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Neues Testament


Wassermann, Clemens


Das vierte Evangelium aus Sicht der semitischen Sprachen. Ein linguistischer Beitrag zur Klärung der johanneischen Frage.


Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt 2019. 387 S. = Arbeiten zur Bibel und ihrer Geschichte, 65. Geb. EUR 48,00. ISBN 978-3-374-06459-5.


J. K. Elliott

This book is based on Clemens Wassermann’s doctoral dissertation, recently successfully submitted to the Evangelical Theology Fa-culty in Leuven, Belgium. It now appears in the prestige series »Arbeiten zur Bibel und ihrer Geschichte« as no. 65. Currently W. is employed as a teacher of Old Testament languages and literature at the Eusebia School of Theology in Stuttgart. As the work reviewed here began life as a thesis, the chapter on previously published academic studies into Semitisms in the Bible and a 50+ page bibliography (of books predominately in German or English — all of which were presumably available to and read by W.), as well as a section on his methodology and a brief listing and analysis of works by former scholars such as Black, Bultmann and Beyer are understandably de rigueur in such writing. »Semitisms« are the main foci: the term is here mainly understood as Aramaisms and Hebraisms insofar as those may be differentiated from the other. W. has read widely and many sources are in his compendious footnotes. Each sequence of those is professionally executed and re-numbered for each separate chapter. They reach no. 594 in his 100 page chapter 3 and 627 in the fifty pages of chapter 2!
W. often distinguishes Hebraisms from Aramaisms – especially good examples to be found in John’s Gospel (as on 201 ff. or 249 ff.). Such differences caused him to alter many of Dalman’s conclusions, especially the latter’s deduction that Aramaisms in the Bible (and predominantly in the N. T. period) belonged to the colloquial language of the first century AD whereas Hebrew in that century was literary and artificial or »merely« scholarly by the time of Jesus. Thanks to W.’s (unique but telling) ability to cite Arabic sources and Aramaic dialects from the »Western Levant« i. e. predominantly understood in the Lebanon of today, as well as his use and investigation of older texts from the Dead Sea Scrolls electronically and other electronic databases, his work shows and proves its importance. All these studies are set out clearly in the book, as are the several »user-friendly« pictures and tables found throughout it; these indicate W.’s confidence, using all such materials. Spot-checks show his accuracy and they help underline his enviably fluent abilities in those areas.
In chapter 2 W. cites (apparently fifty-four separate) transliterations, eight of which are set out in full, such as many a proper noun like »Bethesda« or »Messias« , to prove his case; I do, however, regret his ignoring there the nouns Ιεροσολυμα and the frequent variation usage of the transliterated »Ierousalem«, especially as W. is, wisely, alert to certain other variants (as e. g. on 112, note 21). But I do look for – and seldom find – a great use of variation units here. Those could often help his case. As a thoroughgoing textual critic myself, I often claim that, when confronted by variants — one supporting a »Semitism« over against improved or »better« Greek in certain manuscripts, the former should be preferred. (I do, however, applaud W.’s use of Arabic as a major Semitic version for the N. T. nowadays. From a text-critical viewpoint, I am very pleased to see that biblical manuscripts in Arabic are now being studied in recent publications by Arbache, by Schultess and by (the Lebanese) Kashouh. As a consequence of labours such as theirs and now W.’s it is my hope that critical editions of the (Greek) New Testament may resume the long-lost inclusion of Arabic alongside other early versions like Gothic and Ethiopic. It is of interest that conservative evangelical readers seem to agree with such a judgement.)
As far as the early date of John’s Gospel is concerned, I doubt if we can or even should end up with a precise figure, because most, if not all, »Semitisms« belong to the writer’s literary background, be those Aramaisms or Hebraisms. W. also quotes from what we are told is a total of some 704 »syntagms« and syntactical matters taken from a selection of sources. These include in his chapter 3: noun clauses, participial and other verbal sentences. This is by no means intended to be an exhaustive listing but what he selects is more than sufficient to prove a point — in a book, that I indicated at the start of this review, to have begun its life as a university disserta­-tion! His exhaustiveness runs both here and in other chapters to numbering each section, with the result that we may reach, for instance.
W. claims that in line with Old Testament works like Proverbs and Sirach, both of which may artificially preserve Hebraisms in their pithy and easily-remembered or readily-transmitted epigrams and he states that John’s Gospel (regularly referred to here as the »Fourth Gospel«, presumably to emphasise its independence from the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark or Luke) must be earlier in its »publication« date than is commonly given. Caution ought to be urged.
However, this is indeed a worthy thesis, well deserving a judgement of summa cum laude. W. now works in a small and very conservative institution in Stuttgart, mainly with colleagues who are determined to bolster, or (rather) compensate for German state universities’ secularizing and their increasing interest in »theological« themes such as mission, contemporary comparative religions etc. and, worryingly, less on Greek, Hebrew and other languages. May he succeed with that work, as too with this significant book, whose publishers (and he) are deserving of our praise. (The bizarre gaps at the bottoms of several pages are to avoid the publishers’ having footnotes printed and thus found on the »wrong« pages.) I trust that this linguistic study may buck an unforgivable trend!
However, it is a pity that the book lacks indexes of (modern) authors despite the presence of other Verzeichnisse. The book has a brief summary in English and a bilingual (German-English) »Abstract« at the end. The English is very good but is clearly not written by a native English-speaker. We may note W.’s use of N. American spellings but I suspect his use of »in the like manner«, »comprised of« or »extend« (when »extent« is needed bis), as well as the poor English in the final paragraph of his summary or the lack of normal articles before grammatical terms (on 383 e. g.) will prove irksome to the very few who need this crutch.