C Form Criticisms Missed Opportunity

Form criticism opened up a new possibility of penetrating behind the earliest written sources. It also recognized that faith had shaped these earlier forms. But its practitioners were distracted from the implications of this recognition for 'Life of Jesus' research by focusing on the way faith had shaped the forms toward their final form in the Gospels. They neglected to inquire very far about the faith stimulus which started the traditioning process. Or else they took Easter faith as the starting point for the tradition, assuming that the portrayal of Jesus is entirely post-Easter in creation and the product of developed faith. In a sense we

100. H.-I. Marrou, De la connaissance historique (Paris: Editions du Seuill, 1954) 108, cited by Reiser, 'Eschatology' 221.

102. Beyond, arguably, Josephus' brief references to Jesus (see again §7.1 below).

103. To clarify the point: I do not mean that the tendencies of individual Evangelists cannot be identified and allowed for. My point is rather that the basic tendency of faith saturates the tradition and that any steps to isolate an unsaturated residuum are inevitably 'contaminated' by the procedures used and 'distorted' by the spectacles through which the Gospel tradition is read. Nor do I abandon the practice of 'critical realism' (§6.3e). My point is rather that the only Jesus we can realistically expect to emerge from the critical dialogue with our sources is the Jesus who made the impact on the disciples which we encapsulate in the word 'faith'. The point is developed in the following pages.

have suffered from the false idea that 'form criticism' is the translation of geschichte, in that study of the history of transmission of the tradition (from the first) has been too often subverted into a study of the forms themselves. So too the recognition that forms have a Sitz-im-Leben (life-setting) diverted attention too much from the process of transmission to the communities which gave the forms their shape. To these matters we will have to return in §§8.3-6.

The weakness of form criticism as a tool in the quest is illustrated by the ease with which it succumbed to the same illusion that identified: the as sumption that there is a recoverable reality (an 'original' form) behind the text untouched by faith. So it could include the working assumption that many of the individual forms in effect were given their initial shape and had a vital life outside the communities of faith, as though the forms were to be found in storytelling round the campfires of travellers or in the casual conversations of the mar-ketplace,104 as though the Evangelists hunted out tales about Jesus in the way that European composers in the first half of the twentieth century hunted out the folksongs and folk tunes of their people for their own compositions. But again we have to ask whether we have in the Synoptic tradition any data which are untouched by faith from the outset.

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