Die Biblische Urgeschichte in der Aufklärung: Johann Gottfried Herders Interpretation der Genesis Als Antwort Auf Die Religionskritik David Humes

By Baildam, John | Shofar, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

Die Biblische Urgeschichte in der Aufklärung: Johann Gottfried Herders Interpretation der Genesis Als Antwort Auf Die Religionskritik David Humes


Baildam, John, Shofar


by Christoph Bultmann. Beiträge zur historischen Theologie, 110. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1999. 219 pp. 140 DM.

This volume is the published version of the author's Habilitationsschrift (inaugural dissertation) as accepted by the University of Göttingen in 1997. Johann Gottfried Herder's interpretation of Genesis is an important work of Old Testament theological exegesis during the Enlightenment. Its background lies in the biblical research of humanism and contrasts with David Hume's criticism of religion. Herder's Älteste Urkunde des Menschengeschlechts (1774-76) attempted to link exegesis and apologetics in a contemporary yet formally individual manner. He considered the biblical story of creation as the poetry of nature, adopting a central stance between natural religion and revealed religion. Bultmann anchors Herder's work firmly against the background of his early writings on poetry and literature, establishing humanistic exegesis as the context for this interpretation of Genesis.

The Introduction considers Herder's place in the history of Old Testament scholarship, with particular reference to Vom Geist der Ebräischen Poesie (1782-83), the first volume of which might be considered as a reworking of Älteste Urkunde. Bultmann claims that, in Herder, Enlightenment Old Testament scholarship had a representative who both understood and could master critical approaches. He underlines the importance of Herder's hermeneutical interest in anthropology. For Herder, origins are a philosophical problem rather than a theological one, and he seeks a solution in his interpretation of Genesis 1 as primeval poetry. The main thrust of Bultmann's work is the contrasting of Herder's interpretation of Genesis with Hume's criticism of religion. Bultmann endeavours to correct the common misunderstanding of Herder as merely an aesthetic critic of the Bible.

The context of Herder's work on Genesis is divided into three parts, represented by the first three chapters of the book.

Chapter I considers Herder's early manuscripts on the origin of poetry, specifically the Fragmente einer Abhandlung über die Ode (1765) and the Versuch einer Geschichte der lyrischen Dichtkunst (1766). The relationship between poetry and religion is at the heart of the problem of origins. The chapter then reviews the hermeneutic of ancient poetry and theological criticism in Herder's Fragmente über die neuere deutsche Literatur (1766-67). It then examines poetology and hermeneutics as portrayed in the second edition of the Fragmente and the Kritische Wälder (1768), with specific reference to Herder's reception of Lessing's Laokoon. The chapter concludes with an examination of Über die Ersten Urkunden des Menschlichen Geschlechts. Einige Anmerkungen (1768-69), in which Herder examines Genesis 1-11 as oriental poetry.

Chapter II considers Genesis and History, commenting on the reaction of biblical scholarship to Hugo Grotius, as well as the work of Brian Walton, Richard Simon, and Abraham Calov. It then examines Genesis and Science with reference to the work of Thomas Burnet, Shaftesbury, Simon Patrick, and Theodor Christoph Lilienthal. The chapter then moves to a review of Genesis in scholarly commentaries, with reference to Jean le Clerc and Augustin Calmet, before concluding with a section on Genesis and Poetry with reference first to Robert Lowth, for whom poetry was the natural expression of prophetic utterance, and finally to Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Jerusalem.

Chapter III reviews Hume's religion-critical rebuttal of biblical tradition, with consideration of Hume's essays in general and of his Natural History of Religion (1757) in particular. …

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