Udo Schnelle and Eugene Boring on “Geschichte”, “Historie”, and “Historik”: with special guests Jens Schröter, Chris Keith, and Brevard Childs

Today’s post will discuss a noteworthy quotation from Udo Schnelle on his use of the terms “Geschichte“, “Historie“, and “Historik“, which also includes an instructive translator’s note by Eugene Boring (= MEB). The following quotation is taken from Udo Schnelle. Theology of the New Testament. Translated by Eugene Boring. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007, p. 27n5:

Main text: How was history (Geschichte) made and how does research and writing about history (Historie) take place? Footnote 5: Regarding terminology: I use the German terms “Geschichte”/“geschichtlich” to refer to what happened, and “Historie”/“historisch” to indicate the ways in which historians attempt to determine what this was. “Historik” refers to the philosophical theory of history. Cf. H./W. Hedinger, “Historik”, in Historisches Wörterbuch der Philosophie (ed. Karfried Gründer et al.; Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1974). “Geschichte” is never directly available except as “Historie,” but nonetheless the two concepts and terms must be distinguished, because the questions posed from the point of view of philosophical theories of history are not simply identical with “what happened” as that was understood by people in the past. [The German language has two words for “history,” while English has but one. Many German authors, including some quoted by Schnelle, use the two words interchangeably. The nuances distinguished by Schnelle are sometimes difficult to preserve in English. Since the context usually makes clear which meaning is intended, I have generally rendered both words by history and its cognates, though sometimes using event or story for Geschichte to preserve the author’s nuance, or rendering geschichtlich by historic in contrast to historical. See note 2 in § 2.1 below. Here the original reads: “Wie entsteht Geschichte/Historie?” – MEB]

Analysis: This quotation is interesting for several reasons. From the perspective of the subject matter, it is noteworthy insofar as Schnelle recognizes the need to distinguish between two different concepts, namely between “what happened” and “the ways that historians attempt to determine what this was”, and decides to mark this distinction terminologically, namely by using “Geschichte” for the former and “Historie” for the latter. Jens Schröter makes a somewhat comparable move in distinguishing between “past” and “history” (see e.g. From Jesus to the New Testament, p. 98n12 and pp. 22-24), and in his inaugural lecture at St Mary’s University Chris Keith makes a related distinction between “the actual past”, “the (commemorated/received/inherited) past,” and the “present” (see here, esp. 14:22-16:44, 19:20-23:10, 25:18-30:22, 31:47-34:27, 36:21-39:15, 42:30-42:56, 44:00-46:03, 46:04-50:52, 56:32-57:22). Secondly, it is notable that Eugene Boring has difficulty maintaining Schnelle’s terminological distinction in his translation, which could be viewed as an argument against this usage. Thirdly, it is conspicuous insofar as other scholars distinguish between Geschichte and Historie in rather different ways, which is probably an even stronger argument against Schnelle’s usage. For example, in The Church’s Guide for Reading Paul, Brevard Childs writes:

“In a real sense, there is an analogy between his [Gerhard Lohfink’s] categories and those of Martin Kähler between Geschichte and Historie. Geschichte is the historical reflections on events and conditions carried on within a confessing community of faith. Historie is the attempt to understand events from an objective, scientific analysis, applying ordinary experience, apart from any confessional content, as the measure of its credibility” (p. 165; cf. Daniel Driver, Brevard Childs Biblical Theologian for the Church’s One Bible, p. 18).

[Similarly, David Jasper writes: “Historie is a description of how events actually happened; Geschichte is a description of what events mean, both to those who first experienced them and to us now. In other words Geschichte is also concerned with contemporary present-day experience. History is not just about the past; it is about the present” (A Short Introduction to Hermeneutics, p. 93, cited by Walter Moberly, Old Testament Theology, p. 92) and in this vein Karl Barth wrote “Not all history is ‘historical’ [Nicht alle Geschichte ist “historisch”]” (Church Dogmatics III/I:61-94, esp. 80; cited by Walter Moberly, Old Testament Theology, p. 92).]

With a view to all of these observations, I think that Schnelle’s attempt to distinguish terminologically between “what happened” and “the ways that historians attempt to determine what this was” is salutary, but I am not convinced that using Geschichte and Historie to do so is the best way forward, and I also have some reservations about Schnelle’s way of formulating the concepts that need to be distinguished. I find Schröter’s distinction between “past/events” and “history” preferable as a way of speaking about “what happened” and “what (ancient and modern) historians do” (without this being limited to the ways that historians attempt to determine what happened but rather related more closely to the ways in which historians represent the past in the present with reference to the sources that are available to us). If Chris Keith’s more differentiated terminology is drawn upon, then I think it works well to distinguish between “the actual past”, “the inherited past”, and “the present”, whereas I find it somewhat unhelpful to simply speak of “the past” with reference to something other than “the actual past” (even if this usage is widespread in social memory research) since this usage is likely to be misunderstood by many New Testament scholars (for my own confusion on this point and Chris Keith’s helpful clarification, see here: Part II: 41:54-43:50).

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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.

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