Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Bodensee Notebooks Surprise Scholars

Martin McFague, Staff Writer

If, after completing all 14 volumes of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics, you still crave more, never fear. A recent discovery near the shores of the Bodensee (Lake Constance) in Central Europe, will keep you reading for years.

Last month, a young boy was herding his goats near Central Europe’s second largest lake when he stumbled through a narrow opening of rock that led to a cave. Within that cave, the goatherd found several large clay jars. Inside each jar was a notebook filled with handwritten entries, all in German. The boy took one to his father, a professor of theology at the University of Basel.

When Professor Eidel Luzen saw the notebook, he was stunned to realize he was reading the original writings of Karl Barth. “At first, I thought it was a joke,” said Luzen through an interpreter. “Then I realized this was really Barth’s own work.” Luzen’s son brought his father the rest of the notebooks, and the professor assessed the treasure.

Not only did the cave contain very old copies of Barth’s Dogmatics and other works, there were eight additional volumes to the Dogmatics that had never before been seen by scholars. Luzen showed the material to colleagues, who agreed that the work was indeed Barth’s.

“The value of this find is incalculable,” said June O’Connor of the University of California at Riverside. “This is the greatest discovery ever in the field of theological archeology. It will spawn a new era in the study of neo-orthodoxy.”

Controversy, however, has already emerged. Luzen and his colleagues are only releasing the notebooks to select scholars for study. The contents of each notebook will not be available to the public until the work of translation and interpretation has been completed. Neil Dunnsdorff, a theologian at New York University, believes the material should be made available to everyone immediately. “Why should we have to wait while the translators take their time publishing the results? The importance of the new Barth writings is too great to keep them under wraps.”

When this question was put directly to Luzen, he said, “The ducks on the Bodensee are the children of the mountain trolls.” This Swiss idiom means, essentially, “finders keepers, losers weepers.”

In the meantime, interested students should place advance orders with publishers immediately. Oxford University Press is already planning a hardcover release of the eight new volumes of Dogmatics in the spring of 2059, and it expects all copies will be spoken for by this Christmas.


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