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“Kyrios Christos” at 100

March 12, 2013

One of the most influential books ever published in the study of Christian Origins was Kyrios Christos, by Wilhelm Bousset.  It originally appeared (in German) in 1913, a second edition prepared and published posthumously in 1921 (by Gustav Krüger, assisted by Rudolf Bultmann).  It was from the outset controversial, as illustrated by the lengthy review of debate by Geerhardus Vos that had already erupted by the date of his article: “The Kyrios Christos Controversy,” Princeton Theological Review 15 (1917): 21-89.  And the debate continued, with scholars in various countries wrestling with Bousset’s study of how faith in Jesus emerged and developed across the first two centuries CE.  As further indication of the persisting influence of Kyrios Christos, an English translation was published in 1970 (Abingdon Press), which included Bultmann’s hearty endorsement of the book (Bousset was one of his teachers). 

2013, thus, marks the 100th anniversary of the initial publication of Kyrios Christos, and over the last few months, David Capes has been at work organizing for a special session to be held in the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature (November this year) to mark this, and to provide an occasion for a studied assessment of the book at this point.  Capes has just released notice of the event, which will be held as a special session sponsored by the programme-unit, “The Extent of Theological Diversity in Early Christianity.”  Several scholars will engage the work and offer assessments of it in light of current research:  Cilliers Breytenbach, Kelly Coblentz, Lutz Doering, and myself.  

Kyrios Christos was the model and precedent-work for my study of the topic over the last 25 years or so, culminating in my own effort to address key historical questions:  Lord Jesus Christ:  Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (Eerdmans, 2003).  My first publication on the topic was an article in which I laid out some major problems in Bousset’s work:  Larry W. Hurtado, “New Testament Christology: A Critique of Bousset’s Influence,” Theological Studies 40 (1979): 306-17.  (A German translation of my article appeared the following year: “Forschungen zur neutestamentlichen Christologie seit Bousset: Forschungsrichtungen und bedeutende Beiträge,” Theologische Beiträge 11 [1980]: 158-71.)

You can consult Capes’s notice on his own blog-site here.  If you’re coming to the SBL annual meeting this November (or if you live near Baltimore), you’re most welcome to come along to this session.

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