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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German Mondays: Thank you for making it to the end of this blog post! Unfortunately, I have found it increasingly difficult to write a new post each Monday, but I hope to be able to write at least two or three Monday blog posts each month. We’ll see. Best, Wayne.



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

  1. Thank you so much for this. I wish you Godspeed. It’d be wonderful if you regularly posted your translations from Jesus und Judentum. The Unwashed Masses want to know!

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