“I also decided … to write”—Michael Wolter on Luke’s Relationship to his Predecessors

Listening to James Crossley and and Chris Keith discuss Chris’s new book The Gospel as Manuscript fruitfully stimulated my thinking on the question of the specific ways in which the Gospels reflect what Chris calls “competitive textualization.” With respect to his use of this key phrase, Chris helpful explains that “What I am primarily getting at with the term term competitive textualization is when one written tradition tries to position itself and its authority in relation to a previous … written tradition” (see -45.00ff.; cf. here). For me, this discussion also called to mind a notable line of argument in Michael Wolter’s commentary on Luke, which finds more continuity between Luke and his predecessors than many others have found. On the one hand, I personally think that there is certainly a sense in which Luke seeks to outbid his predecessors, and I regard it as very likely that he thought he was producing the best version of the story. On the other hand, I think Wolter effectively argues that Luke’s language suggests more continuity with his predecessors than is often assumed. Needless to say, I look forward to reading Chris’s book in due course and seeing how it will shape or reshape my thinking around this question. For now, here are two of the most relevant quotations from Wolter’s commentary, in English and in German:

ET (44-45): In Josephus, Bellum judaicum 1.17 ἐπειδήπερ is connected in a comparable way with the reference to “many” predecessors (πολλοὶ πρὸ πρὸ ἐμοῦ). It is not possible to infer the number of works that Luke alludes to, for the use of πολύς and derivatives is a rhetorical stereotype in prefaces and in general at the beginning of speeches and writings (cf. in detail section [b] above as well as Josephus, Bellum judaicum 4.238; Acts 24.10; Hebrews 1.1). The same also applies to the characterization of the predecessors’ works as ἐπιχείρησις (see section [c] above), so that it is not possible to hear a critical subtext in the Lukan ἐπεχείρησαν (pace G. Klein 1964, 239; Bovon). This already seems doubtful on the basis of the parallelizing ἔδοξε κἀμοί in v. 3 with which Luke does not distance himself from the πολλοί but rather connects to them (see also van Unnik 1973–1983, I: 13). This interpretation is confirmed by the fact that in what follows Luke does not devalue his predecessors’ works with a single word. He thus forgoes the use of a form-historical option that was certainly available to him.

* Translation note: in the last sentence it would have been better to translate “durchaus” with “indeed” rather than certainly.

GV (61): Bei Josephus, Bell. 1,17 verbindet sich ἐπειδήπερ in vergleichbarer Weise mit dem Bezug auf “viele” Vorgänger (πολλοὶ πρὸ πρὸ ἐμοῦ). Ein Rückschluss auf die Zahl der Werke, auf die Lukas hier anspielt, ist nicht möglich, denn der Gebrauch von πολύς und Ableitungen ist ein rhetorisches Stereotyp in Vorworten oder überhaupt am Beginn von Reden und Schriften (vgl. im Einzelnen o. Abschn. [b] sowie Josephus, Bell. 4,238; Apg 24,10; Hebr 1,1). Dasselbe gilt auch für die Charakterisierung der Vorgängerwerke als ἐπιχείρησις (s.o. Abschn. [c]), so dass es nicht möglich ist, aus dem lk ἐπεχείρησαν kritisierende Nebentöne herauszuhören (gegen Klein* 239; Bovon). Dagegen spricht allein schon das paralleliserende ἔδοξε κἀμοί in V. 3, mit dem Lukas sich nicht von den πολλοί distanziert, sondern sich an sie anschließt (s. auch van Unnik*, Remarks, 13). Bestätigt wird diese Interpretation dadurch, dass Lukas die Vorgängerwerke im Folgenden mit keinem Wort abwertet. Er verzichtet also darauf, eine ihm durchaus zur Verfügung stehende formgeschichtliche Option zu realisieren.

ET (48): The phrasing (ἔδοξε) κἀμοί reveals that Luke wanted to emphasize the continuity with the efforts of the πολλοί, which were mentioned in v. 1, for he does not distance himself from them—for example with the help of the adversative phrasing (ἔδοξε) δέ μοι (e.g., DanielLXX 4.37c; Lysias, Orationes 1.14; Galen, De methodo medendi, ed. Kühn 1964, X: 910.11; Vettius Valens, ed. Kroll 1973, 142.30; 241.16; Diogenes Laertius 7.9). ἔδοξέ μοι . . . γράψαι is a widespread Greek idiom (cf. Hippocrates, Prorrhetica 2.2; [Ps.-]Speusippus, Epistulae, ed. M.I. Parente 1980, 158; 159.1; Galen, De placitis Hippocratis et Platonis 8.2.11 [de Lacy 1978–1984, 492.16]; De curandi ratione per venae sectionem, ed. Kühn 1964, XI: 312.11).

GV (64): Die Formulierung (ἔδοξε) κἀμοί lässt erkennen, dass Lukas die Kontinuität mit den in V. 1 erwähnten Bemühungen der πολλοί betonen möchte, denn er distanziert sich nicht von ihnen – etwa mit Hilfe der adversativen Formulierung (ἔδοξε) δέ μοι (z.B. DanLXX 4,37c; Lysias, Or. 1,14; Galen, Meth. Med. ed. Kühn X, 910,11; Vettius Valens, ed. Kroll, 142,30; 241,16; Diogenes Laertius 7,9). ἔδοξέ μοι . . . γράψαι ist verbreitetes griechischen Idiom (vgl. Hippocrates, Prorrhet. 2,2; [Ps.-]Speusippus, Ep., ed. M. I. Parente, 158; 159,1; Galen, Plac. Hipp. Plat. 8,2,11 [492,16 de Lacy]; Cur. Rat. Ven. Sect., ed. Kühn XI, 312,11).

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Torsten Jantsch on Jesus, the Savior: The Soteriology of the Lukan Doppelwerk

Since I have featured the work of Torsten Jantsch (Eng; Acad; Blog) on several occasions in the past (see here and here), I am especially pleased to include a post on his new book Jesus, der Retter: Die Soteriologie des lukanischen Doppelwerks (WUNT 381), Tübingen: Mohr, 2017, which is based on his LMU Munich habilitation thesis.

1. Translation and German Text (p. 351)

Even though this is not a “German Scholars Post” in the strict sense, I will include both a key excerpt from his book and a brief biographical note. As usual I will alternate between the English translation and the German text (p. 351):

Luke sketches a remarkably coherent picture of Jesus and his way from the prophet to the heavenly Christ, Lord, Ruler, and Savior.

Lukas zeichnet ein bemerkenswert kohärentes Bild von Jesus und seinem Weg vom Propheten zum himmlischen Christus, Herrn, Herrscher und Retter.

Jesus was active as Spirit-filled prophet and suffered the fate of the prophets of Israel, rejection and murder.

Jesus hat als geisterfüllter Prophet gewirkt und das Schicksal der Propheten Israels, Ablehnung und Tötung, erlitten.
* note: murder is not quite right for Tötung here, but it is perhaps better than “killing” or simply “death”

God, whose characteristic trait it is to exalt the lowly (Luke 1.51-53), restored the righteous and anointed servant of God Jesus, who had been lowered and killed, and exalted him to the Christ, Lord, Ruler, and Savior, who in and from heaven bestows his benefactions of the forgiveness of sins and following from this eternal life.
Gott, dessen Wesenszug es ist, die Niedrigen zu erhöhen (Lk 1,51–53), hat den erniedrigten und getöteten Gerechten und gesalbten Gottesknecht Jesus restituiert und zum Christus, Herrn, Herrscher und Retter erhöht, der im und aus dem Himmel seine Wohltaten der Sündenvergebung und daraus folgend ewiges Leben schenkt.

This will be visibly fulfilled at his parousia; in the time in between this Lord is accessible for believers in prayer.

Dies wird sich bei seiner Parusie sichtbar erfüllen; in der Zwischenzeit ist dieser Herr für die Gläubigen im Gebet zugänglich.

A fundamental statement of Lukan soteriology is: “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2.21/Joel 3.5).

Eine Grundaussage der lukanischen Soteriologie lautet: „Jeder, der den Namen des Herrn anruft, wird gerettet werden“ (Apg 2,21/Joël 3,5).

With this Luke sets forth the picture of a salvation that is consistently grounded in the person of Jesus.

Lukas entwirft damit das Bild eines konsequent in der Person Jesu begründeten Heils.

He does not, it is true, place the death of Jesus at the center of his soteriology – but the person of the exalted Savior.

Er stellt zwar nicht den Tod Jesu in das Zentrum seiner Soteriologie – aber die Person des erhöhten Retters.

Luke is the theology of salvation, which for him is to be obtained solely through Jesus as the Christ and Savior: He is the theologian of a consistently applied solus Christus.

Lukas ist der Theologe des Heils, das für ihn allein durch Jesus als den Christus und Retter zu gewinnen ist: Er ist der Theologe eines konsequent gedachten solus Christus.
* Not sure how to best capture the force of konsequent gedachten: consistently applied, consistently considered, consistently contemplated, consistently thought out, consistently applied, something else.

2. Biographical-Bibliographical Information

Torsten Jantsch, Dr. theol. from Humboldt University, Berlin, in 2009 with a dissertation on the concept of God in 1 Thess and 1/2 Cor, published as “Gott alles in allem” (1Kor 15,28): Studien zum Gottesverständnis des Paulus im 1. Thessalonicherbrief und in der korinthischen Korrespondenz (WMANT 129), Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener 2011. Habilitation in Munich (Ludwig Maximilian University) in 2015 on the concept of salvation in Luke-Acts, published as Jesus, der Retter: Die Soteriologie des lukanischen Doppelwerks (WUNT 381), Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2017. Hellenistic philosophies, particularly Cynicism, and the reception of Socrates from the beginnings (Xenophon, the early Platonic dialogues) until the time of the Roman Empire, the ancient ruler cult and prophecy in the Greco-Roman world were, among others, issues of his research so far. Several future research projects concern the perspective of collective memory in early Christianity, e.g. concerning the question of strategies of identity construction in Luke-Acts. Currently, he holds the position of Visiting Professor for New Testament II at the University of Munich (LMU).

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Michael Wolter on Luke’s Correct Placement of the Quirinius Census

As I press towards the completion of my translation of Christoph Markschies’ book Christian Theology and its Institutions in the Early Roman Empire, I am already looking forward to starting my next translation project, namely Michael Wolter’s commentary The Gospel According to Luke. With this in mind, today’s key quotation will be excerpted from his comments on Luke 2:1-3.

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

Translation and German Original

English Translation (wmc):

1. ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις ἐκείναις refers back not to 1.5 but takes up 1.80 and thereby dates the narrated event in the time of the growing up of the Baptist … Thus, the temporal distance between the events narrated in chapter 1 and the newly opened narrative collecting bowl remains unspecified…

2… This information  has the function of clearly distancing the following nexus of episodes chronologically from the time of the reign of Herod the Great. Between his death and the provincial census carried out under Quirinius lay a period of time of about 10 years in which Herod’s son Archelaus reigned as ethnarch over Judea, Samaria, and Idumea (cf. Josephus, Ant. 17.342; see also at 19.11-27). A contradiction to the relative chronology of the Lukan presentation does not thereby arise (see on v. 1). The longstanding debate over this problem … started, to this extent, from false presuppositions. There is admittedly an irreconcilable contradiction to the dating of the birth of Jesus in the time of the reign of Herod the Great by Matthew.

Das Lukasevangelium (pp. 121-122):

1. ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις ἐκείναις bezieht sich nicht auf 1,5 zurück, sondern knüpft an 1,80 an und datiert damit das erzählte Geschehen in die Zeit des Heranwachsens des Täufers … Der zeitliche Abstand zwischen den in Kap. 1 erzählten Ereignissen und dem neu eröffneten erzählerischen Sammelbecken bleibt also unbestimmt…

2… Dieser Information kommt die Funktion zu, den folgenden Episodenzusammenhang von der Zeit der Herrschaft Herodes’ d.Gr. chronologisch eindeutig zu distanzieren: Zwischen dessen Tod und dem unter Quirinius durchgeführten Provinzialzensus lag ein Zeitraum von ca. 10 Jahren, in dem der Herodessohn Archelaus als Ethnarch über Judäa, Samaria und Idumäa herrschte (vgl. Josephus, Ant. 17,342; s. Auch bei 19,11-27). Ein Widerspruch zur relativen Chronologie der lk Darstellung entsteht dadurch nicht (s. Zu V. 1). Die langjährige Debatte über diese Problematik … ging insofern von falschen Voraussetzungen aus. Einen unausgleichbaren Widerspruch gibt es freilich zur Datierung der Geburt Jesu in die Regierungszeit Herodes’ d.Gr. durch Matthäus.

Selective Grammatical Analysis

1. knüpft an (anknüpfen) is often challenging: here I chose “takes up”, but “links to” or “picks up on”, or “follows on from” would also work. damit is often best left untranslated, but I sometimes translate it as “thereby”, “here”, or even “thus”, depending on the context. I usually translate both Ereignis and Geschehen as “event” instead of translating Geschehen as “happening” or the like (but cf. Translator’s Notes 1: Eugene Boring [378n2]). Sammelbecken could be translated as “collecting bowl”, “collecting basin”, “collecting tank”, “reservoir”, etc. I wanted to retain the word “collecting” and felt that “bowl” provided the most helpful image. I initially translated as “unbestimmt” as “undetermined”, but then decided that “unspecified” conveyed the sense more clearly.

2 Dieser Information kommt die Funktion zu [verb: zukommen] could be rendered more woodenly as “the function is given to this information of…” but I think “This information has the function” conveys the meaning more clearly.  Episodenzusammenhang: I often translate Zusammenhang with “context” or “connection”, but decided here to change my initial translation “connection of episodes” to “nexus of episodes”. zu distanzieren depends on Funktion (the function of distancing). I translated herrschte as “reigned”, though “ruled” would also have been possible. I chose to write Herod’s son Archelaus rather than the Herod son Archelaus, choosing readability over precision in this case. I often translate entstehen as “emerge” but “arise” seemed better here.  ging … aus [verb: ausgehen] can usually be rendered as started from. Insofern is often difficult: Depending on the context, I have adopted a range of solutions, such as “to this extent”, “in this respect”, “from this perspective”, “insofar”. I couldn’t find a way to capture the precise sense of unausgleichbaren/uncompensatable, so it seemed best to adopt the phrase “unreconciliable contradiction”, which seemed to capture the basic thrust. Gibt es [es gibt] can often be translated as “exist” but “there is” sometimes works better. The sense of “freilich” is sometimes best captured with “of course”, sometimes with “however” or “though”, and sometimes with “admittedly”.

Substantive Analysis:

For me at least, Wolter’s argument added a new option to a classic interpretative crux, so that I now see five possible options before me: 1) Luke dated the Quirinius census to the time of Herod the Great, which  stands in contradiction to the testimony of Josephus who correctly dates the Quirinius census to the time of Archelaus. 2) Luke correctly placed the Quirinius census at the time of Archelaus, while previously placing Jesus birth during the reign of Herod the Great, so that there is a chronological contradiction within his Gospel, 3) Luke correctly dated the Quirinius census to the time of Herod the Great in contrast to Josephus’ incorrect dating of the Quirinius census to the time of Archelaus. 4) This passage of Luke can be translated and interpreted in such a way that no contradiction emerges in relation to other ancient sources, including Josephus and Matthew, 5) Luke has correctly dated the Quirinius passage to the time of Archelaus (in agreement with Josephus), which does not result in a contradiction to Luke’s chronological statements elsewhere, though it does stand in contradiction to Matthew’s placement of Jesus’ birth in the time of Herod the Great. At present I think option 1 is the most convincing view, while regarding the arguments for 4) and 5) as worthy of continued study and debate. Perhaps options 2 and 3 should also be considered further, but from my present perspective they seem less likely.

Other Resources on the Quirinius Census

For Michael Wolter’s position, see further M. Wolter. “Erstmals unter Quirinius! Zum Verständnis von Lk 2,2.” Biblische Notizen 102 (2000), 35-41 and M. Wolter. “Wann wurde Maria schwanger?” Pages 405-422 in Von Jesus zum Christus. Christologische Studien. FS Paul Hoffman. BZNW 93. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1998 (also published in Theologie und Ethos in Frühem Christentum. Tübingen: Mohr, 2009. here).

For an overview of some of the key texts from Josephus and Luke and various translations of Luke 2:1-3, see Bruce Fisk PDF.

For some of the many other discussions of this topic on the web (listed in alphabetical order), see Paul Barnett, Darrell BockJohn Byron )cf. here), Robert R. Cargill, Stephen C. CarlsonRichard Carrier, Jared Compton (cf. here), N. F. GierMark Goodacre (cf. here), Bill HeromanBrian LePortJames McGrath, Ian Paul, Jason Staples, Daniel B. WallaceWikipedia.

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