Hengel and Schwemer on Historiography and the Messianic Claim of Jesus: with special guests Jens Schröter and Dale Allison

Since my first published translations were of works by or about Martin Hengel, I am especially looking forward to collaborating with Brian Pounds on the translation of Martin Hengel and Anna Maria Schwemer‘s book Jesus und Judentum / Jesus and Judaism.Today’s key quotation is taken from the forward to this volume.

As usual I will begin with the English translation so that the grammatical analysis directly follows the German text:

Jesus and Judaism (wmc): Since the historical quest for Jesus of Nazareth has been controversial since the 18th century and will also remain so in the future, we have placed before the actual historical portrayal extensive considerations on the course of scholarship and on the sources, which explain that in this it can be nothing more than “attempts to draw near”, which admittedly allow very clear contours of this singular figure to become visible. A special focal point is formed by the problem, which is widely misjudged up to the present day, of the messianic claim of Jesus, without which we cannot understand the accounts of the Gospels. The still ever so popular “unmessianic” Jesus never existed. This is shown by the comparison of Jesus with John the Baptist, his proclamation in “authority”, his “deeds of power”, the Passion story with its charge that he is allegedly “the King of the Jews”, and the emergence of the earliest Christology, which possesses its ultimate foundation in Jesus’ activity and way.

Jesus und das Judentum (p. V): Da die historische Rückfrage nach Jesus von Nazareth seit dem 18. Jahrhundert umstritten ist und auch in Zukunft bleiben wird, haben wir der eigentlichen geschichtlichen Darstellung ausführliche Überlegungen zum Gang der Forschung und zu den Quellen vorangestellt, die darlegen, daß es sich bei derselben um nicht mehr als “Annäherungsversuche” handeln kann, die freilich sehr deutliche Konturen dieser einzigartigen Gestalt sichtbar werden lassen. Ein besonderer Schwerpunkt bildet das bis heute weithin verkannte Problem des messianischen Anspruch Jesu, ohne den wir die Berichte der Evangelien nicht verstehen können. Den immer noch so beliebten “unmessianischen Jesus” hat es nie gegeben. Das zeigen der Vergleich Jesu mit Johannes dem Täufer, seine Verkündigung in “Vollmacht”, seine “Krafttaten”, die Leidensgeschichte mit ihrer Anklage, er sei “der König der Juden”, und die Entstehung der frühesten Christologie, die ihren letzten Grund in Jesu Wirken und Weg besitzt.

Selective Grammatical analysis: die historische Rückfrage nach Jesus von Nazareth is difficult. We would perhaps say “the quest for the historical Jesus”, but it would perhaps shift the meaning too strongly to shift “historical” from Rückfrage to Jesus. A wooden solution of the phrase might read: “the historical inquiry into Jesus” or “the historical question about Jesus”. But for now at least, it seemed preferable to split the difference and write “the historical quest for Jesus of Nazareth”: methodologically the translator is always forced to negotiate between the divided allegiances to the source and target languages. For Darstellung I sometimes adopt “presentation” and sometimes prefer “portrayal”. I think that “explain” probably captures best the force of “darlegen” here, though it sometimes simply has the force of set forth or present. I am a bit lost about how “bei derselben” is functioning and have therefore adopted the fuzzy translation “in this”: does it refer back to Darstellung? Ännäherungsversuche is difficult: possible options could be “attempts to draw near” or perhaps “attempts at approximation”. I have changed the active construction bildet das to the passive construction “is formed by” for the sake of readability and word order. I think “misjudged” captures the basic force of verkannte here. I have adopted the awkward solution of splitting up “the problem of the messianic claim of Jesus” and putting relative clause after “problem” (which is widely misjudged…) and the other after “the messianic claim of Jesus” (without which …). Other solutions would be to combine the relative clauses at the end (… which is widely misjudged … and without which …) or to retain the first as a participial modifier (by the still widely misjudged problem of the messianic claim of Jesus). On reflection, the latter solution might be preferable. Hard to say.

Substantive analysis: In reading this quotation I was reminded of several lines of thought that I have recently encountered in translating Jens Schröter’s book Jesus of Nazareth and in my reading of Dale Allison’s book Constructing Jesus. Like Hengel-Schwemer, Schröter begins his Jesus book with an extensive discussion of historiography and the sources (pages 1-42). Moreover, like Hengel-Schwemer, he stresses that pictures of the “historical Jesus” can “always only be approaches (Annäherungen) toward the world of Jesus and his activity and fate” (p. 246 in the English version; page 362 in the 4th edition of the German version). Finally, although he does not adopt the same position as Hengel-Schwemer with regard to the messianic claim of Jesus, he nevertheless makes the similar claim that “In contrast to what is sometimes assumed in scholarship the understanding of these two aspects cannot be divided into a “pre-Easter,” “non-messianic” activity of Jesus and a post-Easter emergence of faith in him. Rather, it becomes clear that impulses went forth from the activity and fate of Jesus that had a direct impact on the development of the early Christian faith.” (p. 176-177; p. 268 in the German version).  Though Hengel-Schwemer’s claim is stronger, their talk of “very clear contours of this singular figure” becoming visible reminded me, in turn, of the following line of thought in Allison’s Constructing Jesus: “I am not here contending for a naïve or robust confidence in the historicity of the Synoptics … What I do maintain is that the materials gathered into the Synoptics, however, stylized and otherwise distorted, descend from narratives and sayings that were in circulation and valued from early times, and that we may reasonably hope to find in those Gospels, above all in their repeating patterns, some real impressions or memories that, taken together, produce more than a faint image… Although barnacles cover the rock, we can still see the rock’s shape.” (p. 164)

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Jens Schröter and the Publication of Jesus of Nazareth – Jew from Galilee, Savior of the World

As a way of celebrating the imminent publication of Jesus of Nazareth – Jew from Galilee, Savior of the World, today’s “German scholars” post is devoted to Jens Schröter, Professor of Exegesis and Theology of the New Testament and Ancient Christian Apocrypha at the Humboldt University of Berlin. For my other posts on this book, see here.

The category “German scholars” seeks to introduce German scholars and their research to the English-speaking world. Each post consists 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.

Prof. Schröter’s passage of choice comes from the original German version of Jesus of Nazareth, namely Jesus von Nazareth: Jude aus Galiläa – Retter der Welt, which Evangelische Verlagsanstalt has published in the attractive series Biblische Gestalten. It is now in its fourth edition.

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

I. Translation

Jesus of Nazareth (trans. W. Coppins and S. B. Pounds: p. 17): Jesus research since the second half of the eighteenth century has created important methodological and thematic presuppositions for an engagement with Jesus under the conditions of the modern historical-critical consciousness. It moves in the tension between historical reconstruction, which wants to know how it “really” was, and post-Easter construction, which regards this aim as unreachable and orients itself instead to the post-Easter faith witnesses. In both options we are dealing with radical solutions that are inadequate if taken on their own. Together, however, they give modern Jesus research a dynamic that shows itself to be extremely fruitful: the engagement with the sources presents a picture of the past that as a product of the present always remains, however, changeable, fallible, and incomplete. Therefore, historical research can never ground the Christian faith let alone prove its correctness. It can, however, show that this faith is founded on the activity and fate of a person, who can still be portrayed today, if not in every detail, then at least in important facets. In this way it makes a substantial contribution to the task of taking intellectual and ethical responsibility for the Christian faith in the modern world.

Jesus von Nazareth (p. 36): Die Jesusforschung seit der zweiten Hälfte des 18. Jahrhunderts hat wichtige methodische und inhaltliche Voraussetzungen für eine Beschäftigung mit Jesus unter den Bedingungen des neuzeitlichen historisch-kritischen Bewusstseins geschaffen. Sie bewegt sich dabei in der Spannung von historischer Rekonstruktion, die wissen will, wie es „wirklich“ war, und nachösterlicher Konstruktion, die dies für unerreichbar hält und sich stattdessen an den nachösterlichen Glaubenszeugnissen orientiert. Bei beiden Optionen handelt es sich um Radikallösungen, die für sich genommen unzureichend sind. Gemeinsam verleihen sie der neuzeitlichen Jesusforschung jedoch eine Dynamik, die sich als äußerst fruchtbar erweist: Die Beschäftigung mit den Quellen stellt ein Bild der Vergangenheit vor Augen, das als Produkt der Gegenwart jedoch immer veränderlich, fehlbar und unvollständig bleibt. Historische Jesusforschung kann deshalb den christlichen Glauben niemals begründen oder gar seine Richtigkeit beweisen. Sie kann jedoch zeigen, dass dieser Glaube auf dem Wirken und Geschick einer Person gründet, das sich, wenn auch nicht in jedem Detail, so jedoch in wichtigen Facetten auch heute noch nachzeichnen lässt. Damit leistet sie für die Verantwortung des christlichen Glaubens in der modernen Welt einen substantiellen Beitrag.

Selective grammatical analysis: seit is always difficult. “since” is a bit awkward but “from” is not always clear; instead of using “since”, I sometimes use “from … on” or “starting in”. I often translate Beschäftigung with “engagement”, though sometimes with occupation or the like. In sentence 4, we left dabei untranslated, but I sometimes attempt to convey it with “thereby”, “here”, “in the process” or “in doing so”, depending on the context. oder gar (sentence 4) has the force of “let alone” in English. nachzeichen has the force of “trace after” but “portray” is probably preferable for the sake of readability. We seem to have translated Verantwortung rather freely as “the task of taking intellectual and ethical responsibility”, presumably in correspondence with Prof. Schröter.

Bibliographical-Biographical Information

For more on Prof. Schröter’s research interests, projects, and publications, see his university webpage here.

For an up-to-date list of his English publications, see here.

From the very beginning of my studies on early Christianity and the New Testament I have been intrigued by the question of how the movement that started with Jesus and Paul quickly became an influential religion within the Roman Empire. My research began with an investigation of Paul’s self-understanding as a messenger of God and Jesus Christ who established lively relationships between “his” communities and God by bringing to them the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In a next step I turned to the earliest layers of the Jesus tradition. In this context the problem of “re-construction” of history came into my focus. For many years now I have been engaged with the methodological and epistemological questions of the relationship of the life and message of Jesus to its reception in earliest Christianity and with an approach to the past under the circumstances of the historical-critical consciousness.

Another area of my research is devoted to the Acts of the Apostles and the history of early Christianity. Here the problem of the relationship of the events of the past and their interpretation by the historians occurs again. My approach can be characterized as an attempt to understand Luke as “the first Christian historian” within the context of ancient Jewish and Hellenistic-Roman historiography and to elaborate the meaning of his historical narrative for a history of Christianity today.

Finally, I am also interested in the relationship of so-called “canonical” and “apocryphal” Christian writings and the emergence of the New Testament canon. Together with my colleague Christoph Markschies I am editing the “Ancient Christian Apocrypha” in fresh German translations and with new introductions. My specific viewpoint is directed towards the development of Christianity in the first two centuries as a multifaceted phenomenon, documented in a wide range of writings. I am convinced that it is important for Christianity to reflect on these beginnings even today.

For my other blog posts on Jens Schröter, see here .

For Schröter posts focused specifically on historiography, see here.

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

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For two interviews with me about the BMSEC series, see Clifford Kvidahl and Michael Hölscher.

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.

Bultmann, Käsemann and the Righteousness of God in Paul (Paulus Handbuch Series)

Paulus Handbuch (ed. Friedrich W. Horn; Mohr Siebeck, 2013; see here and PDF).

In my last two Paulus Handbuch Series posts I looked at Peter Arzt-Grabner‘s valuable discussion of the Corpus Paulinum in Section II of the book.

Today’s post will come from Section III: Research on Paul, which contains subsections on 1. Ferdinand Christian Bauer (C. Landmesser), 2. The History of Religions School (R. von Bendemann), 3. Rudolf Bultmann and his students (R. von Bendemann),  4. “The New Perspective on Paul” and “The New View of Paul” (M. Bachmann), and 5. Impulses from Social History and History of Religions (M. Lang).

Inasmuch as many have set their hand to write about Bultmann of late—with his title of “greatest of all time” being staunchly defended by West, despite demurrals from Bird (here and here) and Käsemann (here; cf. here), with a flurry of publications from David Congdon (here), with an old recording on freedom surfacing to my delight (here; regrettably in English), and with an impressive lineup of scholars seeking to move beyond Bultmann (here)—I too have decided, having followed all things carefully, to devote a post to the giant of Marburg, complemented, of course, with the great Ernst Käsemann and my beloved teacher Peter Stuhlmacher. It is a quotation that reminds me of Tübingen, where I first heard of die heilschaffende Gerechtigkeit Gottes, which somehow loses something of its punch when it becomes “the righteousness of God that creates salvation”.

As usual I will begin with the English translation so that the (selective) grammatical commentary directly follows the German text.


English Translation (wmc): The presentation of the human being under faith too is developed by Bultmann as a working out of central terms. Prior to the thematization of “grace as event” it begins—in continuation of Luther and in clear demarcation from the thesis of a “subsidiary crater” (Schweitzer 21952) or “polemical doctrine”  (Wrede 21907)—with the theme of Romans, the righteousness of/from God (Bultmann 1984, 271-282). The righteousness of/from God appears as the central expression of the gift of life or its condition of possibility. Righteousness, here too Bultmann takes up Luther, is a forensic concept that is not directed to the quality of a person but to their relationality. It does obtain its profile in Paul against the background of Jewish-eschatological statements, but according to Bultmann, it is categorically distinguished from these in its present orientation (274-280). In the understanding of righteousness as the righteousness of faith Bultmann identifies an “antithesis to the Jewish view” (281). The righteousness of/from God discloses itself more precisely to Bultmann not from passages such as Rom 3.5, 25 as God’s own righteousness (in the sense of his punishing righteousness); rather he finds—following Luther—the key for the notion in Rom 1.17; 3.21-22, 26; 10.3; Phil 3.9; and 2 Cor 5.21, where the concern is with the righteousness that is gifted or spoken to one by God (285). … Käsemann and his students called the on-Luther-oriented interpretation of the righteousness of God in the sense of a gentivus obiectivus in question and emphasized those passages in which Paul also presupposed the subjective Genitive, in the sense of God’s own covenant righteousness that is directed not only to the individual but to the world as a whole (Stuhlmacher 21966).

Paulus Handbuch (p. 26 …28, von Bendemann): Auch die Darstellung des Menschen unter dem Glauben wird von Bultmann als Ausarbeitung von zentralen Termini entwickelt. Sie setzt vor der Thematisierung der “Gnade als Geschehen”—in Anknüpfung an Luther und in klarer Abgrenzung zur These von “Nebenkrater” (Schweitzer 21952) oder der “Kampfeslehre” (Wrede 21907)—mit dem Thema des Römerbriefs, der Gottesgerechtigkeit, ein (Bultmann 1984, 271-287). Die Gottesgerechtigkeit erscheint als der zentrale Ausdruck der Lebensgabe bzw. ihrer Möglichkeitsbedingung. Gerechtigkeit, auch hierin schließt Bultmann an Luther an, ist ein forensischer Begriff, der nicht auf die Qualität einer Person zielt, sondern auf ihre Relationalität. Er gewinnt zwar bei Paulus sein Profil vor dem Hintergrund jüdisch-eschatologischer Aussagen, ist nach Bultmann in seiner präsentischen Orientierung jedoch zugleich von diesen kategorisch unterschieden (274-280). Im Verständnis der Gottesgerechtigkeit als Glaubensgerechtigkeit konstatiert Bultmann eine “Antithese zur jüdischen Anschauung” (281). Die Gottesgerechtigkeit erschließt sich Bultmann näherhin nicht von Stellen wie Röm 3,5.25 her als Gottes eigene Gerechtigkeit (im Sinne seiner Strafgerechtigkeit), vielmehr findet er—im Anschluss an Luther—den Schlüssel zur Vorstellung in Röm 1,17; 3,21f.26; 10,3; Phil 3,9 and 2 Kor 5,21, wo es um die von Gott geschenkte, zugesprochene Gerechtigkeit geht (285). … Käsemann und seine Schüler zogen die an Luther orientierte Interpretation der Gottesgerechtigkeit im Sinne eines genetivus obiectivus infrage und betonten diejenigen Stellen, an denen Paulus auch den subjektiven Genetiv voraussetzte, im Sinne von Gottes eigener Bundesgerechtigkeit, die sich nicht nur auf das Individuum, sondern auf die Welt insgesamt richtete (Stuhlmacher 21966).

Select grammatical commentary

in Anknüpfung is always tricky: options in include: in continuation of, taking up, in connection with, etc. anschliessen/schliesst an presents similar problems. I went with “takes up” here. The traditional “polemical doctrine” is a bit weak for Kampfeslehre, but it may be preferable to alternatives such as “fighting doctrine”. I think that the sense is something like “doctrine that has emerged from the struggle/battle/fight with opponents”. I am not sure if gift of life captures the force of LebensgabeBegriff is a horrible German word because it hovers between word and concept (if it were up to me, Germans would abandon the term Begriff and use Wort and Konzept so the distinction remains clear). I translated it with “concept” here. zielt auf means aims at: I have rendered it here as “is directed to”. zwar is tricky: I sometimes translate it as “admittedly”, sometimes adopt a “while … ” construction and sometimes use “does … but”. I had a tough time with Die Gottesgerechtigkeit erschließt sich Bultmann näherhin: I think Bultmann is dative and Die Gottesgerechtkeit is the subject, with erschliesst sich having the force of “opens itself to” or “discloses itself to” and näherhin having the force of more precisely. I rendered geschenkte quite woodenly as gifted. As far as I can see, zugesprochene is impossible to render. It is often translated as “promise” but it seems to me that this doesn’t fully capture the force, at least in some cases: here I rendered it with “spoken to one”, which hopefully comes closer to capturing something of the sense?

Substantive analysis

I continue to struggle with what can be said about the righteousness (or justice) of God in the Pauline texts. But even if many more things have to be said, I remain convinced that for Paul God’s own salvation-creating righteousness/justice is in play in at least some of the relevant texts. At the same time, it is clear from Phil 3.9 that the notion of “righteousness from God” is also a Pauline concept, which make this issue comparable to the pistis Christou controversy insofar as there is justified debate over the interpretation of key texts alongside a general recognition that the notion of “faith in Christ” and the notion of “Christ’s faithfulness” are both Pauline concepts. For an alternative to Bultmann’s suggestion that the Pauline view of righteousness is an “antithesis to the Jewish view”, see here.

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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.

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.