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Neues Testament


Horn, Friedrich Wilhelm, u. Ruben Zimmermann [Hrsg.]


Jenseits von Indikativ und Imperativ. Kontexte und Normen neutestamentlicher Ethik. Contexts and Norms of New Testament Ethics. Bd. I.


Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2009. XIII, 386 S. gr.8° = Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament, 238. Lw. EUR 99,00. ISBN 978-3-16-149997-5.


Anders Klostergaard Petersen

The present book balances delicately and subtly between academic presumptuousness and scholarly pretentiousness. Given the level of aspiration intonated by the title, Jenseits von Indikativ und Imperativ, one can hardly blame the reader for having great expectations. After all, the distinction between indicative and imperative constituted the decisive perceptual filter through which almost a century of New Testament scholarship received and understood the relationship between soteriology and ethics not only with respect to Paul but also with regard to early Christianity in general. The dualism originates in Wernle’s magisterial 1897 book, Der Christ und die Sünde bei Paulus (e. g. 89.105), but it was not until Bultmann’s famous 1924 ZNW-essay, »Das Problem der Ethik bei Paulus«, that the distinction became a felicitous and almost in­-dispensable scholarly grid for conceptualizing ›Christian ethics‹, especially in the context of German scholarship. Within this tradition, the dualism became a concise bon mot for a central tenet of Lutheran theology, that is, the imperative rests upon and emanates from the indicative.
The collection of essays comprises 17 contributions in addition to a thought-provoking introduction by the editors in which they provide a suggestive framework for reformulating or taking leave with the indicative-imperative grid. They argue that a renewed examination of the field would benefit from paying heed to eight areas of importance: 1. The form of language in which ethical injunctions are formulated; 2. the kind of norms and guidelines for action that are being evoked; 3. the traditio-historical and historical context in which the norms occur; 4. the importance accorded to the norms, and the hierarchy of values that a given text exhibits; 5. the kind of ethical reasoning that underlies the ethical judgment; 6. the subject pronouncing judgment on ethical matters; 7. the particular form of ethos that either corresponds to or conflicts with the ethical sentence; 8. the areas of implication or audience the ethical judgments aim at (3).
They are all significant fields, but it would have been useful had they been analytically reduced to fewer points and had they been specified in terms of theoretical and methodological bearings. Catalogues are open-ended and less informative than an over-all theoretical perspective encapsulating different aspects by means of an overruling model. The broad scope of the enlisted areas may also explain why only few contributors explicitly relate to them (Engberg-Pedersen is the one being most loyal to the editors’ grid). This is unfortunate given the pivotal status the editors attribute them as a springboard for breaking new ground for the dissolution of the indicative-imperative grid. Despite the aspirations reverberated by the book title, the editors are more modest in their introduction. Here they contend: »Der Band erhebt dabei nicht den Anspruch, dieses Feld (sc. the areas traditionally covered by the indicative-imperative debate) bereits umfassend bearbeitet zu haben, sondern möchte ganz im Gegenteil die weiterführende Diskussion durch erste Gehversuche anregen« (5). However, they emphasize three reasons for abandoning the traditional perceptual filter. Firstly, the indicative-imperative scheme infelicitously subordinates ethics to soteriology. Secondly, it does not rope in the dynamics of Pauline thinking. Thirdly, the distinction is too rigid and, therefore, does not encapsulate the manifold nature of Pauline ethos.
Apart from David Horrell and Troels Engberg-Pedersen, the contributors are all of a German speaking background which is noticeable in some of the essays in which the discussion – according to my taste – becomes a little too local in terms of language and theological traditions. The book is divided into three sections which makes good sense in terms of the time-honored debate of the issue. Six essays fit into a section on New Testament Ethics in Dialogue with Ethics either pre- or contextual with the New Testament. The second section has five contributions and pertains to structures of reasoning in Paul, whereas the last section takes the discussion to other New Testament texts and that of the early church. Addition­ally, the book includes fine indexes of primary sources and subjects (including central Greek and Latin terms).
The majority of essays are erudite and incisive, but the notice­able lack of theoretical and explanatory aspirations in most of the contributions makes some of them appear a little redundant and too closely related to the texts they aim to interpret. A fine exception is the essay by David Horrell on »Particular Identity and Common Ethics« which takes issue with Pauline ethos on the basis of 1 Cor 5. Horrell persuasively demonstrates how the inclusion of identity theory may contribute to advance the debate. He builds his insights on Clifford Geertz, but could just as well have had re­course to the late Durkheim on whom Geertz to some extent depends.
Another fine contribution is Manuel Vogel’s on »Ob Tugend lehrbar sei. Stimmen und Gegenstimmen im hellenistischen Judentum mit einem Ausblick auf Paulus«. Although it may not narrowly relate to the overall theme of the book, Vogel’s attempt to advocate for the philosophical-ethical basic aim of the author of 4 Macc is to be lauded. A number of essays either touch upon or tangentially relate to a field that especially since the publication of the third volume of Foucault’s History of Sexuality (Le souci de soi) and the works of Pierre Hadot has come into scholarly focus, the cure of the self (epimeleia heautou/cura sui) and the art for life (technē tou biou/ars vivendi). The essays by Hermut Löhr, Manfred Lang, Chris-toph Horn all relate to this issue.
Two essays by Matthias Konradt and Karl-Wilhelm Niebuhr partake in the recent reassessment of the Epistle of James. They amply demonstrate how this text should not be placed on the Procrustan bed of Paul and time-honored Lutheran theology with a downgrad­-ing of the letter as result. In particular they emphasize how an accent placed on 2:14–26 leads to a misinterpretation of the text if the passage is interpreted independent of its rhetorical context.
The book is fine and has numerous interesting contributions, but I find it dismaying that little heed is given to theoretical con­-siderations. The book would have benefitted from that. Most strik­ingly, however, I miss reflections that take issue with the central field of problems of the book in terms of history of scholarship and cultural history. To what extent was the original formulation of the indicative-imperative grid part of a historical enterprise, and to what extent did it reflect a particular theological agenda? There is, for instance, a world of difference between Bultmann and the antecedent tradition loosely connected to the so-called Religionsgeschichtliche Schule. Wernle’s manner of using the distinction is clearly different from subsequent scholarship. If one wants to dissolve perceptual filters of previous scholarship, it is indispensable seriously to examine the reasons for their emergence and subsequent uses. Otherwise, one risks continuously falling prey to them in unacknowledged wise.