In light of the appearance of Konrad Schmid’s new book, I sent along a series of questions and he was kind enough to subject himself to an interview. Here’s our exchange:
JW– Thank you, Professor Schmid, for your time and your willingness to sit down (so to speak) for this interview. Professor, please introduce yourself, if you would, to our readers.
KS– I am Swiss Bible scholar, working mostly on the Pentateuch and the Prophets, but I have a wide range of scholarly interests, pertaining to different methodologies and approaches to the Bible and also to interdisciplinary projects.
JW– You have published widely in the field of Old Testament/ Hebrew Bible. Which term do you prefer to use, and why?
KS– I don’t have an overall preference for either term. The term Old Testament denotes something different than Hebrew Bible, both regarding the number and the ordering of the books. I try to use whichever term fits best in a given context.
JW– Your forthcoming volume, “Gibt es Theologie im Alten Testament? Zum Theologiebegriff in der alttestamentlichen Wissenschaft”, has just appeared. It’s about 150 pages in length so it seems that it is intended to be either a quite specific answer to the question posed in the title, or a quite general overview of the topic. Would you mind describing its contents?
KS– The study is more of an essay than a comprehensive monograph. It basically consists of two parts, the first one deals with the history of the term “theology” in biblical studies and tries to describe why some people think it is a useful term, and others don’t. The second part is a brief sketch on how one might reconstruct the genesis of what might be called theology within the Hebrew Bible, i.e. the emergence of reflective texts that try to interpret and evaluate given traditions.
JW– the publisher says this of the volume: Seit 2000 Jahren dient das Alte Testament in Judentum und Christentum als Gegenstand theologischer Erörterungen und Befragungen. Doch gibt es so etwas wie Theologie bereits im Alten Testament selbst? Lässt sich die Entstehung der alttestamentlichen Literatur auch unter dem Aspekt fortschreitender theologischer Reflexion beschreiben? Eine Antwort auf diese Fragen hängt davon ab, wie man die Kategorie «Theologie» bestimmt. Konrad Schmid zeichnet dazu die historische Entwicklung des Theologiebegriffs in der Bibelwissenschaft nach und beschreibt Texteigenheiten im Alten Testament, die für die Frage «Gibt es Theologie im Alten Testament?» von Bedeutung sind. Would you agree with that description? Is the book primarily for a Christian audience?
KS– Yes, I agree with it. I wrote it myself. The book is actually intended for an interested audience within and outside of Christianity. Its basic intent is to regain the category “theology” as a common term in biblical scholarship. I try to develop a usage of the term that is basically historical and descriptive. For me, the question of a “theology of the Hebrew Bible” is a scholarly enterprise as accessible to everyone and as open to discussion by everyone as is the reconstruction of the “philosophy of Plato.”
JW– In earlier theologies there was much talk of a ‘center’ of the Old Testament. I’m thinking here primarily of Eichrodt who saw covenant as the ‘theme’ of the Hebrew Bible. Do you think there is such a unifying center, or do we have to do with ‘theologies’ instead of ‘theology’?
KS– I think there are a number of implicit theologies in the Hebrew Bible that can be found on different levels. There is a theology of the Jacob cycle, a theology of the book of Genesis, a theology of the Priestly Code, a theology of the Pentateuch, and so on. Nonetheless, it is also possible to inquire about a theology of the whole Hebrew Bible. However, this too needs to be put in the plural: the different arrangements of the Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament in different codices, for instance, show that the compiler of these codices intended to stress different aspects in their Bibles: The Old Testament in the Codex Sinaiticus, for example, ends with the book of Job, which seems to serve as a bridge to the New Testament by means of its topic of the suffering righteous one. The Codex Vaticanus, by contrast, ends the Old Testament with the book of Daniel, stressing instead the theme of the Son of Man, who is to be expected to set up his reign.
JW– How does this project fit into your larger body of work.
KS– It might be considered as a theoretical introduction to the reconstruction of ancient Israel’s intellectual history as documented in the Hebrew Bible, as I tried to elaborate it in my “The Old Testament: A Literary History” (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012).
JW– Do you have plans to present some of your materials at the upcoming SBL in Baltimore?
KS– No, maybe at a later occasion.
JW– Are you presently working on another book, and if so, might I ask what it’s about?
KS– Together with three colleagues, I am attempting to work out a comprehensive presentation of the history of ancient Israel’s literature.
JW– Are there plans to make your newest volume “Gibt es Theologie im Alten Testament? Zum Theologiebegriff in der alttestamentlichen Wissenschaft” available in English?
KS– Yes, a translation into English is on its way, although it will take some time to finish it.
JW– Again, thank you for your time, and I’m very much looking forward to reading your book and – hopefully – seeing you in Baltimore.