Kyrios Christos Centenary Publication
The latest issue of the journal Early Christianity (vol. 6, no. 1, 2015) is given to several articles assessing Wilhelm Bousset’s classic work, Kyrios Christos (1913; English trans. of the 5th edition 1970; new edition of the English trans. Baylor University Press, 2013). The articles derive from a special session held in the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in 2013. Here is the table of contents:
David Capes, “Introduction: A Centenary Celebration of Bousset’s Kyrios Christos” (3-4)
Cilliers Breytenbach, “Bousset’s Kyrios Christos: Imperfections of a Benchmark” (5-16)
Larry W. Hurtado, “Wilhelm Bousset’s Kyrios Christos: An Appreciative and Critical Assessment” (17-29)
Kelly Coblentz Bautch, “Kyrios Christos in the Light of Twenty-First Century Perspectives on Second-Temple Judaism” (30-50)
Lutz Doering, “Wilhelm Bousset’s Die Religion des Judentums im neutestamentlichen Zeitalter” (51-66). (This article actually focuses on another of Bousset’s major works, which continued to be used, especially in German circles as a textbook, for many decades.)
Robert Matthew Calhoun, “The Power of the Call: Wilhelm Bousset on Miracle, and Mark 1:16-20” (67-88)
In my article, I focus on some key problems in Bousset’s method and assumptions that render his construction of the origins and early development of Jesus-devotion untenable. His use of sources was particularly bizarre. For example, he presumed that the sayings material in the Gospels somehow derived from and preserved the confessional stance of the “primitive Palestinian” Jewish circles of the Jesus-movement, and he treated the Pauline letters as indicative of a quite different and secondary development in Christological beliefs and practices. He presumed a “pre-Christian gnostic redeemer myth” that supposedly influenced particularly the Gospel of John. He drew upon texts centuries later than the NT to posit the supposed background and sources for beliefs reflected in the NT.
But I applaud his aim of setting earliest Christianity in its ancient historical setting, and his recognition that early devotional/worship practice should be a key focus for scholars. He was also correct to grant that the treatment of Jesus as “Kyrios” and so rightful (co)recipient of worship erupted early, within the very first years of the young Jesus-movement. We’d have much to argue about, but Bousset could be invited for a drink with the Early High Christology Club!