Bill Heroman, Christoph Markschies, and the “Great Man Theory”

As a way of wishing Bill Heroman a happy birthday, this post will focus on a topic that he has discussed at length, namely the so-called “Great Man Theory.” I’ve chosen to combine the perspectives of Heroman and Markschies, because I think they approach the topic from two fascinating angles. Neither wishes to defend this rightly discredited theory of course but rather to enable us to think about it more precisely. In short, Heroman unpacks its mnemonic advantages, while Markschies shows how its emphasis on the role played by talented individuals contains an element of truth when considered in relation to the dynamics of institutionalization. Let me give a sense of each of their contributions by including several key quotations from Heroman’s multi-part blog series on “Heroic Histories” (see 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, recap of 1-6, 7) and a single quotation from Markschies’s book Christian Theology and its Institutions in the Early Roman Empire.

Key Quotations from Heroman:

Heroic Histories, 1: From a reception standpoint, therefore, while the so-called “great man theory” (henceforth a.k.a. “the hero-centered view of history”, or “the hero-driven theory of history”, or for short perhaps just “heroic history”) remains impossible to defend as either objective or accurate, it has nevertheless gone deeply under-appreciated by professional historians, who should at least feel duty-bound to explain its perennial appeal. Most importantly, we may have all overlooked the mnemonic advantages heroic histories provide in their oversimplifications.

Heroic Histories, 6: The primary advantage of Biography, for delivering rememberable story-structure, is that the ultimate human contingencies (birth & death) guarantee the reader a stable continuity in discourse, with both consistent orientation on a single subject (stable content) and an implicitly overarching chronological timeline (stable structure). That’s why a comprehensive life story’s fabula/discourse dynamic is unique among narrative genres and styles.

Heroic Histories Recap: So far, this series has made two major points. First, Heroic History is a common literary tactic because it offers significant mnemonic advantages for remembering the past. But second – and perhaps more importantly – Plot isn’t everything. Memorable stories also cohere strongly around Character.

Key Quotation from Markschies (English and German):

CTaiI (p. 26): Thus, when the term “Institution” is used to consider not only the hierarchically structured majority church but first and foremost all social structures that establish stability and duration, then the focus on the “great men”—which characterizes the traditional writing of church history and is [often] so problematic from an epistemic methodological perspective—obtains a good sense as well: institutionalization can only succeed when, in addition to a new idea, there are also “talented individuals” who endeavor to obtain a social basis for its establishment. Whether we know all these individuals and whether they were only male is naturally a completely different question that is also difficult to answer for the second and third centuries.

KCTuiI (p. 37): Wenn also mit dem Terminus “Institution” hier nicht nur die hierarchisch strukturierte christliche Mehrheitskirche in den Blick genommen werden soll, sondern zunächst einmal alle sozialen Gebilde, die Stabilität und Dauer etablieren, dann bekommt auch der wissenschaftsmethodisch oft so problematische Blick auf die “großen Männer”, der traditionelle Kirchengeschichtsschreibung prägt, einen guten Sinn: Institutionaliserung kann ja nur gelingen, wenn es neben einer neuen Idee auch “talentierte Individuen” gibt, die sich um eine soziale Basis zu ihrer Durchsetzung bemühen. Ob wir alle diese Individuen kennen und ob es nur Männer waren, ist natürlich eine ganz andere Frage, die für das zweite und dritte Jahrhundert auch nur sehr schwer beantwortet werden kann.

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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

Happy to see Bob Dylan made my Top Ten Posts of 2015

Here are my top posts of 2015 – glad to see Dylan made it!

1.  Echoes and Empire Criticism: Christoph Heilig on Hays, Barclay, and Wright/Elliott

2.  Jumping over one’s own shadow with Ernst Käsemann and David Lincicum: the challenge of translating unusual idioms

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

4. Francis Watson, Jens Schröter, and the Sayings Collection Genre of the Gospel of Thomas

5. Jens Schröter on the character of every historical (re)presentation – with special guests Chris Keith and Anthony Le Donne

6. Christine Jacobi on Social Memory and Jesus Tradition in Paul

7. Greek Grammar and Linguistics Beyond BDR/BDF: Heinrich Siebenthal zum 70. Geburtstag

8. Peter Arzt-Grabner on the Interpretation of ΙΟΥΝΙΑΝ in Rom 16.7 (Paulus Handbuch Series)

9. Bob Dylan Career Path

10.  Christoph Markschies and the Publication of Christian Theology and Its Institutions in the Early Roman Empire (BMSEC 3)

For my top posts of 2014 see here.

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

3 PhD Positions, 1 Postdoc Position, and a German Summer School in Mainz

I recently learned from Ruben Zimmermann about two great opportunities at the Johannes Gutenberg Universität Mainz that may be of interest to readers of this blog.

First, the International Summer School German (and) Theology will be taking place in July 2015. This would be a great way for graduate students (or advanced undergraduates) to learn the German language and delve into the wonderful world of German theology at the same time. For half the day the Center for “Deutsch als Fremdsprache” will offer a German course on different levels (beginners are welcome), and for half the day there will be courses (probably in English) on German Theology throughout the centuries, reading texts from German authors and becoming conversant with influential German figures like Luther, Schleiermacher and Bultmann.

Secondly, Three PhD Positions and One Postdoc Position in Mainz are being funded for the research project “Die Zeitdimension in der Begründung der Ethik” (The time dimension in the grounding/justification of the ethic/ethics). International applicants are encouraged to apply, and it is my understanding that the PhD dissertations and Habilitation associated with this project can be written in English. Applicants for the PhD positions are not required to know German already, but they should be willing to learn German to participate in faculty activities. While knowledge of German is especially desirable for the Postdoc position, all highly qualified candidates are encouraged to apply for this position, i.e., regardless of their level of competency in German.

In other news, I stumbled upon a wonderful list of bibliographies of German New Testament scholars here.

Finally, thanks to Kim Fabricius for the very fitting addition to my Bob Dylan Career Path:

On learning theological German

It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) (for full lyrics see here)

So don’t fear if you hear
A foreign sound to your ear
It’s alright, Ma, I’m only sighing

Apologies for the lack of properly German posts this month!

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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.

 

Top 5 Posts in 2014

I have very much enjoyed my first year of blogging and even more being part of the blogosphere community! So thanks to all who have taken the time to read this blog and especially to those who have encouraged me along the way.

For the last Monday of the year, I thought it would be appropriate to provide links to my 5 most popular posts from 2014. For links to other “top posts in 2014” posts, see here.

1. Jens Schröter on the character of every historical (re)presentation – with special guests Chris Keith and Anthony Le Donne

2. Hengel and Schwemer on Historiography and the Messianic Claim of Jesus: with special guests Jens Schröter and Dale Allison

3. Gerd Theissen’s Critique of the New Perspective on Paul

4. Always Choose the Stronger Word and Beware of False Friends: A Translator’s Memories of Martin Hengel (1926-2009) and John Bowden (1935-2010)

5. Volker Rabens, “‘Schon jetzt’ und ‘noch mehr’: Gegenwart und Zukunft des Heils bei Paulus und in seinen Gemeinden” (JBTh 2013)

Other popular authors-topics-series included Schröter/HistoriographySchröter/Jesus of Nazareth, Käsemann-Baur-LincicumFrey/John, Schliesser/Pistis, Markschies/Theology-Institutions-Canon, Wolter/Quirinius, Wischmeyer/Bibelhermeneutik,  Bultmann-Käsemann/Righteousness,  Koch/Septuagint, Jüngel/LoveKonradt/Matthew, Paulus Handbuch Series, German Scholars Series.

I wish everyone a great 2015!

For three interviews with me about the BMSEC series, see here, here, and here.

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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.

Udo Schnelle and Eugene Boring on “Geschichte”, “Historie”, and “Historik”: with special guests Jens Schröter, Chris Keith, and Brevard Childs

Today’s post will discuss a noteworthy quotation from Udo Schnelle on his use of the terms “Geschichte“, “Historie“, and “Historik“, which also includes an instructive translator’s note by Eugene Boring (= MEB). The following quotation is taken from Udo Schnelle. Theology of the New Testament. Translated by Eugene Boring. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007, p. 27n5:

Main text: How was history (Geschichte) made and how does research and writing about history (Historie) take place? Footnote 5: Regarding terminology: I use the German terms “Geschichte”/“geschichtlich” to refer to what happened, and “Historie”/“historisch” to indicate the ways in which historians attempt to determine what this was. “Historik” refers to the philosophical theory of history. Cf. H./W. Hedinger, “Historik”, in Historisches Wörterbuch der Philosophie (ed. Karfried Gründer et al.; Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1974). “Geschichte” is never directly available except as “Historie,” but nonetheless the two concepts and terms must be distinguished, because the questions posed from the point of view of philosophical theories of history are not simply identical with “what happened” as that was understood by people in the past. [The German language has two words for “history,” while English has but one. Many German authors, including some quoted by Schnelle, use the two words interchangeably. The nuances distinguished by Schnelle are sometimes difficult to preserve in English. Since the context usually makes clear which meaning is intended, I have generally rendered both words by history and its cognates, though sometimes using event or story for Geschichte to preserve the author’s nuance, or rendering geschichtlich by historic in contrast to historical. See note 2 in § 2.1 below. Here the original reads: “Wie entsteht Geschichte/Historie?” – MEB]

Analysis: This quotation is interesting for several reasons. From the perspective of the subject matter, it is noteworthy insofar as Schnelle recognizes the need to distinguish between two different concepts, namely between “what happened” and “the ways that historians attempt to determine what this was”, and decides to mark this distinction terminologically, namely by using “Geschichte” for the former and “Historie” for the latter. Jens Schröter makes a somewhat comparable move in distinguishing between “past” and “history” (see e.g. From Jesus to the New Testament, p. 98n12 and pp. 22-24), and in his inaugural lecture at St Mary’s University Chris Keith makes a related distinction between “the actual past”, “the (commemorated/received/inherited) past,” and the “present” (see here, esp. 14:22-16:44, 19:20-23:10, 25:18-30:22, 31:47-34:27, 36:21-39:15, 42:30-42:56, 44:00-46:03, 46:04-50:52, 56:32-57:22). Secondly, it is notable that Eugene Boring has difficulty maintaining Schnelle’s terminological distinction in his translation, which could be viewed as an argument against this usage. Thirdly, it is conspicuous insofar as other scholars distinguish between Geschichte and Historie in rather different ways, which is probably an even stronger argument against Schnelle’s usage. For example, in The Church’s Guide for Reading Paul, Brevard Childs writes:

“In a real sense, there is an analogy between his [Gerhard Lohfink’s] categories and those of Martin Kähler between Geschichte and Historie. Geschichte is the historical reflections on events and conditions carried on within a confessing community of faith. Historie is the attempt to understand events from an objective, scientific analysis, applying ordinary experience, apart from any confessional content, as the measure of its credibility” (p. 165; cf. Daniel Driver, Brevard Childs Biblical Theologian for the Church’s One Bible, p. 18).

[Similarly, David Jasper writes: “Historie is a description of how events actually happened; Geschichte is a description of what events mean, both to those who first experienced them and to us now. In other words Geschichte is also concerned with contemporary present-day experience. History is not just about the past; it is about the present” (A Short Introduction to Hermeneutics, p. 93, cited by Walter Moberly, Old Testament Theology, p. 92) and in this vein Karl Barth wrote “Not all history is ‘historical’ [Nicht alle Geschichte ist “historisch”]” (Church Dogmatics III/I:61-94, esp. 80; cited by Walter Moberly, Old Testament Theology, p. 92).]

With a view to all of these observations, I think that Schnelle’s attempt to distinguish terminologically between “what happened” and “the ways that historians attempt to determine what this was” is salutary, but I am not convinced that using Geschichte and Historie to do so is the best way forward, and I also have some reservations about Schnelle’s way of formulating the concepts that need to be distinguished. I find Schröter’s distinction between “past/events” and “history” preferable as a way of speaking about “what happened” and “what (ancient and modern) historians do” (without this being limited to the ways that historians attempt to determine what happened but rather related more closely to the ways in which historians represent the past in the present with reference to the sources that are available to us). If Chris Keith’s more differentiated terminology is drawn upon, then I think it works well to distinguish between “the actual past”, “the inherited past”, and “the present”, whereas I find it somewhat unhelpful to simply speak of “the past” with reference to something other than “the actual past” (even if this usage is widespread in social memory research) since this usage is likely to be misunderstood by many New Testament scholars (for my own confusion on this point and Chris Keith’s helpful clarification, see here: Part II: 41:54-43:50).

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For two interviews with me about the Baylor-Mohr Siebeck Series, see Clifford Kvidahl and Michael Hölscher.

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German Mondays: Thank you for making it to the end of this blog post! In an effort to provide a sense of regularity and predictability for this blog’s readership, I plan on writing a new post each Monday. So hopefully I will ‘see’ you again in a week’s time. Best, Wayne.