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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Hengel and Schwemer on Historiography and the Messianic Claim of Jesus: with special guests Jens Schröter and Dale Allison

Since my first published translations were of works by or about Martin Hengel, I am especially looking forward to collaborating with Brian Pounds on the translation of Martin Hengel and Anna Maria Schwemer‘s book Jesus und Judentum / Jesus and Judaism.Today’s key quotation is taken from the forward to this volume.

As usual I will begin with the English translation so that the grammatical analysis directly follows the German text:

Jesus and Judaism (wmc): Since the historical quest for Jesus of Nazareth has been controversial since the 18th century and will also remain so in the future, we have placed before the actual historical portrayal extensive considerations on the course of scholarship and on the sources, which explain that in this it can be nothing more than “attempts to draw near”, which admittedly allow very clear contours of this singular figure to become visible. A special focal point is formed by the problem, which is widely misjudged up to the present day, of the messianic claim of Jesus, without which we cannot understand the accounts of the Gospels. The still ever so popular “unmessianic” Jesus never existed. This is shown by the comparison of Jesus with John the Baptist, his proclamation in “authority”, his “deeds of power”, the Passion story with its charge that he is allegedly “the King of the Jews”, and the emergence of the earliest Christology, which possesses its ultimate foundation in Jesus’ activity and way.

Jesus und das Judentum (p. V): Da die historische Rückfrage nach Jesus von Nazareth seit dem 18. Jahrhundert umstritten ist und auch in Zukunft bleiben wird, haben wir der eigentlichen geschichtlichen Darstellung ausführliche Überlegungen zum Gang der Forschung und zu den Quellen vorangestellt, die darlegen, daß es sich bei derselben um nicht mehr als “Annäherungsversuche” handeln kann, die freilich sehr deutliche Konturen dieser einzigartigen Gestalt sichtbar werden lassen. Ein besonderer Schwerpunkt bildet das bis heute weithin verkannte Problem des messianischen Anspruch Jesu, ohne den wir die Berichte der Evangelien nicht verstehen können. Den immer noch so beliebten “unmessianischen Jesus” hat es nie gegeben. Das zeigen der Vergleich Jesu mit Johannes dem Täufer, seine Verkündigung in “Vollmacht”, seine “Krafttaten”, die Leidensgeschichte mit ihrer Anklage, er sei “der König der Juden”, und die Entstehung der frühesten Christologie, die ihren letzten Grund in Jesu Wirken und Weg besitzt.

Selective Grammatical analysis: die historische Rückfrage nach Jesus von Nazareth is difficult. We would perhaps say “the quest for the historical Jesus”, but it would perhaps shift the meaning too strongly to shift “historical” from Rückfrage to Jesus. A wooden solution of the phrase might read: “the historical inquiry into Jesus” or “the historical question about Jesus”. But for now at least, it seemed preferable to split the difference and write “the historical quest for Jesus of Nazareth”: methodologically the translator is always forced to negotiate between the divided allegiances to the source and target languages. For Darstellung I sometimes adopt “presentation” and sometimes prefer “portrayal”. I think that “explain” probably captures best the force of “darlegen” here, though it sometimes simply has the force of set forth or present. I am a bit lost about how “bei derselben” is functioning and have therefore adopted the fuzzy translation “in this”: does it refer back to Darstellung? Ännäherungsversuche is difficult: possible options could be “attempts to draw near” or perhaps “attempts at approximation”. I have changed the active construction bildet das to the passive construction “is formed by” for the sake of readability and word order. I think “misjudged” captures the basic force of verkannte here. I have adopted the awkward solution of splitting up “the problem of the messianic claim of Jesus” and putting relative clause after “problem” (which is widely misjudged…) and the other after “the messianic claim of Jesus” (without which …). Other solutions would be to combine the relative clauses at the end (… which is widely misjudged … and without which …) or to retain the first as a participial modifier (by the still widely misjudged problem of the messianic claim of Jesus). On reflection, the latter solution might be preferable. Hard to say.

Substantive analysis: In reading this quotation I was reminded of several lines of thought that I have recently encountered in translating Jens Schröter’s book Jesus of Nazareth and in my reading of Dale Allison’s book Constructing Jesus. Like Hengel-Schwemer, Schröter begins his Jesus book with an extensive discussion of historiography and the sources (pages 1-42). Moreover, like Hengel-Schwemer, he stresses that pictures of the “historical Jesus” can “always only be approaches (Annäherungen) toward the world of Jesus and his activity and fate” (p. 246 in the English version; page 362 in the 4th edition of the German version). Finally, although he does not adopt the same position as Hengel-Schwemer with regard to the messianic claim of Jesus, he nevertheless makes the similar claim that “In contrast to what is sometimes assumed in scholarship the understanding of these two aspects cannot be divided into a “pre-Easter,” “non-messianic” activity of Jesus and a post-Easter emergence of faith in him. Rather, it becomes clear that impulses went forth from the activity and fate of Jesus that had a direct impact on the development of the early Christian faith.” (p. 176-177; p. 268 in the German version).  Though Hengel-Schwemer’s claim is stronger, their talk of “very clear contours of this singular figure” becoming visible reminded me, in turn, of the following line of thought in Allison’s Constructing Jesus: “I am not here contending for a naïve or robust confidence in the historicity of the Synoptics … What I do maintain is that the materials gathered into the Synoptics, however, stylized and otherwise distorted, descend from narratives and sayings that were in circulation and valued from early times, and that we may reasonably hope to find in those Gospels, above all in their repeating patterns, some real impressions or memories that, taken together, produce more than a faint image… Although barnacles cover the rock, we can still see the rock’s shape.” (p. 164)

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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.

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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.

Translation

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.

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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 Luke as an Ancient Historian and the Need for Differentiation in Assessing the Historical Value of Acts

Whereas my posts from January 13February 17, and March 17 dealt with Jens Schröter’s theoretical reflections on historiography, this post, like my posts from May 19 and August 25, 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, to which one more will be added, 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.

English Translation and German Version

From Jesus to the New Testament, p. 224: “If we evaluate these findings, then it can be said that the presentation of Luke moves within the framework of what was expected from an ancient historian. He possesses knowledge about the areas concerning which he reports; sometimes chronological inaccuracies slip in; and entirely in the sense of Lucian he has shaped his presentation and in this way drawn a picture of the development of Christianity in the first decades. … It has been shown further that one cannot adjudicate the historical value of Acts in general but only in detail. Luke possesses variously detailed information and local knowledge about different stages of the narrated history, which possibly provides a clue to his own background, perhaps even to his participation in the events.”

Von Jesus zum Neuen Testament, p. 244: Werten wir diesen Befund aus, so lässt sich formulieren, dass sich die Darstellung des Lukas im Rahmen des von einem antiken Historiker zu Erwartenden bewegt. Er besitzt Kenntnis über die Gegenden, von denen er berichtet, mitunter unterlaufen ihm chronologische Ungenauigkeiten, ganz im Sinne Lukians hat er seine Darstellung geformt und auf diese Weise ein Bild der Erwicklung des Christentums in den ersten Jahrzehnten gezeichnet.  … Es zeigt sich weiter, dass über den Geschichtswert der Apg nicht pauschal, sondern nur im Detail befunden werden kann. Lukas hat über die verschiedenen Etappen der erzählten Geschichte unterschiedlich detaillierte Informationen und Lokalkenntnisse, was möglicherweise einen Hinweis auf seine eigene Herkunft, vielleicht sogar auf seine Beteiligung an den Ereignissen, gibt.

Selective grammatical analysis

wertenaus (auswerten) = evaluate. I usually translate lässt sich + infinitive (here: formulieren) as “can be x-ed (here: formulated/stated/said). Since it is a subordinate clause introduced by dass, the verb bewegt moves to the end of the sentence. von einim antiken Historiker qualifies zu Erwartenden, which goes with des: “of the thing that is to be expected” / “of what was expected from”. mitunter = sometimes, occasionally, or every once in a while. Rather than using “slip in” unterlaufen ihm could also be translated as “slip by him” (unlike Wolter, I believe that Schröter explains the Quirinus census as an example of such a slip). I have translated im Sinne as “in the sense of”, but it might be preferable to write “in the vein of” or “along the lines of” (for the related phrase in diesem Sinne I think “in this vein”, adopted from Kathleen Ess, is a great solution). Es zeigt sich could be translated with “it becomes clear” or “it is shown”, but here I think a past tense is needed to capture the intended sense. It might be preferable to translate pauschal in a more precise manner as “across the board” or “in a sweeping manner”, but it seems to me that “in general” might convey the intended sense more clearly. befunden werden (befunden) seems to have the force of “decide”, “adjudge”, or “adjudicate”. Here, I have changed the passive verb to an active formulation for the sake of readability.

Substantive analysis

Let me develop my comments on the importance of this quotation by Jens Schröter by setting it in relation to a statement by Richard Bauckham. In his important book The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple (p. 27), Richard Bauckham writes: “I do not think that everything in John’s Gospel can be verified historically in these ways. As with any other source, what needs to be assessed is its general reliability. (This is the best reason why commentators are either consistently skeptical of historicity in John or consistently inclined to accept it.) If the Gospel is judged trustworthy so far as we can test it, then we should probably trust it for what we cannot verify. That is ordinary historical method.” Without wishing to affirm or reject this quotation in its entirety, today’s key quotation by Jens Schröter leads me to believe that Bauckham’s fundamental statement on “ordinary historical method” probably needs to be further nuanced, at least in relation to the question of the historicity of Acts. In particular, I think it needs to be stressed that our “testing” of the apparent relation between events and narrative in a given work might very well reveal that the author possesses “variously detailed information and local knowledge about different stages of the narrated history”, so that our conclusions about the “general reliability” of a given work may need to include the observation that the author appears to be more or less “reliable” in relation to various aspects of the narrative, i.e. in terms of precision, accuracy, or both. My point here is NOT that Richard Bauckham himself would necessarily disagree with this line of thought, but simply that it needs to be made explicit if his statement about ordinary historical method is not to be appropriated in unhelpful ways.

 

 

Jens Schröter on the Need to Assess the Historical Value of Acts on Multiple Levels

Whereas my posts from January 13, February 17, and March 17 dealt with Jens Schröter’s theoretical reflections on historiography, this will be the first of three posts (see now here and here) that 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 three 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! Since today’s excerpt is  rather short, I will analyse it in greater detail as a model sentence.

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

English Translation and German Original

From Jesus to the New Testament, p. 219: “No one disputes that Luke – as every other writer of history – has selected events and arranged them from a certain perspective. Likewise it is uncontroversial that he has made use of information about actual events, general knowledge about the places of the events, and knowledge about the political and military governance of the Roman provinces. If there is agreement about this, then the question of its historical value arises on multiple levels: How precise is Luke’s knowledge of circumstances and the course of narrated events? How well informed about the local color of the respective areas? And finally: How are his intentions and his manner of presentation to be described? In order to characterize Acts as a work of history, one must carefully distinguish between these levels.”

Von Jesus zum Neuen Testament, p. 239: „Niemand bestreitet, dass Lukas – wie jeder andere Geschichtsschreiber auch – Ereignisse ausgewählt und aus einer bestimmten Perspektive gestaltet hat. Ebenso ist unstrittig, dass er dabei Informationen über tatsächliche Ereignisse, allgemeines Wissen über die Orte des Geschehens sowie Kenntnisse über die politische und militärische Verwaltng der römischen Provinzen verarbeitet hat. Herrscht hierüber Einigkeit, so stellt sich die Frage nach dem Geschichtswert auf mehrfacher Ebene: Wie genau kennt Lukas Umstände und Verlauf der erzählten Ereignisse? Wie gut ist er über das Lokalkolorit der jeweiligen Gegenden informiert? Und schließlich: Wie sind seine Intention und seine Darstellungsweise zu beschreiben? Um die Apg als Geschichtswerk zu charakterisieren, ist zwischen diesen Ebenen sorgfältig zu unterscheiden.“

Grammatical analysis

Niemand is the subject and bestreitet the verb. dass introduces the content of what is not disputed. Lukas is the subject. wie = as. jeder anderer = every other. I have left auch untranslated, but I could have written: as every other writer of history “also”. Since dass introduces a subordinate clause the verbs move to the end of the sentence; hat goes with both ausgewält and gestaltet. Ereignisse/events is the direct object of ausgewält hat/selected and the prepositional phrase (aus + dative) aus einer bestimmten Perspektive/from a certain perspective modifies gestaltet hat/arranged. gestaltet could also be translated as “configured”. Ebenso = likewise; unstrittig = uncontroversial; dass introduces the content that is “uncontroversial” and the verb verarbeitet hat. I sometimes translate verarbeiten as “processed” or “reworked”, but here I translated it as “made use of”. Er/he is the subject. It is often best to leave dabei untranslated as I have done here, but I sometimes translate it as “here”, “in doing so”, “in the process”, or “thereby”. Informationen, allgemeines Wissen, and Kenntnisse are the direct objects of verarbeiten hat, and all three direct objects are modified with prepositional phrases that use über, which I have translated with “about” here, though “concerning” or “on” would have worked also. the adjectives tatsächliche/actual and allgemeines/general modify  Ereignisse/events and Wissen, which are both governed by über. The genitive des Geschehens modifies die Orte, which is also governed by über. The adjectives politische/political and militärische/military modify Verwaltung/governance. The genitive der römischen Provinzen indicates what is governed. Verwaltung could also be translated as “administration”. Herrscht stands at the beginning of the sentence, and so is encountered later. I believe that this signals to the reader that it should be translated as “if … then” though I’m not quite sure here. Einigkeit/agreement is the subject of herrscht and hierüber/about this specifies what their is agreement about. Rather than saying “if agreement rules (or prevails) about this” I have conformed the translation to the target language and written “if there is agreement about this” (“if there is consensus on this point” would also have worked). stellt sich die Frage can be translated as “the question arises”, literally “the question poses itself”. Frage nach can be translated as “question of” or sometimes “quest for” (as in Frage nach dem historischen Jesus). dem Geschichtswert = historical value (dative with nach). auf mehrfacher Ebene/on multiple levels (dative with auf). Introducing a question, wie genau/how exactly modifies the verb kennt, which is followed by the subject Lukas. Umstände/circumstances [or conditions] and Verlauf/course are the direct objects of the verb kennt. The genitive construction der erzählten Ereignisse/of the narrated events modifies both Umstände and Verlauf. Introducing a question, wie gut/how well modifies the verb ist … informiert. er is the subject. über/about takes the accusative das Lokalkolorit, which is modified by the genitive der Gegenden/areas {or regions]. It often works to translate jeweiligen as “respective” or “each”. Und schliesslich = and finally. Introducing a question, wie/how modifies the verb sind … beschreiben. sind + infinitive is often best translated “must be described”, though “are … to be described” or “should … be described” are sometimes better. Intention is singular rather than plural, so perhaps I should have translated it as “intention” rather than “intentions”. I think Intention and Darstellung are technically the subjects of sind … zu beschreiben, but am not really sure how to explain the nuts and bolts of this construction properly. Um .. zu + infinitive/charakterisieren = in order to characterize. Apg/Acts is the object and I think als Geschichtswerk/as a work of history could be described as an object complement. ist … zu + infinitive/unterscheiden: one must distinguish. zwischen diesen Ebenen/between these levels (dative plural with zwischen). The adverb sorgfältig/carefully modifies the verb unterscheiden.

Substantive analysis

What I like about this quotation from Schröter is that it seeks to distinguish between several specific questions that have a bearing on how one thinks about the historical value of Acts. Whereas scholars sometimes proceed as if one must choose between “Luke the theologian” and “Luke the historian”, Schröter’s distinction between various levels makes it possible to provide a more nuanced account of Luke’s intention, manner of presentation, and knowledge of various circumstances, events, and areas.

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Udo Schnelle and Eugene Boring on “Geschichte”, “Historie”, and “Historik”: with special guests Jens Schröter, Chris Keith, and Brevard Childs

Today’s post will discuss a noteworthy quotation from Udo Schnelle on his use of the terms “Geschichte“, “Historie“, and “Historik“, which also includes an instructive translator’s note by Eugene Boring (= MEB). The following quotation is taken from Udo Schnelle. Theology of the New Testament. Translated by Eugene Boring. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007, p. 27n5:

Main text: How was history (Geschichte) made and how does research and writing about history (Historie) take place? Footnote 5: Regarding terminology: I use the German terms “Geschichte”/“geschichtlich” to refer to what happened, and “Historie”/“historisch” to indicate the ways in which historians attempt to determine what this was. “Historik” refers to the philosophical theory of history. Cf. H./W. Hedinger, “Historik”, in Historisches Wörterbuch der Philosophie (ed. Karfried Gründer et al.; Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1974). “Geschichte” is never directly available except as “Historie,” but nonetheless the two concepts and terms must be distinguished, because the questions posed from the point of view of philosophical theories of history are not simply identical with “what happened” as that was understood by people in the past. [The German language has two words for “history,” while English has but one. Many German authors, including some quoted by Schnelle, use the two words interchangeably. The nuances distinguished by Schnelle are sometimes difficult to preserve in English. Since the context usually makes clear which meaning is intended, I have generally rendered both words by history and its cognates, though sometimes using event or story for Geschichte to preserve the author’s nuance, or rendering geschichtlich by historic in contrast to historical. See note 2 in § 2.1 below. Here the original reads: “Wie entsteht Geschichte/Historie?” – MEB]

Analysis: This quotation is interesting for several reasons. From the perspective of the subject matter, it is noteworthy insofar as Schnelle recognizes the need to distinguish between two different concepts, namely between “what happened” and “the ways that historians attempt to determine what this was”, and decides to mark this distinction terminologically, namely by using “Geschichte” for the former and “Historie” for the latter. Jens Schröter makes a somewhat comparable move in distinguishing between “past” and “history” (see e.g. From Jesus to the New Testament, p. 98n12 and pp. 22-24), and in his inaugural lecture at St Mary’s University Chris Keith makes a related distinction between “the actual past”, “the (commemorated/received/inherited) past,” and the “present” (see here, esp. 14:22-16:44, 19:20-23:10, 25:18-30:22, 31:47-34:27, 36:21-39:15, 42:30-42:56, 44:00-46:03, 46:04-50:52, 56:32-57:22). Secondly, it is notable that Eugene Boring has difficulty maintaining Schnelle’s terminological distinction in his translation, which could be viewed as an argument against this usage. Thirdly, it is conspicuous insofar as other scholars distinguish between Geschichte and Historie in rather different ways, which is probably an even stronger argument against Schnelle’s usage. For example, in The Church’s Guide for Reading Paul, Brevard Childs writes:

“In a real sense, there is an analogy between his [Gerhard Lohfink’s] categories and those of Martin Kähler between Geschichte and Historie. Geschichte is the historical reflections on events and conditions carried on within a confessing community of faith. Historie is the attempt to understand events from an objective, scientific analysis, applying ordinary experience, apart from any confessional content, as the measure of its credibility” (p. 165; cf. Daniel Driver, Brevard Childs Biblical Theologian for the Church’s One Bible, p. 18).

[Similarly, David Jasper writes: “Historie is a description of how events actually happened; Geschichte is a description of what events mean, both to those who first experienced them and to us now. In other words Geschichte is also concerned with contemporary present-day experience. History is not just about the past; it is about the present” (A Short Introduction to Hermeneutics, p. 93, cited by Walter Moberly, Old Testament Theology, p. 92) and in this vein Karl Barth wrote “Not all history is ‘historical’ [Nicht alle Geschichte ist “historisch”]” (Church Dogmatics III/I:61-94, esp. 80; cited by Walter Moberly, Old Testament Theology, p. 92).]

With a view to all of these observations, I think that Schnelle’s attempt to distinguish terminologically between “what happened” and “the ways that historians attempt to determine what this was” is salutary, but I am not convinced that using Geschichte and Historie to do so is the best way forward, and I also have some reservations about Schnelle’s way of formulating the concepts that need to be distinguished. I find Schröter’s distinction between “past/events” and “history” preferable as a way of speaking about “what happened” and “what (ancient and modern) historians do” (without this being limited to the ways that historians attempt to determine what happened but rather related more closely to the ways in which historians represent the past in the present with reference to the sources that are available to us). If Chris Keith’s more differentiated terminology is drawn upon, then I think it works well to distinguish between “the actual past”, “the inherited past”, and “the present”, whereas I find it somewhat unhelpful to simply speak of “the past” with reference to something other than “the actual past” (even if this usage is widespread in social memory research) since this usage is likely to be misunderstood by many New Testament scholars (for my own confusion on this point and Chris Keith’s helpful clarification, see here: Part II: 41:54-43:50).

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

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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.