Jörg Frey on the zeitgeschichtliche Approach to Johannine Interpretation

This week’s post comes from my 2016/2017 translation project, namely Jörg Frey‘s collection of essays titled Die Herrlichkeit des Gekreuzigten: Studien zu den Johanneischen Schriften I / The Glory of the Crucified One: Studies on the Johannine Writings I. For all my posts on this book see here.

More specifically, it continues my series of posts on Frey’s introductory chapter “Ways and Perspectives of the Interpretation of the Gospel of John. Reflections on the Way to a Commentary”. Today’s key quotation comes from section 1.3: Der zeitgeschichtliche Zugang: Der historische Ort des Evangeliums als Schlüssel der Lektüre, which I am currently translating as “The Time-of-Composition Approach: The Historical Position of the Gospel as the Key to Reading”.

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

I. Translation and German Text

The Glory of the Crucified One (trans. wmc): Decisive, however, is the hermeneutical insight that results from the two-level model: The Gospel of John is evidently consciously configured—not only in chapter 9—in such a way that the horizon of the time and history of Jesus is interwoven with the horizon of the author and his addressees. In this way the narrated (hi)story of Jesus becomes transparent in relation to the experiences of the addressees; conversely these experiences are interpreted in the light of the earthly history of the eternal Logos. This hermeneutical insight brings at the same time a fundamental qualification in relation to every pure carrying out of the time-of-composition reading approach. If in the Johannine text the narrative of circumstances from the spatial, temporal, and material horizon of the earthly Jesus connects itself with problems, theological insights, and language forms from the Johannine author and his addressees or is overlayed by them, then the Johannine text can be understood neither solely as a ‘historical’ account of the activity of Jesus nor exclusively as a mirror of events in the horizon of the addressee community or their history, but the two horizons are instead fused with each other in a complex and usually no longer clearly separable manner. Thus neither the historicizing nor the time of composition approach is hermeneutically sufficient, although both highlight in their own way the Johannine text’s connection to history.

Die Herrlichkeit des Gekreuzigten (p. 15-16): Entscheidend ist jedoch die hermeneutische Einsicht, die sich aus dem Zwei-Ebenen-Modell ergibt: Das Johannesevangelium ist offenbar bewußt – nicht nur in Kapitel 9 – so gestaltet , daß sich der Horizont der Zeit und Geschichte Jesu mit dem Horizont des Autors und seiner Addressaten verschränkt. Damit wird die erzählte Geschichte Jesu für die Erfahrungen des Adressaten transparent; umgekehrt werden diese Erfahrungen im Lichte der irdischen Geschichte des ewigen Logos gedeutet. Diese hermeneutische Einsicht bringt zugleich eine wesentliche Einschränkung gegenüber jeder reinen Durchführung des zeitgeschichtlichen Lektüreansatzes. Wenn sich im johanneischen Text die Erzählung von Begebenheiten aus dem räumlichen, zeitlichen und sachlichen Horizont des irdischen Jesus mit Problemen, theologischen Einsichten und Sprachformen aus dem Horizont des johanneischen Autors und seiner Adressaten verbinden oder von diesen überlagert wird, dann läßt sich der johanneische Text weder allein als ‘historischer’ Bericht über das Wirken Jesu noch ausschließlich als Spiegel von Vorgängen im Horizont der Adressatengemeinde oder ihrer Geschichte verstehen, vielmehr sind beide Horizonte in komplexer und meist nicht mehr klar auflösbarer Weise miteinander verschmolzen. Damit sind weder der historisierende Zugang noch der zeitgeschichtliche hermeneutisch suffizient, obgleich beide auf ihre Weise den Geschichtsbezug des johanneischen Text zur Geltung bringen.

II. (Selective) grammatical analysis

While it reads smoothly in German, this quotation presents many challenges for the translator or at least for this one. The first problem is presented by the name of the approach. How should one translate Der zeitgeschichtliche Zugang? It usually works to translate zeitgeschichtliche with “contemporary”, but unfortunately I don’t think the meaning of “The Contemporary Approach” is very clear. But perhaps it would work to translate it as “The Contemporary-Historical Approach”? For now I am favoring “The Time-of- Composition Approach” since this seems to bring out the intended meaning, but I am certainly open to a better solution should one be presented! Other tricky points include the translation of Ort in the heading (is “position” the best solution? Or would “place” or “location” be better? The problem with the latter solutions is that they could make the reader think of a geographical location when something broader is in view); sich … verschränkt, which I have rendered with “is interwoven with”; für die Erfahrung des Adressaten transparent, which I have rendered with “transparent in relation to the experience of the addressees” since the point seems to be that the experience of the addressees is able to find its way into the narrated history of Jesus; sachlichen Horizont (I am unsure what exactly is in view here and therefore uncertain whether “material horizon”, “thematic horizon”, “substantial horizon” or some other solution would work best); wesentliche (is “fundamental” the best solution here [I think it probably is] or would “essential” or “substantial” be better?), verbinden (it seems to me that the subject of this verb is die Erzählung, so I am confused as to why it is not verbindet; but perhaps sich verbinden is dependent on wird?); überlagert wird (is “overlayed” acceptable? Or would it be preferable to rework the sentence and write something like: “or if the latter is superimposed on the former”?); Vorgängen (is event the best solution here or would another option such as “processes”, “occurrences” or “affairs” be better?); zur Geltung bringen (would it be preferable to translate more woodenly and write “bring to bear” or is “highlight” preferable with a view to readability and clarity?).

III. Substantive analysis

While some aspects of Martyn’s two-level reading of John 9 have rightly been criticized (see e.g., herehere, and Frey’s discussion of Martyn in this same section), I do not think that weaknesses in Martyn’s particular version of the two level reading as such (cf. Andrew Lincoln, The Gospel According to Saint John, p. 47). Instead, I remain convinced of the validity and fruitfulness of a two-level reading of John 9 in particular and of the Gospel of John as a whole, and I find Frey’s nuanced articulation of this perspective to be especially helpful, both in its description of the interweaving or fusion of the two historical horizons and in its acknowledgment that it is often not possible to disentangle them clearly from each other.

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Michael Wolter, Martin Hengel, and the Titles of the Gospels

Happy New Year! With reference to an article by Simon Gathercole and Michael Kok’s new bookJames McGrath and Michael Barber have recently written substantial posts on the titles of the Gospels (cf. now also Jonathan Bernier’s perceptive post). As a contribution to this discussion, today’s key quotation will look at the way in which Michael Wolter differs from the influential viewpoint of Martin Hengel (cf. here and here) in his treatment of the probable date of these titles. I found this to be an especially fascinating quotation and am curious to learn what others think of the way that Wolter attempts to reverse Hengel’s logic at a key point.

Translation and German Text

The Gospel According to LukeThe formulations εὐαγγέλιον κατά + name or κατά + name are the same in all the gospels. It can be inferred from this that they arose and were attached to the respective works at the earliest (not “at the latest” as Hengel 1984, 47 thinks) at the point in time when at least two different gospels existed alongside one another. The superscripts had the task of distinguishing the gospels from one another and avoiding mix-ups. This procedure took place not earlier than the first half of the second century (see also Petersen 2006, 273), for in the superscripts the word εὐαγγέλιον is used as a designation for a literary work and elsewhere this meaning is relatively certain first in the middle of the second century in Justin (Apologia i 66.3) and at best perhaps already attested in the 120s in the Didache (cf. Kelhoffer 2004; see also section 6.1 below).

Das Lukasevangelium (p. 4): Die Formulierungen εὐαγγέλιον κατά + Name or κατά + Name sind in allen Evangelien gleich. Daraus lässt sich schließen, dass sie frühestens (nicht “spätestens”, wie Hengel* 47 meint) zu dem Zeitpunkt entstanden sind und den jeweiligen Werken beigegeben wurden, als mindestens zwei verschiedene Evangelienschriften nebeneinander existierten. Die Überschriften hatten die Aufgabe, die Evangelien voneinander zu unterscheiden und Verwechslungen zu vemeiden. Dieser Vorgang wird nicht früher als in der ersten Hälfte des 2. Jahrhunderts stattgefunden haben (s. auch Petersen* 273), denn in den Überschriften wird das Wort εὐαγγέλιον als Bezeichnung für ein literarisches Werk gebraucht, und einigermaßen sicher ist diese Bedeutung ansonsten erst in der Mitte des 2. Jahrhunderts bei Justin (1. Apol. 66,3) und höchstens vielleicht schon in den 120er Jahren in der Didache belegt (cf. dazu Kellhoffer, “How Soon…”; see auch u. Abschn. 6.1).

Grammatical Analysis: I will provide a detailed analysis of the crucial first two sentences as a model sentence. The plural subject is Die FormulierungenName. The verb is sind/are. Here in takes the dative allen Evangelien/all the Gospels. The predicate is gleich/the same. I usually render lassen + infinitive as “can be x-ed”: here lässt sich schliessen = it can be inferred + daraus/from this. dass/that indicates what can be inferred. sie = they (= Die Formulierungen … Name). The verbs entstanden sind/arose (or emerged) and beigegeben wurden/were attached (or added) move, as usual, to the end of the subordinate clause. frühestens = at the earliest. nicht “spätestens” = not “at the latest”. wie Hengel meint = “as Hengel thinks/says, believes/holds/reckons/fancies(not sure what is the best translation of meinen here; “fancies” seems to strong and “believes” has its drawbacks; but “says” or “reckons” might be better than “thinks”).  zu dem Zeitpunkt … als = “at the point in time … when“. The dative plural den jeweiligen Werken/”the respective works indicates” what they are attached to. mindestens zwei verschiedene/at least two different modifies the plural noun Evangelienschriften = gospels (gospels seemed better than gospel writings or gospels writings), which is the subject of existieren/existed. nebeneinander = alongside one another (or next to one another). As a rule I use “one another” when more than two things are in view and “each other” when only two things are in view (since two or more are in view I used “one another” here).

Substantive analysis: As I noted above, I am curious what others think about Wolter’s argument that the uniform character of the formulations indicates that they were attached “at the earliest” (Wolter) rather than “at the latest” (Hengel) when at least two different gospels existed alongside one another.

For other posts (in alphabetical order by last name) on the titles of the Gospels, see e.g. Michael Barber (cf. here), Jonathan BernierNicholas Covington, Simon GathercoleBart Ehrmann (cf. herehere, here), Matthew Ferguson, Michael Kok, Michael Kruger (cf. here), James McGrath, Keith Reich.

For my Roundup of “Top Posts Posts” from 2014, see here.

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

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Facebook Page: To receive notifications of future blog posts, please subscribe to this blog and/or like my facebook page here.

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.