History of New Testament Literature

By Weidmann, Frederick | Journal of Biblical Literature, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview

History of New Testament Literature


Weidmann, Frederick, Journal of Biblical Literature


History of New Testament Literature, by Georg Strecker. Trans. Calvin Katter, with Hans-Joachim Mollenhauer. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International,1997. Pp. xiv + 238. $24.00 (paper).

This posthumous publication of Georg Strecker's Literaturgeschichte des Neuen Testaments (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1992) in English translation will be welcomed by many scholars. Strecker's own preeminence in the field is a given, and his knowledge (and opinions) about scholarly methodologies and approaches that have dominated the historical study of the NT for the better part of this century and that continue to exert significant influence are available here in great store.

Beginning with a "Historical Overview" and consideration of "The Task," Strecker moves quickly through discussions of "The Text" and "The Language" to the literature itself, beginning with "Letters," followed by "Gospels," "The Acts of the Apostles," and "The Johannine Apocalypse." A short epilogue on "The Canon of the New Testament," whose discussion shows interesting consistencies with the Preface, closes the book. All is very straightforward-or is it?

First, there is the title and the always problematic matter of translating technical words and phrases. The original title includes the term Literaturgeschichte. On p. 28 the work is described as "a survey of New Testament literary history ." It seems to me that that phrase and others like it found throughout the book capture the intent of the German title less ambiguously than does the English title on the cover.

More broadly of interest to scholars is Strecker's own concern for, and wrangling with, his task vis-a-vis other movements in NT studies, particularly the standard literary methodologies and more current narrative and rhetorical approaches. As for the former, Strecker writes, "The historical study of New Testament literature must be defined in contrast to form and literary criticism" (p. 24). Regarding the latter, Strecker is concerned about "the almost explosive acceptance and usage of rhetorical concepts and structures" (p. 28), and states, "The absolutizing of synchronic factors, as often occurs in newer methodologies, is especially to be questioned" (p. 29).

Concerns about the canon bracket the work and assert themselves in interesting ways. In the preface, Strecker states that "from the point of view of literary criticism, the boundaries of the New Testament canon are not stable. Thus is not possible [sic] to make a basic distinction between the New Testament and the contemporary and subsequent development of early Christian literature" (p. viii). Similarly in the epilogue, Strecker writes that "the history of early Christian literature should not be restricted in principle to discussing the canonical writings of the New Testament. . . . In raising questions of literary history, slighting extra-canonical writings is misguided . . ." (p. 224). Fair enough.

Why, then, does Strecker limit his purview so often, and to such a degree, to canonical texts? It is "due mainly to practical considerations" (p. 28). Strecker continues: "Limiting this study to New Testament writings relieves us from methodological reflections on the boundary between early Christian and patristic literature. . . . The difficulty of drawing a clear boundary line between the two has been rightly noted . . ." (p. 28). Yet such "methodological reflections" seem to have been on Strecker's mind (witness the preface and the epilogue) and now, unfortunately, those thoughts are forever beyond the reach of his readership. Further, there is the simple observation that Strecker himself seems to question whether a "boundary line"-clear or otherwise-should be drawn at all in a study such as he endeavors to undertake. …

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