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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Bibliographies of Neutestamentler/innen in the German Language Sphere

For the most up-to-date version of BNGLS, see here.

As a new feature for this blog, I have spent the last two weeks compiling Bibliographies of Neutestamentler/innen in the German Language Sphere (BNGLS). This task has greatly expanded my own understanding of what is going on in the German-speaking world, and I hope it will also prove beneficial for others who are seeking to engage with the ‘German’ tradition. A distinctive feature of this new resource is that I have provided a separate bibliography of the English publications of each German-language-sphere scholar as well as a link to their full bibliographies, webpages, pages etc. For the bibliographies themselves see the BNGLS tab of my blog or click here.

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

I recently completed Francis Watson‘s impressive book Gospel Writing, which is rightly receiving much attention (see here). I profited much from this stimulating work, and I especially enjoyed seeing the many ways in which it converged with and diverged from Jens Schröter‘s perspectives in From Jesus to the New Testament and Christoph Markschies‘s perspectives in Christian Theology and its Institutions in the Early Roman Empire.

Against this background, I hope to devote two (or more?) blog posts to comparing Watson’s book with the aforementioned works, namely as examples of the “I’d like to see someone else write about this” genre. In other words, these posts will flag up areas of inquiry that I will probably not write on but that I hope someone else might be motivated to investigate in greater detail, i.e. in the form of a blog post, conference paper, or article.

This week’s post will focus on the the different ways that Jens Schröter and Francis Watson deal with the sayings tradition and its development with special reference to the place they assign to the Gospel of Thomas. I’ll begin with a quotation by Watson, follow it with a quotation by Schröter, and then add a few words of analysis.

Francis Watson (Gospel Writing, pp. 249-250): “A closely related issue has been less intensively discussed, and it concerns the format of GTh. This text consists of a series of sayings, whether shorter or longer, single or composite, normally introduced by the formula “Jesus said…” While Thomas is apparently dependent on Matthew and Luke for parts of its content, it is independent of them as regards its format. Nor does this format conform to the (now discredited) Q Gospel. … There is no basis for the common assumption that Thomas closely resembles Q, and that it thereby strengthens the case for Q. … In terms of format, Thomas is unique, the single surviving instance of a sayings collection to set alongside the narrative gospels. The question is whether GTh was always unique or whether it attests the existence of a Sayings Collection genre, a class of writing whose existence ran parallel to that of the narrative gospels and that might conceivably have predated them. That is not to say that GTh itself may be earlier than the narrative gospels. If it contains early elements at all, predating the canonical evangelists, these can be identified only tentatively; they cannot be assembled into an ‘original core’ to which a mid-first-century date may be assigned. Even within the more self-consciously literary genre of the narrative gospels, there is considerable fluidity as stories pass from unknown sources into Mark and from Mark into Matthew and Luke. Within an initially preliterary Sayings Collection genre, that fluidity is likely to have been greater still. It is therefore impossible to recover from GTh the text of a primitive sayings collection along the lines of reconstructions of Q. What may still be possible is to recover from GTh a primitive genre, one in which sayings of Jesus were simply listed one after the other with an introductory formula attached to each. This genre would be at least as old as the oldest written sayings in GTh. If Thomas preserves even a single saying or parable in a form that predates the synoptic versions, it most probably owes its preservation to an unbroken chain of written transmission. The links in the chain are beyond recovery—although, as we have seen, Clement of Alexandria’s Gospel according to the Hebrews may have been one of them. Yet, if the Sayings Collection genre can be traced back behind GTh into the presynoptic era, it is plausible to suppose that texts of this kind may have been available to the synoptic evangelists. Before as well as after the composition of their gospels, Jesus’ sayings were transmitted by way of Sayings Collections (SCs). To the L/M hypothesis, which replaces Q, a Thomas-based SC hypothesis may be added. the two hypotheses are independent yet mutually reinforcing. If there is a Sayings Collection genre that predates the narrative gospels, then there is no need to envisage an extended period of purely oral transmission of Jesus’ sayings. The writing of a saying would be an original rather than a secondary feature of the traditioning process.”

Jens Schröter (From Jesus to the New Testament, p. 110-111 + note 49): “The one-sided preference for Q and the Gospel of Thomas—which in the process are also incorrectly assigned to the same genre—in Jesus presentations such as that of John Dominic Crossan or the methodologically completely untenable plea for the historical preference for a supposedly oldest layer of Q by James M. Robinson are indebted to a perspective that disregards the historical concretion and is not adequate to the sources. By contrast, every historical presentation of the person of Jesus has to take its orientation from the fact that his sayings were spoken in concrete situations to concrete human beings, that they only present one aspect of his activity and stand alongside the others—such as the constitution of a circle of followers, his healings and meal-fellowships, and the controversy [123] with opponents, to name only a few—and that in the sources that are available, whole pictures of his activity and fate are provided and not collections of sayings.” Note 49: “This is not altered at all by the fact that with the Gospel of Thomas we have a writing concentrated on the presentation of isolated sayings and parables. Such a collection is an artificial product that already presupposes the narrative presentation of the activity of Jesus and takes this path in contrast to another path in order to explicate the significance of Jesus. The thesis of the ancient character of such a collection is refuted by observations pertaining to the secondary character of the Gospel of Thomas over against the Synoptic Gospels, as well as by the fact with the philosophical biographies of Diogenes Laertius and the Apophthegmata Patrum we have parallel works from about the same time or even later in which the collection character of the material has just as little to do with antiquity. On this cf. also Hezser 1996, 393.”

Analysis: As mentioned at the outset, this post belongs to what I am calling the “I’d like to see someone else write about this” form/genre. In other words, although (or because!) I don’t plan on researching this topic further myself, I would be delighted if my presentation of these two quotations would provoke some bright, industrious scholar to compare and contrast the ways in which Jens Schröter (e.g. in From Jesus to the New Testament, chapters 5-6, and 12) and Francis Watson (in Gospel Writing, perhaps esp. in chapters 5 and 7) discuss the character and development of the sayings tradition, which would obviously not be limited to their treatment of the Gospel of Thomas.

My impression is that both scholars have developed extremely impressive models for how to understand the overall development of the sayings tradition, which makes it all the more interesting to observe areas of sharp disagreement (e.g. placing the sayings collection genre reflected in the Gospel of Thomas at an earlier or later point in the development) alongside many notable agreements (e.g. their shared view that Q and the Gospel of Thomas do not belong to the same genre and that the Gospel of Thomas is familiar with the Synoptic Gospels). While this post obviously does not go very far in showing how such an investigation might prove fruitful, perhaps it will prove sufficient to motivate someone else to pursue the matter further. If so, Schröter’s multiple exchanges with James Dunn could also prove relevant for this task (see here and here), since it seems to me that there are some points in which Watson and Dunn stand over against Schröter (e.g. in placing the sayings tradition in the context of recollection about Jesus from the beginning rather than seeing it initially located in a paraenetic context that was not focused on biographical recollection) and others in which Dunn and Schröter stand over against Watson (e.g. in the fact that they are inclined to appeal to oral tradition to explain much of the material that Watson explains with reference to the Sayings Collection Genre).

If anyone does wish to develop this topic, I recommend beginning with chapter 5 of From Jesus to the New Testament and pages 249-285 and 347-355 of Gospel Writing.

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Jens Schröter and the Publication of Jesus of Nazareth – Jew from Galilee, Savior of the World

As a way of celebrating the imminent publication of Jesus of Nazareth – Jew from Galilee, Savior of the World, today’s “German scholars” post is devoted to Jens Schröter, Professor of Exegesis and Theology of the New Testament and Ancient Christian Apocrypha at the Humboldt University of Berlin. For my other posts on this book, see here.

The category “German scholars” seeks to introduce German scholars and their research to the English-speaking world. Each post consists of (I) my translation of a short passage from a publication submitted by the German author her/himself and (II) some biographical-bibliographical information about the scholar in question. For further information on this category, see here. For my other “German scholars” posts, see here.

Prof. Schröter’s passage of choice comes from the original German version of Jesus of Nazareth, namely Jesus von Nazareth: Jude aus Galiläa – Retter der Welt, which Evangelische Verlagsanstalt has published in the attractive series Biblische Gestalten. It is now in its fourth edition.

As usual I will begin with the English translation so that the selective grammatical commentary can directly follow the German version.

I. Translation

Jesus of Nazareth (trans. W. Coppins and S. B. Pounds: p. 17): Jesus research since the second half of the eighteenth century has created important methodological and thematic presuppositions for an engagement with Jesus under the conditions of the modern historical-critical consciousness. It moves in the tension between historical reconstruction, which wants to know how it “really” was, and post-Easter construction, which regards this aim as unreachable and orients itself instead to the post-Easter faith witnesses. In both options we are dealing with radical solutions that are inadequate if taken on their own. Together, however, they give modern Jesus research a dynamic that shows itself to be extremely fruitful: the engagement with the sources presents a picture of the past that as a product of the present always remains, however, changeable, fallible, and incomplete. Therefore, historical research can never ground the Christian faith let alone prove its correctness. It can, however, show that this faith is founded on the activity and fate of a person, who can still be portrayed today, if not in every detail, then at least in important facets. In this way it makes a substantial contribution to the task of taking intellectual and ethical responsibility for the Christian faith in the modern world.

Jesus von Nazareth (p. 36): Die Jesusforschung seit der zweiten Hälfte des 18. Jahrhunderts hat wichtige methodische und inhaltliche Voraussetzungen für eine Beschäftigung mit Jesus unter den Bedingungen des neuzeitlichen historisch-kritischen Bewusstseins geschaffen. Sie bewegt sich dabei in der Spannung von historischer Rekonstruktion, die wissen will, wie es „wirklich“ war, und nachösterlicher Konstruktion, die dies für unerreichbar hält und sich stattdessen an den nachösterlichen Glaubenszeugnissen orientiert. Bei beiden Optionen handelt es sich um Radikallösungen, die für sich genommen unzureichend sind. Gemeinsam verleihen sie der neuzeitlichen Jesusforschung jedoch eine Dynamik, die sich als äußerst fruchtbar erweist: Die Beschäftigung mit den Quellen stellt ein Bild der Vergangenheit vor Augen, das als Produkt der Gegenwart jedoch immer veränderlich, fehlbar und unvollständig bleibt. Historische Jesusforschung kann deshalb den christlichen Glauben niemals begründen oder gar seine Richtigkeit beweisen. Sie kann jedoch zeigen, dass dieser Glaube auf dem Wirken und Geschick einer Person gründet, das sich, wenn auch nicht in jedem Detail, so jedoch in wichtigen Facetten auch heute noch nachzeichnen lässt. Damit leistet sie für die Verantwortung des christlichen Glaubens in der modernen Welt einen substantiellen Beitrag.

Selective grammatical analysis: seit is always difficult. “since” is a bit awkward but “from” is not always clear; instead of using “since”, I sometimes use “from … on” or “starting in”. I often translate Beschäftigung with “engagement”, though sometimes with occupation or the like. In sentence 4, we left dabei untranslated, but I sometimes attempt to convey it with “thereby”, “here”, “in the process” or “in doing so”, depending on the context. oder gar (sentence 4) has the force of “let alone” in English. nachzeichen has the force of “trace after” but “portray” is probably preferable for the sake of readability. We seem to have translated Verantwortung rather freely as “the task of taking intellectual and ethical responsibility”, presumably in correspondence with Prof. Schröter.

Bibliographical-Biographical Information

For more on Prof. Schröter’s research interests, projects, and publications, see his university webpage here.

For an up-to-date list of his English publications, see here.

From the very beginning of my studies on early Christianity and the New Testament I have been intrigued by the question of how the movement that started with Jesus and Paul quickly became an influential religion within the Roman Empire. My research began with an investigation of Paul’s self-understanding as a messenger of God and Jesus Christ who established lively relationships between “his” communities and God by bringing to them the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In a next step I turned to the earliest layers of the Jesus tradition. In this context the problem of “re-construction” of history came into my focus. For many years now I have been engaged with the methodological and epistemological questions of the relationship of the life and message of Jesus to its reception in earliest Christianity and with an approach to the past under the circumstances of the historical-critical consciousness.

Another area of my research is devoted to the Acts of the Apostles and the history of early Christianity. Here the problem of the relationship of the events of the past and their interpretation by the historians occurs again. My approach can be characterized as an attempt to understand Luke as “the first Christian historian” within the context of ancient Jewish and Hellenistic-Roman historiography and to elaborate the meaning of his historical narrative for a history of Christianity today.

Finally, I am also interested in the relationship of so-called “canonical” and “apocryphal” Christian writings and the emergence of the New Testament canon. Together with my colleague Christoph Markschies I am editing the “Ancient Christian Apocrypha” in fresh German translations and with new introductions. My specific viewpoint is directed towards the development of Christianity in the first two centuries as a multifaceted phenomenon, documented in a wide range of writings. I am convinced that it is important for Christianity to reflect on these beginnings even today.

For my other blog posts on Jens Schröter, see here .

For Schröter posts focused specifically on historiography, see here.

Facebook Page: To receive notifications of future blog posts, please subscribe to this blog and/or like my facebook page 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 BMSEC 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.

Jens Schröter on the Areopagus Speech and Not Reducing Historicity to Facticity

Before turning to things German, let me begin this post by saying happy anniversary to my wife Ingie!

Whereas my posts from January 13, February 17, and March 17 dealt with Jens Schröter’s theoretical reflections on historiography, this post, like my posts from May 19 and July 7th, will focus more specifically on Jens Schröter’s perspectives on the historical value of Acts in From Jesus to the New Testament, which will presumably inform his forthcoming HNT commentary on Acts. Needless to say, I would be delighted if these posts would initiate/provoke a more substantive response to Schröter’s treatment of this topic by one (or several) of the many Acts specialists in the blogging community!

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


From Jesus to the New Testament ( p. 46): “This is not, of course, to claim that Paul actually delivered or would have delivered a speech such as that in Acts 17. In the sense of the aforementioned Thucydidean principle, the Areopagus speech can, however, be viewed as a composition that reproduces the ξύμπασα γνώμη of how Paul, according to the view of Luke, could have spoken in such a situation. Its programmatic character is emphasized thereby not only through the location, but also through its position at the center of the independent mission of Paul within the book of Acts. The Areopagus speech thus shows itself to be a configuration of the historian Luke, who links the activity of Paul with its historical consequences – the hardening of Judaism and the emergence of the Gentile-Christian church. Only on this foundation can the Lukan Paul and the Paul of the Letters be placed in relation to each other in a meaningful manner. The assessment that Paul, if he gave the speeches [correction: speech] reported by Luke at all, did not, in any case, give them [correction: it] in this way, would, by contrast, be a truncated understanding of historical reference – as would the opposite attempt, which is undoubtedly more difficult to carry out, to prove the actuality of the speech. Both models reduce historicity to facticity and thereby remain behind the aforementioned methodology-of-history insights.”

Von Jesus zum Neuen Testament (pp. 51-52): “Damit ist selbstverständlich nicht behauptet, dass Paulus eine Rede wie diejenige aus Apg 17 tatsächlich gehalten hat oder gehalten haben würde. Die Areopagrede kann jedoch im Sinne des oben genannten thukydideischen Prinzips als eine Komposition angesehen werden, die die ξύμπασα γνώμη dessen wiedergibt, wie Paulus nach Auffassung des Lukas in einer derartigen Situation geredet haben könnte. Ihr programatischer Charakter wird dabei nicht nur durch den Ort, sondern auch durch ihre Stellung im Zentrum der selbständigen Mission des Paulus innerhalb der Apostelgeschichte hervorgehoben. Die Areopagrede erweisst sich somit als eine Gestaltung des Historikers Lukas, der das Wirken des Paulus mit seinen geschichtlichen Konsequenzen – der Verstocken des Judentums und der Entstehung der heiden-christlichen Kirche – verknüpft. Erst auf dieser Grundlage können der lukanische Paulus und derjenige der Briefe sinnvoll miteinander in Beziehung gesetzt werden. Die Feststellung, Paulus habe die von Lukas berichtete Rede wenn überhaupt, dann jedenfalls nicht so gehalten, wäre dagegen ein verkürztes Verständnis von historischer Referenz – genauso wie der entgegengesetzte, zweifellos schwieriger durchzuführende Versuch, die Tatsächlichkeit der Rede zu erweisen. Beide Modele reduzieren Historizität auf Faktizität und bleiben damit hinter den oben genannten geschichtsmethodologischen Einsichten zurück.”

Grammatical Analysis

Rather than offering a selective grammatical analysis of the entire passage, I will skip over the first part and comment on the last part of the passage as a model sentence.

Die Feststellung (the assessment) is the subject. habe is subjunctive, which signals that Paulus habe … gehalten conveys what someone might say as their assessment or claim. Die … Rede is the direct object of “habe … gehalten”. It is singular and therefore should have been translated as “speech” rather than “speeches”(mea culpa). It is modified by the past participle (berichtete/reported), which is modified by von Lukas/“by Luke”. Wenn überhaupt [gehalten] = if at all, i.e., if [he delivered/gave the speech reported by Luke] at all. dann = then. jedenfalls = “in any case” or “at any rate”. “habe … nicht so gehalten” = delivered/gave [the speech/it] not in this way, which becomes “he did not give it [not: them!] in this way”. Die Feststellung + Paulus habe … gehalten (i.e., the content/expression of the assessment voiced by another) is the subject of wäre = “would be”. dagegen = by contrast. einVerständnis … is the predicate. The past participle verkürztes is easy enough to understand but difficult to translate: I opted for “truncated”. The adjective + noun historischer Referenz is dependent on von/“of” and is dative since von takes the dative. genauso wie = just as. der … Versuch/”the attempt” is the subject, which is complemented by the infinitive zu erweisen (the attempt to show/prove/demonstrate). erweisen takes the direct object die Tatsächlichkeit, which is modified by the genitive der Rede (“the actuality of the speech”). der Versuch is modified by“entgegengesetzte” and “zweifellos schwieriger durchzuführende”. As often, I retained the first modifier with the noun (the opposite attempt) and transformed the second into a clause (which is undoubtedly more difficult to carry out). I think that entgegengesetzte is the past participle of entgegensetzen, but I forget how to describe the grammar of durchzuführende. Beide Modelle is the subject of reduzieren (which picks up verkürzte in terms of content) and Historizität is the direct object. One reduces something to (zu) something else (here: Faktizität), which is dative because it is governed by “zu”. Beide Modelle is also the subject of zurückbleiben/“remain behind or fall behind”, which becomes bleiben … zurück. damit has the force of “with this”, but I often translate it with “thus”. Hinter/”behind” takes the dative object den … Einsichten/”the insights”, which is modified by the participle oben genannten (above mentioned = aforementioned) and the adjective geschichtsmethodisch, which I rendered as “methodology-of-history” rather than “historical methodological” (or the like) in order to make clear that these models are being criticized from the perspective of a certain approach to doing history.

Substantive Analysis

What I like about this point is that it shows how Schröter attempts to relate his theoretical reflections to the interpretation and evaluation of a classic issue, namely the relevance of the areopagus speech for thinking about Luke as an ancient historian. I think Schröter is probably right to argue against reducing historicity to facticity, which is not to say that questions about the facticity of a given event are unimportant.

Facebook Page: To receive notifications of future blog posts, please subscribe to this blog and/or like my facebook page 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.

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.


Rehabilitating F. C. Baur with Jens Schröter and Matthew Hopper

While looking through my Mohr Siebeck catalogue, I was pleased to learn of a forthcoming volume entitled Ferdinand Christian Baur und die Geschichte des frühen Christentums (eds. Martin Bauspiess, Christof Landmesser, and David Lincicum). Sharing David Lincicum’s high estimation of Baur’s importance (see here; cf. here, here, and here), this post will attempt to prepare the way for this forthcoming volume by “rehabilitating” Baur in two respects, namely (1) in relation to his pioneering appropriation of historiographical insights and (b) in relation to his relationship to Hegel. To do so, I will take my initial orientation from two quotations from Jens Schröter’s book Von Jesus zum Neuen Testament / From Jesus to the New Testament.

1) Baur and Historiography

From Jesus to the New Testament (p. 320): “These exegetical-historical conclusions were obtained on the basis of the conviction that historical individual-appearances can only be understood by discovering their inner connection. As isolated individual phenomena, by contrast, they remain mute. In early Christianity, Baur saw such a connection in the opposition between Pauline and Petrine parties, whose views were then conciliated with each other. Even if this view was subsequently clearly differentiated with regard to the positions represented in early Christianity, the lasting significance of Baur lies in the thoroughgoing application of the principles of historical research to the beginnings of Christianity. He thereby laid the methodological foundations for all subsequent conceptions of a history of Christianity.” (cf. pp. 15-18, 27, 29, 31, 39, 319-21).

Von Jesus zum Neuen Testament ( p. 346): “Diese exegetisch-historischen Ergebnisse sind auf der Grundlage der Überzeugung gewonnen, das geschichtliche Einzelerscheinungen nur dadurch verstanden werden können, dass man ihren inneren Zusammenhang aufdeckt. Als isolierte Einzelphänomene bleiben sie dagegen stumm. Im Urchristentum sah Baur einen solchen Zusammenhang im Gegenüber der paulinischen und petrinischen Partei, deren Auffassungen dann miteinander vermittelt worden seien. Auch wenn diese Sicht im Blick auf die im Urchristentum vertretenen Positionenen später deutlich ausdifferenziert wurde, liegt die bleibende Bedeutung Baurs darin, die Prinzipien historischer Forschung konsequent auf die Anfänge des Christentums angewandt zu haben. Er hat damit die methodischen Grundlagen für alle späteren Entwürfe einer Geschichte des Urchristentum gelegt.”

2) Baur and Hegel

From Jesus to the New Testament (p. 320n6): “By contrast it is inappropriate, as unfortunately often occurs, to dismiss Baur’s contribution with the observation that he forced Hegel’s philosophy of history onto the history of early Christianity. The article on the Corinthian Letters, in which he submitted his view for the first time, was written before Baur became familiar with Hegel’s writings. Cf. Hodgson 1966, 22.”

Von Jesus zum Neuen Testament   (p. 346n6): “Dagegen ist es unangemessen, was leider oft geschieht, Baurs Beitrag mit dem Hinweis abzutun, er habe der Geschichte des Urchristentums Hegels Geschichtsphilosophie aufgezwungen. Der Aufsatz über die Korintherbriefe, in dem er seine Sicht zum ersten Mal vorlegte, wurde geschrieben, bevor Baur mit Hegels Schriften bekannt wurde. Vgl. Hodgson, Historical Theology, 22.”

3) Substantive Analysis

My purpose here is not to rehabilitate Baur at every point. On the contrary, I think that fundamental aspects of his project have rightly been called into question. I do, however, think that it is unhelpful when a towering figure like Baur is set aside with dismissive slogans rather than engaged with in a critical and constructive manner. Against this background, I was somewhat frustrated to read the following statement in David Wenham’s forward to the important work Earliest Christian History: History, Literature, and Theology: Essays from the Tyndale Fellowship in Honour of Martin Hengel (eds. M. Bird and J. Maston): “Baur’s Hegelian analysis of the history of early Christianity and of the New Testament as a conflict between the Jewish Christianity of Peter and others and the Hellenistic Christianity of Paul was very influential, very damaging to traditionally orthodox Christian faith, but deeply flawed, as has been almost universally recognized since” (my emphasis). And I experienced comparable disappointment upon reading the similar statement of Daniel B. Wallace in his otherwise enjoyable blog post in memory of Martin Hengel: “These 19th-century scholars, especially Baur, applied Hegelian dialectic to New Testament studies (i.e., thesis vs. antithesis, struggling with each other end up resulting in a synthesis of both). Baur had been one of Hegel’s students; he applied this dialectic to the authorship of the NT writings, resulting in seeing only four authentic letters by Paul and seeing John as written sometime after 160 CE” (my emphasis). The problem with these quotations is not that Baur is beyond reproach. He is not! The problem is that Baur’s contribution is too quickly sloganized and dismissed by means of a somewhat inaccurate – or at least grossly oversimplified – attribution of his views to the influence of Hegel, which inevitably prevents the productive aspects of his approach from being appreciated and appropriated, for example his appropriation of advances in historiography (cf. FJNT, p.16). In fact, it could be added that in this respect F. C. Baur and Martin Hengel could be compared rather than contrasted with each other (cf. Hengel, “Eye-Witness Memory and the Writing of the Gospels”, pp. 93-95)! Let me conclude by noting that my own stance toward Baur was greatly shaped through my supervision of Matthew Hopper’s learned and spirited MA Thesis “Historical Theology as the Crossroads of Faith and Reason: The Contribution of Ferdinand Christian Baur”, which he completed in 2008. While my enthusiasm for Baur does not extend as far as my student’s, I remain indebted to Mathew Hopper for giving me a much greater appreciation for this Tübingen giant. Needless to say, I look forward to learning more about Baur’s achievements and shortcomings from the forthcoming volume Ferdinand Christian Baur und die Geschichte des frühen Christentums.

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

For my other posts on Jens Schröter and historiography, 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.