TVZ have published a new biography of Wildberger by Frank Jehle who rightly gained fame for his stunning and thorough biography of Emil Brunner:
Hans Wildberger war Professor für alttestamentliche Wissenschaft und allgemeine Religionsgeschichte an der Universität Zürich. International bekannt wurde er durch seinen monumentalen Jesajakommentar, der zwischen 1965 und 1982 erschien. Frank Jehle erzählt von Leben und Wirken Hans Wildbergers, seiner Herkunft als Bauernsohn aus Neunkirch (SH) bis hin zu seinem Tod in Zürich. Bemerkenswert ist seine Zeit im Gemeindepfarramt (1933–1951) – seine Predigten sind Zeitdokumente ersten Ranges.
Die Biographie ist die erste, für die Wildbergers Nachlass aufgearbeitet wurde, und zeichnet sich durch eine Konzentration auf das Theologische aus. Von besonderem Interesse ist etwa Wildbergers Werdegang als Schüler Karl Barths, Rudolf Bultmanns und Emil Brunners sowie seine Beschäftigung mit nichtchristlichen Religionen.
The volume consists of an Introduction, a short overview of Wildberger’s family background and childhood, his theological studies, his service as a Vicar, his work in Lucerne, his call to Zurich where he was a Professor of Old Testament, his academic career, his theology of the Old Testament, his work in the field of biblical archaeology, his massive and amazingly significant commentary on Isaiah, his contributions to Religion History, and the end of his career. It also includes a timeline and bibliography of Professor Wildberger’s works and finally it concludes with an index of Persons.
It also includes a number of photographs both in color and in black and white (and they are exquisitely illustrative).
One of the points Jehle makes over and over again is that Wildberger was involved in explicating the Old Testament not just as a historical critical scholar but as a man of faith. He was a believer and he operated and worked as such.
Among the points Jehle makes, it is my view that this is the most important, because by highlighting Wildberger’s attitude towards belief and his exceedingly thorough historical-critical work Jehle makes the proper point that faith seeking understanding is just as viable a hermeneutical approach as the sometimes ballyhooed ‘detached and disinterested outside observer who simply sees the text for what is there and not for what it can contribute to faith’ approach so beloved by those who wrongly assert that they are neutral observers and nothing more.
Widlberger was a brilliant scholar and faith didn’t get in the way of that, it enhanced it. Jehle makes the point I take as key on the very first page of the volume in the very first paragraph of the introduction: After the first world war and the rise of Dialectical theology…
… wollte Wildberger die Bibel nicht nur als historisches Dokument und philologisch lesen… sondern darüber hinaus und besonders als Offenbarungszeugnis (p. 9).
And that is precisely how Wildberger operated his entire career, from the earliest days of his Dissertation on Jeremiah through his later work, he never strayed from the path he set himself at the beginning.
Herein one doesn’t simply learn about a man’s academic career; one also learns about his family (which was fortunate to contain a number of excellent artists, and whose work is peppered throughout the volume) and his travels and his encounters and his relationships with a number of Christians and non-Christians. In short, one has at hand in this volume a true biography which while focusing on the theological interests of its subject also and of necessity deals with every aspect of his life.
The only way that this volume might be improved is if it were longer. At roughly 210 pages of text the reader, this reader especially, is left wondering what could have been related but wasn’t because of the constrictions of space and time. Surely there was more to tell. Surely a life such as Wildberger’s was comprised of many aspects which we are not yet privy to because they haven’t been divulged.
Perhaps a second volume is coming? Or perhaps a volume which focuses more strictly on Wildberger’s exegetical work is in the works? We can hope.
Rare is the biographer who leaves readers wanting far more. Yet that is what Jehle manages to do. More. What is wanted from this volume, and of this author? More.
For example, on Thursday, 17 October, 1951, from 2-3 PM, Wildberger held his first academic lecture (or so we are informed on page 93). He then commenced courses on Genesis and Isaiah (as recommended in telephone conversations by Emil Brunner and Victor Maag). But what did Brunner say to him and what did he say to Brunner? Who made the suggestion and how was it received? What discussions followed?
If we only knew. I am hopeful that one day we will.
This is a grand and engaging book. I recommend it, as I must, because to fail to do so would be to hide an extraordinary light under a bushel of silence and that is never appropriate.