The Root of Wrede and Schweitzer’s Error: Hengel/Schwemer on the Messianic Claim of Jesus

For my one hundredth blog post, I have selected two excerpts from the most recent volume in the BMSEC series, Martin Hengel and Anna Maria Schwemer‘s book Jesus and Judaism (Waco, Tex.: Baylor University Press, 2019; cf. here and here). As usual, I will alternate between the English Translation and German Version for the benefit of readers who are using this blog to develop their German language skills:

Excerpt 1 (ET = p. xix; GV = p. v):

ET: A special emphasis is placed on the still largely misjudged problem of the messianic claim of Jesus, without which the accounts of the Gospels cannot be understood. The 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 accusation that he is “king of the Jews,” and the emergence of the earliest Christology, which has its ultimate foundation in Jesus’ activity and way.

GV: Ein besonderer Schwerpunkt bildet das bis heute weithin verkannte Problem des messianischen Anspruchs 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 sein “der König der Juden”, und die Entstehung der frühesten Christologie, die ihren letzten Grund in Jesu Wirken und Weg besitzt.

Excerpt 2 (ET = pp. 547-48; GV = pp. 517-18):

ET: The Theories of Wrede and Schweitzer are diametrically different, and yet their error has the same root. Both believed that they could solve the controversial question of the messianic consciousness of Jesus through one comprehensive theory drawn from the Gospel of Mark. One thought that he had justified it, the other that he had refuted it. In reality neither the one nor the other is possible.

GV: Die Theorien von Wrede und Schweitzer sind diametral verschieden, und doch hat ihr Irrtum dieselbe Wurzel. Beide glaubten, die umstrittene Frage nach dem Messiasbewußtsein Jesu durch eine umfassende, aus dem Markusevangelium geschöpfte Theorie. Der eine meinte, dasselbe begründet, der andere, es widerlegt zu haben. In Wirklichkeit ist weder das eine noch das andere möglich.

ET: The only possible approach to the historical reality lies in the interplay of numerous, rather different texts, from Mark and the sayings tradition, with the inclusion of four complexes: (a) the witnesses to the variety of Jewish messianic expectations, which have been significantly expanded by the Qumran texts; (b) the relationship of Jesus, presented above, to his “forerunner,” the Baptist; (c) the accusation against Jesus and its Jerusalem prehistory since his entrance into the city; and (d) the question of the emergence of the earliest Christology and its development in the post-Easter circle of disciples, in which Jesus’ word and deed were still directly vivid.

GV: Die einzig mögliche Annäherungsweise liegt im Zusammenspiel zahlreicher, recht verschiedener Texte, aus Markus und der Logientradition, unter Einbeziehung von vier Komplexen: (a) die durch die Qumrantexte wesentlich erweiterten Zeugnisse für die Vielfalt der jüdischen Messiaserwartung, (b) das oben dargestellte Verhältnis Jesu zu seinem “Vorläufer,” dem Täufer, (c) die Angklage gegen Jesus und ihre Jerusalemer Vorgeschichte seit dem Einzug und (d) die Frage nach der Entstehung der frühesten Christologie und ihrer Ausbildung im nachösterlichen Jüngerkreis, in dem Jesu Wort und Tat noch unmittelbar lebendig waren.

ET: All four points were neglected by Wrede, and this is all the more true for his successors, i.e., for Rudolf Bultmann and the majority of his students. We must give great credit to Wrede that he himself, in contrast, to his epigones, placed only a powerful question mark here and did not—as happened later in a historically less conscientious way—deny it with a categorical quod non but rather continued to reflect upon it, and, at the end, cautiously called his opinion into question again, as shown by his letter to Harnack.

GV: Alle vier Punkte hat Wrede vernachlässigt, und dasselbe gilt erst recht von seinen Nachfolgern, das heißt Rudolf Bultmann und der Mehrzahl seiner Schüler. Man muß es Wrede hoch anrechnen, daß er selbst, im Gegensatz zu seinen Epigonen, hier nur ein kräftiges Fragezeichen gesetzt, die Frage aber nicht – wie es dann später, historisch weniger gewissenhaft, geschah – mit einem kategorischen quod non abgelehnt hat, sondern weiter darüber nachgedacht hat, um am Ende, wie der Brief an Harnack zeigt, seine Meinung vorsichtig wieder in Frage zu stellen.

In addition to the enjoyable Zusammenarbeit with Anna Maria Schwemer, working on this project brought back good memories of working with Martin Hengel in the context of my first published translation and even better memories of my many friends and teachers in Tübingen (and Nürnberg), without whom I would never have become a translator or New Testament scholar at all. Against this background, I am especially glad that this volume is appearing only a year after Daniel P. Bailey’s excellent translation of my teacher Peter Stuhlmacher’s Biblical Theology of the New Testament. And I am also moved to remember my teacher and first academic employer Friedrich Avemarie, to whom I owe so much.

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

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German Mondays: Thank you for making it to the end of this blog post! I hope to be able to write at least one Monday blog post each month. Best, Wayne





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