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1957 Nr. 12
Die Reden des Johannesevangeliums und der Stil der gnostischen Offenbarungsrede 1957
Barrett, Charles K.
Theologische Literaturzeitung 1957 Nr. 12
Becker, Heinz: Die Reden des Johannesevangeliums und der Stil der
gnostisdien Offenbarungsrede. Hrsg. von Rudolf B u 11 m a n n.
Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 1956. 138 S. gr. 8° = Forschungen
zur Religion und Literatur des Alten und Neuen Testaments
, hrsg. v. R. Bultmann, N. F. 50. DM 11.80.
The author of this book submitted it to the theological
faculty of the University of Marburg as a doctoral dissertation.
Before he could take the necessary oral examination he was
called away to military Service, from which he did not return.
The world of New Testament scholarship must deplore in his
death the loss of one who would have been a valued colleague.
and at the same time thank Prof. Bultmann, who has prepared
his former pupil's work for the press. It is evident that behind
the book lies Prof. Bultmann's own hypothesis that the discourse
material in John rests upon a source or sources, described under
the term Offenbarungsrede, and of gnostic origin. Becker does
not agree with Prof. Bultmann at every point, but in essence
his conclusions are thosc of his teacher.
In his Introduction Becker notes the discovery by Norden
and Wetter of a „soteriologischer Redetypus", but refers more
fully to E. Schweizer („Ego Eimi", 1939) and K. Kundsin („Charakter
und Ursprung der johanneisdien Reden", 1939). Over
against Schweizer he proposes to examine not only the ego eimi
formula but the form of the Offenbarungsreden as a whole;
Kundsin's assumption of „Kernworten, die eine Redezelle von
außerordentlich formbildender Kraft seien" he regards as unten-
able (11). He himself has two objects: (a) to show, by a critical
6tylistic analysis, that there existed in gnostic literature „ein...
festgeprägtes Schema der Rede des Offenbarers an die im Kosmos
verhafteten Menschen" (11); (b) to show that this form can be
demon6trated also in a discourse source of the fourth gospel.
The first task is to establish the form of the Offenbarungsreden
. Becker begins with gnostic texts apart from the Mandaean
writings. The first is the speech of the Syrian prophet quoted by
Celsus (Origen, C. Cels. VII 8 f.). It falls into three parts, as
follows. A., a Selbstprädikation: 'Eyöi 6 -&e6g sl/xt r fteov
ndxg r nvevfia ftelov. B., a Situationsangabe, in which the prophet
represents himself as sent into the world as the Redeemer:
r/xco de... 6 xdofiog andXXvzm . .. iyib de acöaat fteka> . ..
öxpeo&e /ue . . . inaviovra. C, a Krisenspruch, consisting of
balanced clauses, one of promise and one of warning: fiaxagtog
6 vvv fie ■&QT)axevaag . .. fierayvwaovzai fiäxr)v xai arevd-
£ovot ... It is in C. that the Kerygma proper is to be found;
A. and B. provide as it were an introduction.
Thesecond source is Odes of Sol. 33. 6—13. It is true that
this passage contains an „ego eimi" saying, but that it differs
considerably from the form of the Celsus saying appears at once
from Beckers own analysis:
1. Invitation — Verheißung (6—9)
2. Invitation — Verheißung (10, IIa)
3. Selbstprädikation — Verheißung (IIb, 12)
4. Invitation — Verheißung (13).
Becker proeeeds to examine four passages from the Herme-
tic literature, two from the Pseudo-Clementines, and one from
the Acta Archelai of Hegemonius. Various pieces of material are
drawn from various apocryphal Acts — a Selbstprädikation from
one place, a Krisenspruch from another. References follow to
Clement of Alexandria, Protrepticus XII 120, 2 ff., and to a
passage cited from Dussaud's Histoire et Religion des Nosairis.
On the material so far reviewed three comments may be
made: (1) None of it is pre-Christian; (2) much of it is Christian
(or heretical Christian); (3) it is only with difficulty that
a really consistent form can be derived, though, as would be
expected, recurring features, 6uch as the Selbstprädikation and
the Krisenspruch, appear.
Becker proeeeds to look for material in the Mandaean writings
. Here he is perhaps more successful, though it should be
noted (1) that he does not escape the danger of creating the
form for which he is Iooking by putting together elements drawn
from different places (35 f.), and (2) he does nothing to justify
(on chronological or other grounds) the use of the Mandaean
scriptures as relevant to the New Testament. He is certainly on
safe ground chronologically when he deals with Prov. 8. 4-14,
32—36; 1. 20—33, and Sir. 24. 3, 6, 7, 9, 10, 19—22. Not without
a certain amount of manipulation the threefold form — Selbstprädikation
, Situationsangabe, and Krisenspruch — can be re-
covered here, and the author concludes (53): „Wir konstatieren
eine vor-gnostische, ja vor-dualistische Stufe des in Frage stehenden
Stiltypus" — an important conclusion, though it may mean
something different from what Becker thinks. Perhaps John's
ego eimi's, and his coneeption of judgement, revelation, and
salvation, have their source elsewhere than in Gnosticism
(however strongly Gnosticism may have affected their formu-
On the basis of the material hitherto reviewed Becker con-
struets an archetype of the Offenbarungsrede (57), and notes
that its style is both dualistic and eschatological. The archetype
established, he turns to John, and it will not be possible here to
follow him in his detailed analyses of the discourses. That pa-
rallels between Johannine sayings and Beckers extra-biblical material
can be found here and there is beyond dispute. The pre-
liminary list (63 ff.) is impressive, and makes it very difficult to
think that there is no contact between John and the world of
Gnosticism. That these occasional parallels allow themselves to
be worked up into a source seems unlikely — at least Becker
cannot be said to make it seem probable. A few examples of
unconvincing argumenta may be mentioned.
In the treatment of John 6 it is assumed without discussion
that the discourse on the Bread of Life and the sign had originally
nothing to do with each other, and that 6. 5lb—58 is a eucha-
ristic insertion into the discourse. These are matters on which
more views than one are possible, and a work which professes
to analyse the Johannine discourses should not pass them over
in this way. Further, it is argued with regard to 6. 63 that the
antithesis pneuma - sarx is not Johannine, and this verse is
therefore excluded from the source. Logic would suggest the
oppewite conclusion. Elsewhere the existence of antithesis is re-
garded as almost infallible proof that a verse is drawn from the
source (e. g. 72, on 5. 31 f.). A moment's reflexion suffices to
show that antithetical parallelism exists e. g. in the Old Testament
; but this is not considered. In 8, antithetical formulation
is used to show that while 37 must be the work of the evange-
list 38 is taken from the source. But 38 dovetails into the argu-
ment about the sons of Abraham so neatly that it is difficult to
take it out of the debate.
So one might proeeed. On almost every page in this part of
the book the reviewer finds arguments and conclusions which
appear to him fallacious and improbable. Becker however actually
reconstruets the text of the source (129—136), and discusses it.
Its stylistic formulation „ist nur der äußere xaQa>aVQ ■ ■ • der
der Rede innewohnenden Dynamik" (121). In his conclusion he
goes on to speak of gnosticism, mythology, dualism, eschatology,
apocalyptic, and Existenz in a way which can not unfairly be
said to recall Bultmann and H. Jonas. In these observations there
is much of value, though much also is open to dispute.
It would have been a pleasure to welcome this Nachlaß of
a young scholar unreservedly, but this is a pleasure which the
reviewer feels obliged to deny himself. He is, rather, confirmed
in the view that reconstruetions of hypothetical sources such as
we read in this book, based on flimsy arguments and incapable
of verification by objective methods, do not really advance the
Solution of the Johannine problem. It would surely be better to
admit that i f John used a source, and i f he reshaped it as ra-
dically as Becker thinks he did, that source is now irrecoverable.
It is indeed of the utmost importance to view John from the
angle of Gnosticism, and we may welcome Beckers emphasis on
this; but it seems more probable that the gospel represents the
expansion of the primitive Christian message into a (partially)
gnostic environment, than the Christianizing of originally gnostic