Constructing History with Droysen and Jens Schröter

German Mondays

In an effort to provide a sense of regularity and predictability for this blog’s readership, I have decided to commit myself to making one post each Monday. Hopefully, I will be able to stick to this plan and it will prove a good way to start the week for me and for others.

Model Sentences

In my last post I commented on the phrase “Es geht um” and the words “Wissenschaft/wissenschaftlich” under the category of “words and phrases”. In this post, I wish to introduce the category of “model sentences”, which will involve an English translation of a German sentence (or several German sentences) that I regard as especially insightful or important as well as a concise grammatical commentary and perhaps some critical analysis. In some cases, I will select these sentences from works that I have translated or am translating, but I also want to invite my readers to submit German sentences that they regard as especially important or insightful. For instructions on doing so, see here.

Constructing History with Droysen with Jens Schröter (pp. 25-26; cf. # 2 on p. 31).

As a number of bloggers (see C. Keith 1, M. Skinner, A. Le Donne, L. Hurtado, C. Keith 2, C. Keith 3) have indicated in their responses to the publication of Jens Schröter’s work From Jesus to the New Testament, this book is especially important for its discussion of the relationship between new developments in historiography and New Testament scholarship. In my own view, it is important not only because of the specific perspectives that Schröter himself advances, but also for the way in which he develops these in relation to earlier phases of (German) research (cf. Schröter’s own assessment on p. xi), especially in chapters 1-4. Here, Schröter’s sustained engagement with Johann Gustav Droysen’s work is particularly important (see esp. pp. 11-12 and 22-32). Accordingly, my first “model sentence” will be taken from a section in which Schröter attempts to show how more recent developments in historiography have moved beyond Droysen. I will first provide the quotation in English and then in German, so that my grammatical commentary directly follows the German quotation.

From Jesus to the New Testament, p. 26: “Rather, the occupation with the historical material represents from the beginning an interpretative, meaning-creating activity that does not first begin, as it still does in Droysen’s conception, after the steps of the heuristic and criticism. Rather, the hermeneutical process must be defined more comprehensively than is the case with Droysen: the selection of the sources and their critical analysis are already interpretive activities and thus constituent parts of historical knowing.”

Von Jesus zum Neuen Testament, p. 28: „Die Beschäftigung mit dem historischen Material stellt vielmehr von Beginn an eine interpretierende, sinnstiftende Tätigkeit dar, die nicht erst, wie noch in Droysens Entwurf, nach den Schritten der Heuristik und Kritik einsetzt. Der hermeneutische Prozess ist vielmehr umfassender zu bestimmen, als dies bei Droysen der Fall ist: Bereits die Auswahl der Quellen sowie ihre kritische Analyse sind interpretierende Tätigkeiten und damit Bestandteile des historischen Erkennens.“

Vocabulary Help

Beschäftigung” can sometimes be translated as “occupation”, but “engagement” is often better. “Vielmehr” can often be translated as “rather” or “instead”, though it sometimes has the force of “to a greater degree”. The most difficult word is “Entwurf”, which I have almost always rendered as “conception” in From Jesus to the New Testament (I hope to devote a blog post to this word in the future).

Grammatical Analysis

As a general rule, remember that the order of German phrases follows the acronym TeCaMoLo (Time, Cause, Mode, Location). Any element, though, can be in the first position, whereas the verb always appears in the second position. Here, the subject stands in the first position, namely “Die Beschäftigung mit dem historischen Material”. Since“mit/with takes the dative we find “dem Material”. When a verb has two parts, part of it is placed in the second position (stellt) and part of its goes to the end (dar). Here, the compound verb is darstellen, which can often be translated as “present” or “represent”, though “portray” is also a good option in many contexts. “Von Beginn an/from the beginning” comes next, as one would expect since it concerns time (Te). The direct object of darstellen is “eine interpretierende, sinnstiftende Tätigkeit”: “eine Tätigkeit/an activity is the noun, which is modified by the participles “interpretierende” and “sinnstiftende”. Though I was originally translating the former as “interpreting”, I subsequently decided that this was too wooden (at the prompting of Ron Herms) and settled on “interpretive”, whereas I adopted the awkward solution “meaning-creating” for “sinnstiftende” since it was not desirable to transform this participle into a relative clause here. A relative clause is then introduced by “die”, which is feminine singular because it looks back to “Tätigkeit” and nominative since it functions as the subject of the relative clause. Because it is part of a relative clause, the verb einsetzt moves to the end of the sentence. The construction “ist … zu + verb” in the next sentence is always difficult to render. While the wooden solution “is to be defined” is sometimes preferable, it is usually better to adopt translation options such as “must be defined”, “has to be defined,” or “should be defined”. The use of the comparative “umfassender + als” signals a comparison and the verb “ist“ moves again to the end of the subordinate clause. It is probably best to leave “dies” untranslated. In English, it often works best to translate “Bereits/already” with the verb. “Sowie” can sometimes be rendered with “as well as” but “and” is often better. “Damit” is always very hard to render: often it is best to leave it untranslated, but sometimes it can be conveyed well with “thus”, “with this”, or “thereby”. The infinitive “erkennen” has been transformed into a noun (“Erkennen”) by being capitalized, and the “s” together with “des” lets you know it is genitive.

Substantive Analysis

While I will usually forgo a substantive analysis of my model sentences or keep my comments to a minimum, I will be happy if people wish to tackle this (more important) topic for conversation in their comments. As I see it, Schröter’s point here is that while Droysen represented an advance over many of his peers insofar as he had a heightened awareness of the crucial role that was played by the interpretive activity of the historian for some decisive aspects of the historical task, his successors have taken this insight further by stressing that the entire process of constructing a conception of history is shaped by the historian’s interpretive activity.

For my other Schröter posts on historiography, see here.

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

For tips on how to use this blog, please see here.

For two interviews with me about the Baylor-Mohr Siebeck Series, see Clifford Kvidahl and Michael Hölscher.

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German Mondays: Thank you for making it to the end of this blog post! In an effort to provide a sense of regularity and predictability for this blog’s readership, I plan on writing a new post each Monday. So hopefully I will ‘see’ you again in a week’s time. Best, Wayne.


7 thoughts on “Constructing History with Droysen and Jens Schröter

  1. Hi Wayne,
    This is stunning. Thank you! A few issues:
    1) “the occupation with the historical material represents from the beginning an interpretative, meaning-creating activity” – I am wondering, is there not a danger of falling into the “death of the author” radical subjectivity we find in for example some of Derrida’s work? Sure, interpretation is always part of the hermeneutical process (so rightly i.e. Ricoeur, Gadamer), but does that mean that significant events in the life of Jesus of Nazareth which all four canonical gospels share and interpret as events that happened in space and time, reflect the kind of “meaning-creating activity” that compels us to reject the space-time elements that are taken up into the four gospel’s “interpretative, meaning-creating activity”?

    2) “the selection of the sources and their critical analysis are already interpretive activities and thus constituent parts of historical knowing” – Sure, but does “interpretative activities” being part of the process exclude making historical claims altogether? “thus constituent parts of historical knowing” probably answers this question…

    • Dear Ferdie, Thanks for the response. It seems to me that Schröter would share many of your concerns, though he might respond by suggesting that his hermeneutical reflections are meant to clarify what it means to make a historical claim. 1) As I understand him, Schröter is not concerned to deny the validity or actuality of the past or past events but to make an argument about our access to the past and to clarify how when we do history it is the historian who constructs a narrative, which can only approach/approximate (annähern an) the past. 2) As I understand him, Schröter does not think this insight excludes making historical claims altogether but he does seem to think it alters the epistemological status of the claim, which for him, I think, can only be a claim to provide a plausible construction of what could have been, which is accountable to the sources and formulated under current conditions of knowledge. Needless to say, he says all that with much greater precision in FJNT, and I suspect this response does not do full justice to his position!

  2. Wayne,

    Thanks for starting this blog! I’m knee-deep in German each semester as I write papers and research for my dissertation, and these sorts of posts should be really helpful for me. I hope you can keep up your goal of posting every Monday, I’ll certainly be waiting to read them each week.

  3. Wow, what a great idea for a blog! I’ve only professionally translated Flemish for publication but in my exegetical studies I had to read an awful lot of German and was fortunate to have spent quite a bit of time in Germany. It will be nice to read this blog to continue the learning process.

    By the way, I might translate “nach den Schritten der Heuristik und Kritik” less literally with something like ‘after the heuristic and critical stages’ or ‘process’.

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