Sven Ensminger on N.T. Wright, Karl Barth, and the Aufhebung of Religion

In my review of German-language-sphere scholars’ essays in God and the Faithfulness of Paul, I regrettably overlooked Sven Ensminger’s essay “Barth, Wright, and Theology,” having wrongly inferred from his international education and English publications that he was not a German-language-sphere scholar. While a bit embarrassing for me, this error has the upside that he is now receiving a post of his own!

In terms of content, Ensminger’s chapter provides a concise sketch of Barth’s treatment of revelation, religion, and Christology with some points of comparison with N.T. Wright. It 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). At certain points Ensminger suggests that Wright has not understood Barth correctly, and, more importantly, he thinks that Barth offers insights that need to be taken into account if one wants to build a theological argument. With respect to his treatment of Barth and Wright on religion, the following quotation struck me as especially central to Ensminger’s line argument: “The problem for Wright therefore seems to be one that reduces religion to its historical and social dimension. Barth’s point, however, is that religion has to be understood within the framework of theology.”

There are two aspects of Ensminger’s essay that I regard as particularly noteworthy from the perspective of a translator. The first is his discussion of the translation of the German term Aufhebung.  Whereas the first edition of Barth’s Church Dogmatics had given 1/2 § 17 the title “The Revelation of God as the Abolition of Religion”, Garrett Green regards this as “an egregious error” and “the most important reason” (GFP 653 n. 27) for undertaking his new translation of this key section entitled The Revelation of God and the Sublimation of Religion. Ensminger heartily agrees with Garrett’s criticism of the translation “abolition.” Interestingly, however, Ensminger chooses to leave Aufhebung untranslated in his chapter (unless I missed a case in which he translated it), while rendering aufheben and aufhob with “displace” and “displaced” (p. 654).

As a scholar and translator, this discussion is important to me for two reasons. First, as someone who has profited from reading Karl Barth and those who have been influenced by him (especially Wilfried Joest, Eberhard Jüngel, and Colin Gunton), I am interested in the specific question of how this term should be translated in the work of Karl Barth. Secondly, as a translator of German New Testament scholarship, I am even more interested in how this term should be translated in the authors I translate. This, however, is not straightforward, for even if Ensminger is right about Barth’s usage, I cannot necessarily assume that my authors are using it in the same way Barth (or Hegel etc). For example, how should I translate it when Michael Wolter entitles his heading for Luke 6.27-38: The Aufhebung of the Principle of Ethical Reciprocity? Should I translate it with “Sublimation”? Perhaps. Or should I use “Displacement”? Perhaps. Or would “annulment” or “sublation” be better? Perhaps. For better or for worse, I used “nullification,” and for better or worse it is too late to change this! Still, as a way of shedding further light on my own experience of translation and its challenges, let me conclude this post by briefly shedding some light on my thought process in reaching this decision. In my translation of Aufhebung in Wolter, I knew a) that “abolition” was potentially a problematic translation and b) that various authors used this term in specific and loaded ways, but c) I was somewhat uncertain about how exactly Wolter was using the term, and d) I did not feel like I had a complete overview of what the best options might be to choose from. It is true that I considered “sublation”, but I found this term to be a bit too opaque (which often evokes the displeasure of readers), and I was also worried that it might convey a more technical meaning and more loaded associations than Wolter intended and that the associations with Hegel might be undesired. Still, perhaps these considerations should have been outweighed by others? Or perhaps this should have been one of the issues that I discussed at greater length with Michael Wolter (I cannot remember whether or not this was one of the specific issues that I asked Wolter about, but if it was, it did not lead to a change to my translation). I do remember that my co-translator Christoph Heilig alerted me to important dimensions of the term’s meaning, but even in light of his clarifying comments, I retained “Nullification”, regarding it as a term that conveyed that something continued to exist but no longer had the same status or power as it previously held.

I will have to give further thought about whether to translate this term with “sublimation,” “sublation,” “annulment,” “nullification,” or “displacement” in future translations, and I am certainly open to suggestions on how best to proceed!

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

In today’s post I will attempt to respond to a question submitted by Dr. David Lincicum of the University of Oxford [now Notre Dame], whose forthcoming edited volume on F. C. Baur I discussed previously  (see here). His question concerned the translation of the idiom “über den eigenen Schatten springen”, which Ernst Käsemann uses in his introduction to the exegetical volume of F. C. Baur’s Ausgewählte Schriften, p. xi, and elsewhere. With reference to this example, Lincicum asked to hear my thoughts on “rendering vivid phrases like this into English”: [a] do I “keep the metaphor, though knowing that it will sound odd to English-speakers but perhaps more powerful for that reason”, or [b] do I “translate it into some kind of roughly equivalent English metaphor”, or [c] do I “simply opt for the sense of it?”

In my view, this is a very good theoretical question, which unfortunately allows for no easy answer, at least as I see it. The key point to note is that every solution has its pros and cons. Option (a) prioritizes the translator’s allegiance to the source language, which is good, but presses the limits of the target language, which is usually bad, though perhaps not here since the resulting oddness or awkwardness might increase the power of the metaphor. In general, option (b) is an attractive option with a view to the translator’s allegiance to the target language, especially if it is possible to find an especially suitable metaphor in English, and it has the advantage of retaining something of the metaphorical character of the source language. So this is often a good solution, i.e. if a suitable English idiom is available, and if the advantages of retaining the odd original idiom are not judged to outweigh it. Finally, (c) is often the best option with a view to readability and probably preferable to (b) in cases in which it is not possible to find a particularly suitable metaphor and to (a) if the German idiom is too awkward or too difficult to comprehend.

Before turning to the expression “über den eigenen Schatten springen” let me comment briefly on a comparable problem that I encountered in my translation of Martin Hengel’s essay “Eye-Witness Memory and the Writing of the Gospels” for Graham Stanton’s Festschrift The Written Gospel (eds. Markus Bockmuehl and Donald Hagner). Though it has been almost ten years now, I remember well struggling to figure out how I should translate the idiom “hat sich den Jüngern ins Herz gebrannt“ in the sentence: “Die Erinnerung an die letzte Nacht mit dem Passamahl und den Ereignissen in Gethsemane, an den Verrat des Judas, die Verleugnung des Petrus und die eigentliche Passion hat sich den Jüngern ins Herz gebrannt.“ In the end, I decided to stick closely to the German wording and write “were burned into the hearts of the disciples” [“were” is unfortunately incorrect: it should read “was burned into” or “burned itself into”!] with the exactly the rationale suggested by Lincicum, namely because it seemed to me that the retention of this unusual idiom might make it all the more powerful for the English reader. In other words, I decided that (a) was the best option, all things considered. But is this also the best solution for “über den eigenen Schatten springen”?

Let me begin by surveying some of the ways that the expression can be used. Here is what I have been able to find so far:

According to the Redensarten-Index, the phrase means “sich überwinden; ungewöhnlich handeln; für eine richtige Sache einen Grundsatz ignorieren“ (to overcome oneself; to act unusually; to ignore a principle for a right thing/just cause”).

According to Katja Grundman’s post at the GeoLino Redewendungen page, “‘Über seinen Schatten springen‘ sagt man, wenn jemand etwas tut, obwohl es seinen eigenen Überzeugungen oder seinem Charakter widerspricht. (“‘to jump over one’s shadow’ is what one says when someone does something, although it contradicts his [or her] own convictions or character”).

Duden explains the phrase as follows: “sich überwinden, etwas zu tun, was gegen die eigene Natur, die eigenen Vorstellungen, Absichten, Wünsche geht“ (to overcome oneself, to do something that goes against one’s own nature, ideas, intentions, wishes)

Not surprisingly, Linguee’s example sentences reflect a diverse range of solutions that move between (a) and (c), for example: (a) “jump over its/your own shadow”, “reach beyond their shadows”, (b) “to change their spots”, “breaking the mould”, “expand one’s horizons”, (c) “surpass ourselves”, “change the habit of a lifetime”, “change our attitudes”, “a change of approach”.

Finally, dict.cc translates the phrase “Man kann nicht über seinen eigenen Schatten springen” with “The leopard cannot change his spots”.

Against this background, let us now look at how the phrase is being used by Käsemann in his in introduction to the exegetical volume of F.C. Baur’s Ausgewählte Schriften, p. xi):

[x] Gleichwohl darf man Baurs Deutung nicht einfact als vermeidbaren Fehlschluß betrachten. Sie hat Ursachen, für welche Baur kaum verantwortlich gemacht werden kann, wenn man nicht von ihm verlangt, dass er auf der ganzen Linie die zu seiner Zeit geltenen Prämissen hätte überspringen müssen … [xi] Von den gegebenen Voraussetzungen aus ist solche Argumentation und Interpretation geschlossen und sogar überzeugend. Für eine echte Alternative war die Zeit noch nicht reif. Baur hätte über den eigenen Schatten springen müssen, um sie zu erkennen. Wenn der bedeutende Historiker jedoch aus dem Schatten seiner Zeit herausspringt, muß er gleichwohl dem Verhängnis, sich nicht völlig lösen zu können, seiner Tribut zahlen.“

Käsemann’s larger argument in this section is that Baur can hardly be made responsible for the problems with his line of argumentation because they are a result of the problematic premises of his time period that he was not in position to overcome completely. Against this background, the statement “Baur would have had to jump over his own shadow to recognize it [a genuine alternative]” appears to have the basic force of “Baur would have had to do the impossible to recognize it”. But how should it be translated? In my judgment, it is difficult to decide between the three options here, namely (a) retaining the idiom: “Baur would have had to jump over his own shadow to recognize it [a genuine alternative], (b) making use of a comparable English idiom: “Baur would have had to change his spots to recognize it” or “Baur would have had to play a different hand than he had been dealt to recognize it”, or (c) translating according to sense: “Baur would have had to do the impossible to recognize it” or “Baur would have had to break through his own historical limitations to recognize it”. In the end, I would probably retain the idiom together with the corresponding image of jumping out of the shadow in the next sentence. But I can understand why others might think it would be better to adopt options (b) or (c), and would certainly not be quick to criticize them if they did. If (c) were adopted, then one could perhaps write: “Baur would have had to break through his own historical limitations to recognize it. If, however, the important historian did break out of the limitations of his time, then he must nevertheless pay his tribute to the fate of not being able to completely overcome them.”

[In response to my original post, Christoph Heilig helpfully drew my attention to the moral dimension of this idiom: “Interestingly, the German idiom is used quite unusually here. You got the sense right (c)), because the context clearly speaks of real constraints and limitations. However, usually “über den eigenen Schatten springen” is used to describe decisions which are well possible but demand courage. Hence, this expression normally has a moral component.”]

Many thanks to David Lincicum for submitting such a stimulating (and challenging!) question.

For other posts on E. Käsemann in the blogosophere, see here.

For other posts on F. C. Baur in the blogosphere, see here.

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

For tips on how to use this blog, please see here.

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.

 

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.

Solving the “Gretchenfrage” of the Son of Man problem with Eugene Boring

The title of this post is intentionally misleading. It aims to raise one’s hopes that this post will unlock the great mysteries associated with the interpretation of the “Son of Man” expression in the Gospels. Though it can, of course, do nothing of the sort, I hope that it will resolve a minor “Son of Man” problem that for me at least had remained a mystery until now, namely the problem of making sense of the title of Anton Vögtle’s 1994 book Die “Gretchenfrage” des Menschensohnproblems (3rd edition 1997).

Whenever I had read Vögtle’s title, I had wondered about the precise meaning of “Gretchenfrage”. It was clear that it meant something about the “question of the Son of Man problem”, but I remained completely in the dark about what it meant beyond that. Fortunately, Eugene Boring shed some light on this matter for me in a helpful note in his translation of Udo Schnelle’s Theology of the New Testament. It reads as follows (p. 150, n. 274):

“[To ask the ‘Gretchen question’ is to ask about someone’s deepest religious or political convictions; from Goethe, Faust, I.—MEB]”

In my further attempts to determine the precise meaning of the term, I found the following explanations:

The Redensarten-Index defines Gretchenfrage as “eine wesentliche Gewissensfrage” (a fundamental question of conscience) and as “die entscheidende Frage” (the decisive question).

Wiktionary provides a number of definitions, among which [1], [2], [3], [4] and [5] could all be relevant for Vögtle’s usage. In other words, it might convey the nuance/connotations of  [1] evoking the usage in Faust, [2] weighty/significant, [3] pertaining to religion, [4] calling for a decision, and/or [5] tricky/difficult and therefore hard to answer.

Finally, Jeremy Gray suggests that the “Gretchen Question” is comparable to the English expression “where’s the rub”?, which is if nothing else a brilliant attempt to convey the force of a Goethe reference with the help of an allusion to Shakespeare!

[And Ben Simpson noted in his comment on this post that “the Collins Dictionary defines this as the “sixty-four-thousand-dollar question.”]

In the end, I still remain somewhat uncertain about how exactly this phrase should be translated. In other words, should the translator simply write the “Gretchen question” or should an attempt be made to signal the meaning of this phrase? If the latter, how should this be done? Would the “decisive question” or the “all important question” or the deeply penetrating question” or the “crucial question” or the “fundamental question” of the Son of Man Problem be adequate? Or would a more expansive solution like “the decisive yet difficult question of conscience that calls for a decision” be required to convey something of the possible range of nuances?! Given the depth of meaning of the term, I suspect that it may be best to retain the phrase the “Gretchen question” as Eugene Boring has done, perhaps with an explanatory footnote.

For some other links that touch on the “Gretchen question”, see here and here and here and here and here and here.

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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.

On preserving the distinction between bewahren and bewähren when tested: A note on the translation of Ernst Käsemann’s book On Being a Disciple of the Crucified Nazarene

Since this post will focus on an issue of translation pertaining to the work of Ernst Käsemann, let me precede the blog post proper with some links to other material pertaining to Käsemann’s life and thought (see here).

The gist of this blog post is simple: readers and translators of German texts must take care not to confuse the similar words “bewahren” and “bewähren”, since confusing these two terms can result in a significant shift of meaning. The two words can be defined as follows:

bewahren: According to dict.cc: “to preserve, to retain, to conserve, to enshrine [fig.], to safeguard, to save, to husband”. According to Linguee: “preserve, keep, retain, save, perpetuate, screen (from), enshrine, conserve”.

(sich) bewähren: According to dict.cc: “to prove oneself, to stand the test”. According to Linguee: “stand the test”, “prove”.

In order to develop the importance of this point, let me develop it further in relation to my interaction with the translation of Ernst Käsemann’s posthumously published essays.

The process of writing my 2011 RBL Review of Ernst Käsemann’s book On Being a Disciple of the Crucified Nazarene played an extremely important role in the development of my thinking. In short, it both confirmed and sharpened my conviction that “Every decent theology was, is, and will be a theology of liberation” (Ernst Käsemann; cf. Bob Dylan’s great song Blowin’ in the Wind). As often before, Käsemann helped to shake me from my theological slumber and for this I remain deeply grateful to him and to the editors (Rudolf Landau and Wolfgang Kraus) and translator (Roy A. Harrisville) of this volume.

Prior to reviewing Käsemann’s work, I had greatly benefited from David Way’s 1991 book The Lordship of Christ. Ernst Käsemann’s Interpretation of Paul’s Theology, as well as from John Barclay’s 1994 review of this work in Scottish Journal of Theology (Volume 47, Issue 3). With respect to Way’s monograph, I would want to affirm the validity of John Barclay’s criticisms, while placing greater emphasis than Barclay on the abiding strengths and value of this work. Among other things, David Way alerted me to the significance of Ernst Käsemann’s use of “bewähren”. In Way’s words (p. 147n.63; cf. 164 n. 87): “Käsemann’s repeated use of bewähren expresses his understanding of the connection between, on the one hand, the doctrine of justification and, on the other, Christian life and ethics: Christians are not called to do ‘works’ which might be held to earn salvation; nor, however, are they to remain inactive. By service and discipleship, they authenticate, verify, prove, or confirm that they have been transferred to a new lordship” (my emphasis).

Though it is difficult to be certain, I think it was this observation in Way’s book that alerted me to an uncharacteristic slip in Roy Harrisville’s otherwise excellent translation of In der Nachfolge des gekreuzigten Nazareners. In short, while reading the English translation I came across a number of sentences where it seemed to me that the German word “bewahren” lay behind the translation, but where I wondered if the word bewähren may have been present in the German edition. Fortunately, it proved possible to investigate and confirm this hypothesis, and I have attempted to document these findings at the end of my RBL Review.

While this observation may seem minor or trivial to some, for me it has a twofold significance. First, it represents a modest contribution to the study of Ernst Käsemann, since it alerts readers of the English version to a mistake that inadvertently introduced an emphasis on “preservation” that is not characteristic of Käsemann, while simultaneously drawing our attention to one of Käsemann’s more noteworthy emphases, namely his stress on the need for Christians to authenticate, verify, prove or confirm their transfer (and current allegiance) to a new lordship. (As indicated by my addition of the words “and current allegiance”, I wonder if Way’s formulation may be too exclusively backward looking in relation to Käsemann’s viewpoint). Secondly, the fact that a gifted and accomplished translator such as Roy Harrisville appears to have inadvertently mixed up these two terms, reminds the rest of us to remain especially vigilant in our efforts to keep these words distinct.

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

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

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! 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.

 

 

Urchristentum, Primitive Christianity, and Early Christianity

In the first post of this blog, I discussed my reasons for translating Wissenschaft/wissenschaftlich as “science/scientific” in my 2013 translation of From Jesus to the New Testament and as “scholarship/scholarly” in my forthcoming translation (with Brian Pounds) of Jesus of Nazareth: Jew from Galilee—Savior of the World, both by Jens Schröter. While it is possible that I will continue to vary my translation of this term on a case by case basis, I think that I will most likely make a general shift in the direction of “scholarship/scholarly” in future translations, i.e., toward a translation that gives greater priority to the conventional language pattern of the target language. In this post, by contrast, I will discuss a case in which my thinking has moved in the opposite direction.

From the very first time that I read German works in translation it had annoyed me to read the words “primitive Christianity”. In short, the negative connotations of “primitive” always struck me as problematic and unnecessary. Accordingly, I never seriously considered employing these words as a translation for “Urchristentum” in my translation of From Jesus to the New Testament. Instead, my initial plan was to translate this phrase as “earliest Christianity”, which would allow me to maintain a distinction between “Urchristentum” and “Frühchristentum”. Upon further consideration, however, I settled on “early Christianity” for both terms, regarding the desire to maintain a distinction between them as less important than the priority of readability. While this approach seemed quite sensible at the time, I have subsequently changed my mind for two reasons. In fact, against my earlier inclinations I have decided to translate Urchristentum as “primitive Christianity”. What changed my mind?

First, I came across John Bowden’s translator’s note at the beginning of his translation of Gerd Theissen’s work Die Religion der ersten Christen: Eine Theorie der urchristlichen Religion (2000/2009), which was published by SCM as A Theory of Primitive Christian Religion (1999) and by Fortress Press as The Religion of the Earliest Churches: Creating a Symbolic World (1999). Bowden’s note convinced me that the meaning of “Urchristentum” was not adequately conveyed with translations such as “early Christianity”, “earliest Christianity”, or “nascent Christianity”. This note reads as follows:

“One aspect of this translation calls for comment, namely the way in which I have chosen to render the words Urchristentum and urchristlich which occur so often in this book. I recognize that many New Testament scholars regard ‘primitive’ as a ‘taboo’ adjective to apply to Christianity. However, I have discussed the question at length with friends who are expert in this field, both in Britain and in Germany, and they have confirmed me in the conviction that there is no other possible translation. ‘Ur-‘ does not mean ‘early’ or ‘earliest’ or ‘nascent’ or ‘in the making’, even if such terms are commonly used. It is a far richer term. ‘Primitive may not be the ideal rendering, but I hope that readers will agree that it does the job effectively.”

(For my own memories of John Bowden’s advice for translators, see here)

Secondly, a passage from my current BMSEC translation project, namely Christoph Markschies’ book Kaiserzeitliche christliche Theologie und ihre Institutionen (Christian Theology and its Institutions in the Early Roman Empire) strengthened my conviction that it was necessary for the translator to maintain a clear distinction between “Urchristentum/primitive Christianity” and “Frühchristentum/early Christianity”. In short, through Markschies’ work I became aware of the fact that there has been extensive discussion within German scholarship about the connotations and appropriateness of the term Urchristentum, with some scholars arguing that this term should be  replaced by alternatives such as or “Frühchristentum/early Christianity” (S. Alkier) or “frühe Christentümer/early Christianities” (F. Vouga). Markschies himself contributes especially to the question of whether it is preferable to speak of “Christianity” or “Christianities” in relation to the findings of the second and third centuries (see p. 6 and pp. 337-383).

In relation to the term “Urchristentum”, Markschies (p. 5) observes that Francois Vouga (Geschichte des frühen Christentums, p. 13) has raised two objections against the use of this term: 1) it is said to imply “the equation of beginning and nature and the falling apart of truth and history” and 2) it is also said to contain “the idea of a degeneration of an original unity into groupings and heresies that are independent of one another”, which is viewed as untenable after Walter Bauer’s work. Moreover, Markschies notes that Stefan Alkier has both carefully traced the ideological implications of this term in his 1993 book Urchristentum. Zur Geschichte und Theologie einer exegetischen Disziplin (pp. 5-254!), and argued that the term “Urchristentum/primitive Christianity” should be abandoned in favor of the alternative term “Frühchristentum/early Christianity” (261-266). On the other hand, Martin Hengel and Anna Maria Schwemer have explicitly challenged the validity of Alkier’s line of argumentation (Jesus und Judentum, p. 5n. 8).

Against the background of this extensive discussion around the connotations and appropriateness of the term “Urchristentum” within the German language sphere, it now seems essential to me that translators not only translate “Urchristentum” in such a manner that it is clearly distinguished from “Frühchristentum”, but also that we render it in such a way that it reflects something of the nuance of meaning that has given rise to such debates about its appropriateness. And with this in mind, it seems to me that “primitive Christianity”, despite its shortcomings, comes closest to achieving these goals. This does not necessarily mean that Vouga’s analysis of the implications of the term is correct or normative. And it certainly does not mean that a given German author is necessarily using the word “Urchristentum” to imply what Vouga suggests the term implies, since some German authors may simply alternate between “Frühchristentum” and “Urchristentum” for reasons of style. But it does mean that unless the German author clarifies that “early Christianity” is the force that is intended throughout, the translation should reflect the word choice of the German version, so that the possibility of a difference in meaning and connotation may be considered by the English reader. This doesn’t, however, necessarily mean that it was a bad decision for Fortress Press to revise Bowden’s initial translation of the title of Theissen’s work, for one of the most important aims of a publisher is to sell books, and it makes sense to conform the wording of a book’s title to the speech conventions of the target audience if this is likely to improve sales, even if this should not always be done with the work itself.

Appendix: for the relevance of this question for translation, consider the following sentence from Kaiserzeitliche christliche Theologie und ihre Institutionen/Christian Theology and its Institutions in the Early Roman Empire (p. 76/p. ?): “Über ur- und frühchristlicher Lehrer und die Unterschiede zwischen beiden Gruppen sind ausführliche Monographien und detaillierte Aufsätze geschrieben worden”/”Comprehensive monographs and detailed articles have been written about primitive and early Christian teachers and the differences between the two groups”.

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

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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.

 

Es geht um die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft

Since much of my time is spent grappling with issues of German translation, I have decided that it might be helpful to me to start a blog on this topic, with the hope that it might also prove useful to others who are seeking to read or translate German New Testament scholarship. It is difficult for me to predict the exact shape that it might take, but I suspect that this blog will focus on the translation of various German words, phrases, and sentences. And perhaps it will sometimes include sentences concerning which I am badly lost or stuck between multiple options. For this initial post, I want to comment briefly on the expression “Es geht um” and the translation of “Wissenschaft/wissenschaftlich“.

I often find it difficult to translate the phrase Es geht um, as in Es geht um die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft. Options that I have adopted include “The concern is with New Testament scholarship”, “It is a matter of New Testament scholarship”, and “What is at issue is New Testament scholarship”. Often, however, I adopt the translation “We are dealing with New Testament scholarship”, which is less close to the German wording but seems to read a bit better in many contexts. And sometimes I basically drop the idiom and simply translate: “This is New Testament scholarship” if other options seem too cumbersome or unnecessary.

In my view, the translation of “Wissenschaft/wissenschaft” is much more difficult. Most translators render Wissenschaft and wissenschaftlich with “scholarship” and “scholarly”. I think there is much to be said for this solution, since it conveys with reasonable accuracy the force of the German term and since it accords especially well with the target language. Hence, I have also adopted this solution in my forthcoming (2014) translation (with Brian Pounds) of Jens Schröter’s book Jesus of Nazareth: Jew from Galilee—Savior of the World, with the rationale that this translation probably works best for the broad audience that is intended. For my 2013 translation of Schröter’s book From Jesus to the New Testament, however, I chose to translate these terms as “science” and “scientific” for two reasons. First, I think that the translation “scholarship/scholarly” is less loaded or strong than the German term Wissenschaft, and secondly I think the common use of Wissenschaft for a wide range of disciples, such as Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft, Geschichtswissenschaft, Literaturwissenschaft, Naturwissenschaften, etc. conveys a claim to a commonality or similarity among different disciplines that is worth retaining in a multidisciplinary work such as From Jesus to the New Testament. On the one hand, I can understand well that others may not agree with this decision, since the translation “science/scientific” is somewhat awkward and potentially misleading from the perspective of the target language. On the other hand, I think one of the most important principles of translation is that it is not usually a choice between a perfect translation and a bad translation but between multiple options that excel and fall short in different ways, and in my judgment the balance favored “science” over “scholarship” in this case. For further discussion of this point, see here.

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

For tips on how to use this blog, please see here.

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

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! 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.