Friederike Kunath and Preexistence in John

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

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

I. The Preexistence of Jesus in the Gospel of John

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

II. Biographical-Bibliographical Information

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

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


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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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Jens Schröter on the character of every historical (re)presentation – with special guests Chris Keith and Anthony Le Donne

I was somewhat amused to see that Chris Keith stole my thunder on Friday by concluding his blog post on Jens Schröter with the same quotation that I had selected for this week’s blog post. But hopefully, this is more a case of “great minds think alike” than “Zwei Dumme, ein Gedanke”.

Like my other Schröter posts on historiography, today’s “key quotation” deals with the relationship between historiography and New Testament scholarship. It is taken from Jens Schröter’s discussion of “the historicity of the Gospels” in From Jesus to the New Testament.

As usual I will begin with the English translation so that the (selective) grammatical commentary directly follows the German text. As a way of illustrating the different ways that a passage can be translated, I will include both Anthony Le Donne’s earlier translation of this passage in The Historiographical Jesus (thunder stolen once again) and my own translation in From Jesus to the New Testament.

The Historiographical Jesus, p. 75: “If every historical construction represents the relationship between event and story (even those that are written within the rubric of the historical-critical consciousness) then a contemporary portrait of Jesus cannot simply set aside the narrative representations of the person of Jesus in the Gospels. On the contrary, this portrait has to be related to these representations and be reconstructed within the rubric of contemporary epistemology. The outcome is not the ‘real’ Jesus behind the Gospels. The outcome is a historical construction which claims to be plausible within the rubric of contemporary epistemology.”

From Jesus to the New Testament, pp. 131-132: “If, however, every historical presentation presents a combination of event and narrative, including the kind that is composed under the conditions of the historical-critical consciousness, then a present-day Jesus presentation also cannot simply disregard the narrative representations of the person of Jesus in the Gospels. Instead, it has to orient itself to them and put them together anew under today’s conditions of knowledge. The result is not the ‘real’ Jesus behind the Gospels. The result is a historical presentation that claims to be plausible under current conditions of knowledge.”

Von Jesus zum Neuen Testament, 146: “Stellt jedoch jede historische Darstellung eine Verbindung von Ereignis und Erzählung dar, auch eine solche, die unter den Bedingungen des historisch-kritischen Bewusstseins verfasst wird, dann kann auch eine gegenwärtige Jesusdarstellung die narrative Repräsentationen der Person Jesu in den Evangelien nicht einfach beiseite stellen. Sie hat sich stattdessen an diesen zu orientieren und sie unter heutigen Erkenntnisbedingungen neu zusammenzusetzen. Das Ergebnis ist nicht der ‚wirkliche‘ Jesus hinter den Evangelien. Das Ergebnis ist eine historische Darstellung, die den Anspruch erhebt, unter gegenwärtigen Erkenntnisbedingungen plausibel zu sein.“

Selective Grammatical Commentary: Although I have translated “Darstellung” as “presentation”, it could also be rendered as “representation”, “portrayal” or “portrait” (Le Donne’s “construction” is more free, but I think it accurately unpacks what Schröter is saying). Here, I think it may be preferable to render Darstellung as “presentation” or “portrayal” so that it can be distinguished from Schröter’s subsequent use of “Repräsentationen”/representations. Similarly, “Verbindung” could also be translated as “linking” or “connection” rather than “combination” (Anthony’s “relationship” is also possible). The fact that the sentence begins with the verb “stellt … dar” followed by a subsequent “dann”, lets the reader know that we are dealing with an “if … then” construction. Anthony’s translation of “beiseite stellen” as “set aside” may well be preferable to my choice of “disregard”. As usual the verbs “verfasst wird” and “erhebt” are pushed to the end of the subordinate clauses in which they appear. I think that Anthony’s translation of “Ergebnis” as “outcome” is probably preferable to my choice of “result”. Although I prefer the word “contemporary” (Anthony) to “current” or “present-day”, I tend to avoid it since there is sometimes ambiguity about whether one means contemporary with the ancient or modern situation. I remain uncertain about Anthony’s translation of “unter den Bedingungen des historisch-kritischen Bewusstseins” as “within the rubric of the historical-critical consciousness” and “unter gegenwärtigen Erkenntnisbedingungen” as “within the rubric of contemporary epistemology”, but this may well represent an improvement on my rather wooden translation of these phrases.

Substantive Analysis: In this quotation Schröter makes clear that both past and present-day historical presentations of Jesus involve a combination/linking of event and narrative. In other words, past and present historical portrayals do NOT differ in this respect, but rather in the conditions of knowledge under which they are composed. On the basis of this view of the nature of all historical presentations/portrayals/representations, Schröter then argues against the practice of disregarding/setting aside the narrative representations of the person of Jesus in the Gospels and for an approach that takes its orientation from these portrayals, with the goal of putting them together anew under the respectively current conditions of knowledge. Against this backdrop, it would be interesting for me to hear more about the extent to which Schröter thinks that the presentations of Jesus in the Gospels could (or should) play a role in shaping present-day conditions of knowledge. I also think that it would be interesting to compare Schröter’s approach with that of Udo Schnelle, another German giant who has attempted to appropriate recent research on the theory of history into his scholarship (e.g., Theology of the New Testament and  Apostle Paul). So perhaps this could be a good paper topic for some ambitious young graduate student.

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