Oda Wischmeyer and the Lexikon der Bibelhermeneutik

This post falls under one of my favorite categories on this blog, namely “German scholars”. The purpose of this category is to introduce German scholars and their research to the English-speaking world. Each post will consist of (I) my translation of a short passage from a publication submitted by the German author her/himself and (II) some biographical-bibliographical information about the scholar in question. For further information on this category, see here. For my other “German scholars” posts, see here.

Today’s “German scholar” is Prof. Dr. Oda Wischmeyer (em.) of the Friedrich-Alexander Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, an institution that holds a special place in my heart as my first university home during my studies in Germany. Insofar as this blog and the BMSEC series both aim to facilitate increased dialogue between English-language and German-language scholarship, I would like to underline here the extent to which Prof. Wischmeyer’s scholarship has contributed to this aim, for example through the English translation of her edited volume Paul: Life, Setting, Work, Letters, which I mentioned in my last post, and now through her 2014 co-edited volume Paul and Mark (cf. Jim West’s Review), which brings together the work of about twelve German-speaking scholars and twelve English-speaking scholars who deal with the question of the influence of Paul on Mark.

As her passage of choice for this post, Prof. Wischmeyer has submitted an excerpt from the Lexikon der Bibelhermeneutik. Edited by Oda Wischmeyer. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2013, p. VI.

As usual I will begin with the English translation so that the selective grammatical commentary can directly follow the German version.

I) Translation

English Translation (wmc): “The text-oriented hermeneutic of the Bible represents a new hermeneutic paradigm in which the canonical version of the Bible is not primarily understood in a theologically internal manner as ‘gospel’ and ‘Holy Scripture’ and thereby largely hermeneutically and methodologically withdrawn from the non-theological text-oriented disciplines. Rather, the hermeneutical approach [of the Lexikon] is already in its basic approach heuristic and multiperspectival and does not follow an already existing conception. The leading theological-hermeneutical terms ‘gospel’, ‘word of God’, ‘Holy Scripture’, and ‘revelation’ stand alongside terms that belong to the humanities and the study of culture   [or: to the human sciences and cultural sciences] in the broadest sense such as ‘canon’, ‘holy book’, ‘text’, ‘supertext’, and ‘reception’. The term/concept of text is chosen as an integrating guiding term/concept to which both the theological disciplines and the humanities and cultural disciplines have genuine methodological and hermeneutical points of access and to which they can make their own contribution. The Bible is understood as a collection of different texts that together form a supertext. All present-day text-elucidating scholarly [or scientific] disciplines with their theories, methods, conceptions, and terms/concepts are drawn upon for the understanding of this text or these texts. The field of linguistic, literary, historical, theological, philosophical, and religious studies understanding yields together the basis of a ‘Bible hermeneutic’ that opens up the biblical texts in all their aspects to understanding.”

Lexikon der Bibelhermeneutik (p. VI): “Die textbezogene Hermeneutik der Bibel stellt ein neues hermeneutisches Paradigma dar, in dem die kanonische Fassung der Bibel nicht primär binnentheologisch als ‘Evangelium’ und ‘Heilige Schrift’ verstanden wird und damit den nicht-theologischen textbezogenen Disziplinen hermeneutisch und methodisch weitgehend entzogen ist. Der hermeneutische Zugang [des Lexikons] ist vielmehr bereits im Ansatz heuristisch, multiperspektivisch und schließt sich nicht einer bereits bestehenden Konzeption an. Die führenden theologisch-hermeneutischen Begriffe ‘Evangelium’, ‘Wort Gottes’, ‘Heilige Schrift’, ‘Offenbarung’ stehen neben den im weitesten Sinne geistes- und kulturwissenschaftlichen Begriffen wie ‘Kanon’, ‘heiliges Buch’, ‘Text’, ‘Supertext’, ‘Rezeption’. Als integrierender Leitbegriff ist der Textbegriff gewählt, zu dem die theologischen Disziplinen ebenso wie die geistes- und kulturwissenschaftlichen Fächer genuine methodische und hermeneutische Zugänge besitzen und eigene Beiträge leisten können. Die Bibel wird als eine Sammlung unterschiedlicher Texte verstanden, die gemeinsam einen Supertext bilden. Zum Verstehen dieser Texte bzw. dieses Textes werden alle gegenwärtig texterklärenden wissenschaftlichen Disziplinen mit ihren Theorien, Methoden, Konzeptionen und Begriffen herangezogen. Das Feld von sprachlichem, literarischem, historischem, theologischem, philosophischem und religionswissenschaftlichem Verstehen ergibt gemeinsam die Basis einer ‘Bibelhermeneutik’, die die biblischen Texte in allen ihren Aspekten dem Verstehen erschließt.”

Selective grammatical analysis: Let me restrict myself to a few difficult points. textbezogene could be translated text-related, but it is perhaps a bit weak, and I think that text-oriented might capture the intended sense better. binnentheologisch is hard to render: I chose to adopt the paraphrasing translation “in a theologically internal manner”. It would have read better to translate entzogen as “removed” but I thought “withdrawn” better conveyed the intended sense. “approach” is often the best translation for Zugang and Ansatz, but in order to lessen the awkward repetition I translated Ansatz as “basic approach”. I considered translating Ansatz as “conception” here, but this solution also fell flat since this term follows shortly thereafter! As I have indicated elsewhere (see here and From Jesus to the New Testament, p. viii), the translation of the German term Wissenschaft/wissenschaftlich causes problems (for me), since there are advantages and disadvantages of using the language of “science/scientific” in English. With respect to the phrase neben den im weitesten Sinne geistes- und kulturwissenschaftlichen Begriffen, the problem is felt with particular severity for three reasons. First, it is necessary for stylistic reasons to change the German adjectival construction to a relative clause, which also requires one to change the adjectives into nouns here. Secondly, the translation of Begriff (my least favorite German word) is often problematic since it tends to hover between word and concept (see further here). Thirdly and most importantly, it is extremely difficult (for me) to translate geistes- und kulturwissenschaftlichen. In English, I suspect we might just say “the humanities” or “the liberal arts”, which in our sentence would result in “alongside terms that belong to the humanities in the broadest sense”. But I think it is probably necessary to retain at least something of the German nuance, so I have suggested “alongside terms that belong to the humanities and studies of culture in the broadest sense”. In the end, however, it might be better to employ the language of “science” here and write “that belong to the human sciences and cultural sciences in the broadest sense”, despite the fact using the language of “science” for anything other than the “natural sciences” (Naturwissenschaften) will probably meet with criticism from at least some readers (see e.g., here), which is notable in view of the different linguistic conventions of French, German, and presumably other languages. Finally, there would be several options for translating dem Verstehen erschließt. Given the overall tenor of the quotation, it seemed preferable to me to adopt the less theologically-loaded translation “open up” rather than “disclose” or “reveal” for erschließt. It is not clear to me whether it would be better to say “to the understanding” or “to understanding” in this case.

II) Biographical-Bibliographical Information

For Prof. Wischmeyer’s academic profile, see here. For a chronological list of her publications, see here.

Prof. Wischmeyer describes her current research focus as follows:

My field of research is the collection of writings of the New Testament in their religious, literary and historical contexts. At the foreground of my work stand, on the one hand, the writings of ancient Judaism (esp. Ben Sira), and, on the other hand, texts, themes and theology of Paul’s letters and the letter of James as well as the Gospel of Mark. The canonical and noncanonical writings of ancient Judaism and early Christianity are foundational texts both in religious and cultural respects. Like the great texts of the Graeco-Roman culture – above all the Homeric epics and the Aeneid but also the texts of Plato – they have brought forth a hermeneutic of their own. Rudolf Bultmann showed for the European and North American exegesis of the twentieth century that New Testament scholarship always goes together with hermeneutical questions. In the last generation it came, in the wake of the globalization of biblical scholarship, to something like an explosion of new hermeneutical approaches that must be exegetically and hermeneutically sifted and processed. It is to this task that my own works on New Testament hermeneutic are devoted, namely the Lexikon der Bibelhermeneutik (ed. Oda Wischmeyer 2009 and 2013) and the Handbuch der Bibelhermeneutiken (ed. Oda Wischmeyer, Walter de Gruyter, forthcoming 2015).

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

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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.

5 thoughts on “Oda Wischmeyer and the Lexikon der Bibelhermeneutik

  1. Thank you very much for this!
    I completely share your frustration with the usage of the word “Begriff” in German literature! Unfortunately, it seems to become more and more acceptable to use it with the sense of ‘word/term’. This causes a lot of confusion. Scholars could make it easier by indicating a lexical entity by means of “…” and the represented semantic entity by ‘…’. In my own work, I tend to translate “Begriff” (in the appropriate sense of ‘Konzept’) as “notion”. Do you think that captures the idea well or do you think “concept” is preferable?

    Just a random thought on the general issue of “Wissenschaftlichkeit” of theology. If the characterisation of “wissenschaftlich” is used in relation to theology in a German context, it is my impression that this is above all an institutional issue and not so much rooted in the philosophy of science. So maybe “academic” could be a good alternative to “scholarly” or “scientific”?

  2. Dear Christoph, sorry for my delayed response! Yes. I think your distinction would work, but given current usage, I think it would make sense to avoid the word Begriff entirely and simply use “Konzept” if one means “concept” and ‘Wort’ if one means ‘word’. If, however, “Begriff” is used, then I think concept or notion would work as a translation. Indeed, “notion” could be preferable since it would leave “concept” for “Konzept”. But I might stick with “concept” nonetheless, i.e. when “Begriff” isn’t being used to mean “word”. With respect to your second observation, I certainly agree that “Wissenschaft” often has an institutional connection, so that “academic” is sometimes a very good fit. But I think it is frequently used with wider resonances so that academic is often too narrow. For example, the meaning is broader than academic when Markschies writes (KcTuiI p. 76 n. 160): “I am very aware of the problems of introducing a modern term (cf. Sütterlin 1960; 1984), but think that it can scarcely be contested that there were already general standards for rational (i.e. scholarly) argumentation and research and one can designate this connection with a word that has only been used since the eighteenth century.”

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