Jens Schröter on the character of every historical (re)presentation – with special guests Chris Keith and Anthony Le Donne

I was somewhat amused to see that Chris Keith stole my thunder on Friday by concluding his blog post on Jens Schröter with the same quotation that I had selected for this week’s blog post. But hopefully, this is more a case of “great minds think alike” than “Zwei Dumme, ein Gedanke”.

Like my other Schröter posts on historiography, today’s “key quotation” deals with the relationship between historiography and New Testament scholarship. It is taken from Jens Schröter’s discussion of “the historicity of the Gospels” in From Jesus to the New Testament.

As usual I will begin with the English translation so that the (selective) grammatical commentary directly follows the German text. As a way of illustrating the different ways that a passage can be translated, I will include both Anthony Le Donne’s earlier translation of this passage in The Historiographical Jesus (thunder stolen once again) and my own translation in From Jesus to the New Testament.

The Historiographical Jesus, p. 75: “If every historical construction represents the relationship between event and story (even those that are written within the rubric of the historical-critical consciousness) then a contemporary portrait of Jesus cannot simply set aside the narrative representations of the person of Jesus in the Gospels. On the contrary, this portrait has to be related to these representations and be reconstructed within the rubric of contemporary epistemology. The outcome is not the ‘real’ Jesus behind the Gospels. The outcome is a historical construction which claims to be plausible within the rubric of contemporary epistemology.”

From Jesus to the New Testament, pp. 131-132: “If, however, every historical presentation presents a combination of event and narrative, including the kind that is composed under the conditions of the historical-critical consciousness, then a present-day Jesus presentation also cannot simply disregard the narrative representations of the person of Jesus in the Gospels. Instead, it has to orient itself to them and put them together anew under today’s conditions of knowledge. The result is not the ‘real’ Jesus behind the Gospels. The result is a historical presentation that claims to be plausible under current conditions of knowledge.”

Von Jesus zum Neuen Testament, 146: “Stellt jedoch jede historische Darstellung eine Verbindung von Ereignis und Erzählung dar, auch eine solche, die unter den Bedingungen des historisch-kritischen Bewusstseins verfasst wird, dann kann auch eine gegenwärtige Jesusdarstellung die narrative Repräsentationen der Person Jesu in den Evangelien nicht einfach beiseite stellen. Sie hat sich stattdessen an diesen zu orientieren und sie unter heutigen Erkenntnisbedingungen neu zusammenzusetzen. Das Ergebnis ist nicht der ‚wirkliche‘ Jesus hinter den Evangelien. Das Ergebnis ist eine historische Darstellung, die den Anspruch erhebt, unter gegenwärtigen Erkenntnisbedingungen plausibel zu sein.“

Selective Grammatical Commentary: Although I have translated “Darstellung” as “presentation”, it could also be rendered as “representation”, “portrayal” or “portrait” (Le Donne’s “construction” is more free, but I think it accurately unpacks what Schröter is saying). Here, I think it may be preferable to render Darstellung as “presentation” or “portrayal” so that it can be distinguished from Schröter’s subsequent use of “Repräsentationen”/representations. Similarly, “Verbindung” could also be translated as “linking” or “connection” rather than “combination” (Anthony’s “relationship” is also possible). The fact that the sentence begins with the verb “stellt … dar” followed by a subsequent “dann”, lets the reader know that we are dealing with an “if … then” construction. Anthony’s translation of “beiseite stellen” as “set aside” may well be preferable to my choice of “disregard”. As usual the verbs “verfasst wird” and “erhebt” are pushed to the end of the subordinate clauses in which they appear. I think that Anthony’s translation of “Ergebnis” as “outcome” is probably preferable to my choice of “result”. Although I prefer the word “contemporary” (Anthony) to “current” or “present-day”, I tend to avoid it since there is sometimes ambiguity about whether one means contemporary with the ancient or modern situation. I remain uncertain about Anthony’s translation of “unter den Bedingungen des historisch-kritischen Bewusstseins” as “within the rubric of the historical-critical consciousness” and “unter gegenwärtigen Erkenntnisbedingungen” as “within the rubric of contemporary epistemology”, but this may well represent an improvement on my rather wooden translation of these phrases.

Substantive Analysis: In this quotation Schröter makes clear that both past and present-day historical presentations of Jesus involve a combination/linking of event and narrative. In other words, past and present historical portrayals do NOT differ in this respect, but rather in the conditions of knowledge under which they are composed. On the basis of this view of the nature of all historical presentations/portrayals/representations, Schröter then argues against the practice of disregarding/setting aside the narrative representations of the person of Jesus in the Gospels and for an approach that takes its orientation from these portrayals, with the goal of putting them together anew under the respectively current conditions of knowledge. Against this backdrop, it would be interesting for me to hear more about the extent to which Schröter thinks that the presentations of Jesus in the Gospels could (or should) play a role in shaping present-day conditions of knowledge. I also think that it would be interesting to compare Schröter’s approach with that of Udo Schnelle, another German giant who has attempted to appropriate recent research on the theory of history into his scholarship (e.g., Theology of the New Testament and  Apostle Paul). So perhaps this could be a good paper topic for some ambitious young graduate student.

For a complete list of my Schröterposts, see here.

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For three interviews with me about the BMSEC series, see here, here, and here.

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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.


2 thoughts on “Jens Schröter on the character of every historical (re)presentation – with special guests Chris Keith and Anthony Le Donne

  1. Brother Wayne! Thanks for this resource. I didn’t know you were doing this until I saw the notice by Anthony on FB. You’ve been a perennial help to my German from the time you told me to go to Prien Am Chimesee.

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