Deutschsprachige Bibelwissenschaft als Exportprodukt – Interview with Dr. Wayne Coppins (University of Georgia)
Dr. Wayne Coppins ist Associate Professor of Religion an der University of Georgia. Im Projekt „Baylor-Mohr Siebeck Studies in Early Christianity“ hat er es sich – zusammen mit Simon Gathercole – zur Aufgabe gemacht, ausgewählte Werke der modernen deutschprachigen Exegese ins Englische zu übersetzen, um so den Austausch zwischen deutsch- und englischsprachiger Forschung zu verbessern. Sprachliche Zweifelsfälle und seine Erfahrungen beim Übersetzen thematisiert er in seinem Blog „German for Neutestamentler“. Über seine Übersetzungsprojekte, seinen Zugang zur deutschen Sprache und seine persönlichen Forschungsschwerpunkte hat er mit mir gesprochen.
Michael Hölscher: What is the aim of the Baylor-Mohr Siebeck project “Studies in Early Christianity”?
Wayne Coppins: The series “Baylor–Mohr Siebeck Studies in Early Christianity” aims to facilitate increased dialogue between German and Anglophone scholarship by making recent German research available in English translation. In this way, we hope to play a role in the advancement of our common field of study. The target audience for the series is primarily scholars and graduate students, though some volumes may also be accessible to advanced undergraduates. In selecting books for the series, we will especially seek out works by leading German scholars that represent outstanding contributions in their own right, and also serve as windows into the wider world of German-language scholarship.
Michael Hölscher: When and why did the project come into being?
Wayne Coppins: When: I first floated the concept of the series to Henning Ziebritzki of Mohr Siebeck in November 2010 at the Annual SBL Meeting in Atlanta. He responded positively to my initial suggestion and the formal proposal that followed, and by January 2011 Simon Gathercole had agreed to serve as co-editor of the series. Against this background, the key moment for the series then took place at the SBL International Meeting in July 2011 when Simon and I met with Henning Ziebritzki of Mohr Siebeck and Carey Newman of Baylor University Press to discuss the series. It was at this meeting that the precise profile of the series took shape, and it was here that the crucial partnership between Baylor University Press and Mohr Siebeck was formed. And the series has continued to benefit from the collaborative input of all four members of this conversation ever since.
Why: Let me first comment on why I initiated the series and then on why I think it actually became a reality. My formative experience of the German language and German New Testament scholarship took place during my studies in Nürnberg and Tübingen. During this time and afterwards during my graduate studies I had several positive experiences with translating German works into English. Accordingly, I found myself wanting to do more translation work. Unfortunately, I also found that my initial attempts to approach publishers with a view to translating specific German works did not develop further. In short, there didn’t seem to be much interest. Against this background, I began to develop a more far-reaching idea that would allow me to pursue my interest in translation and yet simultaneously create something new that would allow me to pursue my larger vision of facilitating greater interaction between German and Anglophone scholarship in a more systematic fashion. The roots of this vision, of course, run much deeper. In the first place, it emerged out of my grateful awareness of how much I had received from the German tradition and from a strong desire to give back to this tradition by helping to mediate it to others. At the same time, it also emerged from a strategic desire to contribute to the advancement of my chosen field of research by exploiting the particular skills and resources that I had developed during my studies and subsequent research.
Why then did this idea become a reality? Here, I think several factors were in play. First, the publication of my book “The Interpretation of Freedom in the Letters of Paul” with Mohr Siebeck had been such a positive experience that I was able to approach Mohr Siebeck in general and Henning Ziebritzki in particular with a great sense of trust and confidence that I would be treated in a fair and professional manner. Secondly, and more importantly, Henning Ziebritzki and Carey Newman did not let the somewhat unusual character of the proposal or the fact that it was a relatively young scholar who was making it prevent them from seeing the genuine potential of the idea. Thirdly, the fact that Simon Gathercole agreed to join the project as co-editor contributed from the outset to both the shape of the series and to its status in the field. Finally, the partnership between Baylor University Press and Mohr Siebeck and the personal collaboration between Carey Newman and Henning Ziebritzki was undoubtedly the most decisive factor in making the series a reality.
Michael Hölscher: You are translating exegetical books from German into English. Which aspects of the German language do you like/dislike?
Wayne Coppins: I would have to make a sharp distinction between aspects of the German language that I like/dislike as a reader of German texts and aspects that I like/dislike as a translator of German texts. As a reader of German texts, I love the nuances of German sentences, which are often conveyed with small words such as wohl, doch, ja, eben,or geradezu. And I especially love the wonderfully compact phrases that one can form such as die heilschaffende Gerechtigkeit Gottes. And as a reader I am only rarely bothered by the length of German sentences. As a translator, however, these same features often create great problems for me, either because I understand them but have difficulty conveying their force in English or because the exact force proves elusive for me (e.g., this sometimes happens with wohl). Similarly, wonderfully compact phrases such as “die heilschaffende Gerechtigkeit Gottes” create problems for me as a translator since they usually have to be unpacked into something like “the righteousness of God that creates salvation” rather than “the salvation-creating righteousness of God”, which means that I have a problem if they are followed by another subordinate clause. And long sentences often have to be broken up for the sake of readability. If I could get rid of a single German word, then I would probably do away with the word Begriff. It seems to me that it often hovers between “word/term” and “concept”, which creates problems when it needs to be translated. For my part, I think it would be more precise and therefore preferable if German authors would write “Wort” when they mean “word/term” and “Konzept” when they mean “concept” (cf. James Barr, The Semantics of Biblical Language, p. 210-211).
Michael Hölscher: I read on your blog that you studied in Tübingen. Which aspects of the German academic system did you like/dislike?
Wayne Coppins: I really enjoyed the German academic system, perhaps because it corresponded with a phase in my academic journey in which I was especially motivated. I loved the fact that every theology/religion major had to learn the languages and methods at the outset, which meant that upper-level seminars could operate at a much higher level than in the States. I also liked that I generally had the freedom to choose the classes that I wanted to take and could stop taking a class if it wasn’t working for me. Likewise, I found it constructive that it was my choice whether or not I wanted to take an exam or write a paper. And as someone who prefers talking to writing, it was wonderful that I had the option to take oral exams rather than written ones. Moreover, I found it beneficial that we were able to write our papers during the lecture free period (Vorlesungsfreie Zeit). And I found the protocols that we had to write for some of my seminars helpful, though also rather daunting. Finally, I liked that as an American student who could (or at least was trying to) speak German I was really treated well by my peers and teachers, in part I suspect because there were rather good relations between Germany and the United States during the Clinton years. I didn’t experience much about the German system that I did not like. This is not to say that I think it is a perfect system, but merely that my particular experience of it was very positive. If I were to make a criticism, then I would probably point to the rather formal-hierarchical character of the German system, which certainly has its drawbacks in my judgment. But I feel that this characteristic was much less pronounced towards me as an American student. For example, Friedrich Avemarie invited me to use the du-forms when I worked for him as a Wissenschaftliche Hilfskraft, Peter Stuhlmacher gave me his bicycle when he learned I didn’t have one yet, and Eberhard Jüngel treated me quite graciously when I couldn’t figure out how to open a wine bottle he had given me to open!
Michael Hölscher: In Germany there is a discussion about academic German. Some people say that the English language will push the German language aside. But in Edinburgh I learned that at the School of Divinity many PhD students studied German in order to read German books for their dissertations. What is your opinion about the role of the English language in New Testament scholarship?
Wayne Coppins: I think it is almost inevitable that the use of English will continue to grow, but I think it would be a very negative development if German scholars began publishing exclusively in English. On the one hand, I think it would be a positive development if more German scholars began publishing some of their research in English alongside their German publications. On the other hand, I think it is also desirable that more English-speaking scholars make the effort to read at least some of the scholarship that is published in German. For my part, I hope that the BMSEC series will not only make individual works of German scholarship accessible, but that it will also spur Anglophone scholars to keep up their German by providing a window into a much wider world of German scholarship that they are invited to enter. Similarly, I am hopeful that my blog “German for Neutestamentler” will help English-speaking scholars to learn and keep up their German and that my “German scholars” category will provide junior and senior German scholars with an opportunity to introduce themselves and their research to the English-speaking world.
Michael Hölscher: Which are your main fields of interest in New Testament scholarship?
Wayne Coppins: Let me attempt to answer this question by discussing some of my publications with reference to their origins. My Master’s degree research in Durham under James Dunn was focused on the topic of “(Bodily) Continuity and Discontinuity in 1 Corinthians 15:35-58”, and I continue to be interested in the topic of resurrection, as shown by my article “Doing Justice to the Two Perspectives of 1 Cor 15:1-11” in Neotestamentica 44 (2010), a work that also reflects the influence of my teachers Friedrich Avemarie and Peter Stuhlmacher in its focus on the juxtaposition of multiple perspectives within a single text. Similarly, through the influence of my teacher Stephen Barton in Durham, my reading of David Horrell, and the fact that my wife Ingie Hovland is a cultural anthropologist, I have developed an interest in the social-scientific interpretation of the New Testament, which I explored in my article on 1 Cor 8:7 in Biblical Theology Bulletin 41 (2011).
My main contribution to the study of early Christianity has probably been my publications on the topic of freedom. My 2009 book “The Interpretation of Freedom in the Letters of Paul: With Special Reference to the ‘German’ Tradition” attempts to shed light on three key issues, namely 1) the importance of freedom in Paul’s letters and theology, 2) the centrality and meaning of “freedom from the law”, and 3) the relationship between freedom and service. In addition to contributing to the exegetical discussion, it seeks to mediate the rich discussion on this topic within German-language scholarship to the English speaking world. My subsequent publications on freedom have attempted to nuance and develop several lines of thought from my book. Concretely, my forthcoming article on “Freedom: New Testament” in the “Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception” focuses on methodology and “freedom from the law”, whereas my forthcoming article on “Freedom” in the “Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Ethics” is focused on the relationship between freedom and positive servitude, a topic that I also tackle in my Lutherjahrbuch 78 (2011) article on “Paul’s Juxtaposition of Freedom and Positive Servitude in 1 Cor 9:19 and Its Reception by Martin Luther and Gerhard Ebeling”.
My Lutherjahrbuch article also aims to be a contribution to reception history and the theological interpretation of Scripture, two research interests that have been stimulated by my teachers Peter Stuhlmacher, Walter Moberly, and Markus Bockmuehl and by my reading of the works of Brevard Childs. Similarly, through my RBL Review of Ernst Käsemann’s book On Being a Disciple of the Crucified Nazarene, I have more recently developed a strong interest in liberation theology.
While I have by no means grown weary of the good apostle, my current research interests are firmly focused on the Synoptic Gospels and especially the Gospel of Mark. To date I have one publication in this subject area, namely my article “Sitting on Two Asses? Second Thoughts on the Two-Animal Interpretation of Matthew 21:7” in Tyndale Bulletin 63 (2012).
Michael Hölscher: Thank you for the interview, Wayne!
- For a blog post on the BMSEC series that complements this one, please see Clifford Kvidahl’s interview of Wayne Coppins here (Part 1) and here (Part 2).
Wayne Coppins hat die Fragen schriftlich beantwortet. Äußerungen der Gesprächspartner geben deren eigene Auffassungen wieder.