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Die Antike Historiographie und Die Anfange der Christlichen Geschichtsschreibung.

DIE ANTIKE HISTORIOGRAPHIE UND DIE ANFANGE DER CHRISTLICHEN GESCHICHTSSCHREIBUNG. Edited by Eve-Marie Becker. Beihefte zur Zeitschrift for die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft and die Kunde der alteren Kirche 129. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2005. Pp. xiii + 308. 82.24 [euro].

I cannot exaggerate the importance of this collection, originally presented at the University of Erlangen in 2004. It includes an impressive range of studies, each tackling core problems related to the making of Christian (and pagan) historiography in the ancient world. The contributions rise without exception to the demanding challenges laid down by Becker in her lucid introduction ("Historiographieforschung and Evangeiienforschung" [1-17]), chief among them: to examine the multifaceted concepts of "origins" and "beginnings" in the historiography of ancient Greece, Rome, and Israel, and their combined role in the formation of early Christian historiography. Included is Second Temple Judaism with its quintessentially eschatological and soteriological preoccupations, encapsulated most notably in the apocrypha and the pseudepigrapha. Second Temple literature especially conveys the divine promises, namely, the coming of the Messiah and the end of temporal history--promises coupled with narratives pertaining to Israel's ancient beginnings. The way was thus open to the formation of a new type of historical consciousness, that of the risen Christ and his followers whose expectations and hopes for the future shaped a new understanding and presentation of the past, transforming it from the heritage of one nation into the sacred history of the entire human race.

The collection highlights the possible gains and risks of applying modern literary criticism and theoretical cultural hermeneutics to the study of ancient historiography. B.'s excellent introduction and Martin Mulsow's "Zur Geschichte der Anfangsgeschichten" (19-28) are outstanding contributions to theology, biblical scholarship, and even cultural historiography and theory (and deserve translation into English). Other papers explore inter alia the consolidation and amalgamation of the aforementioned traditions and their subsidiaries into a recognizable Christian tradition of historiography inspired by all those strands, yet capable of transforming the concoction into a solidified and unique voice.

Earlier Christian historiography has been too often sidelined and, in certain cases, dismissed altogether, particularly by classicists who keenly belittled what they regarded as the inherent inferiority of the first Christian historical narratives. At present, even fifth-century ecclesiastical historians (e.g., Socrates, Sozomen, and Theodoret) lack recognition as worthy contributors to late antique historiography. French scholarship--mostly studies since the 1981 publication of Francoise Thelamon's Paliens et chretiens au Iye siecle--has effectively challenged judgments that the late antiquity historiae ecclesiasticae is a defective by-product of a declining culture. It was the French scholars Bernard Pouderon and Yves-Marie Duval who convened the 2000 Colloque international d'etudes patristique d'expression francaise and published the resulting L'historiographie de l'eglise des premiers siecle (with a preface by Michel Quesnel). That collection is the best coverage available on the evolution of general Christian historiography since R. L. Milburn's classic but now outdated Early Christian Interpretations of History (1954). However, only Quesnel's "Luc, historien de Jesus et de Paul" actually deals with the sources and the inspirations of the earliest Christian historiography, thus leaving a gap that B.'s collection tries to address. (G. W. Trumpf's Early Christian Historiography [2000] restricts itself, perilously, by reducing early Christian historiography to a corpus of "Narratives of Retributive Justice," without doing justice to the historiography question.)

Against this background and despite the overall high scholarly standards that uninterruptedly typify B.'s collection, some papers stand out as groundbreaking. Under this category falls Beate Ego's "Vergangenheit im Horizont eschatologischer Hoffnung" (171-95), an original and incisive analysis of 1 Enoch 85-90. Ego demonstrates astutely how the narration of an eschatological vision can encode in itself apocalyptic patterns of historical thought from which clear new concepts of the Israelite past can be extracted. B. adds to her brilliant introduction a fresh take on the connection between the Bellum Judaicum, the composition of Mark's Gospel, and the beginnings of Christian historiography in her "Der judisch-romische Krieg (66-70 n. Chr.) und das Markus-Evangelium: Zu den 'Anfangen' fruhchristlicher Historiographie" (213-36). I should also mention Wolfgang Wischmeyer's "Wahrnehmungen von Geschichte in der christlichen Literatur zwischen Lukas und Eusebius" (263-76). His paper is a compact yet thought-provoking discussion of Eusebius's lists of bishops and their affinity with the tradition of Roman chronography. W. links the election of bishops with Roman Reichspolitik and provides us with fresh insights into the evolution of Christian historiography (and the place of the Christian Church) in the pre-Constantinian Roman Empire.

The only downside of this otherwise superb collection is that it is accessible only to readers of German. Yet, it should hold a lasting place on the bookshelves of many scholars from various disciplines, most notably patristics, biblical studies, and ancient historiography.


Brasenose College, Oxford
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Author:Argov, Eran I.
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 1, 2007
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