A man of faith and fiction


As a packed room of diners sat down to plates full of sauerkraut and bratwurst—both pork and vegetarian—and glasses of beer Wednesday afternoon at the Divinity School’s lunch series, it became clear that the eminent (and invented) theologian Franz Bibfeldt would miss, once again, the annual lecture given in his name. Ever since writing a doctoral thesis on the missing year zero between 1 B.C. and A.D. 1, “Bibfeldt’s schedule is frequently one year off,” explained Martin Marty, the Divinity School’s Fairfax M. Cone distinguished service professor emeritus—and the architect of Bibfeldt’s legend.

A fictitious, if influential, character whom Marty and classmate Robert Howard Clausen created (first as a running joke) back in 1947, when they were freshmen at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Bibfeldt has since taken on a life and academic career of his own. Each year on the Wednesday closest to April Fool’s, a Divinity School faculty member or graduate student takes the podium at Swift Hall to present the latest Bibfeldtian scholarship. This year’s chosen speaker was James Robinson, an assistant professor of Judaic history, who expounded on “the abyss that separates man and animal” in a lecture titled “The Argument from Barking Dogs: Remarks on Bibfeldt and the Theology of Subaltern Species.” Divinity student Edmund Harris offered a toast and confessed astonishment at Bibfeldt’s absence from the online directory Facebook.

Asked about Bibfeldt’s health and whereabouts, Marty, who took in the proceedings from a seat at the back of the room, said he didn’t know. “Remember, he was born in 1897,” Marty said, quoting from Bibfeldt’s fictitious biography. “So if he’s alive or if he’s dead, we don’t like to think about it.”


Photo: James Robinson gives his Bibfeldt lecture in Swift Hall Wednesday afternoon.

March 31, 2006