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Neues Testament


Templeton, Douglas A.


The New Testament as True Fiction. Literature, Literary Criticism, Aesthetics.


Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press 1999. 391 S., 1 Taf. gr.8 = Playing the Texts, 3. Lw. £ 57.50. ISBN 1-85075-945-6.


Robert C. Morgan

This is an idiosyncratic, playful, oracular, funny, clever, and perhaps at times facetious book. It provides few clues as to how to read it, and will lead to some frustration, even among those whose English can handle the wide range of allusion and reference. The main thrust, spun out at great length, is that the New Testament is more poetry than history and better interpreted with the help of literary critics and philosophers than by historical criticism. But it is not a polemic against normal biblical scholarship (which the author teaches at Edinburgh University) so much as a plea for widened horizons. The passages considered most closely (1Cor. 15.20-28, Mark 1.15, John 1.1-18, 2Cor. 3.18, 11.22-12.10) are not subjected to any close reading, but rather to a mixture of literary, philosophical and theological reflexion. Whether 'fiction' was an appropriate category to choose (under the influence of Wallace Stevens - 'poetry is the supreme fiction') may be doubted, but like everything else in the book it is a provocation, and an invitation to give the imagination space to work. That the New Testament is art may readily be granted, and the challenge to take the implications of that seriously should be welcomed.

But the message can get lost in the medium. Some will enjoy the author being stimulated by his heroes - R. G. Collingwood and R. Gregor Smith especially, and his appeal to classical philosophy and Wittgenstein, and to poets and literary critics including T. S. Eliot and Frank Kermode. They will also relish his engagement with German theology, more from the 1960s than the 1990s (and none the worse for that) but reaching back also to de Wette. It would be pointless to question his choice of heroes - why he adopts a post-modernist style and stance without much reference to the writers usually preferred in that corner. Readers who are willing to be unsettled, even disturbed - yet able also to enjoy the play - will benefit from occasional shafts of insight. Like Nietzsche's books this one contains fish-hooks. And it is not entirely the author's fault if there is a shortage of fish.