any of our gospels has never been rebutted, in my view.)

    Much of my focus over the years has been delving into the philosophies and methods of historical research and writing and the history of historiography over the past two hundred years and it is from that perspective that I have taken a rather “minimalist” approach to building up a reconstruction on the basis solely of what can be independently verified as from “the beginning” to the third and fourth centuries: and that has led me to the opposite end of the dating scenario proposed by Paul in the above comment. I place all the gospels post 70, even post the Jewish rebellions and massacres under Trajan (e.g. to some extent Bedenbender) — along with Revelation (as per Witulski). I know such views are a hard sell for most of us.

    Earl Doherty made significant points, in my opinion, about the earliest of the second century apologists presenting a Christianity alien to the perspective of the gospels (and I would add Paul), and I am currently trying to work through the possibility of Christianity emerging from philosophical Jewish-gentile Logos speculations that, in the wake of the events in Trajan’s and Hadrian’s times, were “literalized” into a our gospel narratives. Though 180 years old, I am taking Bauer’s understanding as a critical turning point in this process.

    1. As for JN being the final Gospel, it is the majority opinion. Yet even in Bauer we see the tendencies to focus on specific elements of JN, to the exlusion of others.

      I agree that parts of JN are quite late (but not later than LK). Bauer was mistaken, I say, to date JN after LK. Bauer missed a point only the 21st century could see — that LK could have easily copied from JN.

      Sure the Lazarus account was the overvaluation of MK’s raising of the young daugther of the synagogus ruler.
      But the problem arises when we presume that the Gospels should be treated as a single book WITHOUT REDACTIONS.

      Most of JN consists of late writings — but JN 14-17 may be the earliest preservation of Jesus’ own words. So, there are different DATES for different REDACTIONS.

      I have no problem with LK-ACTS being produced in the 2nd century.

      As for the chaos of early apologists — I regard them as secondary literature, which usually have less value than primary literature.

      I regard Bruno Bauer’s main strength (aside from his Markan hypothesis) to be his focus on primary documents, and comparing them with each other to finally decide on their SEQUENCE.

      Mark Matson found over 100 places where LK agrees with JN, and *both* disagree with MT and MK. This tells us clearly, I feel, that LK had all the three other Gospels before his eyes as he wrote in the late 1st century or the early 2nd century. Matson (2001) makes a strong case, I say.

      As for Bruno Bauer, I forgive his minor mistake of taking JN to be the final Gospel (which is still the majority opinion today). His skill in comparing and analyzing every pericope in *all* Four Gospels is amazing. NT scholars today still have lots to learn from Bruno Bauer.

      1. As for the chaos of early apologists — I regard them as secondary literature, which usually have less value than primary literature.

        I had long assumed that to be the case. But that does raise huge questions, does it not, when we read them as if they knew the bulk of what is in our canon? Don’t we run into unanswerables when we read them that way?

    2. Wilke reminds me of Goulder, in that I thought his energetic defense of the FH was excellent but his liturgical arguments about Mt were always strained; likewise, Wilke is excellent on the oral tradition matter, but his synoptic thinking, other than Mark first, is not so much.

  6. Giza Vermes has himself dated the Gospel of Mark to ca. 70 C.E., as I recall. The dating based on Mk. Chapter 13 makes sense if you think the warning of Jesus is a fictional event, based on knowledge of things in the fictional future that have already happened in the real past. So one reason to question this dating is that you believe Jesus actually made this prophecy in the 4th decade of the 1st C. That would make you an interested researcher. Assuming, however, that your interest could be set aside, one problem we would have for an earlier date of composition starts with the question, “If not 70 C.E., and if earlier, then when?” The main issue here would be the letters of Paul, the earliest dates for which are sometimes given as 6th decade. If composition was 6th decade, then we might legitimately wonder why Paul never mentions or alludes to them.

    1. Yes, it would seem that we have another problematic silence if the prophecy of Jesus was known in the time of Paul. Further, there is good evidence that the author of Mark used Josephus, in particular Josephus’s account of the signs of the end and his little story about Jesus ben Ananias being tried by the Romans.

      I am seeing Christianity not so much as a bottom – up movement (stories of the faithful being spread around) but a top -down movement — beginning among the literate leadership who reinterpreted Judaism post 70. Throw in the persecution themes of messianists and anti-Jewish hostility in the time of Trajan and we come closer still to the second destruction under Hadrian.

      Some would argue that the evidence of Marcion stands against such a late date for the gospel, but even there, we cannot know that our heresiologists were not responding to the claims of Marcionites some time after the death of Marcion. Those heresiologists do acknowledge, if I recall correctly, that Marcionites developed their writings after Marcion’s death.

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