The Ninth General Meeting of the Society of New Testament Studies (SNTS) took place at Marburg an der Lahn, Germany, from 7 to 10 September 1954. The minutes of the meeting, drawn up by the Secretary George Boobyer, were published in New Testament Studies 1 (1954–5).Footnote 1 They include various interesting particulars. Forty-three members and seven guests were present. The President-elect for 1954–5, Dr Vincent Taylor (Leeds), was unfortunately unable to attend, so that the outgoing President, Professor Rudolf Bultmann, acted as Chairperson of the conference. Bultmann inducted Taylor to the presidency in absentia, and Taylor's Presidential Address, entitled ‘The Origin of the Passion Sayings in Mark’, was read by someone else; the minutes do not say by whom.Footnote 2 One of the main papers presented at this conference was that of Ernst Käsemann (Göttingen), ‘Sätze heiligen Rechtes im Neuen Testament’.Footnote 3 C. K. Barrett (Durham) read a short paper on ‘The Lamb of God’ in John 1.29.Footnote 4 Werner Georg Kümmel, Bultmann's successor in Marburg since 1952, gave a paper on the state of New Testament research and teaching in the 1950s in Germany.Footnote 5 Twenty-five new members were admitted; among them were Professor Rudolf Schnackenburg (Dillingen (Bayern)) and Dr K. Stendahl (Harvard). During the conference, the first issue of volume 1 of New Testament Studies appeared and copies were distributed to the participants.Footnote 6
One feature of the Marburg meeting is not mentioned in the official minutes: after the evening sessions, a number of participants would come together in the marketplace in the old centre of Marburg to have a drink and further conversation in an informal setting. In itself, this is of course nothing remarkable. During all scholarly conferences, participants come together in the evening in smaller or bigger groups for refreshments and continued discussion. Yet what happened at Marburg in September 1954 was something remarkable. This is an eyewitness’ report:
[A]fter the evening sessions, a dozen or more members would withdraw to a Wirtschaft in the Marktplatz; tables and benches were pushed together in a ring, and at the head in undisputed preeminence sat Rudolf Bultmann.
The eyewitness was C. K. Barrett, Lecturer in Divinity at the University of Durham, UK, then thirty-seven years of age.Footnote 7 He was one of the younger members of the Society, elected into membership some time before September 1948, probably in 1947.Footnote 8 In any case, Barrett attended the First General Meeting held in Oxford in 1947. In the Third General Meeting, Oxford 1949, he was elected to join the Committee of SNTS.Footnote 9 He also participated in the first General Meeting of the Society held on the European mainland, at Bern in 1952.Footnote 10 When he was in Marburg in September 1954, Barrett had already completed the manuscript of his The Gospel according to St John, but this work would not appear until 1955.Footnote 11
The man at the head of the table in the marketplace at Marburg, Rudolf Bultmann, had been President of the Society in 1953–4, and was now the acting Chair of the 1954 conference. He was emeritus Professor of New Testament at Marburg, now seventy years of age, Barrett's senior by thirty-three years. Bultmann had taught in Marburg from 1921 until his retirement in 1951, during no less than thirty years. He had been the first German President of the Society (1953–4).Footnote 12 At the 1954 SNTS meeting, he played a home game. He was the genius loci. A year before, in 1953, he had completed the publication of his Theologie des Neuen Testaments.Footnote 13 The second edition appeared already in 1954. Bultmann's authority was indeed incontestable – among sympathetic colleagues.Footnote 14
One would love to know what was said at that table in the marketplace. The papers given at the conference have been published, the table talk exchanged between Bultmann and his table companions has not. Barrett discloses nothing about the conversation carried on there. We have to content ourselves with his brief sketch of the late-night symposium – and are grateful to him for it.Footnote 15
When and why did Barrett come to share these recollections and to put them on record? This occurred no less than thirty-four years later, at the Forty-Third General Meeting of SNTS, which was held at Cambridge from 8 to 12 August 1988, under the Presidency of Professor Morna Hooker (Cambridge). The minutes of that meeting report that, at the beginning of the conference, ‘at a reception given by the University, the Jubilee of the Society was celebrated with a toast proposed by Professor C.K. Barrett, a former President,Footnote 16 and a response by Dr G. Boobyer, the first Secretary’.Footnote 17 The Jubilee mentioned was the fiftieth anniversary of the Society: the Society had been founded half a century ago during a conference of nineteen New Testament scholars, which took place at Selly Oak, Birmingham, from 14 to 16 September 1938, in the fourth session of this conference.Footnote 18
The ‘toast’ proposed by Barrett was in fact meant as an introduction to a more substantial speech which was to be given by the former Secretary George H. Boobyer.Footnote 19 The latter's contribution was probably a commemorative speech containing an overview of the origin and development of the Society during the first half century of its existence.Footnote 20 Barrett's task was just to introduce Boobyer and he did so in the form of a eulogy on Boobyer and his merits for the establishment and organisation of the Society in the formative period of its existence (1938–54). We know this from Barrett's allocution itself, for although its text was not published at the time, it has been preserved.Footnote 21 It runs as follows:
This is a year of Jubilee, and therefore a time for reminiscence. It is also the hour of the aperitif, and what I have to offer is no more than the aperitif to the diet of reminiscence that we shall hear from Dr Boobyer, whom it is a special delight to see once more among us. I am here simply to provide the cue for his speech; and I propose to do that – and I hope the Secretary will find some means of recording this – by pointing out how great is the debt the Society owes to its first secretary.
It was a distinguished group that met in 1938 and decided that there ought to be a New Testament Society,Footnote 22 but any such group needs a younger person who will record its decisions, remind its members of what they promised to do, and himself do all the things they said they would do, and forgot. In 1938, Dr Boobyer, not yet the well-known and distinguished New Testament scholar he was to become, was the young man.Footnote 23 He turned the resolutions of 1938 into fact. I have no doubt that he organised the abortive meeting of September 1939, abandoned because of the outbreak of war.Footnote 24 During the years of war, he – if no one else – remembered, and was ready when at length the possibility of a meeting arose. That he organised the meeting of March 1947Footnote 25 I have documentary evidence in a letter preserved (as a bookmark) in my copy of Strack–Billerbeck (which therefore does contain at least some genuine historical material).Footnote 26 It runs: ‘Dear Mr Bennett’ – a reflection on the legibility of my signature – ‘You are not too late to reserve accommodation at Christ Church for the meeting of the Society.’Footnote 27
Before long it became clear that it would be wrong to restrict meetings of the Society to Britain. An extra meeting (in addition to the annual meeting) was held at Bern at Easter 1952,Footnote 28 and a regular meeting at Marburg in 1954. This was in all respects a memorable meeting. There were notable papers, such as Henry Chadwick's ‘All things to all men’Footnote 29 and Käsemann's ‘Sätze heiligen Rechtes’,Footnote 30 but what I shall remember longest is that, after the evening sessions, a dozen or more members would withdraw to a Wirtschaft in the Marktplatz;Footnote 31 tables and benches were pushed together in a ring, and at the head in undisputed preeminence sat Rudolf Bultmann.
It was in the same year that New Testament Studies began publication. The purpose of these recollections is to show that in seven years, 1947–1954, the whole of the fundamental structure of the Society had appeared: an annual meeting, already a rolling annual meeting which in due course would find a setting in many places in the Western world, and publications. And all this happened in the secretaryship of George Boobyer, who guided us through it all.
In a letter written on 28 January 1989, four months after the meeting in Cambridge, Barrett explained that he had spoken there from manuscript notes, but made a fair copy of what he had said within a few days. He had now typed out his fair copy and he enclosed the typescript ‘with this letter’.Footnote 32
Barrett's allocution remained unpublished, mainly because its text lacked a suitable introduction explaining on what occasion and for which purpose he had composed and pronounced it. However, it seemed worthwhile to provide it with such an introduction so that at last Barrett's text could be published. The information it contains is too fascinating to be relegated to oblivion. We have here not only an eloquent and well-deserved tribute to the first secretary of SNTS, G. H. Boobyer, Secretary from 1938 to 1955, but also a succinct, correct survey of the Society's genesis, viewed from a certain distance in time.Footnote 33 We find here an account of the first steps of SNTS outside the UK, to Bern (‘an extra meeting in addition to the annual meeting’ at Durham! (emphasis added)) and Marburg. We also get here some glimpses of Barrett's wit and sense of humour. Most of all we have this priceless image of a group of conference participants, talking and drinking late in the evening on the Markt of Marburg, with, at their head, in undisputed pre-eminence, Rudolf Bultmann.