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Die Verwandlung Jesu Christi. Historisch-kritische und patristische Studien.
Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2016. XVIII, 378 S. = Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament. 2. Reihe, 422. Kart. EUR 99,00. ISBN 978-3-16-153695-3.
James Buchanan Wallace
This monograph is essentially the author’s dissertation, supervised by Prof. Dr. Ute E. Eisen and accepted by the Protestant theological faculty of the Goethe-University Frankfurt am Main; the dissertation was awarded a Dr. Kurt-Hellmich Foundation prize in Ecu-menical theology. In this compelling study, Cosmin Pricop writes as an Orthodox biblical scholar seeking rapprochement between historical-critical and Eastern Orthodox methods of exegesis. While exploring tensions, he argues that these approaches can be mutually enriching.
In the introductory chapter, P. states that his concern is methodology, for modern Orthodox scholars have recognized the hermeneutical value of the patristic tradition. Orthodoxy lacks, however, its own systematic method for scholarly exegesis (2.329). P. lays the foundations for such a method by omparing and contrasting Western methods for interpreting the Transfiguration (Mark 9:2–9) with Eastern Orthodox interpretation.
In the second chapter, P. analyzes the Markan account of the Transfiguration using standard approaches of historical-critical interpretation, such as textual, form, and redaction criticism. P. offers excellent introductions to each approach. He then discusses how modern Orthodox biblical scholars have tended to assess it; in most cases, reception has been mixed. Next, he analyzes the Markan Transfiguration using the method under consideration. The exegetical results are consistently solid. Finally, he reflects again on the significance of this work from an Orthodox perspective. P. simultaneously sees value in these approaches while facing the difficult questions some raise for Orthodox thought. P. insists that Orthodox scholars should engage and address these questions.
A brief third chapter serves as a transition. The Protestant schol-ar Ulrich Luz (and others) has called on exegetes to learn from the church fathers, who, unlike those using historical-critical exegesis, could not draw a sharp distinction between an »original meaning« and the relevance of the text for new readers. P. analyzes Luz’s call and conceives of his own project as a response.
In the fourth chapter, P. systematically examines the exegesis of the Transfiguration by the church fathers Origen, John Chrysostom, and Jerome. He seeks to delineate their interpretive methods and compare them to historical-critical methods. He also explains how these interpreters relate the text to their own audiences by seeking higher levels of meaning and treating characters as models for imitation. Like many recent scholars, P. avoids overly simplistic dichotomies between »Alexandrian« and »Antiochene« interpreta-tion. The Transfiguration is as much a real event for Origen as it is for Chrysostom, and Chrysostom is as interested in a higher mean-ing as Origen is, even their approaches are different. Indeed, the most distinguishing characteristic of patristic exegesis, shared by all three, is the concern for what P. (and others) call the actualiza-tion ( Aktualisierung) of the text. All three insist that their readers can participate in the Transfiguration, and they call their audiences to do so. The event, though historical, is something that remains open to all believers. Origen and Jerome interpret the »six days« (Mark 9:2; Matt 17:1) between Jesus’s last teaching and the Trans-figuration as a reference to the creation story; ascending the mountain after six days reveals that one must rise above the concerns of the visible, created world to experience invisible/divine realities. For Chrysostom, a life of virtue will enable believers to experience something even more dramatic than the Transfiguration at the final judgment, and even now believers can, like Jesus, put off old garments and be clothed with light through virtue (279–287).
A brief fifth chapter offers conclusions.
Many of the most compelling findings of Verwandlung emerge in the second and fourth chapters, which tend to reinforce/elaborate on one another. The church fathers assume the accounts of the Transfiguration to be descriptions, from three authors, of an ac-tual event. Hence, a recurring theme of the monograph is the tension between this perspective and those methods of historical criticism that imply (or assume) that these accounts are deeply shaped by the communities that handed them on and/or the final author. For example, while basic forms of text analysis ( Textanalyse), including grammatical and semantic analysis, prove compatible with patristic approaches, methods that postulate sources behind the text (Literarkritik) raise more problems. P. agrees that tensions with-in the Markan Transfiguration suggest a complex developmental process, but he regards attempts to reconstruct earlier sources as speculative (59–60) and doing so raises questions not only of his-toricity but also of which »layers« of the tradition are authoritative.
Likewise, with regard to tradition criticism, Western scholars mine not only the Old Testament but non-canonical Jewish texts and Greco-Roman sources. In this specific case, P. maintains that Old Testament Sinai traditions are indeed the most important influences on the passage, though he does not thereby deny the relevance of Hellenistic Jewish and Greco-Roman sources (110–11). The patristic interpreters of the fourth chapter, like modern Orthodox interpreters, look strictly to the Old Testament. They generally assume some form of typological relationship that is an expression of the divine economy of salvation, rather than considering the possibility that the evangelist could have shaped the narrative to allude to the Old Testament.
Since the early church strongly favored the Gospel of Matthew and systematic interpretation of the Gospel of Mark was quite rare, P. must analyze Origen and Chrysostom’s exegesis of the Matthean version of the Transfiguration; only in the case of Jerome can he examine commentary on the Markan version. (P. notes that to this day, a Romanian Orthodox New Testament scholar has never written a commentary on Mark .) Like modern scholars, the church fathers note differences between the synoptic versions, but again, they do not think in terms of redactional intentions. If there is direct contradiction (such as the number of days between Jesus’s last teaching and the Transfiguration – six days in Matthew and Mark, eight in Luke 9:28), they harmonize. Both Chrysostom and Jerome conclude that Luke included in his tally the day of Jesus’s last teaching and the day of the Transfiguration, while Matthew and Mark did not. Thus, the actual timeframe was exactly the same. More typically, the differences between the synoptic accounts are used to supplement the version at hand. If there is information in Mark or Luke that is missing in Matthew, the interpreters bring that information into their exegesis of Matthew so they can offer a more complete picture of the event. Thus, for P., the lack of commentary on Mark by Origen and Chrysostom does not present a problem. Nonetheless, P.’s work might have been even more coherent had his second chapter focused on the Matthean, rather than the Markan, Transfiguration.
Though P. rightly emphasizes that the Fathers would never fathom a separation between exegesis and application as West interpreters often do, his focus on method rather than hermeneutics inevitably necessitates that he ignore the distinctive ways Western scholars have sought to make their work relevant. Indeed, one of the great contributions of modern critical scholarship has been precisely the resuscitation of the Gospel of Mark as a distinctive and vital theological voice among the Synoptic Gospels. Perhaps at least some attention to sermons of modern interpreters, or exegesis aimed at pastors, or modern hermeneutics would have made the contrasts regarding the application of scripture more nuanced.
Verwandlung is a learned and well-researched work. P. offers an invaluable analysis of how patristic exegesis works and what his-torical-critical scholars should learn from it, while urging his fellow Orthodox towards openness to historical-critical approaches. The book contains few errors and is complemented by a lengthy bibliography and thorough, helpful indices.