Annette Merz on Gender Research and the Quest for the Historical Jesus

Rather than undertaking a detailed grammatical analysis of a single quotation, today’s post will provide a translation of three different excerpts from Prof. Annette Merz‘s essay “Wie verändert die Genderforschung die Frage nach dem historischen Jesus?” as a way of giving the reader a better sense of her overall approach and argument. In my judgment, this essay would be an excellent place to start for anyone who is interested in seeing how this topic is being discussed in recent German (and Anglophone) scholarship.

Like Petra von Gemünden essay on affects in the Synoptic Gospels, Merz’s essay appeared in Jesus – Gestalt und Gestaltungen: Rezeptionen des Galiläers in Wissenschaft, Kirche und Gesellschaft. Festschrift für Gerd Theißen zum 70. Geburtstag. Edited by Petra von Gemünden, David Horrell and Max Küchler. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013, pp. 597-622.

(1) Translation (wmc): The often heard accusation that gender conscious reconstructions/Bible translations falsify history fails to recognize the complexity of historical research. Historical reconstruction always has to do with judgments of probability and the weighing of plausibilities. I am personally of the opinion that the few cases in which women have perhaps been  wrongly added through gender conscious reconstruction are far outweighed by the number of cases in which they have been wrongly removed from a historical setting. The application of the hermeneutic of suspicion has led to an intensive historical research and to the demonstration of the participation of women in many life spheres in which androcentric history writing of past centuries did not suspect them.

German (602-603): Der oft zu hörende Vorwurf, dass geschlechterbewusste Rekonstruktionen/Bibelübersetzungen die Historie verfälschen, verkennt die Komplexität historischer Forschung. Historische Rekonstruktion hat es immer mit Wahrscheinlichkeitsurteilen und dem Abwägen von Plausibilitäten zu tun. Ich persönlich bin der Meinung, dass die wenigen Fälle, in denen Frauen durch geschlechterbewusste Rekonstruktion eventuell zu Unrecht hinzugefügt worden sind, bei weitem überwogen werden durch die Zahl der Fälle, in denen sie zu Unrecht aus einer historischen Szenerie entfernt worden sind. Die Anwendung der Hermeneutik des Verdachts hat zu einer intensivierten historischen Forschung und zum Nachweis der Partizipation von Frauen in vielen Lebensbereichen geführt, in denen androzentrische Geschichtsschreibung vergangener Jahrhunderte sie nicht vermutete.

* unsure if “setting” or “scenery” is better for Szenerie, but the former seems better? Not sure if”did not suspect them” captures the force of “sie nicht vermutete” or if it would be better to say “never suspected them” or something entirely different.

(2) Translation (wmc): Corley must initially be affirmed as correct in the fact that there are no traditions that can traced back with certainty to Jesus that explicitly thematize the theme of gender justice. Jesus neither took up the cause of the liberation of the woman nor that of the man from patriarchy. But this does not yet mean that the theme of gender definition and gender justice is not, in fact, present in his message, even if it may be implicit and broken by contradictions, which could not be expected to be otherwise in light of the dominant patriarchalism of ancient culture. In my opinion, one cannot convincingly contest the fact that the Jesus tradition reveals a criticism of dominant common-ancient concepts of masculinity and femininity. I am going to discuss thereto four thematic spheres: gender symmetry in a strikingly large number of traditions, countercultural values in the family and gender order presupposed in Jesus logia, criticism of rulership and imperialism as kyriarchy criticism and indirect patriarchy criticism, and the specific form of sexual morality formulated with a view to men and women.

German (615): Corley ist zunächst darin Recht zu geben, dass es keine mit Sicherheit auf Jesu zurückführbaren Traditionen gibt, die das Thema der Geschlechtergerechtigkeit explizit thematisieren. Jesus hat sich weder die Befreiung der Frau noch die des Mannes vom Patriarchat auf die Fahnen geschrieben. Das bedeutet aber noch nicht, dass das Thema der Geschlechterdefinition und Geschlechtergerechtigkeit nicht doch in seiner Botschaft vorhanden ist, sei es auch implizit und durch Widersprüchlichkeiten gebrochen, was angesichts des dominanten Patriarchalismus der antiken Kultur gar nicht anders zu erwarten ist. Man kann m. E. nicht überzeugend bestreiten, dass die Jesusüberlieferung eine Kritik an dominanten gemeinantiken Männlichkeits- und Weiblichkeitskonzepten erkennen lässt. Ich bespreche dazu vier Themenbereiche: Gendersymmetrie in auffällig vielen Traditionen, gegenkulturelle Werte in der in Jesuslogien vorausgesetzten Familien- und Geschlechterordnung, Herrschafts- und Imperialismuskritik als Kyriarchats- und indirekte Patriarchatskritik und die spezifische Form der mit Blick auf Männer und Frauen formulierten Sexualmoral.

*tough paragraph: struggled to translate opening words; gender equality read better than gender justice but the latter seemed preferable in terms of content; not at all sure whether “even if it may be implicit” captures the force of “sei es auch implicit” or whether “could not be expected to be otherwise” captures “gar nicht anders zu erwarten ist”. I very unsure about the force of dazu, which I translated as thereto. Finally, “order” might not be the best translation for “-ordnung”?

(3) Translation (wmc): The aforementioned observations do not intend to re-establish a feminist myth of origin. This has been rightly criticized, and it occurs, by the way, not only in Jesus research but also as a much used problematic model for history (of religion) writing, which has a tendency to glorify beginnings. Rather, my concern has been to place Jesus’s teaching and the way of life of the Jesuanic kingdom of God movement in a nuanced manner into the complex historical context that knew of not one but many gender discourses.

German (618): Mit den genannten Beobachtungen soll nicht ein feministischer Ursprungsmythos re-etabliert werden, der zu Recht kritisiert worden ist und übrigens nicht nur in der Jesusforschung vorkommt, sondern als ein vielfach verwendetes problematisches Muster von (Religions-)Geschichtsschreibung identifiziert wurde, die eine Tendenz hat, Anfänge zu verklären. Es geht vielmehr darum, Jesu Lehre und den Lebensstil der jesuanischen Reich-Gottes-Bewegung differenziert in den komplexen historischen Kontext einzuordnen, der nicht einen, sondern verschiedene Geschlechterdiskurse kannte.

* Another tough paragraph! I sometimes find it preferable to translate mit X … passive verb into X … active verb. Using “intend” to translate soll sometimes seems best. And it seemed preferable to break up the long German sentence here by introducing a full stop. “by the way” is the best solution I have for  übrigens apart from not translating it; writing history (of religion) of the writing of history (of religion) might be better than history (of religion) writing. verklären could perhaps be translated with “transfigure” to make a connection with the “transfiguration” but “glorify” seemed to convey the most important point more clearly. I translated es geht um very freely with “my concern has been” rather than “the concern is” or the like. It might be better to translate Jesuananische with Jesus’s instead of Jesuanic? Likewise, it might be better to simply say “carefully” rather than “in a nuanced manner” for differenziert.

Substantive analysis: Annette Merz is one of those rare scholars who effectively combines (a) advanced theoretical reflection, (b) high quality exegesis, and (c) the ability to communicate her arguments in a clear and compelling manner. For me at least, these excerpts convey something of all three of these virtues. Excerpt 1 immediately turns the tables on the reader who might approaches her topic with reservations or skepticism: Yes, it is true that it is possible to read women into early Christianity in problematic ways. But, no, you shouldn’t dismiss what I am going to say because the danger of reading women out of early Christianity in problematic ways is much greater. In other words, precisely in order to do good historical research, you need to alter your default setting. Excerpt 2 then acknowledges an element of truth in second perspective that runs counter to her own, while explaining why this element of truth does not undermine her viewpoint and outlining how exactly she will develop her argument in relation to the primary texts. Finally, in Excerpt 3 she distances herself from an approach to her topic that has met with criticism, while showing how her approach is not liable to such criticism insofar as it is precisely concerned to provide a nuanced account that does justice to the complex historical context.

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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 one Monday blog post each month. We’ll see. Best, Wayne.

 

 

 

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