Metacriticism: On Methodological Problems of Biblical Exegesis


Working towards a theory of exegesis, the workshop sets itself to critically reflect on modes and methods of biblical criticism. More to the point, we aim to focus on premises and presuppositions of exegetical work that generally tend to remain implicit and/or unconscious. The first and most fundamental goal is to bring them to mind explicitly. In view of widely varying analyses of one and the same text supposedly employing the same method, we thereby suggest to explore how certain models of textual development are predetermined by their underlying presuppositions. Such metacriticism, however, is no end in itself. Rather, it is meant to enable dialogue and genuine cooperation among biblical scholars of different schools as well as with representatives of neighboring disciplines. At the end of the day, it aims at critically assessing the validity of the said presuppositions, thus helping to lay a more solid foundation for actual exegetical work. In the 2017 workshop, we shall focus on problems and perspectives of what could be called the redaction-critical paradigm in present-day biblical scholarship (see Call for Papers 2017). One out of two sessions will be a joint session in cooperation with the workshop “Analyzing the Metatextuality of the Biblical Tradition Literature”.


Walter Bührer, University of Bochum

Friedrich-Emanuel Focken, University of Heidelberg

Joachim J. Krause, University of Tübingen


Berlin 2017

“Economical Criteria” in Redaction Criticism

The 2017 workshop applies Umberto Eco’s concept of “economical criteria” to redaction criticism, thus seeking to foster reflection on methodological problems in this approach. “Economical criteria” as suggested by Eco help evaluating competing textual interpretations of varying complexity (U. Eco, Grenzen der Interpretation, Wien 1992, 139–168; cf. U. Eco’s lectures in: S. Collini [ed.]: Interpretation and Overinterpretation, Cambridge et al. 1992). In application to redaction criticism, the concept affords the possibility to compare and evaluate competing results of redaction-critical analysis.

At least five general problems call for critical attention:

First, certain presuppositions of redaction-critical analysis tend to remain implicit and/or unconscious although they predetermine the results in a considerable manner. Having been brought to explicit attention, these presuppositions and the results arrived at by employing them can and should be compared. The evaluation likely will indicate that some analyses and respective models of the redaction history of a given text are more economical than others. This issue will also be addressed in a joint session with the Workshop “Analyzing the Metatextuality of the Biblical Tradition Literature” (R. Heckl, L. Maskow).

Second, there are cases in which textual development is perceptible due to a plurality of indicators of different type, like e.g. a change in style and a change in quoted texts. Such diverse indicators can either support or neutralise each other (cf. O. H. Steck: Exegese des Alten Testaments, Neukirchen-Vluyn, 14th edition, 1999, 55–57). In the current methodological discussion, this problem tends to pass unheeded.

Third, there are cases in which indicators of textual development allow for rather diverse models of the genesis of a given text, for example a variety of small-scale additions as opposed to a few wide-range insertions. Judging from the chances to be met with significant consent, the latter model seems generally preferable. The question remains, though, whether it should be preferred on these grounds, and if so, how to balance the degree of complexity of competing models in cases less clear-cut.

Fourth, in this context it shall be evaluated in which cases synchronic interpretations of tensions in form, content and pragmatics of biblical texts result in overall simpler models of textual interpretation or rather in more difficult ones.

Fifth, as often pointed out but not quite as often observed, building hypotheses on each other results in hypotheses of lower probability (cf. T. Krüger: Anmerkungen zur Frage nach den Redaktionen der großen Erzählwerke im Alten Testament, in: T. Römer/K. Schmid [eds.]: Les Dernières Rédactions du Pentateuque, de l’Hexateuque et de l’Ennéateuque [BEThL 203], Leuven et al. 2007, 47–66, 66 note 47). Guided by “economical criteria”, that explanation of a given text which employs the least complex combination of hypotheses is to be preferred.

We welcome contributions dealing with these problems or adjacent ones.

The Annual Conference 2021
takes place 2-5 August
in Wuppertal. Read more.