11 February 2009

Bultmann reads Mother Goose

I first came across this some years ago and was reminded of it the other day. Jack Lundquist speculates on how the New Testament scholar Rudolf Bultmann would have treated a nursery rhyme:

Bultmann Reads Mother Goose

by Jack Lundquist

I–A: Hey diddle-diddle,
I-B: The cat and the fiddle,
II–A: The cow jumped over the moon,
II–B: The little dog laughed to see such sport,
III–: And the dish ran away with the spoon.

Authorship and Date

Internal evidence rejects the view that we have here an original composition by Mary (Mother) Goose of Boston (1686–1743).[1] The phrasing of I–A is definitely late eighteenth century, since the Goose Period would have rendered it ‘diddley-diddley’ (and thus ‘fiddley’ in I–B). Furthermore, the sequence ‘cat-cow-dog-dish’ represents an obvious redaction and is a compilation of at least four different accounts.[2] Thus, the author of the piece is unknown,[3] and its date set between 1780 and 1820.[4] The Sitz im Leben of the Depression of 1815 may be reflected in III.


The received text is very corrupt. The mythological element in II–A is typical of many other interpolations, as is the anthropomorphism in II–B.[5] However, I–A may be original, excluding, of course, the ‘hey’.[6]


Stripped of its thought forms, the piece tells us of something revolutionary as existentially encountered by three animals, two cooking implements, and one musical instrument.[7]


1. Discussed in F. Sauerkraut, Gooses Werke, vol. XXVII, pp. 825–906; G.F.W. Steinbauger, Gooserbrief, pp. 704–8636; Festschrift fur Baron von Munchausen, pp. XIII–XX; R. Pretzelbender, Die Goosensinger vom Bostom, p. 10.

2. See P. Katzenjammer in Goosengeschichtliche Schule Jahrbuch, vol. X.

3. Some attribute it to Mary’s grandson, Wild Goose (1793–1849), and others to Wild Goose’s nephew, Cooked (1803–1865). Both views are challenged by A. Kegdrainer in the thirty volume prolegomenon, Gooseleiden, vol. XV.

4. F. Pfeffernusse contends it is an English translation of a German original by the infant Wagner. See his Goose und Volkgeist, pp. 38–52; see also his Geist und Volkgoose, pp. 27–46.

5. The authenticity of both II–A and II–B is poorly argued by the reactionary American Goosologist, Carl Sanbag in his Old Glory and Mother Goose (see vol. IV, The Winters in the South, p. 357).

6. The meaning of the word ‘hey’ is now hopelessly obscure. See my articles on ‘Hey, That Ain’t’ and ‘Hey, What The’ in Goosengrease, Fall, 1942.

7. Perhaps an eclipse of the moon?

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