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Rudolf Bultmann

Rudolf Bultmann (1884 - 1976) was the son of a Lutheran minister who followed in his father's footsteps by studying theology at the University of T'bingen, Germany. In 1921 he was made professor of New Testament at the University of Marburg. He remained there until retiring in 1951, making an enormous impact on a whole generation of students including Helmut Koester, Ernst K'semann, Gerhard Ebeling, Ernst Fuchs, and others.

Bultmann's first major contribution to academic theology came from his Geschichte der synoptischen Tradition (History of the Synoptic Tradition). In History, Bultmann used his tool of "form criticism" to analyze critically the first three gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke in order to trace the historical roots of the Church. By the late thirties, however, Bultmann had increasingly been influenced by Martin Heidegger's existentialist philosophy -- published as Sein und Zeit (Being and Time) in 1927 -- and came to view the New Testament texts, not as historical accounts, but rather as after-the-fact expressions of the Risen Christ. In 1941 Bultmann published an explosive essay in which he called for the "demythologizing" of the gospels, arguing that the person of faith should focus on the kerygma (the proclamation) of the Risen Christ rather than the details of the "God-Man" -- the historical Jesus -- whom, he felt, was inaccessible to us moderns and would remain forever shrouded in antiquity.

Bultmann's demythologizing critique sparked a debate that lasted well into the 1960s and continues to influence academic theology today.