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He Who Loves God By Arno Widmann Frankfurter Rundschau, July 4,
2016 Translated by Martha Cunningham
New Testament scholar Gerd Lüdemann, one of the sharpest critics
of the traditional understanding of the Bible, has turned 70 years
old. And he speaks in an interview with the Frankfurter Rundschau
about ambition, a dream about being God, and crying for help into a
FR: Dr. Lüdemann, on July 5 you will turn 70. Do you ever look
FR: Are you writing a new book?
GL: Yes. I am also supervising dissertations - one of which is by
an American who is presenting interesting theses. I am busy.
FR. You are a one-book-a-year man.
GL. That was my ambition. I habilitated at age 30, got a
university position at 35, and then every year at least one book.
Sometimes the German and English versions are quite different - so
then in some years that means more than one book.
FR: Biographical: Gerd Lüdemann was born on July 5, 1946, in
Visselhövede in the District of Rotenburg (Wümme). From 1985 to 1998
he taught New Testament in the Protestant Theology Department of the
University of Göttingen. In 1998 he published the German version of
The Great Deception. What Jesus Really Said and Did. There he
presented the view that at the most 5% of the words attributed to
Jesus were really his.
FR: You spoke of ambition...?
GL: Yes. Yes, I did. Perhaps that has to do with my background. My
parents were not poor, but we lived very modestly. At first I was not
allowed to go to high school. My teachers set up obstacles to it. I
don´t know why. I probably wanted to show them.
FR: How did you come to study Theology?
GL: By a conversion. A Tent Mission in May of 1963. It tore me
this way and that. The fiery, inflammatory speech of the preacher in
the missionary tent. I forgot almost everything else. Chess, for
example. I was then the youth-class champion of Lower Saxony.
FR: But you needed your ÒAbiturÓ [graduating-examination standing]
in order to study Theology.
GL: Yes; so then I did it. I had a scholarship from the
Evangelisches Studienwerk [Protestant Student Organization] of
Villigst. I worked as well in a foundry in Hundhausen in Schwerte. At
that time I allowed both to reside in me concurrently: the critical
Villigst and the pious Gerd Lüdemann who loved the Lord and had been
FR: When did the conversion take place?
GL: In the missionary tent - and in my mind. I wrote a journal
about it - three volumes, You can imagine what was happening to me.
Photo: caption: GL had declared himself publicly to be through
with the Christian faith.
FR: Where was the tent?
GL: In Visselhövede, Lüneburg Heath, in the Schützenhaus
[clubhouse]- That´s where we were, listening every evening to the
FR: From a Pentecostal congregation?
GL: No. Look, for example, at what the Evangelical must do and
write today; then you will have a picture of what was so gripping at
the time. There are still Tent Missions today - or they have come
FR: Were you completely unprepared for the ÒmessageÓ?
GL: Internally, no. I was searching for something then. I had the
usual teenage problems. And it was brewing inside me. Chess helped me,
for sure. But it certainly wasn´t enough. I was obsessed.
FR: Do you know today what obsessed you?
GL. Jesus Christ.
FR: That was after your conversion. What came before?
GL: I had an ambition. I was seeking something. An overwhelming
ambition to show it to myself as to other people. I felt: I am needed
here. My friend Wolfgang and I - this is all in my journals -
fantasized at the time about being the two witnesses spoken of by John
in Revelation 11. That was indeed big. I was 16.
FR: And yet rather modest. You didn´t have the idea that you were
GL: That would come later - I wasn´t there yet. First I went on a
pilgrimage to Taize.I spent the summer holidays of 1963, ´64, and ´65
at Taize - working, praying and meditating.
FR: Did you want to become a member of this men´s order uniting
Catholics, Protestants and Anglicans in little Taize?
GL: That was my wish. And I would have been accepted. I had
already received the laying on of hands from Brother Rudolph. At that
point he spoke the words of the resurrected Jesus, from John 20:
Ò´Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are
forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.´Ó
Then I would have to reject my profession. But I wasn´t ready for the
obedience. I couldn´t swear to it. For I was asked if I would be
obedient even if I were forbidden to study Theology. That was the
stumbling-block to my being accepted into the Taize brotherhood. I
absolutely wanted to study Theology.
FR: Were your parents religious?
GL: My mother went to church regularly, worked for the Red Cross
and the Inner Mission. She was devout. In her way. She brought
religion into the house, in a certain way.
FR: What were your experiences in the study of Theology?
GL: First I had to learn Latin, Greek and Hebrew. At that time I
had two souls in my breast. I was also reading Voltaire and Diderot,
and I was excited. Also about their critcism of religon. At that time
no one wanted to study Theology. The Church was wringing its hands
look for successors/followers.
FR: The student movement in Göttingen soon played an important
GL: Some of the protagonists had originally studied theology and
then switched to Sociology. I had got married. My wife was a teacher
and was financing my studies. I wanted absolutely to study Theology,
in order to grasp what belonged to the Gospels and what was invention.
I didn´t want to let anyone deceive me. And from the beginning I
wanted to be a professor of New Testament Theology. That was my
ambition. I was not interested in the Church and its hierarchy. No one
was at that time.
FR: That all sounds quite ambiguous.
GL: Yes; it was. I made use of the moment. At the time I thought
it over quite coolly: The good students were demonstrating. My leftist
competition were fighting with the State and the conservative
theologians. By contrast, I saw to it that I was through my studies as
quickly as possible. That worked very well. And it had to. By this
time we had two children.
FR: Yet at that time you saw yourself looking at the Tent Mission
as a follower of Christ. When did that stop?
GL: I prayed for a long time. The person who has gone the route of
the followers has a hard time leaving it. It is indeed very powerful.
It is still a part of me. I prayed the child´s prayer that I learned
when I was 7 years old almost daily, even 30 years later:
Dear God, you can give anything;
Give as well what I now ask:
Protect my life this night,
Let me rest gently and secure.
Look down from Heaven
Upon my dear parents,
Let me every morning
Be glad once again and thankful to you.
That is wedged in me. When I have problems it comes back and I
recite it to myself.
FR: In 1994 your book came out about the resurrection of Jesus.
The resurrection gave you doubts. Why not before 1994?
GL: The doubt was already there much earlier. I found that the
Church lies to the public on this point. Whoever does research on the
New Testament does not believe in the resurrection as it is preached
and talked about by the Church in the creeds/confessional statements.
The results of research are kept quiet from the congregation. This is
not right. But it gets worse - the Bible - and all exegetes have
become united on this point - is not the word of God. On Sundays,
however, something completely different is said. I find that
FR: Christianity says - completely differently from Islam, for
example - that God was made man. That opens up to people the view as
well of becoming God.
GL: There was indeed a time when I dreamt: I am God. I had studied
the Nag-Hammadi texts. In them the idea of man´s becoming one with God
plays quite an essential role.
FR: Today you no longer have these thoughts?
GL: That´s right.
FR: Because you no longer believe in God?
GL: I still ask for help, but I can only say
Help! I no
longer have an
addressee in Heaven. There is no longer anyone
there I can talk to.
FR: Is that frightening?
FR: But no help arrives anymore.