Hermann Gunkel’s (1862-1932) influence upon traditional historical-critical textual interpretation of the Hebrew Bible is considerable. Gunkel, a German scholar, was not so much interested in carving up literary sources for their own sake, as Wellhausen, but was interested in understanding the religion and traditions of Israel that these sources were evidence for. Gunkel wanted to access the oral traditions that lay behind the written sources. In order to understand these traditions Gunkel was one of first to use ancient Near Eastern parallels; he did this in his early work on Genesis (Schöpfung und Chaos) where he found Babylonian myth was transmitted to Israel, who adapted to their needs and Judaized it. Gunkel made a contribution to folklore and Bible in understanding the Bible as traditional literature; he called Genesis "eine Sammlung von Sagen" (a collection of stories). Gunkel pioneered the method of form criticism, primarily in his work on the Psalms, in which a literary unit’s characteristics are described (form), it is assigned to a more general genre or category (gattung). Each gattung was thought be a product of and reflect a specific Sitz im Leben (“setting in life”).

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