Friederike Kunath and Preexistence in John

Like last week’s post, today’s offering falls under one of my favorite categories on this blog, namely “German scholars.” The purpose of this category is to introduce German scholars and their research to the English-speaking world. Each post will consist of (I) an excerpt (or series of excerpts) from a publication submitted by the German author her/himself and (II) some biographical-bibliographical information about the scholar in question.

Today’s German scholar is Dr. Friederike Kunath of the University of Zürich. In part 1 of this post I will provide an English translation and the German text of four key quotations from her 2016 book Die Präexistenz Jesu im Johannesevangelium. Readers whose interest is piqued by this post will also want to consult her own excellent summary of this book at the “Zürich New Testament blog” (see here).

I. The Preexistence of Jesus in the Gospel of John

WMC: “The sequence of the passages/places is not accidental but points to a chronological intensification, from John as a figure of the narrated time via Abraham through to the beginning of the world. Here one can see a course that runs backward through time, from the present of the narrated time to the beginning of the world. This chronologically opposite-flowing intensification runs parallel to the course of the narrated time of the Gospel of John and consequently forms an exactly contrary timeline.”

315: “Die Reihenfolge der Stellen ist nicht zufällig, sondern weist eine chronologische Steigerung auf, von Johannes als Figur der erzählten Zeit über Abraham bis zum Beginn der Welt. Hier zeigt sich ein rückläufiger Verlauf durch die Zeit, von der Gegenwart der erzählten Zeit aus bis an den Anbeginn der Welt. Diese chronologisch gegenläufige Steigerung verläuft parallel zum Verlauf der erzählten Zeit des Johannesevangeliums und bildet von daher eine genau konträre Zeitlinie.” (p. 315)

WMC: “The climax of the preexistence motif, the being-there of Jesus with God before the world, as the point that lies the farthest back in time, coincides with the culmination point of the narrative as a whole, the “hour.” Exactly complementary to this is the beginning of the motif. The Baptist is the chronologically closest point of reference, who even constitutes the beginning of the narrated time with his appearance and leads to the appearance of Jesus. While the narrated time between the Baptist and the death of Jesus lies about three years in the past, the preexistence motif goes back from the time of the Baptist to the beginning of the world.” [the intended sense is: to before the beginning of the world]

316: “Die Klimax des Präexistenzmotivs, das Dasein Jesu bei Gott vor der Welt, als am weitesten zurückliegender zeitlicher Punkt, fällt mit dem Kulminationspunkt der Erzählung insgesamt, der »Stunde«, zusammen. Genau komplementär dazu ist der Beginn des Motivs: Der Täufer ist der zeitlich am nächsten liegende Bezugspunkt, der den Beginn der erzählten Zeit mit seinem Auftreten sogar konstituiert und zum Auftreten Jesu hinführt. Während die erzählte Zeit zwischen Täufer und Tod Jesu etwa drei Jahre zurücklegt, geht das Präexistenzmotiv die Zeit vom Täufer zum Anfang der Welt zurück.”

WMC: “The supposedly central preexistence statement of John 1.1-2 proves here to be the passage/place that is most open for interpretation, which does not provide much that is concrete for the preexistence concept of the Gospel of John because of the absence of temporal and other references and also because of the joining with the Logos. … The topic of preexistence is developed successively in the course of the Gospel and it reaches its high point in Jesus’s farewell prayer, in connection with his departure and his glorification.”

366: “Die vermeintlich zentrale Präexistenzaussage Joh 1,1 f. erwies sich dabei als interpretationsoffenste Stelle, die wegen fehlender temporaler und anderer Referenzen und auch wegen der Verknüpfung mit dem Logos wenig Konkretes für das Präexistenzkonzept des Johannesevangeliums austrägt. … Das Thema der Präexistenz wird sukzessive, im Verlauf des Evangeliums entwickelt und es kommt im Abschiedsgebet Jesu, im Zusammenhang mit seinem Weggang und seiner Verherrlichung, zum Höhepunkt.”

WMC: “Preexistence is not simply placed in front of the way of Jesus as a temporal phase but it reveals itself with increasing intensity the more Jesus goes on his way. … However, the connection is not adequately specified by saying that Jesus was sent from his preexistence. The preexistence of Jesus becomes a way of knowledge, which goes hand and hand with the way of Jesus, won by the reader. The ideal reader (goes) along to the end of the motif and the end of the narrative and understands—guided by the Spirit—the depth of the way of Jesus that reaches back behind the creation.”

368: “Präexistenz ist nicht einfach dem Weg Jesu als zeitliche Phase vorangestellt, sondern offenbart sich immer stärker, je weiter Jesus seinen Weg geht. … Die Verbindung ist aber nicht damit hinreichend bestimmt, dass Jesus aus der Präexistenz heraus gesandt wurde. Die Präexistenz Jesu wird in einem Erkenntnisweg, der mit dem erzählten Weg Jesu einhergeht, vom Leser errungen. (D)er ideale Leser (geht) bis zum Ende des Motivs und dem Ende der Erzählung mit und versteht – angeleitet durch den Geist – die hinter die Schöpfung zurückreichende Tiefe des Weges Jesu.”

II. Biographical-Bibliographical Information

Born in 1982, Dr. Friederike Kunath studied German Language and Literature and Protestant Theology (and some History and Musicology) in Leipzig. She has been very much interested in the connection between linguistics and Bible Studies. She has worked with Prof. Ulla Fix in Leipzig (text linguistics), Prof. Jens Schröter in Leipzig and Berlin (New Testament) and Prof. Jörg Frey (Zurich). In 2016, she published her first book, an extended version of her PhD thesis, “Die Präexistenz Jesu im Johannesevangelium. Struktur und Theologie eines johanneischen Motivs” (BZNW 212, de Gruyter). Between 2010 and 2014 she has been the redactional assistant for the journal „Early Christianity“ (Mohr Siebeck).

She is currently working on her Habilitationsschrift about Ethics and Embodiment in Paul. Further fields or interest are writing development and mentoring and blogging (see http://schreibstimme.ch; see also here).

***

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Jörg Frey zum Geburtstag: Present and Future Eschatology in the Johannine Farewell Discourses

I had not planned to write a blog post today, but having discovered that it was Jörg Frey’s birthday, I was inspired to create a new blog category, namely zum Geburtstag, which I hope will become a bright spot in Facebook’s multifaceted Wirkungsgeschichte. And rather than continuing my series of Frey posts on Johannine Interpretation, it seemed fitting to select an excerpt from his Habilitationsschrift, namely Die johanneische Eschatologie (cf. Google Books).

As indicated by my title, the selected excerpt is focused on one of the major contributions of this book, namely its nuanced discussion of the relationship between present and future eschatology in the Johannine Writings (cf. also J. Frey, “Eschatology in the Johannine Circle”, pp. 47-82 in Theology and Christology in the Fourth Gospel).

Due to time constraints I will not include a grammatical analysis for this category.

Translation (wmc):

(b) The accent set by the Johannine author lies, however, clearly on the present certainty of salvation. The temptation/trial of the addressees should not be met through a mere strengthening of the traditional expectation, but precisely by giving the community assurance in the salvation grounded in Jesus’s death and mediated through the Spirit-Paraclete…

(c) On the other hand, the thus-opened perception of the Christ and God fellowship inaugurated in the present and of the fullness of salvation bestowed through the Spirit-Paraclete does not make obsolete the promise of the coming consummation of salvation handed down in Jesus’s words. One can sooner assume that the reference to the present reality of salvation also newly strengthened and stimulated the expectation of the addressees. The promise of the ‘coming’ of Jesus to ‘bring home’ his disciples is never explicitly contested, and in the concluding petition of the farewell prayer in 17.24 the expectation of the definitive consummation of the fellowship with the exalted in the unveiled beholding of his glory is explicitly confirmed. In the whole of the Johannine farewell discourses there can therefore be no talk of Easter, Pentecost, and parousia being somehow identified with one another, neither in the sense of a fusion of the Easter Christophanies into the post-Easter reality determined by the Spirit-Paraclete nor in the polemical thesis that the true parousia has already happened and every other expectation is therefore superfluous. The intention of the author is—much more concretely and less dogmatic-polemically—to comfort and assure his addressee community in their λύπη and ταραχή.

Die johanneische Eschatologie III, p. 238:

(b) Der vom johanneischen Autor gesetzte Akzent liegt jedoch deutlich auf der gegenwärtigen Gewißheit des Heils. Der Anfechtung der Adressaten soll nicht etwa durch eine bloße Bekräftigung der überkommenen Erwartung begegnet werden, sondern gerade dadurch, daß die Gemeinde in dem in Jesu Tod begründeten und durch den Geist-Parakleten vermittelten Heil vergewissert wird…

(c) Andererseits macht die so erschlossene Wahrnehmung der in der Gegenwart eröffneten Christus- und Gottesgemeinschaft und der durch den Geist-Parakleten geschenkten Heilsfülle die in Jesu worten überlieferte Zusage der kommenden Heilsvollendung nicht obsolet. Man kann eher annehmen, daß der Hinweis auf die gegenwärtige Wirklichkeit des Heils auch die Erwartung der Adressaten aufs neue bekräftigt und stimuliert hat. Nirgendwo wird die Verheißung des ‘Kommens’ Jesu zur ‘Heimholung’ seiner Jünger ausdrücklich bestritten, und in der abschließenden Bitte des Abschiedsgebets in 17.24 wird die Erwartung der definitiven Vollendung der Gemeinschaft mit dem Erhöhten in der unverhüllten Schau seiner Herrlichkeit ausdrücklich bestärkt. Im Ganzen der johanneischen Abschiedsreden kann daher keine Rede davon sein, daß Ostern, Pfingsten und Parusie in irgendeiner Weise miteinander identifiziert werden sollten, weder im Sinne einer Einschmelzung der österlichen Christophanien in die nachösterliche, vom Geist-Parakleten bestimmte Wirklichkeit noch gar im Sinne der polemischen These, daß die wahre Parusie schon geschehen sei und jede weitere Erwartung sich deshalb erübrige. Die Intention des Autors ist – viel konkreter und weniger dogmatisch-polemisch -, seine Addressatengemeinde in ihrer λύπη und ταραχή zu trösten und zu vergewissern.

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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.

Jörg Frey on the Historicizing Approach to Johannine Interpretation

Looking into the future, this week’s post comes from my übernächsten translation project, namely Jörg Frey‘s book Die Herrlichkeit des Gekreuzigten: Studien zu den Johanneischen Schriften I / The Glory of the Crucified One: Studies on the Johannine Writings I. For all my posts on this book see here.

Today’s key quotation continues my series of posts on Frey’s introductory chapter “Ways and Perspectives of the Interpretation of the Gospel of John. Reflections on the Way to a Commentary”. More specifically,  it comes from section 1: Five Classic Model of Interpretation, which provides an analysis of The Theological Approach (1.1.), The Historicizing Approach (1.2), The zeitgeschichtlicher approach (1.3), The literarkritische and Redaction-critical Approach (1.4), and the literaturwissenschaftliche or Narratological Approach (1.5). [Still need to think about the translation of some of these terms]

As usual I will begin with the English translation so that the (selective) grammatical commentary directly follows the German text.

I. Translation

The Glory of the Crucified One (wmc): A second approach stands in a complementary relation to the first. It has largely disappeared from the scholarly discussion in the German-language sphere but it still occurs in ‘naive’ readings and it finds defenders time and again in conservative-evangelical circles, above all in North America. It is the historicizing exposition, which in the episodes reported in John and also from the Johannine speeches wants to see, almost without exception, information about the time and history of Jesus and thus reads the Johannine work solely with reference to the time and history of Jesus. … A thoroughgoing reading of the Johannine text in the horizon of the time and history of Jesus strikes upon insurmountable limits, and it appears that with some – not all – evangelical commentators deference to the public interested in the historicity of the biblical texts, to sponsors or the statements of faith of a specific teaching institution impairs too much the view of the freedom of the Johannine manner of presentation and thus a reflection on its problems that is appropriate to the subject matter and honest. One must, however, hold fast to the particula veri of the historicizing interpretation: According to its own claim, the Gospel of John is not a timeless and placeless ‘mythological’ presentation, but rather the narrated witness of the history of Jesus of Nazareth that is concrete and anchored in space and time – irrespective of the clear traces of post Easter and addressee-oriented shaping.

Die Herrlichkeit des Gekreuzigten (pp. 8 … 12): Ein zweiter Ansatz steht dem ersten komplementär gegenüber. Er ist aus dem wissenschaftlichen Gespräch im deutschsprachigen Raum weithin verschwunden, begegnet aber nach wie vor in ‘naiven’ Lektüren und findet in konservativ-evangelikalen Kreisen, vor allem in Nordamerika immer wieder Verteidiger. Er ist die historisierende Auslegung, die in den bei Johannes berichteten Begebenheiten und auch aus den johanneischen Reden Jesu fast durchweg Informationen über die Zeit und Geschichte Jesu sehen will und somit das johanneische Werk allein mit Blick auf die Zeit und Geschichte Jesu liest. … Eine konsequente Lektüre des johanneischen Textes im Horizont der Zeit und Geschichte Jesu stößt an unüberwindliche Grenzen, und es scheint, daß bei manchen – nicht allen – evangelikalen Kommentatoren die Rücksichtnahme auf das an der Historizität der biblischen Texte interessierte Publikum, auf Sponsoren oder die Glaubenssätze einer spezifischen Lehrinstitution den Blick auf die Freiheit der johanneischen Darstellungsweise und damit eine sachgemäße und aufrichtige Reflexion ihrer Probleme allzusehr beeinträchtigen. Festzuhalten ist freilich die particula veri der historisierenden Auslegung: Das Johannesevangelium ist nach eigenem Anspruch keine zeit- und ortlose ‘mythologische’ Darstellung, sondern das erzählte Zeugnis der konkreten, in Raum und Zeit verankerten Geschichte Jesu von Nazareth – ungeachtet der deutlichen Spuren nachösterlicher und adressatenbezogener Ausgestaltung.

Select grammatical analysis: (2) although it is weaker, I often use “still” for nach wie vor. In order to identify the object of findet one needs to look ahead to Verteidiger, which is at the very end of the sentence. (3) For historisieren I often use “historize” rather than “historicize” since the latter is a somewhat loaded word, but it seems like “historicize” might be preferable here, with the meaning of “treat or represent as historical”. I considered using “events” to translate Begebenheiten, but went with “episodes” in order to distinguish this term from Ereignisse. I translated fast durchweg as “almost without exception”, but “almost always” might be just as good or better.  (4) I am not sure if “deference” is the best translation of Rücksichtnahme…auf or if “consideration of/for” or another alternative would be better. sachgemäß is difficult: appropriate would be preferable with a view to readability in the target language, but it seems to me that something important is lost with this translation, so I adopted “appropriate to the subject matter”. “honest” seemed to capture the force of aufrichtig here, i.e., instead of alternatives such as “sincere”, “genuine”, or “upright”.  For beeinträchtigen I debated between impairs, negatively impacts, and compromises – I’m not sure why it is plural, unless die Rücksichtnahme is plural; even if it is plural, I think the singluar translation is correct in English.  I am unsure whether the force of Reflexion ihrer Probleme is “reflection on its problems” or “reflection of its problems”, but I think the former is correct. (5) It seemed appropriate to translate sondern as “but rather” here. I am not sure if “addressee-oriented” is an adequate translation for addressatenbezogener, but it was the best I could come up with,

Substantial analysis: As with my last post in this series, I am basically on the same page as Frey in his assessment of the historicizing approach. Specifically, with Frey I would like to affirm both that the Gospel of John is concerned with the concrete history of Jesus in space and time and that (to a greater degree than the Synoptics) this Gospel reflects post-Easter shaping and the life setting of the author and the author’s community at many points. I am, however, less comfortable with Frey’s attribution of some evangelical scholars’ advocacy of the historicizing approach to deference to institutions, sponsors, or statements of faith, even with his important qualification some – not all. It is not that I doubt that this plays a role in at least some cases, but simply that I think there is more to be gained by assuming/presuming the best of the vast majority of (conservative) evangelical scholars. In particular, while I assume that the diverse contexts and atmospheres in which scholars work shape our perspectives to a great extent and recognize that this sometimes makes scholars of various persuasions toe various lines, I also assume that evangelical scholars who hold to a more maximalist assessment of the extent to which John’s narrative can be situated in the life of Jesus do so because they remain convinced of the viability of this reading rather than that their view is (primarily or exclusively) determined by deference to others, just as I hope that evangelical scholars will give me the benefit of the doubt and assume that I have come to a different judgment in this matter because my sustained engagement with the texts and critical issues has led me to believe that this is the best explanation and not simply because I am am eager to be accepted by others who teach in a public institution like I do, etc. In short, I am hesitant to frame my difference of viewpoint in this matter to a difference in the extent to which I am “honest” or the extent to which I am “toeing a given line”, but I am in agreement with Frey’s assessment that strong forms of the historicizing approach face insurmountable limits and with his conviction that this approach does not do justice to the freedom of the Johannine manner of presentation. In other words, I am critical of this approach because I think it  ultimately fails to “Let John be John” (James Dunn).

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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.

Jörg Frey on the Theological Approach to Johannine Interpretation

Looking far into the future, this week’s post comes from my übernächsten translation project, namely Jörg Frey‘s book Die Herrlichkeit des Gekreuzigten: Studien zu den Johanneischen Schriften I / The Glory of the Crucified One: Studies on the Johannine Writings I.

Today’s key quotation inaugurates a series of posts on Frey’s introductory chapter “Ways and Perspectives of the Interpretation of the Gospel of John. Reflections on the Way to a Commentary”. More specifically,  it comes from section 1: Five Classic Model of Interpretation, which provides an analysis of The Theological Approach (1.1.), The Historicizing Approach (1.2),The zeitgeschichtlicher approach (1.3), The literarkritische and Redaction-critical Approach (1.4), and the literaturwissenschaftliche or Narratological Approach (1.5). [Still need to think about the translation of some of these terms]

As usual I will begin with the English translation so that the (selective) grammatical commentary directly follows the German text.

Translation and German Original

English Translation (wmc): This approach rightly recognizes the theological intention of the Gospel’s message without classifying its message simply as ‘time-conditioned’ or ‘historical’ or ‘cultural’ and thus relativizing it. The material claim of the Gospel of John to mediate theological truth is explicitly taken up in this reading. Therein resides its validity, for the Fourth Gospel undoubtedly calls for such a theologically sensitive reading. A danger may, however, reside in the fact that in an overly close identification of the interpreter with his [or her] author or the work and its proclamation the possibility of adopting a position of critical distance  is easily lost. John then becomes the standard of what is actually Christian and the problematic aspects of Johannine theology, for example the polemical statements about ‘the Jews’, can be relativized only with difficulty.

Die Herrlichkeit des Gekreuzigten (7): Dieser Ansatz erkennt mit Recht den theologischen Aussagewillen des Evangeliums, ohne dessen Aussagen einfach als ‘zeitbedingt’ einzuordnen oder ‘historisch’ oder ‘kulturell’ zu erklären und damit zu relativieren. Der sachlich Anspruch des Johannesevangeliums, theologische Wahrheit zu vermitteln, wird in dieser Lektüre eindrücklich aufgenommen und vertreten. Darin besteht ihr Recht, denn zweifellos verlangt das vierte Evangelium nach einer solchen theologisch sensiblen Lektüre. Eine Gefahr mag allerdings darin liegen, daß in einer zu engen Identifikation des Interpreten mit seinem Autor bzw. dem Werk und seiner Verkündigung die Möglichkeit einer kritischen Distanznahme leicht verloren geht. Johannes wird dann zum Maßstab des eigentlich Christlichen, und die problematische Aspekte der johanneischen Theologie, etwa die polemischen Äußerungen über ‘die Juden’, lassen sich nur schwer relativieren.

Selective grammatical analysis

Although the German sentence reads very smoothly and is not especially difficult to understand, I found it quite difficult to translate. Aussagewillen presented a difficulty for me, and I am not sure if I am getting it right. I considered various options such as statement/declaration/testimony of purpose/intention, stated intention/purpose, and intended testimony. Sache/sachlich can’t be captured well in English. It is often translated as “content”, but I usually prefer “subject matter” for Sache and “material”, “materially” or “in terms of the subject matter” for sachlich. vermitteln is often best translated with “mediate” but “convey” is sometimes better. bestehen is often best translated as “consist” but “resides” seemed to read better here. I struggled with ihr Recht, but ultimately settled on “its validity” rather than “its right/legitimacy/justification/due/authorization” . verlangen nach has the force of “calls for”, “requires”, “demands”, “desires”, “longs for”: here, “calls for” seemed best. sensiblen means “sensitive”
(NOT “sensible”, which is a false friend: see here). I first translated kritische Distanzhame as “critical distancing” but then changed my mind and translated it as “a critical taking of distance”, which also didn’t seem quite right. And so I decided, against my usual inclinations, to translate more freely and write “the possibility of adopting a position of critical distance”. I recognize that “is easily lost” hardly does justice to leicht verloren geht but “easily goes lost”, “easily gets lost” or “easily gets lost in the shuffle” didn’t seem to work too well. But perhaps “easily slips away” would be better. eigentlich could also be translated as “real” or even with the term “authentic”, especially as this quotation occurs in relation to Bultmann. lassen sich + infinitive is usually best translated as “can be x-ed”, but the wooden “allows itself to be [or lets itself be] relativized only with difficulty” might be better here.

Substantive analysis

one of the things that I like about this section of Frey’s chapter is that he attempts to identify both the elements of truth of the approaches that he traces and the weaknesses and (potential) problems that burden them. Here, I think his assessment of the strengths and potential dangers of a theological approach are basically on target.

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

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.