Jörg Frey on the Source-Critical and Redaction-Critical Approach to the Gospel of John

I am happy to announce that I have just submitted my co-translation (with Christoph Heilig) of a selection of essays on John by Jörg Frey (Eng), which will be published in the BMSEC series in 2018 with the title The Glory of the Crucified One. Thus, it seemed fitting to celebrate this occasion by continuing my series of posts on Frey’s chapter “Wege und Perspektiven der Interpretation des Johannesevangelium,” which will be titled “Approaches to the Interpretation of John” in our volume. For my full range of posts on The Glory of the Crucified One, see here.

Today’s key quotation comes from section 1.4 of this chapter : “The Source-Critical and Redaction-Critical Approach: The Search for ‘Original’ Sources and the Question of the Theological Development of the Johannine Community.”

After presenting specific criticisms of several recent source-critical works, Frey has this to say about the lasting value of this approach (page 20 in Die Herrlichkeit des Gekreuzigten):

Such works are well suited to discredit the method of source criticism as a whole. At the same time, here too a particula veri should be upheld. For the Gospel of John can scarcely be regarded as a text ‘made from a single mold,’ as a completely homogeneous literary unity.

Solche Arbeiten sind geeignet, die Methde der Literarkritik gänzlich zu diskredieren. Gleichwohl sollte auch hier eine particula veri festgehalten werden: Das Johannesevangelium kann eben doch kaum als ein Text ‘aus einem Guß’, als eine völlig homogene, literarische Einheit gelten.

It probably grew over a rather extended period of time, and strongly synchronic interpretations are justified text-theoretically rather than in a way that is actually historical.

Es ist wahrscheinlich über einen längeren Zeitraum gewachsen, und dezidiert synchrone Interpretationen sind eher texttheoretisch als tatsächlich historisch begründet.

At least for chapter 21 the question of a secondary expansion or edition of an existing text arises, and the question of what else was possibly added in this context can only be approached with cautious deliberations, since we have no parallel texts for comparison.

Zumindest für Kapitel 21 stellt sich die Frage einer sekundären Ergänzung bzw. Edition eines vorliegendes Textes, und die Frage, was in diesem Zusammenhang eventuell noch ergänzt wurde, läßt sich, da keine Paralleltexte zum Vergleich bereitliegen, nur mit vorsichtigen Erwägungen angehen.

The same applies to the by no means irrelevant question of the presupposed sources and traditions. For it seems clear that the evangelist presupposes sources and traditions.

Das gleich gilt für die keineswegs irrelevante Frage nach den vorausgesetzten Quellen and Traditionen: Daß der Evangelist Quellen und Traditionen voraussetzt, scheint klar zu sein.

As long as one regarded the Johannine line of development as completely independent and not dependent on other early Christian traditions (especially the Synoptics), one had to reckon with sources that consisted of larger narrative pieces (semeia source and passion narrative or Grundschrift). If one assumes knowledge of the Synoptic tradition, such continuous sources can scarcely be reconstructed any longer, but even then the taking up of individual special traditions from the Johannine community or other circles must be assumed.

Solange man die johanneische Entwicklungslinie für völlig eigenständig und von anderen frühchristlichen Überlieferungen (insbesondere den Synoptikern) unabhängig ansah, mußte man dann mit größeren erzählerischen Quellenstücken (Semeiaquelle und Passionsbericht oder Grundschrift) rechnen, wenn man mit Kenntnissen der synoptischen Überlieferung rechnet, können solche durchlaufenden Quellen kaum mehr rekonstruiert werden, aber auch dann ist die Aufnahme einzelner Sonderüberlieferungen aus dem johanneischen Gemeindekreis oder anderen Kreisen anzunehmen.

Now the source situation for a resolution of the associated problems are anything but great, so that one can scarcely expect source criticism to provide the key for the interpretation of the Fourth Gospel.

Freilich ist die Quellenanlage für eine Lösung der damit gegebenen Probleme alles andere als günstig, so daß von der Literarkritik der Schlüssel zur Interpretation des vierten Evangeliums kaum zu erwarten ist.

***

As a single comment on the translation of this passage, let me simply flag up the difficulty of translating the German terms Literarkritik and literarkritisch. Since it is now used to refer to a very different approach, “literary criticism” is not a viable solution in my judgment. Accordingly, the translator must find another term for the subject matter in question. This, however, is difficult. In fact, since Literarkritik is a more far-reaching term than “source criticism” (see e.g. here), I considered retaining the noun Literarkritik (see e.g. here) and even gave considerable thought to whether it would be possible to coin a new word for the adjective. However, in the end, while recognizing the shortcomings of using “source criticism” and “source-critical” (see e.g. here), I decided to adopt this common translation, albeit with reservations.

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Jörg Frey on the zeitgeschichtliche Approach to Johannine Interpretation

This week’s post comes from my 2016/2017 translation project, namely Jörg Frey‘s collection of essays titled Die Herrlichkeit des Gekreuzigten: Studien zu den Johanneischen Schriften I / The Glory of the Crucified One: Studies on the Johannine Writings I. For all my posts on this book see here.

More specifically, it continues my series of posts on Frey’s introductory chapter “Ways and Perspectives of the Interpretation of the Gospel of John. Reflections on the Way to a Commentary”. Today’s key quotation comes from section 1.3: Der zeitgeschichtliche Zugang: Der historische Ort des Evangeliums als Schlüssel der Lektüre, which I am currently translating as “The Time-of-Composition Approach: The Historical Position of the Gospel as the Key to Reading”.

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

I. Translation and German Text

The Glory of the Crucified One (trans. wmc): Decisive, however, is the hermeneutical insight that results from the two-level model: The Gospel of John is evidently consciously configured—not only in chapter 9—in such a way that the horizon of the time and history of Jesus is interwoven with the horizon of the author and his addressees. In this way the narrated (hi)story of Jesus becomes transparent in relation to the experiences of the addressees; conversely these experiences are interpreted in the light of the earthly history of the eternal Logos. This hermeneutical insight brings at the same time a fundamental qualification in relation to every pure carrying out of the time-of-composition reading approach. If in the Johannine text the narrative of circumstances from the spatial, temporal, and material horizon of the earthly Jesus connects itself with problems, theological insights, and language forms from the Johannine author and his addressees or is overlayed by them, then the Johannine text can be understood neither solely as a ‘historical’ account of the activity of Jesus nor exclusively as a mirror of events in the horizon of the addressee community or their history, but the two horizons are instead fused with each other in a complex and usually no longer clearly separable manner. Thus neither the historicizing nor the time of composition approach is hermeneutically sufficient, although both highlight in their own way the Johannine text’s connection to history.

Die Herrlichkeit des Gekreuzigten (p. 15-16): Entscheidend ist jedoch die hermeneutische Einsicht, die sich aus dem Zwei-Ebenen-Modell ergibt: Das Johannesevangelium ist offenbar bewußt – nicht nur in Kapitel 9 – so gestaltet , daß sich der Horizont der Zeit und Geschichte Jesu mit dem Horizont des Autors und seiner Addressaten verschränkt. Damit wird die erzählte Geschichte Jesu für die Erfahrungen des Adressaten transparent; umgekehrt werden diese Erfahrungen im Lichte der irdischen Geschichte des ewigen Logos gedeutet. Diese hermeneutische Einsicht bringt zugleich eine wesentliche Einschränkung gegenüber jeder reinen Durchführung des zeitgeschichtlichen Lektüreansatzes. Wenn sich im johanneischen Text die Erzählung von Begebenheiten aus dem räumlichen, zeitlichen und sachlichen Horizont des irdischen Jesus mit Problemen, theologischen Einsichten und Sprachformen aus dem Horizont des johanneischen Autors und seiner Adressaten verbinden oder von diesen überlagert wird, dann läßt sich der johanneische Text weder allein als ‘historischer’ Bericht über das Wirken Jesu noch ausschließlich als Spiegel von Vorgängen im Horizont der Adressatengemeinde oder ihrer Geschichte verstehen, vielmehr sind beide Horizonte in komplexer und meist nicht mehr klar auflösbarer Weise miteinander verschmolzen. Damit sind weder der historisierende Zugang noch der zeitgeschichtliche hermeneutisch suffizient, obgleich beide auf ihre Weise den Geschichtsbezug des johanneischen Text zur Geltung bringen.

II. (Selective) grammatical analysis

While it reads smoothly in German, this quotation presents many challenges for the translator or at least for this one. The first problem is presented by the name of the approach. How should one translate Der zeitgeschichtliche Zugang? It usually works to translate zeitgeschichtliche with “contemporary”, but unfortunately I don’t think the meaning of “The Contemporary Approach” is very clear. But perhaps it would work to translate it as “The Contemporary-Historical Approach”? For now I am favoring “The Time-of- Composition Approach” since this seems to bring out the intended meaning, but I am certainly open to a better solution should one be presented! Other tricky points include the translation of Ort in the heading (is “position” the best solution? Or would “place” or “location” be better? The problem with the latter solutions is that they could make the reader think of a geographical location when something broader is in view); sich … verschränkt, which I have rendered with “is interwoven with”; für die Erfahrung des Adressaten transparent, which I have rendered with “transparent in relation to the experience of the addressees” since the point seems to be that the experience of the addressees is able to find its way into the narrated history of Jesus; sachlichen Horizont (I am unsure what exactly is in view here and therefore uncertain whether “material horizon”, “thematic horizon”, “substantial horizon” or some other solution would work best); wesentliche (is “fundamental” the best solution here [I think it probably is] or would “essential” or “substantial” be better?), verbinden (it seems to me that the subject of this verb is die Erzählung, so I am confused as to why it is not verbindet; but perhaps sich verbinden is dependent on wird?); überlagert wird (is “overlayed” acceptable? Or would it be preferable to rework the sentence and write something like: “or if the latter is superimposed on the former”?); Vorgängen (is event the best solution here or would another option such as “processes”, “occurrences” or “affairs” be better?); zur Geltung bringen (would it be preferable to translate more woodenly and write “bring to bear” or is “highlight” preferable with a view to readability and clarity?).

III. Substantive analysis

While some aspects of Martyn’s two-level reading of John 9 have rightly been criticized (see e.g., herehere, and Frey’s discussion of Martyn in this same section), I do not think that weaknesses in Martyn’s particular version of the two level reading as such (cf. Andrew Lincoln, The Gospel According to Saint John, p. 47). Instead, I remain convinced of the validity and fruitfulness of a two-level reading of John 9 in particular and of the Gospel of John as a whole, and I find Frey’s nuanced articulation of this perspective to be especially helpful, both in its description of the interweaving or fusion of the two historical horizons and in its acknowledgment that it is often not possible to disentangle them clearly from each other.

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Jörg Frey on the Historicizing Approach to Johannine Interpretation

Looking into the future, this week’s post comes from my übernächsten translation project, namely Jörg Frey‘s book Die Herrlichkeit des Gekreuzigten: Studien zu den Johanneischen Schriften I / The Glory of the Crucified One: Studies on the Johannine Writings I. For all my posts on this book see here.

Today’s key quotation continues my series of posts on Frey’s introductory chapter “Ways and Perspectives of the Interpretation of the Gospel of John. Reflections on the Way to a Commentary”. More specifically,  it comes from section 1: Five Classic Model of Interpretation, which provides an analysis of The Theological Approach (1.1.), The Historicizing Approach (1.2), The zeitgeschichtlicher approach (1.3), The literarkritische and Redaction-critical Approach (1.4), and the literaturwissenschaftliche or Narratological Approach (1.5). [Still need to think about the translation of some of these terms]

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

I. Translation

The Glory of the Crucified One (wmc): A second approach stands in a complementary relation to the first. It has largely disappeared from the scholarly discussion in the German-language sphere but it still occurs in ‘naive’ readings and it finds defenders time and again in conservative-evangelical circles, above all in North America. It is the historicizing exposition, which in the episodes reported in John and also from the Johannine speeches wants to see, almost without exception, information about the time and history of Jesus and thus reads the Johannine work solely with reference to the time and history of Jesus. … A thoroughgoing reading of the Johannine text in the horizon of the time and history of Jesus strikes upon insurmountable limits, and it appears that with some – not all – evangelical commentators deference to the public interested in the historicity of the biblical texts, to sponsors or the statements of faith of a specific teaching institution impairs too much the view of the freedom of the Johannine manner of presentation and thus a reflection on its problems that is appropriate to the subject matter and honest. One must, however, hold fast to the particula veri of the historicizing interpretation: According to its own claim, the Gospel of John is not a timeless and placeless ‘mythological’ presentation, but rather the narrated witness of the history of Jesus of Nazareth that is concrete and anchored in space and time – irrespective of the clear traces of post Easter and addressee-oriented shaping.

Die Herrlichkeit des Gekreuzigten (pp. 8 … 12): Ein zweiter Ansatz steht dem ersten komplementär gegenüber. Er ist aus dem wissenschaftlichen Gespräch im deutschsprachigen Raum weithin verschwunden, begegnet aber nach wie vor in ‘naiven’ Lektüren und findet in konservativ-evangelikalen Kreisen, vor allem in Nordamerika immer wieder Verteidiger. Er ist die historisierende Auslegung, die in den bei Johannes berichteten Begebenheiten und auch aus den johanneischen Reden Jesu fast durchweg Informationen über die Zeit und Geschichte Jesu sehen will und somit das johanneische Werk allein mit Blick auf die Zeit und Geschichte Jesu liest. … Eine konsequente Lektüre des johanneischen Textes im Horizont der Zeit und Geschichte Jesu stößt an unüberwindliche Grenzen, und es scheint, daß bei manchen – nicht allen – evangelikalen Kommentatoren die Rücksichtnahme auf das an der Historizität der biblischen Texte interessierte Publikum, auf Sponsoren oder die Glaubenssätze einer spezifischen Lehrinstitution den Blick auf die Freiheit der johanneischen Darstellungsweise und damit eine sachgemäße und aufrichtige Reflexion ihrer Probleme allzusehr beeinträchtigen. Festzuhalten ist freilich die particula veri der historisierenden Auslegung: Das Johannesevangelium ist nach eigenem Anspruch keine zeit- und ortlose ‘mythologische’ Darstellung, sondern das erzählte Zeugnis der konkreten, in Raum und Zeit verankerten Geschichte Jesu von Nazareth – ungeachtet der deutlichen Spuren nachösterlicher und adressatenbezogener Ausgestaltung.

Select grammatical analysis: (2) although it is weaker, I often use “still” for nach wie vor. In order to identify the object of findet one needs to look ahead to Verteidiger, which is at the very end of the sentence. (3) For historisieren I often use “historize” rather than “historicize” since the latter is a somewhat loaded word, but it seems like “historicize” might be preferable here, with the meaning of “treat or represent as historical”. I considered using “events” to translate Begebenheiten, but went with “episodes” in order to distinguish this term from Ereignisse. I translated fast durchweg as “almost without exception”, but “almost always” might be just as good or better.  (4) I am not sure if “deference” is the best translation of Rücksichtnahme…auf or if “consideration of/for” or another alternative would be better. sachgemäß is difficult: appropriate would be preferable with a view to readability in the target language, but it seems to me that something important is lost with this translation, so I adopted “appropriate to the subject matter”. “honest” seemed to capture the force of aufrichtig here, i.e., instead of alternatives such as “sincere”, “genuine”, or “upright”.  For beeinträchtigen I debated between impairs, negatively impacts, and compromises – I’m not sure why it is plural, unless die Rücksichtnahme is plural; even if it is plural, I think the singluar translation is correct in English.  I am unsure whether the force of Reflexion ihrer Probleme is “reflection on its problems” or “reflection of its problems”, but I think the former is correct. (5) It seemed appropriate to translate sondern as “but rather” here. I am not sure if “addressee-oriented” is an adequate translation for addressatenbezogener, but it was the best I could come up with,

Substantial analysis: As with my last post in this series, I am basically on the same page as Frey in his assessment of the historicizing approach. Specifically, with Frey I would like to affirm both that the Gospel of John is concerned with the concrete history of Jesus in space and time and that (to a greater degree than the Synoptics) this Gospel reflects post-Easter shaping and the life setting of the author and the author’s community at many points. I am, however, less comfortable with Frey’s attribution of some evangelical scholars’ advocacy of the historicizing approach to deference to institutions, sponsors, or statements of faith, even with his important qualification some – not all. It is not that I doubt that this plays a role in at least some cases, but simply that I think there is more to be gained by assuming/presuming the best of the vast majority of (conservative) evangelical scholars. In particular, while I assume that the diverse contexts and atmospheres in which scholars work shape our perspectives to a great extent and recognize that this sometimes makes scholars of various persuasions toe various lines, I also assume that evangelical scholars who hold to a more maximalist assessment of the extent to which John’s narrative can be situated in the life of Jesus do so because they remain convinced of the viability of this reading rather than that their view is (primarily or exclusively) determined by deference to others, just as I hope that evangelical scholars will give me the benefit of the doubt and assume that I have come to a different judgment in this matter because my sustained engagement with the texts and critical issues has led me to believe that this is the best explanation and not simply because I am am eager to be accepted by others who teach in a public institution like I do, etc. In short, I am hesitant to frame my difference of viewpoint in this matter to a difference in the extent to which I am “honest” or the extent to which I am “toeing a given line”, but I am in agreement with Frey’s assessment that strong forms of the historicizing approach face insurmountable limits and with his conviction that this approach does not do justice to the freedom of the Johannine manner of presentation. In other words, I am critical of this approach because I think it  ultimately fails to “Let John be John” (James Dunn).

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Jörg Frey on the Theological Approach to Johannine Interpretation

Looking far into the future, this week’s post comes from my übernächsten translation project, namely Jörg Frey‘s book Die Herrlichkeit des Gekreuzigten: Studien zu den Johanneischen Schriften I / The Glory of the Crucified One: Studies on the Johannine Writings I.

Today’s key quotation inaugurates a series of posts on Frey’s introductory chapter “Ways and Perspectives of the Interpretation of the Gospel of John. Reflections on the Way to a Commentary”. More specifically,  it comes from section 1: Five Classic Model of Interpretation, which provides an analysis of The Theological Approach (1.1.), The Historicizing Approach (1.2),The zeitgeschichtlicher approach (1.3), The literarkritische and Redaction-critical Approach (1.4), and the literaturwissenschaftliche or Narratological Approach (1.5). [Still need to think about the translation of some of these terms]

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): This approach rightly recognizes the theological intention of the Gospel’s message without classifying its message simply as ‘time-conditioned’ or ‘historical’ or ‘cultural’ and thus relativizing it. The material claim of the Gospel of John to mediate theological truth is explicitly taken up in this reading. Therein resides its validity, for the Fourth Gospel undoubtedly calls for such a theologically sensitive reading. A danger may, however, reside in the fact that in an overly close identification of the interpreter with his [or her] author or the work and its proclamation the possibility of adopting a position of critical distance  is easily lost. John then becomes the standard of what is actually Christian and the problematic aspects of Johannine theology, for example the polemical statements about ‘the Jews’, can be relativized only with difficulty.

Die Herrlichkeit des Gekreuzigten (7): Dieser Ansatz erkennt mit Recht den theologischen Aussagewillen des Evangeliums, ohne dessen Aussagen einfach als ‘zeitbedingt’ einzuordnen oder ‘historisch’ oder ‘kulturell’ zu erklären und damit zu relativieren. Der sachlich Anspruch des Johannesevangeliums, theologische Wahrheit zu vermitteln, wird in dieser Lektüre eindrücklich aufgenommen und vertreten. Darin besteht ihr Recht, denn zweifellos verlangt das vierte Evangelium nach einer solchen theologisch sensiblen Lektüre. Eine Gefahr mag allerdings darin liegen, daß in einer zu engen Identifikation des Interpreten mit seinem Autor bzw. dem Werk und seiner Verkündigung die Möglichkeit einer kritischen Distanznahme leicht verloren geht. Johannes wird dann zum Maßstab des eigentlich Christlichen, und die problematische Aspekte der johanneischen Theologie, etwa die polemischen Äußerungen über ‘die Juden’, lassen sich nur schwer relativieren.

Selective grammatical analysis

Although the German sentence reads very smoothly and is not especially difficult to understand, I found it quite difficult to translate. Aussagewillen presented a difficulty for me, and I am not sure if I am getting it right. I considered various options such as statement/declaration/testimony of purpose/intention, stated intention/purpose, and intended testimony. Sache/sachlich can’t be captured well in English. It is often translated as “content”, but I usually prefer “subject matter” for Sache and “material”, “materially” or “in terms of the subject matter” for sachlich. vermitteln is often best translated with “mediate” but “convey” is sometimes better. bestehen is often best translated as “consist” but “resides” seemed to read better here. I struggled with ihr Recht, but ultimately settled on “its validity” rather than “its right/legitimacy/justification/due/authorization” . verlangen nach has the force of “calls for”, “requires”, “demands”, “desires”, “longs for”: here, “calls for” seemed best. sensiblen means “sensitive”
(NOT “sensible”, which is a false friend: see here). I first translated kritische Distanzhame as “critical distancing” but then changed my mind and translated it as “a critical taking of distance”, which also didn’t seem quite right. And so I decided, against my usual inclinations, to translate more freely and write “the possibility of adopting a position of critical distance”. I recognize that “is easily lost” hardly does justice to leicht verloren geht but “easily goes lost”, “easily gets lost” or “easily gets lost in the shuffle” didn’t seem to work too well. But perhaps “easily slips away” would be better. eigentlich could also be translated as “real” or even with the term “authentic”, especially as this quotation occurs in relation to Bultmann. lassen sich + infinitive is usually best translated as “can be x-ed”, but the wooden “allows itself to be [or lets itself be] relativized only with difficulty” might be better here.

Substantive analysis

one of the things that I like about this section of Frey’s chapter is that he attempts to identify both the elements of truth of the approaches that he traces and the weaknesses and (potential) problems that burden them. Here, I think his assessment of the strengths and potential dangers of a theological approach are basically on target.

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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.