Susanne Luther’s Discourse-Analytical Approach to Speech-Ethics in Matthew, James, and 1 Peter: A Reading Guide to an Impressive New Book

In today’s post I will look at a recent work by Dr. Susanne Luther (Eng) of the University of Mainz. I  have decided to provide a “reading guide” to her 2015 book Sprachethik im Neuen Testament (Google Books) simply because I think it is an impressive book that will be of interest not only to New Testament scholars specializing in speech-ethics, but also to three other groups of people, namely a) scholars with a special interest in cutting-edge methodological reflection in the field [see esp. my discussion of her Introduction], b) exegetes of all stripes whose research is focused on Matthew, James, or 1 Peter [see especially my discussion of chapter 8], and c) PhD students (and other scholars) who are looking for a well-developed, imitable methodological approach [see especially my discussion of chapters 2-7 and of her introduction]. In other words, my purpose is not to offer a full review but merely to direct my readers to particular topics and pages that might be of special relevance to their research.

Preface: Two points may be noted here: 1) The book is based on Luther’s PhD dissertation at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg, which was supervised by Prof. Oda Wischmeyer (Eng). 2) Since 2009 Luther has held the position of Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin for the chair of Prof. Ruben Zimmermann (Eng) in Mainz.

1. Introduction: This 66 page introduction will be especially relevant to scholars interested in reflecting upon methodological developments in New Testament Studies. After (1) defining her topic and key terms and (2) providing a brief account of the status quaestionis, Luther (3) presents a valuable 23 page discussion of her chosen methodology, i.e. discourse analysis (23-47), as well as (4) further discussion of the importance of context for discourse analysis. In my judgment, section 3 is especially valuable. The strength of her discussion lies not simply in the fact that she provides a helpful discussion of Michel Foucault’s discourse theory and its appropriation and development in application oriented discourse theories (esp. in Achim Landwehr’s historical discourse analysis and Siegfried Jäger’s critical discourse analysis) but even more in the fact that she ably and concisely articulates her own view of the “heuristic added value the discourse-analytical method” (pp. 40-43) and, most importantly, sketches out in a very precise way how she will implement her “combination of methods of historical as well as critical discourse analysis, linguistic and literary text-analysis, and historical-critical exegesis” (43-47). In other words, unlike many studies, her theoretical reflections build to a very coherent and imitable approach that I think could be of value to other scholars who are seeking to find a methodological framework that could help them to approach and structure their research, especially if they, like Luther, wish to pursue a given topic that is developed in various New Testament books.

Chapters 2-7: In these chapters Luther organizes the material thematically, i.e. by topic and not by New Testament book. For example, in chapter 2 she discusses the topic of “speaking in anger.” Notably, each chapter basically proceeds in the same way. First, after a very brief chapter introduction, Luther discusses the discursive context. Here,  the focus is not on historical dependence but on material/thematic parallels to the topic in question. For example, in chapter 2 she discusses how the topic of speaking in anger is treated in Plato, Aristotle, Seneca, Plutarch, Epictetus, Philo, the Old Testament, Wisdom Literature, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Second, she discusses the relevant New Testament texts (in this case Mt 5.21-26 and James 1.19-27). Third, she provides a more synthetic analysis of the topic.

Notably, her discussion of the texts always follows the same pattern: 1) Translation and 2) Exegetical Observations. The latter is then subdivided into the same categories: 2.1: Argumentative structures; 2.2: Intertextuality [understood very broadly] and discourse-strand overlaps, 2.2.3: Ideological Frameworks; 2.2.4 Speech-Ethical Aspects. In my judgment, it is this sort of structural consistency and precision that makes her approach particularly useful for comparing themes across the New Testament and potentially imitable. In other words, one could use this same format to discuss another theme, which would only require a revision of the focus of 2.2.4.

The topics of the chapters are as follows: 2) Anger: Speaking in Anger and the Intention of the Speaker, 3) The ‘Control of the Tongue’: Control of the Affects and Controlled Speaking, 4) Speaking Falsely: Inadequate Forms and Intentions of Speaking, 5) Taking Oaths: Speech-Acts and the Truth of Speaking, 6) The Divided Person: The Integrity of the Person and Speech, 7) From Judging to Reprimand: Speech in the Responsibility of a Person.

I have not yet read all of these chapters yet, but the material I have read is characterized by considerable exegetical insight and impressive theoretical and synthetic reflection.

Chapter 8: The Discourse Strand of Speech-Ethics in the New Testament.

Exegetes who are specializing in Matthew, James, or 1 Peter may wish to start with chapter 8. Here, Luther initially proceeds on a book-by-book basis, providing a concise synthesis of her analysis of speech-ethics in Matthew (407-414), James (414-422; cf. 441-453), and 1 Peter (422-428). Moreover, she then goes on to provide a Reconstruction of the New Testament Discourse Strand (430-437). Rather than merely offering atomistic observations on passages pertaining to speech-ethics, Luther’s synthetic analyses seek to work out the depth dimensions of these books as a whole in such a way that they will be relevant for any exegete who is interested in Matthew, James, and 1 Peter.

Appendix: The Law in James (pp. 441-453)

The book concludes with an appendix on the law in James, which gives special attention to the relationship between λόγος and νόμος. Here is a brief quotation from its conclusion to give you a sense of where she ends up:

English: In James there is not an identification of λόγος and νόμος but rather a coordination of the two terms to each other, which displays their complementing supplemental relation. The λόγος presents the presupposition and grounding of the νόμος.

German (p. 452): Im Jakobusbrief findet sich keine Identifikation von λόγος und νόμος, sondern eine Zuordnung der beiden Termini zueinander, die ihr sich komplematär ergänzendes Verhältnis anzeigt: Der λόγος stellt die Voraussetzung und Begründung des νόμος dar.

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Bill Heroman, Christoph Markschies, and the “Great Man Theory”

As a way of wishing Bill Heroman a happy birthday, this post will focus on a topic that he has discussed at length, namely the so-called “Great Man Theory.” I’ve chosen to combine the perspectives of Heroman and Markschies, because I think they approach the topic from two fascinating angles. Neither wishes to defend this rightly discredited theory of course but rather to enable us to think about it more precisely. In short, Heroman unpacks its mnemonic advantages, while Markschies shows how its emphasis on the role played by talented individuals contains an element of truth when considered in relation to the dynamics of institutionalization. Let me give a sense of each of their contributions by including several key quotations from Heroman’s multi-part blog series on “Heroic Histories” (see 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, recap of 1-6, 7) and a single quotation from Markschies’s book Christian Theology and its Institutions in the Early Roman Empire.

Key Quotations from Heroman:

Heroic Histories, 1: From a reception standpoint, therefore, while the so-called “great man theory” (henceforth a.k.a. “the hero-centered view of history”, or “the hero-driven theory of history”, or for short perhaps just “heroic history”) remains impossible to defend as either objective or accurate, it has nevertheless gone deeply under-appreciated by professional historians, who should at least feel duty-bound to explain its perennial appeal. Most importantly, we may have all overlooked the mnemonic advantages heroic histories provide in their oversimplifications.

Heroic Histories, 6: The primary advantage of Biography, for delivering rememberable story-structure, is that the ultimate human contingencies (birth & death) guarantee the reader a stable continuity in discourse, with both consistent orientation on a single subject (stable content) and an implicitly overarching chronological timeline (stable structure). That’s why a comprehensive life story’s fabula/discourse dynamic is unique among narrative genres and styles.

Heroic Histories Recap: So far, this series has made two major points. First, Heroic History is a common literary tactic because it offers significant mnemonic advantages for remembering the past. But second – and perhaps more importantly – Plot isn’t everything. Memorable stories also cohere strongly around Character.

Key Quotation from Markschies (English and German):

CTaiI (p. 26): Thus, when the term “Institution” is used to consider not only the hierarchically structured majority church but first and foremost all social structures that establish stability and duration, then the focus on the “great men”—which characterizes the traditional writing of church history and is [often] so problematic from an epistemic methodological perspective—obtains a good sense as well: institutionalization can only succeed when, in addition to a new idea, there are also “talented individuals” who endeavor to obtain a social basis for its establishment. Whether we know all these individuals and whether they were only male is naturally a completely different question that is also difficult to answer for the second and third centuries.

KCTuiI (p. 37): Wenn also mit dem Terminus “Institution” hier nicht nur die hierarchisch strukturierte christliche Mehrheitskirche in den Blick genommen werden soll, sondern zunächst einmal alle sozialen Gebilde, die Stabilität und Dauer etablieren, dann bekommt auch der wissenschaftsmethodisch oft so problematische Blick auf die “großen Männer”, der traditionelle Kirchengeschichtsschreibung prägt, einen guten Sinn: Institutionaliserung kann ja nur gelingen, wenn es neben einer neuen Idee auch “talentierte Individuen” gibt, die sich um eine soziale Basis zu ihrer Durchsetzung bemühen. Ob wir alle diese Individuen kennen und ob es nur Männer waren, ist natürlich eine ganz andere Frage, die für das zweite und dritte Jahrhundert auch nur sehr schwer beantwortet werden kann.

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Richard Bauckham, Jens Schröter, and Paul Ricoeur on Memory and its Errors

Earlier this month I had the good fortune that my family vacation to Norway and England happened to coincide with the first day of the 2016 “Memory and the Reception of Jesus in Early Christianity” conference at St. Mary’s University in London. I thoroughly enjoyed the papers and even more so the opportunity to meet several people in person whom I had previously only ‘met’ virtually, i.e. in the scholarly blogosphere and facebooksphere.

While it would be unwise to put my memory to the test by attempting to summarize all the papers, I would like to flag up one issue that I found quite interesting, namely the fact that from their papers alone one could be left with the impression that there is a great chasm between Richard Bauckham and Jens Schröter with regard to the question of the functioning of memory and its propensity to error. To some extent, this is not surprising, since there are considerable differences between the two scholars on this point. Still, my memory of what Schröter had said in chapter 4 of From Jesus to the New Testament leads me to believe that the two scholars are perhaps a bit closer than what one might gather from their presentations. Therefore, I thought it would be worthwhile to provide an excerpt from this chapter.

Before doing so, however, let me add a few sentences on the papers themselves for those who were not at the conference.  In his paper on “The Psychology of Eyewitness Memory,” Richard Bauckham was concerned to distinguish between different types of memory and show that memory could be very reliable under certain conditions. By contrast, in his key note address “Memory, Theories of History, and the Reception of Jesus,” Jens Schröter was concerned to distinguish between appeals to individual memory as a way of getting back to Jesus and his own appeal to memory as a hermeneutical category that helps us to conceptualize the relationship between the past and the present and what we are doing when we represent the past in the present (regrettably, I think I’ve done a rather poor job clarifying the precise nature of this distinction, but hopefully I have been able to convey the basic point that Schröter wants to distinguish his own “memory approach” from a “memory approach” that appeals to individual memory as a way back to (the impact of) Jesus; for a much clearer treatment of this distinction between two different types of “memory approaches,” see Christine Jacobi‘s 2015 book Jesusüberlieferung bei Paulus? Analogien zwischen den echten Paulusbriefen und den synoptischen Evangelien, pp. 9-20; cf. here; for more on Schröter’s own perspective on historiography and memory, see here) . Within this context, Schröter was concerned to stress the fallibility of memory as a way of showing the problems with appealing to individual memory as a way of establishing a connection between Jesus and the Gospels (for example, along the lines of Richard Bauckham), since he was concerned to sideline this “memory approach,” with the goal of convincing his hearers to take up instead his own “memory approach,” which then he developed in the second part of his paper. For me, it was especially noteworthy that Schröter explicitly appealed to Johannes Fried when he was stressing the fallibility of memory in response to Bauckham’s line of argumentation, since in chapter 4 of From Jesus to the New Testament, Schröter had criticized Fried in a manner that suggests to me that Schröter’s understanding of the functioning of memory and its errors might be a bit closer to Bauckham than one might assume on the basis of their  papers at the St. Mary’s conference. With this in mind, let me now turn then to the key quotation, which is developed in relation to Paul Ricoeur and Johannes Fried. As usual, I will alternate between the English and the German.

II. Key Quotation (FJNT 58-59; VJNT 65-66):

Ricoeur then describes the work of the memory, which is related to the representation of the past and thus to history writing, in three steps: the documentary phase, the phase of explanation and understanding, and finally the phase of representation, thus the presentation in the historical narrative. Here, it is important to him that while “the historical representation is indeed a present picture of an absent thing,” the past things actually happened and “no one can make it that they did not happen.”

Die auf die Repräsentation der Vergangenheit, also die Geschichtsschreibung bezogene Arbeit des Gedächtnisses beschreibt Ricoeur sodann in drei Schritten: die dokumentarische Phase, die Phase des Erklärens und Verstehens sowie schließlich diejenige der Repräsentation, also der Darstellung in der historischen Erzählung. Dabei ist ihm wichtig, dass zwar “die geschichtliche Repräsentation ein gegenwärtiges Bild einer abwesenden Sache” ist, dass die vergangenen Dinge aber tatsächlich geschehen sind und “keiner machen kann, daß sie nicht gewesen sind”.

For a phenomenology of memory, it follows from this that Ricoeur warns against “approaching the memory from its deficiencies, indeed from its dysfunctions.” Ricoeur sees the validity of such a position in the fact that it pays attention to the problem of forgetting and the “deletion of traces.”

Für eine Phänomenologie des Gedächnis folgt daraus, dass Ricoeur davor warnt, “sich dem Gedächnis von seinen Insuffizienzen, ja seinen Fehlfunktionen her zu nähern.” Das Recht einer solcher Position sieht Ricoeur darin, dass sie auf das Problem des Vergessens und der “Auslöschung von Spuren” aufmerksam macht.

These problems, however, cannot be reduced to neurophysiological findings. Rather, it must first be considered that forgetting is a constitutive form of recollection, thus “before the abuse, there was the use, namely the necessarily selective character of the narrative.”

Allerdings lasse sich diese Problematik nicht auf einen neurophysiologischen Befund verkürzen. Vielmehr sei zunächst zu bedenken, dass Vergessen eine konstitutive Form der Erinnerung sei, also “vor dem Mißbrauch, nämlich der notwendig selektive Charakter der Erzählung” stehe.

In this Ricoeur’s approach differs fundamentally from that of Fried, who presented the memory as an entity that is deficient per se and ultimately applied the neurological findings in an arguably insufficiently differentiated manner to the epistemological and [66] science-of-history direction of questioning.

Damit ist Ricoeurs Zugang grundlegend von demjenigen Frieds unterschieden, der das Gedächtnis als eine per se fehlerhaft Instanz dargestellt und den neurologischen Befund letztlich wohl zu undifferenziert auf die epistemologische und geschichtswissenschaftliche Fragestellung übertragen hatte.

For Ricoeur, by contrast, forgetting does not simply represent a dysfunction of the memory that is to be corrected. Rather, forgetting, which is therein related to forgiving, can also have a salutary function for the appropriation of the past.

Für Ricoeur stellt sich das Vergessen dagegen nicht einfach als eine zu korrigierende Fehlfunktion des Gedächtnis dar. Vielmehr kann dem Vergessen, das darin dem Vergeben verwandt ist, auch eine für die Aneignung der Vergangenheit heilsame Funktion zukommen.

However, it may not be, as Ricoeur explicitly stresses, a “commanded forgetting.” Rather, a “salutary identity crisis” as a constituent part of the work of the memory is essential for the reappropriation of the past.

Allerdings darf es sich hierbei, wie Ricoeur ausdrücklich betont, nicht um ein “befohlenes Vergessen” handeln. Vielmehr sei für die Wiederaneignung der Vergangenheit eine “heilsame Identitätskrise” also Bestandteil der Errinnerungsarbeit erforderlich.

The strength of Ricoeur’s conception consists in the retention of the distinction between fiction and past reality. As much as he himself emphasizes the interweaving of the two spheres, he nevertheless always stresses their own respective modes of reference.

Die Stärke von Ricoeurs Entwurf besteht im Festhalten der Unterscheidung von Fiktion und vergangener Wirklichkeit. So sehr er selbst die Überschneidung beider Bereiche herausstellt, betont er jedoch stets ihren je eigenen Referenzmodus.

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Sven Ensminger on N.T. Wright, Karl Barth, and the Aufhebung of Religion

In my review of German-language-sphere scholars’ essays in God and the Faithfulness of Paul, I regrettably overlooked Sven Ensminger’s essay “Barth, Wright, and Theology,” having wrongly inferred from his international education and English publications that he was not a German-language-sphere scholar. While a bit embarrassing for me, this error has the upside that he is now receiving a post of his own!

In terms of content, Ensminger’s chapter provides a concise sketch of Barth’s treatment of revelation, religion, and Christology with some points of comparison with N.T. Wright. It seeks to contribute to the question of the relationship between biblical studies and theology (658), and gives particular attention to the following question: “to what extent can God be bracketed out of theological reflection about a key figure of the Christian church such as Paul in order to consider him as a historical figure with his socio-political background?” (p.656). At certain points Ensminger suggests that Wright has not understood Barth correctly, and, more importantly, he thinks that Barth offers insights that need to be taken into account if one wants to build a theological argument. With respect to his treatment of Barth and Wright on religion, the following quotation struck me as especially central to Ensminger’s line argument: “The problem for Wright therefore seems to be one that reduces religion to its historical and social dimension. Barth’s point, however, is that religion has to be understood within the framework of theology.”

There are two aspects of Ensminger’s essay that I regard as particularly noteworthy from the perspective of a translator. The first is his discussion of the translation of the German term Aufhebung.  Whereas the first edition of Barth’s Church Dogmatics had given 1/2 § 17 the title “The Revelation of God as the Abolition of Religion”, Garrett Green regards this as “an egregious error” and “the most important reason” (GFP 653 n. 27) for undertaking his new translation of this key section entitled The Revelation of God and the Sublimation of Religion. Ensminger heartily agrees with Garrett’s criticism of the translation “abolition.” Interestingly, however, Ensminger chooses to leave Aufhebung untranslated in his chapter (unless I missed a case in which he translated it), while rendering aufheben and aufhob with “displace” and “displaced” (p. 654).

As a scholar and translator, this discussion is important to me for two reasons. First, as someone who has profited from reading Karl Barth and those who have been influenced by him (especially Wilfried Joest, Eberhard Jüngel, and Colin Gunton), I am interested in the specific question of how this term should be translated in the work of Karl Barth. Secondly, as a translator of German New Testament scholarship, I am even more interested in how this term should be translated in the authors I translate. This, however, is not straightforward, for even if Ensminger is right about Barth’s usage, I cannot necessarily assume that my authors are using it in the same way Barth (or Hegel etc). For example, how should I translate it when Michael Wolter entitles his heading for Luke 6.27-38: The Aufhebung of the Principle of Ethical Reciprocity? Should I translate it with “Sublimation”? Perhaps. Or should I use “Displacement”? Perhaps. Or would “annulment” or “sublation” be better? Perhaps. For better or for worse, I used “nullification,” and for better or worse it is too late to change this! Still, as a way of shedding further light on my own experience of translation and its challenges, let me conclude this post by briefly shedding some light on my thought process in reaching this decision. In my translation of Aufhebung in Wolter, I knew a) that “abolition” was potentially a problematic translation and b) that various authors used this term in specific and loaded ways, but c) I was somewhat uncertain about how exactly Wolter was using the term, and d) I did not feel like I had a complete overview of what the best options might be to choose from. It is true that I considered “sublation”, but I found this term to be a bit too opaque (which often evokes the displeasure of readers), and I was also worried that it might convey a more technical meaning and more loaded associations than Wolter intended and that the associations with Hegel might be undesired. Still, perhaps these considerations should have been outweighed by others? Or perhaps this should have been one of the issues that I discussed at greater length with Michael Wolter (I cannot remember whether or not this was one of the specific issues that I asked Wolter about, but if it was, it did not lead to a change to my translation). I do remember that my co-translator Christoph Heilig alerted me to important dimensions of the term’s meaning, but even in light of his clarifying comments, I retained “Nullification”, regarding it as a term that conveyed that something continued to exist but no longer had the same status or power as it previously held.

I will have to give further thought about whether to translate this term with “sublimation,” “sublation,” “annulment,” “nullification,” or “displacement” in future translations, and I am certainly open to suggestions on how best to proceed!

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Oda Wischmeyer on the “Grandness” of N.T. Wright with a Review of God and the Faithfulness of Paul

Over the last few weeks I have enjoyed reading through God and the Faithfulness of Paul (edited by Christoph Heilig, J. Thomas Hewitt, and Michael F. Bird), which contains many excellent responses to N.T. Wright‘s Paul and the Faithfulness of God. Hence, after providing a key excerpt—in English and German—from Oda Wischmeyer (Eng) on the “grandness” of N.T. Wright, this post will also include some brief comments on the chapters written by German-language-sphere scholars. On another note, readers of this blog may be interested in participating in the 2016 Mainz Summer School in German (and) Theology.

I. Oda Wischmeyer on the “Grandness” of N.T. Wright

I both profited from and greatly enjoyed co-translating (with Christoph Heilig) Oda Wischmeyer‘s chapter in God and the Faithfulness of Paul. What I found so remarkable was the honest and profound way that she was able to interact with both N.T. Wright’s work and her own academic tradition (cf. Christoph Heilig’s comments on Wischmeyer’s essay). Unlike many of us—whether we are Wright’s adoring admirers, sharp critics, or somewhere in between—Wischmeyer seemed to be entirely comfortable in her own shoes when discussing Wright and his work, so that she was able both to reflect on her own tradition with great insight and self-awareness and to draw out striking aspects of N.T. Wright’s work in a way that was both appreciative and critical in the best sense of the word. I don’t know why exactly this is the case. Perhaps it is because Prof. Wischmeyer herself is a senior scholar who has nothing to prove. Or perhaps it is simply because her hermeneutical approach has given her better tools for observing and reflecting on what is going on with Wright and in her own tradition. Whatever the reason, I found the tone and content of her essay to be both refreshing and illuminating. Let me turn then to my key excerpt, alternating between the English translation and the German original for those who are learning—or seeking to revive their—German:

GFP 74: Exactly one hundred years after the publication of Wilhelm Bousset’s great Paul article in the first edition of Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, N. T. Wright in his two-volume work Paul and the Faithfulness of God has again struck that sonorous tone which one could probably last hear in Germany in the the Pauline research of the history of religion school. …

Genau hundert Jahre nach dem Erscheinen des großen Paulus-Artikels von Wilhelm Bousset in der ersten Auflage der “Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart” hat N.T. Wright in seinem zweiteiligen Werk „Paul and the Faithfulness of God“ wieder jenen klangvollen Ton angeschlagen, den man in Deutschland wohl zuletzt in der Paulusforschung der Religionsgeschichtlichen Schule hören konnte…

GFP 74: At the first reading of Wright, it is the perception of the lofty tone, the liveliness of the historical narration and methodological discussion, and finally the certainty, elegance, and joy in the details of the presentation that excites an exegete who comes from the Bultmann school. …

Es ist die Wahrnehmung des hochgestimmten Tones, der Lebendigkeit der historischen Erzählung wie der methodischen Diskussion und schließlich der Sicherheit, Eleganz und Detailfreude der Darstellung, die eine Exegetin, die aus der Bultmannschule kommt, bei der ersten Lektüre von Wright begeistert. …

GFP 75: Wright writes today as Bousset … wrote a hundred years ago and as one does not write in contemporary German-language exegesis. …

Wright schreibt heute, wie Bousset … vor hundert Jahren schrieb und wie in der zeitgenössischen deutschsprachigen Exegese nicht geschrieben wird. …

GFP 76: For “German” ears or, more specifically, for a hermeneutical perception from the German-language exegetical tradition it is first—this deserves to be repeated once more—Wright’s tone or style that demands our full attention. …

Für „deutsche“ Ohren bzw. für eine hermeneutische Wahrnehmung aus der deutschsprachigen exegetischen Tradition ist es – es sei noch einmal wiederholt – zuerst der Ton oder der Stil Wrights, der alle Aufmerksamkeit beansprucht. …

GFP 76: Behind the pages of Wright we hear Handel’s music and Shakespeare’s language and we might not only be impressed by the force and energy of the presentation, but even saddened, or at least discontent, that we ourselves have lost this tone so completely and can no longer rhetorically orchestrate “grandness.”

Wir hören hinter den Seiten Wrights Händels Musik und Shakespeares Sprache und sind unter Umständen nicht nur beeindruckt von der Wucht und Energie der Darstellung, sondern auch betrübt oder mindestens unzufrieden, dass uns selbst dieser Ton so ganz abhandengekommen ist und wir „Größe“ nicht mehr rhetorisch instrumentieren können.

GFP 76: Or we react critically and regard this tone as too pious, too triumphalistic, too self-assured, not analytical enough—depending on our own academic background.

Oder wir reagieren kritisch und halten diesen Ton für zu fromm, zu triumphalistisch, zu selbstgewiss, zu wenig analytisch – je nach unserer eigenen akademischen Prägung.

GFP 76: Precisely these signals should be observed hermeneutically.

Gerade diese Signale gilt es hermeneutisch aufzufangen.

II. Review of Chapters by German-Language-Sphere Scholars

* For the complete table of contents, see here.

In “Paul and the Faithfulness of God among Pauline Theologies” Benjamin Schliesser (Eng) effectively situates Wright’s contribution in relation to the Pauline theologies of Bultmann, Dunn, Schreiner, Wolter, and Schnelle, displaying a remarkable gift of synthesis (cf. also his 2013 German article).

In “N.T. Wright’s Biblical Hermeneutics” Oda Wischmeyer (Eng) discusses both the history and present situation of German-language Pauline scholarship and the biblical hermeneutics of N.T. Wright.

In “Wright’s Version of Critical Realism” Andreas Losch offers a valuable discussion of “critical realism” in relation to the works of Ian Barbour, Bernard Lonergan, Ben F. Meyer, and N.T. Wright. Whether or not his thesis that Wright’s “critical realism” was initially developed with respect to Barbour and only associated with Lonergan/Meyer secondarily is correct (Wright rejects it [p. 718]), I found this chapter to be a helpful presentation of different versions of “critical realism” and benefited from Losch’s own assessment of the value and limitations of this approach.

In “Historical Methodology” Theresa Heilig and Christoph Heilig (Eng) provide a careful discussion of abduction, inference to the best explanation, and Bayesian confirmation, which includes a systematic analysis of the crucial issues in the debate between Barclay and Wright over whether Paul is criticizing the Roman empire (pp. 145-148)

In “Wright’s Paul and the Paul of Acts” Eve-Marie Becker (Eng) argues from the perspective of recent advances in historiography that Wright should have taken greater account of Acts as a source for Paul, suggesting, inter alia, that such an approach would have preventing him from problematically failing to incorporate Paul’s activities as miracle worker into his overall portrayal of Paul (pp. 160-161). In some respects her argument reminded me of perspectives advanced in Benjamin White’s important book.

In “N.T. Wright’s Narrative Approach” Joel R. White provides a sympathetic presentation and defense of much of what Wright is doing (e.g. he defends “the existence of a common first-century Jewish metanarrative highlighting God’s faithfulness to Israel in spite of her ‘ongoing exile'”), while also criticizing Wright at specific points (e.g. his treatment of apocalyptic language in relation to the notion of cosmic cataclysm, pp. 198-199). Significantly, at certain points White made me feel the force of Wright’s vision to a greater extent than Wright himself has done!

In “N.T. Wright’s Understanding of Justification and Redemption” (trans. Lars Kierspel), Peter Stuhlmacher both challenges key elements of Wright’s interpretation (e.g. the validity of his controlling narrative; cf. John BarclayAlexandra Brown, and Chris Tilling [part I]; but see also Joel R. White’s defense of this metanarrative) and, perhaps more importantly, provides a compact and eloquent presentation of his own views on sacrifice and justification in critical dialogue with Wright (cf. Christoph Heilig’s comments on Stuhlmacher’s essay).

In “God and His Faithfulness in Paul” Torsten Jantsch (Eng) both presents a very helpful discussion of the history of research on God in Paul and compactly outlines aspects of the “concept of God” in Romans in critical dialogue with N.T. Wright (cf. also here). In my judgment Jantsch’s chapter would be an excellent place to start for anyone interested in recent (German) research on God (in Paul). It complements well Jochen Flebbe’s fine monograph on God in Romans.

In “Demythologizing Apocalyptic?” Jörg Frey (Eng) provides both an extensive discussion of recent perspectives on apocalyptic and a hard-hitting critique of Wright’s treatment of apocalyptic, which he regards as a “neutralizing” or “taming” of apocalyptic. In particular, Frey stresses that there is no need to deny that Paul drew on mythological concepts such as the idea of an end of the world and personally reckoned with the return of Christ during his lifetime (p. 526; cf. Joel R. White’s comments on pp. 198-199; cf. also Paula Fredriksen; Larry Hurtado). In his lengthy response Wright emphasizes the extent of their agreement (744-745, 748), differentiates between 6 forms of apocalyptic (pp. 745-748), denies the charge of neutralizing/taming (751), and responds to their primary disagreement about whether or not Paul’s “end-of-the-world” language is concerned with the end of the world as well as the relationship between this question and the early Christian conviction that Jesus the Messiah would return from heaven (748-754).

In “The Faithfulness of God and Its Effects on Faithful Living” Volker Rabens investigates Tom Wright’s portrayal of Paul’s ethics. In addition to providing a valuable discussion of Wright’s treatment of “plight” and “solution”, Rabens develops an especially perceptive critique that warns against Wright’s tendency to give pride of place to cognitive renewal and presses Wright to give greater attention to relational transformation and, more specifically, to “the transforming and empowering transferal by the Spirit into loving relationships to the divine and the community of faith” (p. 577; cf. Wright’s response on 729, 762 and 766).

In “Barth, Wright, and Theology” Sven Ensminger provides a concise sketch of Barth’s treatment of revelation, religion, and Christology with some points of comparison with N.T. Wright. Ensminger seeks to contribute to the question of the relationship between biblical studies and theology (658), and gives particular attention to the following question: “to what extent can God be bracketed out of theological reflection about a key figure of the Christian church such as Paul in order to consider him as a historical figure with his socio-political background?” (p.656). See also my post Sven Ensminger on N.T. Wright, Karl Barth, and the Aufhebung of Religion.

In “Evangelism and the Mission of the Church” Eckhard J. Schnabel tackles a range of topics related to evangelism and mission, including a) a challenge to Wright’s suggestion that Paul wanted to visit places “where Caesar’s power was the strongest” (p. 688), b) the interpretation of Gal 2:7-9 (691-692), c) the validity of the language of “conversion” (692-696; but cf. 759), d) the meaning of gospel (796; but cf. 729), and e) a critique of Wright’s alleged repetition of caricatures of missionaries (700-704; but cf. 757-758).

Finally, if I could mention only one of the many fine essays by English-language-sphere scholars—I realize, of course, that some of the scholars could be classified in both groups—I would highlight Gregory Sterling‘s chapter “Wisdom or Foolishness? The Role of Philosophy in the Thought of Paul”. Sterling shows genuine appreciation for N.T. Wright’s treatment of philosophy, while suggesting, inter alia, that Wright has not given sufficient attention to the later Platonic tradition and specifically to what we call Middle Platonism. Among other observations, I found Sterling’s discussion of prepositional metaphysics to be especially illuminating (cf. here). More generally, I found his chapter to be a very helpful introduction to recent scholarship on philosophy and early Christianity, and I will certainly return to it (for N. T. Wright’s very positive response to Sterling’s essay, see p. 754-756).

For a complete list of my blog posts, please see here.

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German Mondays: Thank you for making it to the end of this blog post! I hope to be able to write at least one Monday blog post each month. Best, Wayne

Rediscovering Parables in John with Ruben Zimmermann

Ruben Zimmermann’s Puzzling the Parables of Jesus: Methods and Interpretations is a very fine work. One value of the book is that it consciously seeks to bring together current German and American research on the parables (see here). Another important feature is that Zimmermann applies recent research on historiography and memory to the interpretation of the parables (see esp. 76-98). This post will highlight a third contribution of the book, namely Zimmermann’s perceptive discussion of the genre of parable (pp. 105-150, esp. 132-138) and his convincing suggestion that there are, in fact, parables in John (pp. 333-360, esp. 333-339; see further here).

Before turning to Zimmermann, it may be helpful to illustrate the widely held view that parables are characteristic of the synoptics and not of the Fourth Gospel. To do so, I will quote from two (very fine) books that I have used in my course on John this semester: “This Jesus is not the gritty, earthy, Synoptic preacher of parables from rural Galilee.” (Christopher Skinner, Reading John. Wipf & Stock, 2015, p. 69); “In the Synoptics, Jesus speaks regularly in parables… John’s Jesus teaches not in parables but in lengthy discourses…” (Marianne Meye Thompson, John: A Commentary. WJK, 2015, p. 3; but cf. p. 344).

Zimmermann’s rediscovery of parables in John is based on his reassessment of the definition of a parable. He defines parables as follows:

137: “A parable is a short narratival (1) fictional (2) text that is related in the narrated world to known reality (3) but, by way of implicit or explicit transfer signals, makes it understood that the meaning of the narration must be differentiated from the literal words of the text (4). In its appeal dimension (5) it challenges the reader to carry out a metaphoric transfer of meaning that is steered by contextual information (6).” (p. 137).

137-138: “Concentrating on attributes, we can name a bundle of six characteristics of a parable … Four of them are core criteria (and), which means that whenever one is missing, the genre of the text in question is not really a ‘parable’. Two of them are supplemental criteria, which are relevant for most parable texts (and/or); however, they are not necessarily required. The ‘parable’ is:

1. narratival, and

2. fictional, and

3. realistic, and

4. metaphoric, and/or

5. active in appeal, and/or

6. contextually related.”

In my view, Zimmermann’s definition is very perceptive, and I would only want to quibble with criteria 3. More specifically, I think it is preferable to describe parables as “semi-realistic” rather than “realistic” since it seems to me that there are some cases in which the world under discussion or target domain influences the source domain or level of the image in such a way that it bursts or bends the realism of the image.

Zimmermann’s treatment of parables in John contains at least four important lines of thought. First, he provides a concise response to the reasons that have been advanced for not finding parables in John. Here (pp. 334-335), he notes, inter alia, that “The clear and simple sayings concerning the ‘walking at day or night’ (John 11:9-10), the ‘woman in labor’ (John 16:21), or the ‘shepherd who leads out his sheep’ (John 10:1-5), to mention only a few examples, cannot be characterized simply as allegories; rather, they arise out of the everyday experiences of agrarian life in Galilee”, that “the concept of nontheological parables in the Synoptics must be questioned, since key terms and themes such as vineyard, shepherd, or harvest were already imbued with theological meanings”, and that “the Synoptics bring together and characterize as belonging to the genre of παραβολή texts of varying length and character, a state of affairs that corresponds to the variety of figurative speech in John.” Secondly, drawing upon his earlier definition of parables, he explains that “Bearing in mind the above dynamic theory of genres, several passages can be identified as fictional, realistic, narrative, and metaphorical texts. Thus, using the same standard of justification with which we call such texts in the Synoptics ‘parables,’ we may call them parables in John too. In other words, there are parables in John!” (335). Finally, he takes a further step and asks whether one can identify a specific concept of the parables in John. Here (pp. 336-339) he notes, inter alia, that “If one seeks to locate the Johannine parables within the context of the entire Fourth Gospel, one discovers that they are found in nearly every section of the Gospel, from the first public appearance of Jesus (John 2:19-20) to the end of the Farewell Discourses (John 16:21)” and that “The theological goal of the parables for John is the recognition of Christ, which unfolds especially in relationship with Christ. The addresses of the Gospel should be drawn into a dynamic process of understanding and faith through the παροιμία, a process that culminates in a holistic fellowship with Christ, a ‘remaining in Christ’ as union with the resurrected one.” Fourthly, Zimmermann devotes the rest of this chapter (pp. 339-360) to a close study of the Parable of the Dying and Living Grain (John 12:24).

In my view, Zimmermann has made a very strong case for speaking of parables in John (see further the works referenced on page 335 n.7-8). This is not to say that there are not important differences between the Synoptics and John, both in general and with regard to their parables in particular. But it seems to me that we should no longer frame this issue by suggesting that the genre of parables is restricted to the Synoptics.

Addendum: I am pleased to learn that there will be an SBL panel on the parables this year featuring giants such as A.-J. Levine, J. P. Meier, K. Snodgrass, A. Merz and R. Zimmermann!

For a list of Ruben Zimmermann’s English publications, see here.

For a complete list of my blog posts, please see here.

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German Mondays: Thank you for making it to the end of this blog post! I hope to be able to write at least one Monday blog post each month. Best, Wayne

Bibliographies of Neutestamentler/innen in the German Language Sphere

For the most up-to-date version of BNGLS, see here.

As a new feature for this blog, I have spent the last two weeks compiling Bibliographies of Neutestamentler/innen in the German Language Sphere (BNGLS). This task has greatly expanded my own understanding of what is going on in the German-speaking world, and I hope it will also prove beneficial for others who are seeking to engage with the ‘German’ tradition. A distinctive feature of this new resource is that I have provided a separate bibliography of the English publications of each German-language-sphere scholar as well as a link to their full bibliographies, webpages, academia.edu pages etc. For the bibliographies themselves see the BNGLS tab of my blog or click here.