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Sigmund Mowinckel und seine Zeit. Leben und Werk eines norwegischen Alttestamentlers.
Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2006. XII, 365 S. m. Abb. gr.8° = Forschungen zum Alten Testament, 50. Lw. EUR 79,00. ISBN 978-3-16-148734-7.
A monograph about the life and work of Sigmund Mowinckel (1884–1965), who is first and foremost known as a professor of Old Testament at the University of Oslo, has been very much needed. Professor of history of religion at the University of Oslo, Sigurd Hjelde has covered that need in an excellent way. He is well equipped to do so; not only does he hold a doctorate in both history of religion and theology, but he has demonstrated the ability to find, read, and put together a lot of different sources. He has gone through, as far as the present writer can judge, almost all of, what Mowinckel has published in the Old Testament field, and the relevant reviews and critical remarks to these works. Furthermore, he quotes newspaper articles about many different matters, sermons and not least letters to and from members of Mowinckel’s family. H. is also familiar with a very important correspondence with colleagues in Scandinavia and the rest of Europe. Here the reader is for instance informed about his contact with his most important teacher in Germany, Hermann Gunkel.
The book is divided into two main sections, a biographical part (12–107) and a thematic part (110–309). In the introduction (1–9) the reader is informed about the sources consulted and the outline of the book, and at the end of the book photos from the life of Mowinckel are found (311–322), followed by lists of literature, Mowinckel’s own publications (1909–1967) and a selection of reviews (323–345), and finally (346–365) the most important literature consulted, followed by indices of names mentioned (359–365).
Outside Norway, Sigmund Mowinckel is known as the learned scholar. It has been an eye-opener to be introduced to other sides of his life through this very thorough work. We learn that he was a Lutheran minister’s son from the countryside and read about other family matters, and we follow him through the educational system and the years as a doctoral student in Germany. But this is only one aspect; it is important to be reminded about the national feelings in his lifetime, before and after Norway became an independent kingdom (1905), and also that he was involved in the very harsh fight between liberal and conservative Lutherans in Norway. It cannot have been easy to be a young liberal theological scholar in Norway in these days. Mowinckel was a member of the state faculty and was often attacked by theologians from the free conservative congregational faculty, founded in 1908 after a so-called professor fight. All his life, Mowinckel was involved in church matters, but he was not ordained until he was 55 years old, and then it seems at least to be partly to a result of his engagement in the Oxford group movement (chapter 7, 110–135; chapter 13, 281–300). All in all Mowinckel was interested in many matters and wrote about them, e. g. the Norwegian language fight. He was rather mild in judgement of the Germans during the first world war (excursus 86–91), in spite of the fact that he had shown a critical attitude towards Germans, when he was a research student (chapter 4, 49–67). One of the few matters, the present writer misses in the book, is an excursus about Mowinckel’s judgement of the Nazi ideology, but probably there were not enough sources in this area, or H. decided not to go into these problems.
No doubt theologians will find the themes of most interest to them in the three chapters entitled »Mowinckel als Alttestamentler«. The first of these (chapter 9, 162–200) takes up, rightly, the importance of Mowinckel’s Psalm research. Psalmenstudien I–VI, 1921–1924 made Mowinckel famous in the Old Testament world, but he studied the Psalms again and again and published The Psalms in Israel’s Worship in English a few years before he died (1962, Nor. ed. 1951). The importance of the second volume of Psalmenstudien is underlined. In this study Mowinckel against the common opinion of his days claimed that most Psalms stem from the time of the Judean kingdom before the Babylonian exile; they reflect the cultic situation in the Temple of Jerusalem, not least the liturgy of the autumn festival, which Mowinckel saw as the feast for Yahweh’s enthronement. In the second part of the same volume Mowinckel suggested that the Old Testament eschatology goes back to the old Israelite cult as this is known from the psalms. Later on Mowinckel changed his view upon the age of the eschatology, and it is characteristic that he was not afraid of changing his opinion about different matters.
In the second of the three chapters about Mowinckel as an Old Testament scholar (chapter 10, 201–235) his methods are presented and discussed. In the same chapter his involvement in the discussion about divine kingship and the Jewish Messiah expectations is explored. The third of these chapters (chapter 11, 236–266) has the subtitle, »Between theology and science of religion«. The science of religion is of course H.’s own field, and that is not least obvious in this chapter, especially where he reviews Mowinckel’s contribution to the understanding of other religions and in the excursus »The science of religion at the University of Oslo in Mowinckel’s days« (265–266). But still, H. has a very clear feeling for the tension between exegesis and theology. This chapter is important for anyone who is interested in the history of Old Testament research in the 20 th century, both because this tension plays an important part in this history, and because the movement from history of religion to theology has to do with Mowinckel’s own history and religious development.
Under the heading »Mowinckel in dialogue with the Old Testament prophets« (242–254) another prominent part of Mowinckel’s research is discussed. In the same way as Mowinckel’s understanding of the psalms as liturgy was related to his view upon the service in the Norwegian Lutheran Church, his prophecy exegesis was marked by his own religious life. This is especially the case in what he wrote in the thirties, where he came under influence of the »Oxford Group Movement«.
Chapters 12 (267–280) and 14 (301–309) round the description of Mowinckel’s scholarly work off in different ways. Mowinckel was during his long active life involved in two translation projects. Together with the colleagues, N. Messel and S. T. Michelet (and later with A. Kapelrud and R. Leivestad) he published a five volumes annotated Norwegian Old Testament translation (1929–1963), using contemporary exegetical and philological methods. Not least the first volumes became a useful introduction to Old Testament exegesis for many theology students in Scandinavia. In the late 1950ties Mowinckel became involved in the translation of a new Norwegian church bible, a work he put a lot of effort into. One of matters H. informs us about is that bible translation in Norway is not only related to the question of a liberal or conservation attitude to church language, but also a question of which of the two Norwegian languages should have the dominance, the so called book language (bokmål), which is close to Danish, or the Modern Norwegian (nynorsk), which is much more related to old Norse. The last chapter deals with Mowinckel’s place in the Old Testament world, both in his own days and in contemporary studies.