Richard Bauckham, Jens Schröter, and Paul Ricoeur on Memory and its Errors

Earlier this month I had the good fortune that my family vacation to Norway and England happened to coincide with the first day of the 2016 “Memory and the Reception of Jesus in Early Christianity” conference at St. Mary’s University in London. I thoroughly enjoyed the papers and even more so the opportunity to meet several people in person whom I had previously only ‘met’ virtually, i.e. in the scholarly blogosphere and facebooksphere.

While it would be unwise to put my memory to the test by attempting to summarize all the papers, I would like to flag up one issue that I found quite interesting, namely the fact that from their papers alone one could be left with the impression that there is a great chasm between Richard Bauckham and Jens Schröter with regard to the question of the functioning of memory and its propensity to error. To some extent, this is not surprising, since there are considerable differences between the two scholars on this point. Still, my memory of what Schröter had said in chapter 4 of From Jesus to the New Testament leads me to believe that the two scholars are perhaps a bit closer than what one might gather from their presentations. Therefore, I thought it would be worthwhile to provide an excerpt from this chapter.

Before doing so, however, let me add a few sentences on the papers themselves for those who were not at the conference.  In his paper on “The Psychology of Eyewitness Memory,” Richard Bauckham was concerned to distinguish between different types of memory and show that memory could be very reliable under certain conditions. By contrast, in his key note address “Memory, Theories of History, and the Reception of Jesus,” Jens Schröter was concerned to distinguish between appeals to individual memory as a way of getting back to Jesus and his own appeal to memory as a hermeneutical category that helps us to conceptualize the relationship between the past and the present and what we are doing when we represent the past in the present (regrettably, I think I’ve done a rather poor job clarifying the precise nature of this distinction, but hopefully I have been able to convey the basic point that Schröter wants to distinguish his own “memory approach” from a “memory approach” that appeals to individual memory as a way back to (the impact of) Jesus; for a much clearer treatment of this distinction between two different types of “memory approaches,” see Christine Jacobi‘s 2015 book Jesusüberlieferung bei Paulus? Analogien zwischen den echten Paulusbriefen und den synoptischen Evangelien, pp. 9-20; cf. here; for more on Schröter’s own perspective on historiography and memory, see here) . Within this context, Schröter was concerned to stress the fallibility of memory as a way of showing the problems with appealing to individual memory as a way of establishing a connection between Jesus and the Gospels (for example, along the lines of Richard Bauckham), since he was concerned to sideline this “memory approach,” with the goal of convincing his hearers to take up instead his own “memory approach,” which then he developed in the second part of his paper. For me, it was especially noteworthy that Schröter explicitly appealed to Johannes Fried when he was stressing the fallibility of memory in response to Bauckham’s line of argumentation, since in chapter 4 of From Jesus to the New Testament, Schröter had criticized Fried in a manner that suggests to me that Schröter’s understanding of the functioning of memory and its errors might be a bit closer to Bauckham than one might assume on the basis of their  papers at the St. Mary’s conference. With this in mind, let me now turn then to the key quotation, which is developed in relation to Paul Ricoeur and Johannes Fried. As usual, I will alternate between the English and the German.

II. Key Quotation (FJNT 58-59; VJNT 65-66):

Ricoeur then describes the work of the memory, which is related to the representation of the past and thus to history writing, in three steps: the documentary phase, the phase of explanation and understanding, and finally the phase of representation, thus the presentation in the historical narrative. Here, it is important to him that while “the historical representation is indeed a present picture of an absent thing,” the past things actually happened and “no one can make it that they did not happen.”

Die auf die Repräsentation der Vergangenheit, also die Geschichtsschreibung bezogene Arbeit des Gedächtnisses beschreibt Ricoeur sodann in drei Schritten: die dokumentarische Phase, die Phase des Erklärens und Verstehens sowie schließlich diejenige der Repräsentation, also der Darstellung in der historischen Erzählung. Dabei ist ihm wichtig, dass zwar “die geschichtliche Repräsentation ein gegenwärtiges Bild einer abwesenden Sache” ist, dass die vergangenen Dinge aber tatsächlich geschehen sind und “keiner machen kann, daß sie nicht gewesen sind”.

For a phenomenology of memory, it follows from this that Ricoeur warns against “approaching the memory from its deficiencies, indeed from its dysfunctions.” Ricoeur sees the validity of such a position in the fact that it pays attention to the problem of forgetting and the “deletion of traces.”

Für eine Phänomenologie des Gedächnis folgt daraus, dass Ricoeur davor warnt, “sich dem Gedächnis von seinen Insuffizienzen, ja seinen Fehlfunktionen her zu nähern.” Das Recht einer solcher Position sieht Ricoeur darin, dass sie auf das Problem des Vergessens und der “Auslöschung von Spuren” aufmerksam macht.

These problems, however, cannot be reduced to neurophysiological findings. Rather, it must first be considered that forgetting is a constitutive form of recollection, thus “before the abuse, there was the use, namely the necessarily selective character of the narrative.”

Allerdings lasse sich diese Problematik nicht auf einen neurophysiologischen Befund verkürzen. Vielmehr sei zunächst zu bedenken, dass Vergessen eine konstitutive Form der Erinnerung sei, also “vor dem Mißbrauch, nämlich der notwendig selektive Charakter der Erzählung” stehe.

In this Ricoeur’s approach differs fundamentally from that of Fried, who presented the memory as an entity that is deficient per se and ultimately applied the neurological findings in an arguably insufficiently differentiated manner to the epistemological and [66] science-of-history direction of questioning.

Damit ist Ricoeurs Zugang grundlegend von demjenigen Frieds unterschieden, der das Gedächtnis als eine per se fehlerhaft Instanz dargestellt und den neurologischen Befund letztlich wohl zu undifferenziert auf die epistemologische und geschichtswissenschaftliche Fragestellung übertragen hatte.

For Ricoeur, by contrast, forgetting does not simply represent a dysfunction of the memory that is to be corrected. Rather, forgetting, which is therein related to forgiving, can also have a salutary function for the appropriation of the past.

Für Ricoeur stellt sich das Vergessen dagegen nicht einfach als eine zu korrigierende Fehlfunktion des Gedächtnis dar. Vielmehr kann dem Vergessen, das darin dem Vergeben verwandt ist, auch eine für die Aneignung der Vergangenheit heilsame Funktion zukommen.

However, it may not be, as Ricoeur explicitly stresses, a “commanded forgetting.” Rather, a “salutary identity crisis” as a constituent part of the work of the memory is essential for the reappropriation of the past.

Allerdings darf es sich hierbei, wie Ricoeur ausdrücklich betont, nicht um ein “befohlenes Vergessen” handeln. Vielmehr sei für die Wiederaneignung der Vergangenheit eine “heilsame Identitätskrise” also Bestandteil der Errinnerungsarbeit erforderlich.

The strength of Ricoeur’s conception consists in the retention of the distinction between fiction and past reality. As much as he himself emphasizes the interweaving of the two spheres, he nevertheless always stresses their own respective modes of reference.

Die Stärke von Ricoeurs Entwurf besteht im Festhalten der Unterscheidung von Fiktion und vergangener Wirklichkeit. So sehr er selbst die Überschneidung beider Bereiche herausstellt, betont er jedoch stets ihren je eigenen Referenzmodus.

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Oda Wischmeyer on the “Grandness” of N.T. Wright with a Review of God and the Faithfulness of Paul

Over the last few weeks I have enjoyed reading through God and the Faithfulness of Paul (edited by Christoph Heilig, J. Thomas Hewitt, and Michael F. Bird), which contains many excellent responses to N.T. Wright‘s Paul and the Faithfulness of God. Hence, after providing a key excerpt—in English and German—from Oda Wischmeyer (Eng) on the “grandness” of N.T. Wright, this post will also include some brief comments on the chapters written by German-language-sphere scholars. On another note, readers of this blog may be interested in participating in the 2016 Mainz Summer School in German (and) Theology.

I. Oda Wischmeyer on the “Grandness” of N.T. Wright

I both profited from and greatly enjoyed co-translating (with Christoph Heilig) Oda Wischmeyer‘s chapter in God and the Faithfulness of Paul. What I found so remarkable was the honest and profound way that she was able to interact with both N.T. Wright’s work and her own academic tradition (cf. Christoph Heilig’s comments on Wischmeyer’s essay). Unlike many of us—whether we are Wright’s adoring admirers, sharp critics, or somewhere in between—Wischmeyer seemed to be entirely comfortable in her own shoes when discussing Wright and his work, so that she was able both to reflect on her own tradition with great insight and self-awareness and to draw out striking aspects of N.T. Wright’s work in a way that was both appreciative and critical in the best sense of the word. I don’t know why exactly this is the case. Perhaps it is because Prof. Wischmeyer herself is a senior scholar who has nothing to prove. Or perhaps it is simply because her hermeneutical approach has given her better tools for observing and reflecting on what is going on with Wright and in her own tradition. Whatever the reason, I found the tone and content of her essay to be both refreshing and illuminating. Let me turn then to my key excerpt, alternating between the English translation and the German original for those who are learning—or seeking to revive their—German:

GFP 74: Exactly one hundred years after the publication of Wilhelm Bousset’s great Paul article in the first edition of Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, N. T. Wright in his two-volume work Paul and the Faithfulness of God has again struck that sonorous tone which one could probably last hear in Germany in the the Pauline research of the history of religion school. …

Genau hundert Jahre nach dem Erscheinen des großen Paulus-Artikels von Wilhelm Bousset in der ersten Auflage der “Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart” hat N.T. Wright in seinem zweiteiligen Werk „Paul and the Faithfulness of God“ wieder jenen klangvollen Ton angeschlagen, den man in Deutschland wohl zuletzt in der Paulusforschung der Religionsgeschichtlichen Schule hören konnte…

GFP 74: At the first reading of Wright, it is the perception of the lofty tone, the liveliness of the historical narration and methodological discussion, and finally the certainty, elegance, and joy in the details of the presentation that excites an exegete who comes from the Bultmann school. …

Es ist die Wahrnehmung des hochgestimmten Tones, der Lebendigkeit der historischen Erzählung wie der methodischen Diskussion und schließlich der Sicherheit, Eleganz und Detailfreude der Darstellung, die eine Exegetin, die aus der Bultmannschule kommt, bei der ersten Lektüre von Wright begeistert. …

GFP 75: Wright writes today as Bousset … wrote a hundred years ago and as one does not write in contemporary German-language exegesis. …

Wright schreibt heute, wie Bousset … vor hundert Jahren schrieb und wie in der zeitgenössischen deutschsprachigen Exegese nicht geschrieben wird. …

GFP 76: For “German” ears or, more specifically, for a hermeneutical perception from the German-language exegetical tradition it is first—this deserves to be repeated once more—Wright’s tone or style that demands our full attention. …

Für „deutsche“ Ohren bzw. für eine hermeneutische Wahrnehmung aus der deutschsprachigen exegetischen Tradition ist es – es sei noch einmal wiederholt – zuerst der Ton oder der Stil Wrights, der alle Aufmerksamkeit beansprucht. …

GFP 76: Behind the pages of Wright we hear Handel’s music and Shakespeare’s language and we might not only be impressed by the force and energy of the presentation, but even saddened, or at least discontent, that we ourselves have lost this tone so completely and can no longer rhetorically orchestrate “grandness.”

Wir hören hinter den Seiten Wrights Händels Musik und Shakespeares Sprache und sind unter Umständen nicht nur beeindruckt von der Wucht und Energie der Darstellung, sondern auch betrübt oder mindestens unzufrieden, dass uns selbst dieser Ton so ganz abhandengekommen ist und wir „Größe“ nicht mehr rhetorisch instrumentieren können.

GFP 76: Or we react critically and regard this tone as too pious, too triumphalistic, too self-assured, not analytical enough—depending on our own academic background.

Oder wir reagieren kritisch und halten diesen Ton für zu fromm, zu triumphalistisch, zu selbstgewiss, zu wenig analytisch – je nach unserer eigenen akademischen Prägung.

GFP 76: Precisely these signals should be observed hermeneutically.

Gerade diese Signale gilt es hermeneutisch aufzufangen.

II. Review of Chapters by German-Language-Sphere Scholars

* For the complete table of contents, see here.

In “Paul and the Faithfulness of God among Pauline Theologies” Benjamin Schliesser (Eng) effectively situates Wright’s contribution in relation to the Pauline theologies of Bultmann, Dunn, Schreiner, Wolter, and Schnelle, displaying a remarkable gift of synthesis (cf. also his 2013 German article).

In “N.T. Wright’s Biblical Hermeneutics” Oda Wischmeyer (Eng) discusses both the history and present situation of German-language Pauline scholarship and the biblical hermeneutics of N.T. Wright.

In “Wright’s Version of Critical Realism” Andreas Losch offers a valuable discussion of “critical realism” in relation to the works of Ian Barbour, Bernard Lonergan, Ben F. Meyer, and N.T. Wright. Whether or not his thesis that Wright’s “critical realism” was initially developed with respect to Barbour and only associated with Lonergan/Meyer secondarily is correct (Wright rejects it [p. 718]), I found this chapter to be a helpful presentation of different versions of “critical realism” and benefited from Losch’s own assessment of the value and limitations of this approach.

In “Historical Methodology” Theresa Heilig and Christoph Heilig (Eng) provide a careful discussion of abduction, inference to the best explanation, and Bayesian confirmation, which includes a systematic analysis of the crucial issues in the debate between Barclay and Wright over whether Paul is criticizing the Roman empire (pp. 145-148)

In “Wright’s Paul and the Paul of Acts” Eve-Marie Becker (Eng) argues from the perspective of recent advances in historiography that Wright should have taken greater account of Acts as a source for Paul, suggesting, inter alia, that such an approach would have preventing him from problematically failing to incorporate Paul’s activities as miracle worker into his overall portrayal of Paul (pp. 160-161). In some respects her argument reminded me of perspectives advanced in Benjamin White’s important book.

In “N.T. Wright’s Narrative Approach” Joel R. White provides a sympathetic presentation and defense of much of what Wright is doing (e.g. he defends “the existence of a common first-century Jewish metanarrative highlighting God’s faithfulness to Israel in spite of her ‘ongoing exile'”), while also criticizing Wright at specific points (e.g. his treatment of apocalyptic language in relation to the notion of cosmic cataclysm, pp. 198-199). Significantly, at certain points White made me feel the force of Wright’s vision to a greater extent than Wright himself has done!

In “N.T. Wright’s Understanding of Justification and Redemption” (trans. Lars Kierspel), Peter Stuhlmacher both challenges key elements of Wright’s interpretation (e.g. the validity of his controlling narrative; cf. John BarclayAlexandra Brown, and Chris Tilling [part I]; but see also Joel R. White’s defense of this metanarrative) and, perhaps more importantly, provides a compact and eloquent presentation of his own views on sacrifice and justification in critical dialogue with Wright (cf. Christoph Heilig’s comments on Stuhlmacher’s essay).

In “God and His Faithfulness in Paul” Torsten Jantsch (Eng) both presents a very helpful discussion of the history of research on God in Paul and compactly outlines aspects of the “concept of God” in Romans in critical dialogue with N.T. Wright (cf. also here). In my judgment Jantsch’s chapter would be an excellent place to start for anyone interested in recent (German) research on God (in Paul). It complements well Jochen Flebbe’s fine monograph on God in Romans.

In “Demythologizing Apocalyptic?” Jörg Frey (Eng) provides both an extensive discussion of recent perspectives on apocalyptic and a hard-hitting critique of Wright’s treatment of apocalyptic, which he regards as a “neutralizing” or “taming” of apocalyptic. In particular, Frey stresses that there is no need to deny that Paul drew on mythological concepts such as the idea of an end of the world and personally reckoned with the return of Christ during his lifetime (p. 526; cf. Joel R. White’s comments on pp. 198-199; cf. also Paula Fredriksen; Larry Hurtado). In his lengthy response Wright emphasizes the extent of their agreement (744-745, 748), differentiates between 6 forms of apocalyptic (pp. 745-748), denies the charge of neutralizing/taming (751), and responds to their primary disagreement about whether or not Paul’s “end-of-the-world” language is concerned with the end of the world as well as the relationship between this question and the early Christian conviction that Jesus the Messiah would return from heaven (748-754).

In “The Faithfulness of God and Its Effects on Faithful Living” Volker Rabens investigates Tom Wright’s portrayal of Paul’s ethics. In addition to providing a valuable discussion of Wright’s treatment of “plight” and “solution”, Rabens develops an especially perceptive critique that warns against Wright’s tendency to give pride of place to cognitive renewal and presses Wright to give greater attention to relational transformation and, more specifically, to “the transforming and empowering transferal by the Spirit into loving relationships to the divine and the community of faith” (p. 577; cf. Wright’s response on 729, 762 and 766).

In “Barth, Wright, and Theology” Sven Ensminger provides a concise sketch of Barth’s treatment of revelation, religion, and Christology with some points of comparison with N.T. Wright. Ensminger seeks to contribute to the question of the relationship between biblical studies and theology (658), and gives particular attention to the following question: “to what extent can God be bracketed out of theological reflection about a key figure of the Christian church such as Paul in order to consider him as a historical figure with his socio-political background?” (p.656). See also my post Sven Ensminger on N.T. Wright, Karl Barth, and the Aufhebung of Religion.

In “Evangelism and the Mission of the Church” Eckhard J. Schnabel tackles a range of topics related to evangelism and mission, including a) a challenge to Wright’s suggestion that Paul wanted to visit places “where Caesar’s power was the strongest” (p. 688), b) the interpretation of Gal 2:7-9 (691-692), c) the validity of the language of “conversion” (692-696; but cf. 759), d) the meaning of gospel (796; but cf. 729), and e) a critique of Wright’s alleged repetition of caricatures of missionaries (700-704; but cf. 757-758).

Finally, if I could mention only one of the many fine essays by English-language-sphere scholars—I realize, of course, that some of the scholars could be classified in both groups—I would highlight Gregory Sterling‘s chapter “Wisdom or Foolishness? The Role of Philosophy in the Thought of Paul”. Sterling shows genuine appreciation for N.T. Wright’s treatment of philosophy, while suggesting, inter alia, that Wright has not given sufficient attention to the later Platonic tradition and specifically to what we call Middle Platonism. Among other observations, I found Sterling’s discussion of prepositional metaphysics to be especially illuminating (cf. here). More generally, I found his chapter to be a very helpful introduction to recent scholarship on philosophy and early Christianity, and I will certainly return to it (for N. T. Wright’s very positive response to Sterling’s essay, see p. 754-756).

For more posts on GFP, see here and 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

Rediscovering Parables in John with Ruben Zimmermann

Ruben Zimmermann’s Puzzling the Parables of Jesus: Methods and Interpretations is a very fine work. One value of the book is that it consciously seeks to bring together current German and American research on the parables (see here). Another important feature is that Zimmermann applies recent research on historiography and memory to the interpretation of the parables (see esp. 76-98). This post will highlight a third contribution of the book, namely Zimmermann’s perceptive discussion of the genre of parable (pp. 105-150, esp. 132-138) and his convincing suggestion that there are, in fact, parables in John (pp. 333-360, esp. 333-339; see further here).

Before turning to Zimmermann, it may be helpful to illustrate the widely held view that parables are characteristic of the synoptics and not of the Fourth Gospel. To do so, I will quote from two (very fine) books that I have used in my course on John this semester: “This Jesus is not the gritty, earthy, Synoptic preacher of parables from rural Galilee.” (Christopher Skinner, Reading John. Wipf & Stock, 2015, p. 69); “In the Synoptics, Jesus speaks regularly in parables… John’s Jesus teaches not in parables but in lengthy discourses…” (Marianne Meye Thompson, John: A Commentary. WJK, 2015, p. 3; but cf. p. 344).

Zimmermann’s rediscovery of parables in John is based on his reassessment of the definition of a parable. He defines parables as follows:

137: “A parable is a short narratival (1) fictional (2) text that is related in the narrated world to known reality (3) but, by way of implicit or explicit transfer signals, makes it understood that the meaning of the narration must be differentiated from the literal words of the text (4). In its appeal dimension (5) it challenges the reader to carry out a metaphoric transfer of meaning that is steered by contextual information (6).” (p. 137).

137-138: “Concentrating on attributes, we can name a bundle of six characteristics of a parable … Four of them are core criteria (and), which means that whenever one is missing, the genre of the text in question is not really a ‘parable’. Two of them are supplemental criteria, which are relevant for most parable texts (and/or); however, they are not necessarily required. The ‘parable’ is:

1. narratival, and

2. fictional, and

3. realistic, and

4. metaphoric, and/or

5. active in appeal, and/or

6. contextually related.”

In my view, Zimmermann’s definition is very perceptive, and I would only want to quibble with criteria 3. More specifically, I think it is preferable to describe parables as “semi-realistic” rather than “realistic” since it seems to me that there are some cases in which the world under discussion or target domain influences the source domain or level of the image in such a way that it bursts or bends the realism of the image.

Zimmermann’s treatment of parables in John contains at least four important lines of thought. First, he provides a concise response to the reasons that have been advanced for not finding parables in John. Here (pp. 334-335), he notes, inter alia, that “The clear and simple sayings concerning the ‘walking at day or night’ (John 11:9-10), the ‘woman in labor’ (John 16:21), or the ‘shepherd who leads out his sheep’ (John 10:1-5), to mention only a few examples, cannot be characterized simply as allegories; rather, they arise out of the everyday experiences of agrarian life in Galilee”, that “the concept of nontheological parables in the Synoptics must be questioned, since key terms and themes such as vineyard, shepherd, or harvest were already imbued with theological meanings”, and that “the Synoptics bring together and characterize as belonging to the genre of παραβολή texts of varying length and character, a state of affairs that corresponds to the variety of figurative speech in John.” Secondly, drawing upon his earlier definition of parables, he explains that “Bearing in mind the above dynamic theory of genres, several passages can be identified as fictional, realistic, narrative, and metaphorical texts. Thus, using the same standard of justification with which we call such texts in the Synoptics ‘parables,’ we may call them parables in John too. In other words, there are parables in John!” (335). Finally, he takes a further step and asks whether one can identify a specific concept of the parables in John. Here (pp. 336-339) he notes, inter alia, that “If one seeks to locate the Johannine parables within the context of the entire Fourth Gospel, one discovers that they are found in nearly every section of the Gospel, from the first public appearance of Jesus (John 2:19-20) to the end of the Farewell Discourses (John 16:21)” and that “The theological goal of the parables for John is the recognition of Christ, which unfolds especially in relationship with Christ. The addresses of the Gospel should be drawn into a dynamic process of understanding and faith through the παροιμία, a process that culminates in a holistic fellowship with Christ, a ‘remaining in Christ’ as union with the resurrected one.” Fourthly, Zimmermann devotes the rest of this chapter (pp. 339-360) to a close study of the Parable of the Dying and Living Grain (John 12:24).

In my view, Zimmermann has made a very strong case for speaking of parables in John (see further the works referenced on page 335 n.7-8). This is not to say that there are not important differences between the Synoptics and John, both in general and with regard to their parables in particular. But it seems to me that we should no longer frame this issue by suggesting that the genre of parables is restricted to the Synoptics.

Addendum: I am pleased to learn that there will be an SBL panel on the parables this year featuring giants such as A.-J. Levine, J. P. Meier, K. Snodgrass, A. Merz and R. Zimmermann!

For a list of Ruben Zimmermann’s English publications, 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

Eve-Marie Becker on Humility in Paul

In today’s post I will comment on a key quotation from Eve-Marie Becker‘s excellent new book Der Begriff der Demut bei Paulus (for my other E.-M. Becker posts, see here; for a bibliography of Prof. Becker’s English publications, see here).

To provide a taste of Becker’s work, I have selected a passage from the final section of her book (pp. 217-218). Since it is a lengthy quote, I will first provide the English translation in its entirety and then present the German and English text in an alternating format along with select grammatical notes, for those who want to work through the translation.

English Translation

With ταπεινοφροσύνη Paul describes an ethical stance that has to be thought from the standpoint of the individual and related to the community. The goal of humility is the oneness of the community with a view to the expectation of the eschatological time – humility functions here as an ethical and ecclesiological instrument. It promotes fellowship also with the apostle even across physical separation. Paul defines ταπεινοφροσύνη not primarily with respect to its content, but rather elucidates it narratively in an exemplum. To practice humility is dependent on persons and context, but presupposes – as  the Christ example shows – a self-conscious personal status. It leads to an ecclesial or communitarian dynamic that finds expression in continual mutual higher-regarding, and entails a vertical interaction structure. The low-thinking realizes itself at the same time in the personal perception of the community members, of the person of Paul, and of the Kyrios Christ. In the sense of Aristotelian ethics and platonic theory of the state humility serves as Christian phronesis of the ‘political’ organization of the ecclesial fellowship for the establishment of righteousness and the doxa of God (Philippians 2.11). The practice of humility has a religious perspective that is already heard in Plato. However, it is only with Paul that it becomes an ἐκκλησία-related religious identity marker, which is typical for early Christianity precisely in its communitarian aspects. It is not least the eschatological implications that contribute to this: The reward of humility lies in the future in the ultimate conformity with Christ.

* What I find striking about this quotation in particular and Becker’s book in general is the way she argumentatively develops a more complex and rich notion of “humility” in relation to Paul’s writings. Indeed, I think her reflections on humility could prove fruitful for the academy, churches, and politics of our time.

German Text with Translation and Notes

Mit der ταπεινοφροσύνη umschreibt Paulus eine ethische Haltung, die vom Einzelnen her zu denken und auf die Gemeinschaft zu beziehen ist.

With ταπεινοφροσύνη Paul describes an ethical stance that has to be thought from the standpoint of the individual and related to the community.

* I usually translate the relative pronoun (here: die) with “that” (rather than “which”) when I think the relative clause is defining (see here). vom einzelnen her is not easy, but I think “from the standpoint of the individual” might work.

Das Ziel  der Demut ist das Eins-Sein der Gemeinde im Blick auf die Erwartung der eschatologischen Zeit – die Demut fungiert dabei als ethisches und ekklesiologisches Werkzeug. Sie fördert die Gemeinschaft auch mit dem Apostel sogar über physische Trennung hinweg.

The goal of humility is the oneness of the community with a view to the expectation of the eschatological time – humility functions here as an ethical and ecclesiological instrument. It promotes fellowship also with the apostle even  across physical separation.

* Eins-Sein is tricky: “oneness” is not ideal”; “is for the community to be one…” might work better? dabei is often troublesome: “here” is sometimes the best option. The translation of “auch” frequently causes problems, since the German word placement is often awkward, whereas a change of placement often shifts the sense somewhat; here I retained the placement. I translated “über hinweg” with “across”, though I suspect a better option might exist.

Paulus definiert die ταπεινοφροσύνη nicht primär in Hinsicht auf ihren Inhalt, erläutert sie aber in einem exemplum narrativ. Demut zu üben, ist personen- und kontextabhängig, setzt aber, wie das Christus-Beispiel zeigt, einen selbstbewussten persönlichen Status voraus.

Paul defines ταπεινοφροσύνη not primarily with respect to its content, but rather elucidates it narratively in an exemplum. To practice humility is dependent on persons and context, but presupposes – as the Christ example shows – a self-conscious personal status.

* “explains” is often a good solution for erläutern but “elucidates” seemed better here. setzt … voraus = voraussetzen = “presupposes”; I used dashes to make the sentence easier to read.

Sie führt zu ekklesialer bzw. kommunitärer Dynamic, die in kontinuierlicher gegenseitiger Höher-Achtung ihren Ausdruck findet, und geht mit einer vertikalen Interaktionsstruktur einher.

It leads to an ecclesial or communitarian dynamic that finds expression in continual mutual higher-regarding, and entails a vertical interaction structure.

* I debated translating “kommunitärer” with “communal” rather than “communitarian”, but decided on the latter since Becker references an English work that uses this word in this context. It might be better to change the wooden “mutual higher-regarding” to “in continually regarding the other more highly than oneself” but that would become rather free.

Die Niedrig-Gesinnung realisiert sich dabei zugleich in der personalen Wahrnehmung der Gemeindeglieder, der Person des Paulus und des Kyrios Christus.

The low-thinking realizes itself at the same time in the personal perception of the community members, of the person of Paul, and of the Kyrios Christ.

* I think that “low-thinking” is probably the best solution for Niedrig-Gesinnung, which Becker uses as a literal translation for ταπεινο-φροσύνη (see p. vii n. 1), but there may be a better one.

Im Sinner aristotelischer Ethik und platonischer Staatslehre dient die Demut als christliche Phronesis der ‚politischen‘ Organisation der ekklesialen Gemeinschaft zur Durchsetzung von Gerechtigkeit und Doxa Gottes (Phil 2,11).

In the sense of Aristotelian ethics and platonic theory of the state humility serves as Christian phronesis of the ‘political’ organization of the ecclesial fellowship for the establishment of righteousness and the doxa of God (Philippians 2.11).

* It is probably best to translate Im Sinne with “In the sense of” but “In the vein of” is sometimes better in this sort of context or “Along the lines of”. I think ecclesial or ecclesiastical are valid options for translating ekklesialen. “for the establishment” is probably the best solution for zur Durchsetzung, though it is far from perfect. I am not sure if it should be “for the establishment of the righteousness and doxa of God” or “for the establishment of righteousness and the glory of God”.

Die Übung der Demut hat eine religiöse Perspektive, die schon bei Platon anklingt, aber erst mit Paulus zu einem auf die ἐκκλησία bezogenen religiösen identity marker wird, der gerade in seinen kommunitären Aspekten für das frühe Christentum typisch ist.

The practice of humility has a religious perspective that is already heard in Plato. However, it is only with Paul that it becomes an ἐκκλησία-related religious identity marker, which is typical for early Christianity precisely in its communitarian aspects.

* This sentence is easy enough to understand but very difficult to translate. erst is often difficult: first is frequently a false friend; only is a good solution in many cases; sometimes “not until” is even a good option. I added in “it is … that” which may or may not have been a good decision. The real difficulty is that the relative pronoun “der” looks back to einem … identity marker. This creates a problem, since I would normally translate einem auf die bezogenen religiösen identity marker with “an identity marker related to the ἐκκλησία” but cannot do so here, since the reader would most likely link the following “which” with ἐκκλησία and not with “identity marker”. Accordingly, I have had to render it with “an ἐκκλησία-related religious identity marker, which…”.

Hierzu tragen nicht zuletzt die eschatologische Implikationen bei: Der Lohn der Demut steht in der endgültigen Konformität mit Christus aus.

It is not least the eschatological implications that contribute to this: The reward of humility lies in the future in the ultimate conformity with Christ.

* Struggled with the first part of this sentence, which I may or may not have gotten right. Likewise, I am not sure whether “lies in the future” captures the force of “steht … aus”, but I think it does.

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Zimmermann’s Parables, Congdon’s Bultmann, and Wolter’s Paul—With a note on the terms “eschatic” and “existentialogical”

At this year’s SBL I picked up three great books that are likely to be of particular interest to readers of this blog. Therefore, it seemed fitting to give them each a plug in the form of a brief comment and key quotation.

I am excited to work through Ruben Zimmermann‘s Puzzling the Parables of Jesus: Methods and Interpretations not only because it showcases his characteristic blend of sophisticated methodological reflection and close textual analysis, but also because—as shown by the following quotation—it explicitly seeks to bring together current German and American research.

Puzzling the Parables of Jesus (p. xiii): In spite of strong German roots with Jülicher and Joachim Jeremias, a certain gap has appeared between continental (esp. German) and American scholarship, and the two threaten to continue to drift apart. In this book it is my intention to bridge this gap and to demonstrate how current questions are still being influenced by decisions made by older German parable researchers. Furthermore, it is my hope to be able to bring together, at least to a certain extent, current German and American research on parables and in the process to gain insights from engagement with each other.

While I have thus far only read the first four chapters of David Congdon‘s short book Rudolf Bultmann: A Companion to His Theology, I can already tell that it is likely to shape—and correct—my understanding of Bultmann in many helpful ways (cf. also Congdon’s illuminating review of Beyond Bultmann). Here is a quotation to give you a feel for his book:

Rudolf Bultmann (pp. 59): We can therefore define Bultmann’s concept of theological self-understanding as follows: Self-understanding is the event in which a person encounters the word of God and so discovers herself to be a sinner who has received justification by God’s grace, and who has therefore been given a new future, a new life, a new world. Faith as self-understanding has nothing to do with a solipsistic turning inward upon oneself. It rather means being placed outside ourselves and into a new historical existence, and thus it is “the exact opposite of a dwelling-on-oneself.” For Bultmann, following Paul (cf. Gal 3:23), faith is the advent of new creation: “Could faith then be the Archimedean point from which the world is moved off its axis and is transformed from the world of sin into the world of God? Yes! That is the message of faith.”

Finally, having spent much of my existence over the last year co-translating Michael Wolter‘s impressive commentary on Luke, I am taking great pleasure in reading Robert L. Brawley‘s fine translation of Wolter’s Paul: An Outline of His Theology, not only because of I am interested in Wolter’s interpretation of Paul, but also because it is both fun and illuminating to see how Brawley has navigated some of the same sticking points that Christoph Heilig and I have attempted to get past in our own translation. With this in mind (and with a view to Bultmann’s distinction between existentiell and existential) I have chosen a quote from Wolter’s book that relates to his introduction of the term “eschatisch/eschatic”.

Paul (p. 181 n. 14): I use the adjective “eschatic” here and in what follows to signify end-time events and conditions (that is, the so-called “last things”) (see also Härle, Dogmatik, 605n8). By contrast, I limit the use of the adjective “eschatological” to matters that concern speaking or thinking about the last things. The distinction between “eschatic” and “eschatological” thus is parallel to the distinctions between “Egyptian” and “Egyptological,” “ontic” and “ontological,” “existential” and “‘existentialogical,'” etc.

Though I doubt that Wolter will be successful, I think this is a fascinating attempt to introduce a distinction between eschatisch/eschatic and eschatologisch/eschatological that runs parallel to the Bultmannian distinction between existentiell/existential and existential/existentialogical, which corresponds in turn to the more widely made distinction between ontisch/ontic and ontologisch/ontological and Egyptisch/Egyptian and Egyptologisch/Egyptological. Against this background, I also think it would be appropriate if Bultmann scholars would consider translating existentiell with “existential” and existential with “existentialogical”, though I also think this is unlikely to be taken up. At any rate, I will probably do so!

Addendum: David Congdon has informed me via a facebook exchange that he would “dispute the comparison to the existentiell/existential distinction” on the grounds that “the latter is not a first-order/second-order distinction but rather a theological/phenomenological or personal/general distinction” and has explained that against this backdrop he thinks it is preferable to retain the standard translation for the two terms, i.e. “existential” for existentiell and “existentialist” for existential. On the basis of his helpful explanation, I think I will also retain this standard translation rather than adopting “existentialogical” as I had suggested in my original post. But I still like “eschatic”!

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Francis Watson, Christoph Markschies, and the ‘Canon’ of Clement of Alexandria

Like my post on Francis Watson, Jens Schröter, and the Sayings Collection Genre of the Gospel of Thomas, today’s post belongs to the “I’d like to see someone else write about this” genre. In other words, I am writing it with the hope that it will stimulate someone to explore the matter further in the form of a class paper, conference paper, or article. In short, I think it would make an interesting project to compare what Francis Watson and Christoph Markschies say about Clement of Alexandria’s ‘canon’ in Gospel Writing and Christian Theology and its Institutions in the Early Roman Empire with a view to the place assigned to Clement in their overall conceptions. As an invitation to explore this topic further, I have chosen one quotation relating to a specific point that they interpret differently and one quotation that sheds light on how Clement fits within their overall conception. And I’ve now added an extra quotation from Markus Bockmuehl for good measure!

Quotation 1: Clement’s Knowledge of the Gospel of the Egyptians

Markschies (CTaiI, 240-41): “If one reviews the citations from this writing in Clement of Alexandria, then it is conspicuous that Clement hardly has a detailed knowledge of the content of this text and thus evidently has not even read it in its entirety: φέρεται δέ, οἶμαι, ἐν τῷ κατ’ Αἰγυπτίους εὐαγγελίῳ; “But (these words) stand, so I believe, in the Gospel of the Egyptians”.

Markschies (KcTuiI, 271): “Mustert man nun die Zitate aus dieser Schrift bei Clemens Alexandrinus, so fällt auf, daß Clemens kaum näher kennt und ihn daher offensichtlich gar nicht zur Gänze gelesen hat: φέρεται δέ, οἶμαι, ἐν τῷ κατ’ Αἰγυπτίους εὐαγγελίῳ; “(Diese Worte) stehen aber, wie ich glaube, im Ägypterevangelium”.

Watson (GW,  425-426): “Clement’s allegorical interpretation is occasioned by his opponents’ similarly allegorical interpretation of another saying derived from the same source … It is, however, Clement, not Cassianus, who identifies GEgy as the source both of the Salome passage cited earlier and of the independent but thematically related saying cited here… In spite of his modest disclaimer, “I believe,” Clement has independent access to GEgy and can therefore cite the remainder of the Salome dialogue on his own initiative and not in response to Cassianus”

Bockmuehl (Ancient Apocryphal Gospels, 211): “Clement’s awareness and use of at least excerpts of the text necessitates a date before the 190s, but it is difficult to be more specific. Because every one of Clement’s eight quotations from this work expresses the theme of a distinctly ascetical hostility to sexuality and procreation, he himself may only have known this work in the form of a thematic (and possibly already antiheretical?) collection of such excerpts, rather than as now preserved. (Cf. similarly Markschies 2012d, 666, 672).

Quotation II: Clement’s Place in the History of the Canon

Watson (GW, 435-436): Clement’s citational practice represents a moment of transition between the earlier nonspecific appeal to “the gospel” and the emergence of four “gospels” differentiated by the names of their purported authors. Yet there is no consciousness of innovation in his single Irenaeus-like reference to “the four gospels handed down to us,” nor is it explained how this “handing down” has taken place or how it differentiates one set of gospel texts from others. One factor may simply be relative familiarity… As  ever some books achieve a wide circulation whereas others are known only within limited circles or areas. If, hypothetically, two gospel texts are popular in Alexandria whereas only one of them is known in Rome, then the consensus about the one will seem to give it an ecclesial sanction that the other lacks. The fourfold gospel is an attempt to articulate, formalize, and enforce a convergence around a common usage. Clement himself articulates this perceived convergence, but shows no interest in formalizing or enforcing it. Indeed, he refers to it only in passing and in a single passage that does not reflect his citation practice as a whole. Nevertheless, an emerging trend may retrospectively be identified in this single passage, especially if we look back at Clement and his contemporaries from the perspective of Eusebius, the first great historian of the Christian canon.

Markschies (CTuiI, 245; cf. 246): We can now summarize our observations on Clement of Alexandria: it can scarcely be disputed that this highly educated free teacher used a ‘canon,’ a normed collection of authoritative biblical texts, as the corpus from which he derived his fundamental axioms. Therefore, it appears to be precisely not the case that Clement represents a vague concept of the biblical and New Testament ‘canon.’ Rather, he deals in a relatively great scope with divinely inspired writings but distinguishes once more from these a narrower ‘canon’ of especially inspired biblical texts. One should not designate such a concept of graded canonicity as “vague” but exactly the opposite, as particularly considered.

Markschies (KcTuiI, 276; cf. 277): Nun können wir unsere Beobachtungen zu Clemens Alexandrinus zusammenfassen: Es läßt sich schwer bestreiten, daß dieser hoch gebildete freie Lehrer einen ‘Kanon’, eine normierte Sammlung autoritativer biblischer Texte als dasjenige Corpus nutzte, dem er seine fundamentalen Axiome entnahm. Es scheint daher gerade nicht so, daß Clemens ein vages Konzept des biblischen und neutestamentlichen ‘Kanons’ vertritt, sondern einerseits in relativ großem Umfang mit göttlich inspirierten Schriften rechnet, davon aber noch einmal einen engeren ‘Kanon’ besonders inspirierter biblischer Texte unterscheidet. Ein solches Konzept gestufter Kanonizität sollte man nicht als “vage”, sondern gerade im Gegenteil als besonders reflektiert bezeichnen.

For my other Watsonposts, see here.

For my other Markschiesposts, 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

Oda Wischmeyer on Love as Agape

I have recently finished Oda Wischmeyer‘s excellent new book Liebe als Agape: Das frühchristliche Konzept und der moderne Diskurs (cf. Google Books), which does so much in less than 300 pages! Showing a remarkable breadth and depth of knowledge, Wischmeyer approaches the topic from multiple perspectives, including perceptive engagement with contemporary conceptions of love such as those of Julia Kristeva, Martha Nussbaum, and Benedict XVI in his encyclical Deus caritas est. In this way, she facilitates a dialogue between the treatment of love in the New Testament and the diverse discussions of love in our own time. For this post, I have chosen a short passage from her fourth chapter. As usual I will begin with the translation and then quote the original text.

Translation (wmc): Common to Paul and John is the interpretation of the death of Jesus as giving up the life for others, understood as the highest form of love. This form of giving up the own life as the highest expression of love undoubtedly forms the theological-christological center of the whole New Testament concept of love. Here in the inner-divine sphere the basic form of love is pre-formed and pre-suffered. When in John 1.1-3, 14, 18 and Philippians 2.6-7 the separation of the Son from the Father is addressed, which is formulated elsewhere as “delivering up (of the Son)”, and Jesus’s fate of death is interpreted as the love of God and of Jesus to human beings, we find ourselves at the center of the concept of love. Love and death mutually condition each other here, and yet in such a way that love and thus life gains the victory.

Liebe als Agape (p. 153): Paulus und Johannes gemeinsam ist die Interpretation des Todes Jesu als Hingabe des Lebens für andere, verstanden als höchste Form der Liebe. Diese Form der Hingabe des eigenen Lebens als des höchsten Ausdrucks der Liebe bildet zweifellos das theologisch-christologische Zentrum des gesamten neutestamentlichen Liebeskonzepts. Hier im innergöttlichen Bereich ist die Grundform der Liebe vor-geformt und vor-erlitten. Wenn in Joh 1,1-3.14.18 und in Phil 2,6f. die Trennung des Sohnes vom Vater angesprochen wird, die an anderer Stelle also “Dahingabe (des Sohnes)” formuliert ist, und Jesu Todesschicksal also Liebe Gottes und Jesu zu den Menschen interpretiert wird, befinden wir uns im Zentrum des Liebeskonzept: Liebe und Tod bedingen sich hier gegenseitig, aber so, dass die Liebe und damit das Leben den Sieg behält.

(Selective) Grammatical Analysis: Not sure if “giving up” is a good solution for “Hingabe”. I considered saying “his life” rather than “the life” (as often, each solution has its advantages and disadvantages). inner-divine doesn’t quite do justice to innergöttlichen but it still seems to be the best solution. Not sure if “vor-erlitten” is best translated with “pre-suffered” or if the sense is weaker, i.e. something like pre-experienced. I also considered translating “Dahingabe” as “handing over” or “giving over” rather than “delivering up”, which might not be a good word choice. I considered translating den Sieg behält with “prevailed” but it seemed important to retain the word “victory” (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:55-56).

In other news, Oda Wischmeyer provides a fascinating analysis of N. T. Wright’s Biblical hermeneutics in her contribution to the forthcoming volume God and the Faithfulness of Paul (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