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A German Landscape: Currents and Credits of Biblical Studies in Germany during the Past Decades
by Heike Omerzu

Heike Omerzu's review in the SBL Forum accurately indicates weak points in contemporary German language New Testament exegesis, but, by ignoring some important aspects, the article produces a picture of a rather thin and lifeless tradition. This is particularly deplorable because it silences approaches that are inspiring for both German and international scholarship as well.

The author focuses on the well-established academic circles and ignores the discourses on the margins and scholarship outside the universities. To be alert to them is especially important in contexts where the universities are rather conservatively structured, such as in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. The author notes correctly that the theoretical-methodological debates of the universities trickle very slowly into the public space, if at all. But the reverse also happens: Extra-academic impulses feed into the academic exegetical-theological discourse and its hermeneutic approaches.

In the German-speaking context, the theological women's movement was formed outside universities, in Bildungshäusern, at the yearly Deutscher Evangelischer Kirchentag, and in long-term courses and workshops, and had a major effect on bible studies. I think for instance of the huge project translating all the books of the Bible, Bibel in gerechter Sprache,[1] which aims to use gender-sensitive language and includes findings from the Jewish-Christian dialogue, and was pushed forward by more than sixty exegetes. In the German-speaking context there is an abundance of valuable bible translations, but this will be the very first to involve a substantial number of female exegetes. A discussion of justice issues in Bible translations has been ongoing since the 1980s, mostly in connection with the Kirchentag. Hermeneutical criteria for translation were sharpened by the Jewish-Christian dialogue and feminist linguistics, as well as by increasing knowledge of the presence of women in early Christianity. The strongest impulse towards a justice-based discussion of the translation of the Bible, however, came from feminist biblical scholars and from the women's movement in the churches.[2]

Furthermore, I am surprised that the author mentions only one female exegete. This perpetuates the androcentric perspective of academic Bible studies. The author should certainly have mentioned the contribution of Luise Schottroff and of the group of scholars related to her, who were already doing sociohistorical research in the field of New Testament in the late 1970s and who have produced a considerable body of influential literature.[3]

Feminist research on Paul has been growing in the last few years, but feminist approaches to Paul have so far barely taken account of the shift in Pauline studies initiated by the New Perspective and by perspectives beyond the New Perspective.[4] A challenging new concept of Paul has emerged in the meantime from the German-speaking feminist exegesis, which should not be overlooked.[5] Here, you find the Jewish discussions of the first centuries C.E. given a strong position in the exegetical reflections, while the Wirkungsgeschichte is scrutinized separately from the Greek text. Patterns of interpretation become visible, as "Paul and his opponent" or "Paul is always right," which can be criticized as having been dictated by a hermeneutic of domination. And so a virtually unknown body of the Pauline writings gradually begins to emerge.

These newer hermeneutical developments in Germany that Heike Omerzu considers to be some significant hope for a renewed German-speaking contribution to the field of biblical studies should not be isolated from the ongoing discussions I mentioned above. I am sure, that a possible way out of "the current state of isolation" is to paint a less monolithic and less androcentric image of German language exesis, as well.

Luzia Sutter Rehmann, Faculty of Theology, University Basel /Switzerland

[1] Ulrike Bail, Frank Crüsemann, Marlene Crüsemann, Erhard Domay, Jürgen Ebach, Claudia Janssen, Hanne Köhler, Helga Kuhlmann, Martin Leutzsch, and Luise Schottroff (eds.) Bibel in gerechter Sprache (Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, forthcoming).

[2] Martin Leutzsch, "Dimensionen gerechter Bibelübersetzung," in Die Bibel - übersetzt in gerechter Sprache? Grundlagen einer neuen Übersetzung (Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 2005), 16.

[3] Luise Schottroff and Wolfgang Stegemann, Jesus von Nazareth. Hoffnung der Armen (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1978); Luise Schottroff, Lydias ungeduldige Schwestern. Feministische Sozialgeschichte des frühen Christentums (Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 1994); Luise Schottroff Die Gleichnisse Jesu (Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 2005). L. Schottroff, M. Th. Wacker, Kompendium Feministische Bibelauslegung, (Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 1998).

[4] Kathy Ehrensperger, That We May Be Mutually Encouraged. Feminism and the New Perspective in Pauline Studies (New York: T. & T. Clark, 2004).

[5] C. Janssen, L. Schottroff, B. Wehn (eds), Paulus. Umstrittene Traditionen, lebendige Theologie (Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 2001).

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Citation: Luzia Sutter Rehmann, " Response to Heike Omerzu," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited June 2006]. Online:


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