And Again

Kähler’s hermeneutical principle was simple and straightforward: Scholars should interpret the biblical sources in light of the purpose for which they were created. – Carl Braaten

Isn’t it shocking that this simple truth evades so many ‘learned’ and unlearned people?

Teufel, Tod und Trauer: Der Satan im Johannesevangelium und seine Vorgeschichte

This arrived some months back .  The publisher writes

978-3-525-59367-7Florian Theobald discusses the understanding of the devil in the gospel of John and deals firstly with the representation of the devil in the early Judaic and Christian periods. In the first part (“The history of the representation of the devil from its beginnings to the New Testament”) particular attention is paid to the theory of Henry Ansgar Kelly that in the writings of the early Judaic period and of the New Testament, the devil is to be understood not as an adversary but as a functionary of the Divine Government. The work also shows that the role of the devil in the early Judaic and New Testament texts is not clearly defined.  He can appear in the same text as both an officer and an adversary of God.

The second, main part of the work (“The devil in the Gospel of John”) is concerned with the devil’s nature and workings and his fall and loss of power in John’s Gospel. The author shows how the devil in the fourth gospel is thought of as an objective figure outside of man but at the same time is clearly linked with psychological effects. Three dimensions of his psychological workings are apparent: 1. A cognitive dimension: the devil influences man’s consciousness through the power of the lie so that people perceive and judge from worldly standpoints; 2. An ethical dimension: through his cognitive workings, the devil produces in man inappropriate behaviour. People carry out the will of the devil in the belief that they are doing God’s will; 3. An emotional dimension: John’s devil produces hatred and aggression, fear of death and – in accordance with a common tradition from the early Judaic period – sadness.

Thus, the devil in the fourth gospel can be active in the world, even after his fall: after his loss of power on the cosmic level which occurred in the hour of Jesus there is also a need for his power to be destroyed on an anthropological level. This is achieved through the Paraclete and allows the disciples to participate in Jesus’ victory over the devil.

The volume lays the groundwork for its central thesis by describing and discussing the ‘Devil’ in the Hebrew Bible and other early Jewish literature and the New Testament (particularly in Paul and the Synoptics).  It isn’t until page 148, when the third segment commences, that F. gets down to it and leads readers through the always intriguing subject of Satan and his appearances in the Gospel of John.

In his own words,

Diese monographische Lücke will die vorliegende Arbeit schließen. Sie fragt nach dem Verständnis des Teufels im Johannesevangelium (p. 14).

It’s a simple enough thesis and straightforward as well.  So the author attacks it with the sort of directness one would suppose.

Werden diese Wurzeln des Teufelbildes in der folgenden Darstellung nicht gesondert behandelt, so deshalb, weil dies den Rahmen einer bloß zum eigentlichen Thema hinführenden kleinen „Biographie des Teufels“ sprengen würde. Man muss nicht alle seine „Verwandten“ und „Vorfahren“ einbeziehen, um die Vorgeschichte des Satans im Johannesevangelium in Judentum und Urchristentum zu verstehen (p. 26).

And that’s certainly true.  John did not write in a vacuum so it is perfectly proper to place him in his context.  Which is why half of the book is taken up with just that.  This is, however, not a weakness but a strength.

The volume moves from strength to strength.  F. draws from every conceivable source in order to rightly apprehend just what it is that John is attempting to disclose to his readers about this person and his place.

When he finally does get around to John’s Gospel, he opens with these important lines:

Das Johannesevangelium spricht achtmal explizit vom Teufel. Dabei bedient es sich unterschiedlicher Begriffe: Dreimal wird der Teufel διάβολος (6,70; 8,44; 13,2), einmal σατανᾶς (13,27) und ein weiteres Mal ὁ πονηρός genannt (17,15). Daneben findet sich an drei weiteren Stellen, die Wendung ὁ ἄρχων τοῦ κόσμου (τούτου) als Bezeichnung für den Teufel (12,31; 14,30; 16,11). Dass der vierte Evangelist bei diesem ἄρχων τοῦ κόσμου τούτου – wenngleich gelegentlich Gegenteiliges behauptet wird2 – an keinen anderen als den Teufel denkt,3 zeigt ein Blick auf Joh 14,30: Kündigt Jesus seinen Jüngern hier das Herannahen des ἄρχων τοῦ κόσμου (τούτου) an, so denkt er dabei recht deutlich an Judas, in den Joh 13,27 der Satan eingegangen war, und der Joh 18,1 ff. in dem Garten jenseits des Baches Kidron erscheinen wird, um für Jesu Festnahme zu sorgen (p. 148).

That sort of precision is continued as F. unravels the Johannine thread.  And what, at the end of the day, does F. make of the Devil?

Der Teufel ist im vierten Evangelium ohne Frage als kosmische Macht und mythische Person vorgestellt. Eine Besonderheit ist jedoch, dass er als solche – anders als etwa der Satan der synoptischen Versuchungsgeschichte – niemals als Leibhaftiger die Bühne betritt. Eine weitere Besonderheit ist, dass ihm anders als den Teufelsfiguren der synoptischen Evangelien und vieler frühjüdisch-urchristlicher Schriften, keine Dämonen zur Verfügung stehen, durch die er wirken könnte: Er ist nicht der ἄρχων τῶν δαιμονίων sondern der ἄρχων τοῦ κόσμου τουτοῦ und damit letztlich der Herrscher der Menschen, durch die er einzig in den Lauf der Geschichte eingreifen kann. Über Menschen hat der Teufel Macht, weil er ihr Inneres beeinflussen kann.

At hand is a brilliant study, a superb monograph on a fascinating topic.  The Devil is always fascinating.  F. makes his appearance in John’s Gospel even more fascinating because he shows in exquisite detail what the character is really there in the text for.

I enjoyed this book and I recommend it to you with the expectation that you will enjoy it too.  It is scholarship.  True, authentic, substantial scholarship.  Dive down to the bottom of the sea and collect the smallest samples so as to gain an accurate understanding of what lies beneath scholarship.  F. dives all the way down and what he shows us about John’s Gospel by having done so is unsurpassed.

Rudolf Karl Bultmann himself could have learned something about John from F.  Likewise, you.

Congratulations to Eric Cline

He’s on the Federalist’s Most Notable Books list.  The op-ed person writes

There were three older books I reread this year that became relevant again: One, A History of the Jews by Paul Johnson. If you need comprehensive but readable history—from an admittedly philosemitic perspective—you can’t do better. Two, How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present, and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Franchise—because, obviously. Finally, 1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed, by Eric Cline. A superb history of the mysterious Sea Peoples who invaded Egypt and transformed the ancient world.

It’s one of those wretched ‘best of’ lists to be sure.  But since Eric’s book really is good, it deserves the mention.  There, and here.

23 Biblical Studies Twitter Accounts NOT To Follow

Who knew….

Reading Acts

grumpy-cat-meme-twitterI got this idea from John Scalzi, a SF writer who has been writing a blog since before there was such a thing. I read his collection of essays/blogs on a plane this summer (The Mallet of Loving Correction) in which he had a list of “25 Geeks NOT to Follow on Twitter” (@BathingInMayo, for example).

Scalzi’s idea was really a modern version “The Mad Library of Extremely Thin Books” from Mad Magazine. These were books which would be more or less blank inside, something like “Defusing Racial Tension by Donald Trump” or “Essentials of Calvinism by Joel Osteen.”

These are all fake twitter accounts (I hope) in the same tradition as Mad or Scalzi. I worked on this list over the last few months, but finished most of it up at AAR/SBL and thought it would make a reasonable “end of the year” list for Jim West…

View original post 390 more words