Hans W. Frei on Historicism, Realism, and Political Conditions in Eighteenth Century Germany

In my last post, I offered some general comments on Hans W. Frei’s influential book The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative and presented a short quotation on an interesting difference between developments in England and Germany in the eighteenth century. As a follow up, this post will present Frei’s suggestive attempt to relate shortcomings that he perceives in  historicism as a movement in German thought to the political conditions in 18th century Germany. While I lack the expertise to evaluate the cogency of his argument, I certainly found it to be a fascinating line of thought! Indeed, in my judgment, the section (pages 212-217) is worth reading in its entirety.

[212] “Realistic writing and its appreciation in late eighteenth-century Germany did not develop beyond the level attained by Lessing and the early Schiller. Romantic writing and criticism obviously tended in the very opposite direction. … [213] It is a curious fact, noted by Auerbach, that the rise of historicism in Germany in the same era, which might have been expected to aid the development of both realistic fiction and history writing, did not in fact do so. … Historicism is the rendering of mankind’s unfinished story in which man, in his encounter with determinate historical situations and developments, actually encounters himself writ large. But the universal self or man he meets is never met—as a Rationalist might claim—in direct universal trans-historical form. The universal historical being of man is met only as the specific spirit of a specific age and group. …

Linking the historically specific with universal history by means of the notion of historical-spiritual development was one expression of a puzzling situation which Auerbach in particular noted. On the one hand, historicism was an apprehension of the specificity and irreducibly historical particularity of cultural change. But on the other hand, as a movement in German thought it led to the very opposite of this apprehension, to a vast universalization in defining the content of historical change. … [214] … The tendency toward universalization and spiritualization was due to the fact that finally the subject matter and bond of historical development was a universal subject, whose characterizing quality was taken to be that of culturally embodied or diffused consciousness. The historical subject matter in historicist perspective is finally the one universal human spirit, even though always in specific cultural form.

The cultural setting for this intellectual development was a thoroughly fragmented political situation and a backward economy, each tending to paralyze the other. The imposing figure of Frederick the Great of Prussia, bestriding the German scene of the latter eighteenth century, only accentuated the small ambience of his own and every other German realm. … Moreover, his enlightened indulgence of intellectual and religious freedom stood in broad contrast to his political despotism, typical of the period and much more characteristic of the conditions prevailing in the rest of Germany. …

In all of this, German nationalism flourished and was the object of grave suspicion. In concept and fact political nationhood, a firm cultural setting for the development of the realistic novel in England, lagged far behind in Germany. The French Revolution and Napoleon’s conquest of Germany were to change the situation drastically, especially in Prussia, but in the latter part of the eighteenth century, when German intellectual and literary thought began to rise to its greatest height, the general [215] cultural context for this movement was extraordinary provincial. By the eighteenth century England had had its political, economic, and religious revolutions and had emerged as a national entity. In Germany … revolution had so far been confined to religion and philosophy…

In short, seldom has a major intellectual and literary movement, such as that which took place in Germany in the late eighteenth century, begun from so fragmented, narrow, and provincial a political base, and in so stagnant a social and political climate. Given that background, it is not surprising that even younger intellectuals like Goethe and Schiller, some of whom had at first sympathized with the French Revolution, rapidly came to find it a spiritually alien, profoundly threatening and incomprehensible force of frightening power. For them, too, sociopolitical conditions were either eternally fixed or deeply and unintelligibly disturbing. They drew back from depicting human nature and destiny through the interaction of human beings with the upheaval of the large-scale and historical forces generally characteristic of their own era. It is not surprising that both German literature and German historical writing and reflection eschewed realism in favor of more ethicizing or spiritualistic depictions and foci for continuity. Rather, it is surprising that the historicist view, with its strong emphasis on ceaseless cultural change due more to specifically historical than natural factors, developed at all. [216]

Erich Auerbach has commented with great perspicacity on the results of the entanglement of a sweeping intellectual movement such as early historicism in such a narrow political, economic, and cultural circumstances. Historicism oscillated between the depiction of richly concrete but completely localized historical phenomena on the one hand, and vast, universalizing, and spiritualizing commentary on the other. The serious treatment of a human arena of manageable scope in a broad but still specific historical context such as that of a national life was precisely what was missing.”

For my other posts on historiography, see here.

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

For interviews with me on my work, 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

Michael Wolter and the Publication of The Gospel According to Luke – Volume I

As a way of celebrating the publication of this year’s BMSEC volume, The Gospel According to Luke – Volume I (1-9:50), which I have co-translated with Christoph Heilig, today’s “German scholars post” is devoted to Michael Wolter (Eng), Professor of New Testament at the Faculty of Protestant Theology at the University of Bonn in Germany and Honorary Professor at the Theological Faculty at the University of Pretoria in South Africa.

As usual, the post will consist of 1) key excerpts from the book selected by Michael Wolter and 2) some biographical-bibliographical information about Michael Wolter.

Excerpts (alternating between the English and the German)

29: Luke writes his work with the knowledge that Christianity had been a supralocal entity spread throughout the entire Roman empire for many decades already. According to the witness of Acts, there are Christian communities not only in the eastern provinces of the imperium Romanum—i.e., not only in Syria and in Cilicia, in Galatia and in Asia, in Macedonia and in Achaia—but also in Italy and in Rome itself.

25: Lukas schreibt sein Werk im Wissen darum, dass das Christentum bereits seit vielen Jahrzehnten eine über das gesamte römische Reich verteilte überlokale Größe ist. Nach dem Zeugnis der Apostelgeschichte gibt es christliche Gemeinden nicht nur in den östlichen Provinzen des Imperium Romanum – d.h. nicht nur in Syrien und in Kilikien, in Galatien und in der Asia, in Mazedonien und in Achaia –, sondern auch in Italien und in Rom selbst.

29: It would certainly be completely inappropriate if one wanted to keep this knowledge away from the Lukan story of Jesus and restrict the horizon of its author to the boundaries of a single local Christian community. Beyond this, however, this circumstance makes it also very probable that the Gospel of Luke was written not only in the knowledge that there were Christian communities everywhere in the Roman provinces, but also that in the view of its author its content was also relevant to every single (Bauckham 1998, 1: “any and every”) one of these communities.

25: Es wäre mit Sicherheit ganz unsachgemäß, wenn man dieses Wissen von der lk Jesusgeschichte fernhalten und den Horizont ihres Verfassers auf die Grenzen einer einzigen christlichen Ortsgemeinde beschränken wollte. Dieser Sachverhalt macht es darüber hinaus aber auch sehr wahrscheinlich, dass das LkEv nicht nur im Wissen darum geschrieben wurde, dass es christliche Gemeinden überall in den römischen Provinzen gibt, sondern dass sein Inhalt nach der Meinung seines Verfassers auch für jede einzelne (Bauckham* 1: „any and every”) dieser Gemeinden theologisch relevant ist.

30: Finally, one can possibly even reckon with the fact that Luke imagined this readership not only as a synchronic entity but also as a diachronic entity. His narrative would then be intended not only for the Christians of his own time but also for Christians of future generations.

25: Und schließlich ist es möglicherweise sogar damit zu rechnen, dass Lukas sich diese Leserschaft nicht nur als eine synchrone, sondern auch als eine diachrone Größe vorgestellt hat. Seine Erzählung wäre demnach nicht nur für die Christen seiner eigenen Zeit, sondern auch für die Christen zukünftiger Generationen bestimmt.

30: That history writing could be guided by such a perspective is already recognizable in Thucydides, who composed his history of the Peloponnesian War “more as an enduring possession than as a masterpiece for current hearers” (… 1.22.4). …

25-26: Dass Geschichtsschreibung von einer solchen Perspektive geleitet sein kann, wird bereits bei Thucydides erkennbar, der seine Geschichte des Pelo-ponnesischen Krieges „eher zum bleibenden Besitz, denn als Meisterstück zum aktuellen Hören“ verfasst hat (…1,22,4). …

30: This does not mean, however, that with this expansion the picture of the intended readers becomes more diffuse, for with the Christian community of the Lukan present, Christian posterity enduringly shares the same characteristic feature that constitutes the identity of all intended readers, namely the foundation story of Christianity that Luke narrates in his “report.” For this story is also their story. …

26: Mit dieser Ausweitung wird das Bild der intendierten Leser durchaus nicht diffuser, denn mit den christlichen Gemeinden der lk Gegenwart teilt die christli-che Nachwelt bleibend ein und dasselbe Merkmal, das die Identität aller intendier-ten Leser konstituiert: die Basisgeschichte des Christentums, die Lukas in seinem Doppelwerk erzählt. Denn diese Geschichte ist auch ihre Geschichte. …

30-31: The Gospel of Luke is the first part of a two-part historical work that narrates an epoch of the history of Israel and thus belongs to the historical genre of “epoch histories” …

26: Das Lukasevangelium ist der erste Teil eines zweiteiligen Geschichtswerks, das eine Epoche aus der Geschichte Israels erzählt und damit zur historiographischen Gattung der „Epochengeschichten“ gehört …

32: Luke sees the special profile of this epoch, which makes the narrated time period into an epoch in the first place, as consisting in the fact that the sending of God’s eschatic salvation (σωτήριον; Luke 2.30; 3.6; Acts 28.28)—a sending that first took place through Jesus himself and then through his witnesses—was rejected by most of the Jews.

28: Das besondere Profil dieser Epoche, das den erzählten Zeitraum allererst zu einer Epoche macht, sieht Lukas darin bestehen, dass die Sendung von Gottes eschatischem Heil (σωτήριον; Lk 2,30; 3,6; Apg 28,28), die erst durch Jesus selbst und dann durch dessen Zeugen erfolgte, von den meisten Juden abgewiesen wurde.

32: Because, in contrast to this, the salvation of God was received by far more non-Jews, Luke can have Paul say with his last words in Acts 28.28: “And they will listen!” (αὐτοὶ καὶ ἀκούσονται…). …

29: Weil das Heil Gottes demgegenüber von sehr viel mehr Nichtjuden angenommen wurde, kann Lukas seinen Paulus darum mit dessen letztem Wort in Apg 28,28 sagen lassen: „Sie sind es, die auch hören werden!“ (αὐτοὶ καὶ ἀκούσονται …) …

33-34: The fulfillment of the promises for Israel therefore led to a separation process, which had as a consequence the fact that “Israel” received a quite peculiar form in the Lukan time. On the one hand, Luke views the Christian church as standing in the unbroken continuity of the history of the people of God Israel, for it now includes also the Jewish and non-Jewish Χριστιανοί, who were called this for the first time in Antioch according to Acts 11.26. The Χριστιανοί are all those believe that the promises of salvation given to the people of God are fulfilled in the sending and in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (e.g. Acts 13.32-39; 23.6; 26.6-8). According to the Lukan understanding, the history of Israel finds its continuation in the history of the church. On the other hand, those Jews who deny the Christ proclamation also continue, of course, to belong to Israel…

Die Erfüllung der Verheißungen für Israel mündete darum in einen Trennungsprozess, der zur Folge hatte, dass „Israel“ in lukanischer Zeit eine recht merkwürdige Gestalt bekommen hat: Zum einen sieht Lukas die christliche Kirche in der ungebrochenen Kontinuität der Geschichte des Gottesvolks Israel stehen, denn ihm gehören nun auch die nach Apg 11,26 erstmals in Antiochien so genannten jüdi-schen und nichtjüdischen Χριστιανοί an. Hierbei handelt es sich um all diejenigen, die glauben, dass die dem Gottesvolk geltenden Heilsverheißungen in der Sen-dung und in der Auferstehung Jesu von den Toten erfüllt sind (z.B. Apg 13,32–39; 23,6; 26,6–8). Nach lk Verständnis setzt sich die Geschichte Israels in der Geschichte der Kirche fort. Zum anderen gehören für Lukas natürlich auch weiter-hin diejenigen Juden zu Israel, die sich der Christusverkündigung versagen.

* For the Front Matter of Wolter’s commentary and existing reviews, see here. For Christoph Heilig’s post on this book at the Zürich New Testament blog, see here. For my other blog posts on this book, see here.

II. Biographical-bibliographical information

In this section I will provide two types of biographical-bibliographical information about Michael Wolter. First, I will translate a section (which I have selected) from Wolter’s chapter in Eve-Marie Becker‘s wonderful edited volume Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft. Autobiographical Essays aus der Evangelischen Theologie. Secondly, I will include some further information about Wolter’s biography and research (which he sent to me).

Excerpt from Neutestamentliche WissenschaftIn the years of the building and form-finding of a scholarly existence of my own I did not, to be sure, succeed in finding what characterizes many theological biographies: the lasting connection to a specific teacher or an embedding in the context of a certain school. This is especially recognizable in the fact that I— apart from the three years in which I was away with Klaus Berger in Heidelberg—gained two academic “fathers” with scholarly approaches to the theology that were separated by a rather great theological and methodological distance. My Heidelberg Doktorvater Erich Dinkler came out of the Marburg of Rudolf Bultmann, and, accordingly, he primarily made me familiar with the kerygma-theological program of demythologizing and existential interpretation. Very different my Habilitationsvater Otto Böcher. With him I learned that the mythical form of religious orientation of existence is not simply something that one has to interpret existentially in order to be able to begin something with it theologically but that it can and must be taken seriously theologically precisely also in its material objectification. Without any reservation both refrained from orienting their student to their own theological coordination system and to this day I remain deeply thankful to them for this.

Further Biographical-Bibliographical Information: Born 1950 in Hannover, Michael Wolter studied Protestant Theology in Berlin, Heidelberg, and Göttingen. He qualified in 1977 as Dr. theol. and worked from 1977 through 1983 as the editor of the “Theologische Realenzyklopädie” (TRE) at de Gruyter in Berlin. From 1983 through 1988 he was research assistant at the University of Mainz and attained there his habilitation in 1986. He taught Biblical Theology at the Universities of Aachen (1988) and Bayreuth (1988–1993) and New Testament at the University of Bonn (1993–2016). Since March 2016 he has been retired.

Michael Wolter is Honorary Professor at the University of Pretoria and Extraodinary Professor at the North-West University in Potchefstroom (South Africa). He is a member of the North-Rhine-Westfalia Academy of Sciences and Humanities. 2002–2004 he served as president of the Colloquium Oecumenicum Paulinum, and presently he is president elect of the Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas (SNTS).

He was awarded the Hanns-Lilje-Prize by the Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities in 1988, and in 2016 he received a honorary doctorate from the University of Athens.

Michael Wolter loves writing commentaries on New Testament writings. He has published commentaries on

Colossians and Philemon:

Der Brief an die Kolosser. Der Brief an Philemon (ÖTK 12), Gütersloh/Würzburg 1993

the Gospel of Luke:

Das Lukasevangelium (HNT 5), Tübingen 2008 (engl. trans. by Wayne Coppins and Christoph Heilig, Waco 2106/2017)

and Romans:

Der Brief an die Römer. Teilband I: Röm 1–8 (EKK 6/1), Neukirchen-Vluyn 2014

The second volume will be published in 2018.

Books on other topics include:

Rechtfertigung und zukünftiges Heil. Untersuchungen zu Röm 5,1-11 (BZNW 43), Berlin/New York 1978

Aus dem Archiv des Verlages Walter de Gruyter. Briefe – Urkunden – Dokumente, Berlin/New York 1980 [together with Doris Fouquet-Plümacher]

Theologie und Kirche im Wirken Hans von Sodens. Briefe und Dokumente aus der Zeit des Kirchenkampfes 1933–1945 (AKZ 2/2), Göttingen 1984 21986

Die Pastoralbriefe als Paulustradition (FRLANT 146), Göttingen 1988

5. Esra-Buch / 6. Esra-Buch (JSHRZ III/7), Gütersloh 2001 (translation and commentary)

Paulus. Ein Grundriss seiner Theologie, Neukirchen-Vluyn 2011 22015 (engl. trans. by R.M. Brawley, Waco 2015)


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

For interviews with me on my work, 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


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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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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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





Christine Jacobi on Social Memory and Jesus Tradition in Paul

Like many readers of The Jesus Blog, I have enjoyed seeing its circle of contributors expand from Anthony Le Donne and Chris Keith to include James Crossley and now Christine Jacobi, Brant Pitre, and Rafael Rodríguez.

As a way of celebrating this recent expansion and especially the addition of a Neutestamentlerin from Germany, today’s post will look at Christine Jacobi‘s 2015 book Jesusüberlieferung bei Paulus? Analogien zwischen den echten Paulusbriefen und den synoptischen Evangelien. In order to give the reader a better sense of the book, I have chosen to translate four short excerpts rather than commenting on a single key quotation.

Like Benjamin White’s important monograph (cf. esp. pp. 49-54 and 70-107), Christine Jacobi‘s book is one of the first full-scale studies to apply social memory theories to Pauline Studies. Hence, I have taken the first excerpt from the section of her book (pp. 9-20) entitled “Eine neue Hermeneutik zum Vergangeneitsbezug der synoptischen Evangelien: Allgemeine Aspekte des Erinnerungszugangs“. This first excerpt is meant to give the reader a sense of where Jacobi stands in relation to various “memory approaches”. The next three excerpts, in turn, are taken from her conclusion. They are intended to give the reader a sense of the direction in which Jacobi takes her argument. As indicated by the the question mark in her title, part of her argument involves a questioning of the appropriateness of speaking of “Jesus tradition in Paul”. I will alternate between English translation and German original.

Translation 1 (wmc): Jens Schröter already drew attention to the complex and indissoluble connection between past and present in the Gospels in 1997 in his habilitation Errinerung an Jesu Worte, in which he specified anew the relation between Jesus traditions and the texts that process them. … A Jesus research following on from Schröter takes interest in the different post-Easter pictures of Jesus or the ways of his making-present and representation. It describes the texts as interpretations or “remembrances” of the pre-Easter activity of Jesus. Corresponding conceptions therefore do not necessarily speak of “Jesus tradition” but more openly of “Vergangenheit” and “past” or of “commemorative products” and “memory”. That the Gospels take up older traditions and the task of the exegete cannot exhaust itself in a description of the world of the text is taken into account. However, one does not search for the oldest tradition but the texts as wholes are understood as witnesses of memory, which process themes and motifs from the tradition in various ways and according to the needs of the respective present. The past activity of Jesus molds, together with other influences such as the Scripture, the first Christians’ coordinates of understanding and schemata of perception and contributes to early Christian self-understanding. And, conversely, Jesus’s person and activity are interpreted, in turn, by such patterns of understanding. “Erinnerung” or “(social) memory” are terms used for this nexus, with which a series of current studies in Jesus- and Synoptic scholarship is working.

Quotation 1 (Page 11-12): Auf die komplexe und unauflösbare Verbindung von Vergangenheit und Gegenwart in den Evangelien machte bereits 1997 Jens Schröter in seiner Habilitationsschrift Errinnerung an Jesu Worte aufmerksam, in welcher er das Verhältnis von Jesusüberlieferungen zu den sie verarbeitenden Texten neu bestimmte. … Eine an Schröter anschließende Jesusforschung interessiert sich für die verschiedenen nachösterlichen Bilder Jesu bzw. die Weisen seiner Vergegenwärtigung und Repräsentation. Sie beschreibt die Texte als Deutungen bzw. “Erinnerungen” an das vorörsterliche Wirken Jesu. In entsprechenden Entwürfen ist daher gar nicht mehr unbedingt von “Jesustradition” die Rede, sondern offener von “Vergangenheit” oder “past” bzw. von “commemorative products” and “memory”. Dass die Evangelien ältere Überlieferungen aufnehmen und die Aufgabe des Exegeten sich nicht in einer Beschreibung der Textwelt erschöpfen kann, wird dabei berücksichtigt. Es wird jedoch nicht nach den ältesten Überlieferung gefahndet, sondern die Texte als Ganze werden als Erinnerungszeugnisse verstanden, die Themen und Motive aus der Überlieferung auf vielfältige Weise und je nach den Bedürfnissen der eigenen Gegenwart bearbeiten. Das vergangene Wirken Jesus modelliert zusammen mit anderen Einflüssen wie beispielsweise die Schrift die Verstehungskoordinaten und Wahrnehmungsschemata der ersten Christen und trägt zum frühchristlichen Selbstverständnis bei. Und umgekehrt werden Person und Auftreten Jesu wiederum durch solche Interpretationsmuster gedeutet. “Erinnerung” oder “(social) memory” sind die für diesen Zusammenhang verwendeten Termini, mit denen eine Reihe aktueller Beiträge der Jesus- und Synoptikerforschung arbeitet.

Translation 2 (wmc): Finally, from the findings on the reception of so-called Jesus tradition in Paul one must draw conclusions for the picture of Jesus that is painted in the letters of Paul. Negatively one can say that Jesus as an originator of tradition and teacher is not relevant for Paul. But what is his significance with a view to the so-called Jesus tradition in Paul?

Quotation 2 (page 392): Aus den Ergebnissen zur Rezeption sogenannter Jesusüberlieferung bei Paulus sind schließlich Konsequenzen für das Bild von Jesus zu ziehen, das in den Paulusbriefen gezeichnet wird. In negativer Hinsicht kann festgestellt werden, dass Jesus als Traditionsurheber und als Lehrer für Paulus nicht relevant ist. Welche Bedeutung aber kommt ihm mit Blick auf die sogenannte Jesustradition bei Paulus zu?

Translation 3: When Paul describes a new view of reality with expressions such as “in the Kyrios” or “in Christ”, this shows that he does not distinguish between the Kyrios as the Risen and Exalted One, on the one hand, and Jesus as the originator of traditions, on the other hand. The reason for this is again that the event of salvation and the new reality of faith are thought of as connected with the Lord Jesus Christ in the closest way. The Kyrios forms the center of all expressions of faith. In this way the authority of the Kyrios can encompass both Pauline argumentation as well as already circulating traditions taken up by Paul and traditions that go back to the earthy Jesus himself. Therefore, all the admonition of the apostle ultimately takes place in the sphere of validity of faith in Christ, which forms the framework for his own remarks on the Christian self-understanding. The sphere of interpretation in which Paul places topoi, motifs, and contents of tradition, levels out their respectively specific backgrounds.

Quotation 3 (page 393): Wenn Paulus mit Wendungen wie “im Kyrios” oder “in Christus” eine neue Wirklichkeitssicht beschreibt, so zeigt sich darin, dass er nicht zwischen dem Kyrios als dem Auferweckten und Erhörten einerseits und Jesus als Urheber von Traditionen anderseits unterscheidet. Der Grund dafür liegt wiederum darin, dass das Heilsgeschehen und die neue Glaubenswirklichkeit insgesamt mit dem Herrn Jesus Christus auf engste Weise verbunden gedacht werden. Der Kyrios bildet das Zentrum aller Glaubensäußerungen. Auf diese Weise kann die Autorität des Kyrios sowohl paulinische Argumentationen als auch bereits zirkulierende, von Paulus aufgegriffene Überlieferungen und auf den irdischen Jesus selbst zurückgehende Traditionen umfassen. Deshalb erfolgt letzlich alles Ermahnen des Apostels im Geltungsbereich des Christusglaubens, der den Bezugsrahmen für seine eigenen Ausführungen über das christliche Selbstverständnis und den Stand der Adressaten bildet. Der mit “in Christus/im Kyrios” markierte Deutungsraum, in den Paulus Topoi, Motive und Überlieferungsinhalte stellt, nivelliert deren je spezifische Herkunft.

Translation 4 (wmc): From a reception-oriented perspective 1 Cor 7.10-11 and 9.14 in particular can rather be understood as special forms of the much more frequent reference to the Kyrios through the ἐν-κυρίῳ-/ἐν-χριστῷ-expressions. For although in 1 Cor 7.10-11 and 9.14-15 Paul designates the content of the statements as words/sayings of the Lord, he relativizes their content from a christological perspective. Paul sees himself legitimated by the Lord for this work of mediation between the words of the Lord and the world of faith opened up “in Christ” (cf. 1 Cor 7.25, 40; 9.15-18). For the Kyrios as foundation of faith possesses for Paul more weight than the Kyrios as originator of tradition. With this the Pauline perspective on the action of God toward and through Christ becomes apparent, which alongside various other spheres of tradition integrates also the words of the Lord traditions into a common paradigm.

Quotation 4 (page 394): Aus einer rezeptionsorientiertenten Perspektive lassen sich insbesondere 1 Kor 7,10f. und 9,14 eher als Sonderformen der wesentlich häufigeren Bezugnahme auf den Kyrios durch die ἐν-κυρίῳ-/ἐν-χριστῷ-Wendungen verstehen. Denn obwohl Paulus in 1 Kor 7,10f. und 9,14 Aussagegehalte als Herrenworte kennzeichnet, relativiert er ihre Inhalte von einer christologischen Perspektive her. Zu dieser Vermittlungsarbeit zwischen den Herrenworten und der “in Christus” eröffneten Glaubenswelt sieht Paulus sich selbst vom Kyrios legitimiert (vgl. 1 Kor 7,25.40; 9,15-18). Denn für Paulus besitzt der Kyrios als Glaubensfundament mehr Gewicht als der Kyrios als Traditionsurheber. Damit zeichnet sich die paulinische Perspektive auf das Handeln Gottes an und durch Jesus Christus als derjenige Horizont ab, der neben verschiedenen anderen Traditionsbereichen auch die Herrenwortüberlieferungen in ein gemeinsames Paradigma integriert.

Substantive Analysis: In a previous post, I suggested that a comparison between the treatment of the sayings tradition in the work of Francis Watson and Jens Schröter would make a great research project, especially if it also drew upon the multiple exchanges between James Dunn and Jens Schröter on this topic. Having dipped into Jacobi’s fine monograph, I now think that her voice should definitely be added to this discussion, especially since she has already developed it at much greater depth in relation to a wider range of voices.

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


As a way of celebrating the publication of this year’s BMSEC volume, Christian Theology and Its Institutions in the Early Roman Empire: Prolegomena to a History of Early Christian Theology (cf. here!), today’s “German scholars” post is devoted to Christoph Markschies (cf. here), Professor of Ancient Christianity (Patristics) at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.

For my other posts on this book, see here.

For my other “German scholars” posts, see here.

I. Excerpt Selected by Christoph Markschies

English Translation (page xvii-xix): By paying attention to the institutional contexts, I aim to avoid having only isolated segments of ancient Christianity come into view in this book, for example, by considering only a type of theology (e.g., the type that refers to the frames of reference of Platonic philosophy and shapes western Christian theology to some extent up to the present) or only a single region (Rome or precisely not Rome, depending on the confessional form) or only a certain social milieu (e.g., the social standing of those supported by communities and Christian teachers working in their educational institutions). For this reason, in the first main section of this book, I have especially directed my attention to the different institutional contexts in which Christian theologies were developed in the second and third centuries CE. I have investigated the development and change of such institutions and given consideration to public situations of communication—namely, pagan and Christian school contexts—but also, for example, the conditions at the great imperial and private estates. The differences and commonalities between Christian and pagan institutions are also dealt with, at least in the form of an overview.

German Version (pages 2-3): Durch die Beachtung der institutionellen Kontexte sollte vermieden werden, daß in diesem Buch nur Segmente des antiken Christentums isoliert in den Blick geraten, indem z.B. nur ein Typus von Theologie berücksichtigt wird (etwa der, der sich auf den Referenzrahmen platonischer Philosophie bezieht und in gewisser Weise bis heute abendländische christliche Theologie prägt) oder nur eine Region (je nach konfessioneller Ausprägung: Rom bzw. gerade nicht Rom) oder nur ein bestimmtes soziales Milieu (etwa der Stand von Gemeinden besoldeten und in deren Ausbildungseinrichtungen tätigen christlichen Lehrer). Deswegen habe ich in einem ersten Hauptteil dieses Buches mein Augenmerk besonders auf die unterschiedlichen institutionellen Kontexte zu richten versucht, in denen im zweiten und dritten nachchristlichen Jahrhundert christliche Theologien entwickelt wurden, habe die Entwicklung und Veränderung solcher Institutionen untersucht und öffentliche Kommunikationssituationen, pagane wie christliche Schulzusammenhänge, aber z.B. auch die Verhältnisse auf den großen kaiserlichen und privaten Landgütern in den Blick genommen. Auch die Unterschiede und Gemeinsamkeiten zwischen christlichen und paganen Institutionen werden wenigstens im Überblick behandelt“.

II. Biographical-bibliographical information

For Christoph Markschies’s publications, see here (English), here (complete), and here (academia.edu).

For audio-video material of Markschies, see here.

The following two paragraphs have been taken from Prof. Markschies’s webpage:

Research: “Ancient Christianity” with a particular focus on the intellectual history and history of ideas (history of Trinitarian theology), the marginalised movements of the majority church (so-called Gnosticism and Montanism), the transformation of the (Platonic) philosophy in Christian theology and the history of the body in Ancient Christianity within the context of other religions and movements. – The academic history of the discipline with a special focus on the Berlin faculty and the Academy of Sciences.

Academic Biography: Born in 1962 in Berlin, Christoph Markschies studied Protestant Theology, Classical Philology and Philosophy in Marburg, Jerusalem, Munich and Tübingen. He qualified in 1991 as Dr. theol., attained his habilitation in 1994 and, following professorships in Jena (1994-2000) and Heidelberg (2000-2004), has been Professor for Ancient Christianity at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin since 2004. He was President of this university from 2006 to 2010 and has been Vice-President of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of the Sciences and Humanities since 2012. He was awarded the Leibniz Prize in 2001.

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Eve-Marie Becker on the Construction of History in Mark, Paul, and Luke

Adding to my other posts on historiography and New Testament scholarship, today’s post will provide a translation of a key excerpt from the work of another leading scholar in this area, namely Prof. Eve-Marie Becker (cf. here) of Aarhus University .

Our quotation is taken from her 2014 essay “Die Konstruktion von ‘Geschichte’. Paulus und Markus im Vergleich“, which appeared in Paul and Mark (ed. Oda Wischmeyer et al). It stands alongside her many other important publications in this area, such as her 2006 book Das Markus-Evangelium im Rahmen antiker Historiographie, her 2014 essay “Patterns of Early Christian Thinking and Writing of History: Paul – Mark – Acts” and her forthcoming book Historiography in New Testament Times (cf. here). More generally, readers of this blog may also be interested in her edited volume Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft. Autobiographische Essays aus der Evangelische Theologie.

Let us turn then to our excerpt. Since I will not be providing a grammatical commentary, I will alternate between the German text and my English translation.

Die Konstruction von ‘Geschichte’ (p. 415-16): Markus wählt für seine Erzählung eine ‘personzentrierte Darstellungsweise’. Die Geschichte der Evangeliumsverkündigung ist an einzelne Handlungsträger wie den Täufer, in erster Line aber an Jesus von Nazaret gebunden.

Mark chooses for his narrative a ‘person-centered manner of presentation’. The (hi)story of the proclamation of the gospel is tied to individual agents such as the Baptist, but primarily to Jesus of Nazareth.

Diese Personzentrierung wird nicht zuletzt deswegen möglich und nötig, weil Markus – anders als der Briefschreiber Paulus – nicht im Sinne der Selbst-Referentialität seine eigene Person als narratives Scharnier oder auch als autorisierenden Referenzpunkt seiner Darstellung anführen kann.

This person-centeredness is possible and necessary not least because Mark – unlike the letter writer Paul – cannot bring in his own person as (the) narrative hinge or as (the) authorizing reference point of his presentation in the sense of self-referentiality.

Im Lukanischen Doppelwerk ändert sich die narrative Bedeutung der Personzentrierung wiederum. Indem Lukas nämlich in beiden Werken eingangs die Hetero-Referentialität seiner Erzählung explizit macht, ermöglicht er dem Leser, die Handlungsträger der Darstellung, also vor allem Jesus, Petrus und Paulus, deutlicher von der Rolle des erzählenden Historikers abzugrenzen.

In the Lukan Doppelwerk [or in Luke-Acts] the narrative significance of the person-centeredness changes once more. For by making the hetero-referentiality of his narrative explicit at the outset in both works, Luke makes it possible for the reader to demarcate the agents of the presentation, i.e. above all Jesus, Peter and Paul, more clearly from the role of the narrating historian.

Damit variiert auch der geschichtliche Raum, dem sich der einzelne Autor narrativ zuwenden kann: Während Paulus faktisch nur über den von ihm selbst erlebten Zeitraum sprechen und Markus lediglich die zeitliche Periode, die an das Wirken seiner Handlungsträger gebunden ist, in den Blick nehmen kann, dehnt Lukas den zeitlichen Rahmen seiner Darstellung nach vorne und hinten erheblich aus:

In this way the historical space to which the individual author can turn also varies. While Paul can speak de facto only about the period of time experienced that he has experienced and Mark can only consider the temporal periods that are bound to the activity of his agents, Luke considerably extends the temporal framework of his presentation both forward and backward.

Die ereignisgeschichtliche Darstellung kann dort beginnen, wo der Historiker und Erzähler – für seine Leser erkennbar – seinen Quellen folgt. So kann erst die Explikation der Hetero-Referentialität zur zeitlichen Ausdehnung der ereignisgeschichtlichen Darstellung führen.

The event-historical presentation can begin where the historian and narrator – recognizably for his readers – follows his sources. Thus only the explication of the hetero-referentiality can lead to the temporal extension of the event-historical presentation.

II. Substantive analysis: What I liked about this quotation (and Becker’s essay as a whole) is that it brings the category of history into connection with Mark and Paul rather than relating it exclusively to Luke, while simultaneously showing with great precision how concrete differences in the authors’ perspectives and approaches resulted in important differences in the ways that they construct ‘history’ in their works.

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