I aim to scientifically examine and present the Jewish/early Christian narrative of events,
the religious and literary history of the Bible. What is the difference to theological Bible research? I search for scientific findings that are equally plausible for Christian and atheist scientists. Above all, I attempt to explain the Bible and early Christianity without the God hypothesis.
For this reason, I consider it unscientific to argue that only Christians can understand the truth and beauty of the Christian faith. Nor can I accept the argument that since only Christian sources for early Christianity exist, we must therefore adopt the Christian view of these Christian sources.
I would express the task I have set myself as follows: to research and present the origins of the Bible and early Christianity in relation to the history of events, ideas and literature as events within the natural world.
(Continued) 4. Sigmund Freud describes human personality in terms of the triangle of Ego, Superego and Id. Of course there are many other definitions
of personality in psychology; the details aren’t important. Descriptions of Biblical characters often break basic rules of psychological descriptions of human personality, so the historical credibility of the narrative is compromised.
A modern supplement of psychological characteristics, however, often leads to decorative novel-like elements that are inconsistent with the facts in the text. Thus Peter becomes the committed, quick-tempered disciple and Jesus becomes the very lovable Messiah. Both descriptions fail to match historical facts.
(Continued) 2. At first I concentrated on searching for the historical facts. Then a theologian friend
pointed out that the Bible is to be read initially as literature, and as such it can, and must, be compared with other literature (intertextuality). The question of historical facts only arises on the second level.
This prompted me to thorough study of classical literature and philology. Homer, Virgil, Ovid, Lucan and other heathen writers were model authors in the classical period and Homer the model for the New Testament authors who wrote in Greek.
If the New Testament is compared with their works, it becomes clear that far from being non-literary memoirs, the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles were written by authors familiar with, and in imitation of, the literary conventions of their time.
I plunged back into study of the Biblical writings. Four hints helped me both then and
in later studies:
By studying Gottfried Schille in Leipzig, widely known for his commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, I had learnt that the underlying tone in stories passed down and reworked for inclusion in the Gospels and the Acts is often quite different to the final Biblical version.
If these stories in the Gospels and the Acts are examined “against the grain”, then quite new layers of tradition emerge.
I left the GDR and settled in the West German Federal Republic in 1975 to study history in Mainz and
Hamburg from 1975 to 1979, where I was once again confronted with the Jesus story in my minor subject, Greek and Roman classical history.
Contrary to Bultmann’s statements, the first century AD was not a mythological age; it was a post-mythological, enlightened era during which science and philosophy flourished and poets used traditional mythological images to examine sensitive issues of their day in cryptic form.
Were Jesus’ miracles and resurrection historical events after all? And if so, how were they to be understood?
The story of these theses stretches back a long way. I grew up in an evangelical pastor’s house and was also confronted
with the GDR’s atheist ideology, with the result that as a schoolboy I was already interested in the historical basis of Biblical stories. My father studied chemistry during the war, and theology afterwards; instead of the pictures of saints one might expect, his study was hung with photos of Einstein and other Nobel award winners who represent scientific progress during the 20th century.
My father’s careful scientific approach to theology influenced me more than his basically Pietist religious faith. When I studied theology in Leipzig and East Berlin from 1968 to 1973, Bultmann’s demythologising approach felt like a liberation from narrow Pietist religious practice. Jesus’ miracles were seen then as the relics of an ancient classical world view; the resurrection was a mythological formulation that needed to be translated in terms of existential philosophy for modern people.
However, I then wanted to philosophically analyse the divine itself, which brought me into conflict with the church, so I only completed my degree in the scientific aspects of theology.