Thanks to Jason Hood for writing up this funny little gem of a story.
Tom Wright reads Humpty Dumpty (In the Spirit of Bultmann Reads Mother Goose)
Written in Durham Cathedral, dedicated to Rowan Williams.
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Clearly the writer alludes to the Temple. This echoes other lines in early 2nd nursery literature, such as Mother Hubbard’s cupboard (the “storehouse” of the Temple) and the bone (resurrection life) which she sought for her dog (“Gentiles”). “But when she got there, the cupboard was bare and the poor little doggie had none.” The temple had nothing to offer the Gentiles, and they thus remained in their state of Adamic sin and decay. So here, too, one suspects the Temple and its “wall” are bankrupt. The next line, then, does not surprise:
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
Again, this is patently an echo of the Temple’s destruction, doubtless with the intent of leading the reader to ponder the eschatological recreation of the Temple. Since Humpty stands for the Temple, he seems to be sharing in the divine identity, functioning as the locus of God’s presence, not outside, but within creation. Of course, this fall is an exile of sorts, a removal from the locus of God’s presence. The tension is palpable: how will humpty’s story not turn out dumpty? In other words, this line presupposes what I have called elsewhere the great metanarrative of humpty, not least the promise of resurrection.
But all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put humpty together again.
So the Temple will be built again, but not by human hands. Many have undertaken to suggest that this passage runs counter to a belief in resurrection. But this atomistic reading of the text lacks imagination. Of course, it is the king himself who will put humpty together again, so that the metanarrative will not fail. After all, Humpty is the place where he is resident with his creation. But the failure to recreate Humpty does not negate all human effort for creation, which should be done in light of the proleptic nature of the king’s restoration of humpty and all creation.