Translating Scholarship for All: An Interview with Wayne Coppins (Pt. 1)

CoppinsPicRecently a joint venture started between Baylor and Mohr Siebeck that “aims to facilitate increased dialogue between German and Anglophone scholarship by making recent German research available in English translation.” Just this past September saw the inaugural volume from Jens Schröter titled From Jesus to the New Testament: Early Christian Theology and the Origin of the New Testament Canon published to a welcomed reception, and with it the hopes that there will be many more on the horizon. When news of this series reached me I was immediately excited! I am strong advocate of translations of important works of German to English and vice versa. The more readily available scholarship is, the better we are all for it.

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I asked Dr. Wayne Coppins—one of the editors of the new series and the translator of Schröter’s work—if he would be willing to answer a few questions regarding the Baylor-Mohr Siebeck Studies in Early ChristianitySchröter’s book, and some practical aspects regarding German translation. He graciously agreed to do so. I hope you enjoy this interview, and I strongly urge you to go and pick up a copy of his translation of From Jesus to the New Testament: Early Christian Theology and the Origin of the New Testament Canon.

Tell us a little bit about yourself: where you grew up, your education, where you teach, etc.

I moved to Roswell, Georgia from Ann Arbor, Michigan at the age of three. My academic journey took a key turn in middle school. I didn’t do very well in Spanish, so my dad suggested that perhaps I should try Latin in high school instead. Fortunately, I had a very good Latin teacher in Ron Folds and a great fellow student named David Givens, which resulted in me going to the Georgia Governor’s Honors Program for Latin. This experience really helped me to begin to appreciate learning, since most of my energy had been devoted to playing soccer up to that point in my life. And so, when I headed off to the University of Georgia in 1994, I planned to be a Latin major with the goal of teaching Latin in high school.

At the University of Georgia I first took Greek in the Department of Classics summer intensive course with Dr. Charles Platter, and I can still remember his refrain – “I know you feel like you don’t know anything, but think about how much more you know than you did two weeks ago”, which was only equaled by Dr. Naomi Norman’s subsequent reminder that “if nothing else, learning Greek will teach you that you can’t bluff your way through everything in life!” I ended up double majoring in Greek and Latin, and I thoroughly enjoyed studying Classics for the whole course of my degree. By the end of it, however, I had begun to develop an even greater interest in studying the New Testament, inspired by my formative religious experiences at the UGA Wesley Foundation, by two New Testament classes that I took with Dr. George Howard in the Department of Religion, and by my reading of F.F. Bruce and Raymond Brown.

Upon completing my BA degree, I initially planned to take a year off and translate through the Greek New Testament while living with my grandparents in Fredonia, Pennsylvania. However, my more adventurous friend Jay Weldon convinced me that I should instead join him for his exchange year in Nürnberg, Germany. And so I shortened my stay with my grandparents to three months of intensive translation interspersed with a few hands of euchre or 500 each night, and moved to Germany in January 1999 where I learned a little German from a Goethe Institute course in Prien am Chiemsee and a lot of German from my friends in Nürnberg.

In September 1999 I moved to Tübingen, Germany, where I studied for two years at the University of Tübingen while living with (and learning from!) many new friends at the Albrecht-Bengel-Haus. During this time, I was especially influenced by my teachers Peter Stuhlmacher and Friedrich Avemarie, and yet also by Eberhard Jüngel, Otfried Hofius, Bernd Janowski, Dorothea Wendebourg, and Martin Hengel. Following the advice of my teacher Peter Stuhlmacher, I applied to work with James Dunn in Durham for my Master’s thesis on “Aspects of (Bodily) Continuity and Discontinuity in 1 Corinthians 15:35-58”, during which time I also benefited immeasurably from my coursework with Stephen Barton, Walter Moberly, and Loren Stuckenbruck and from my fruitful interaction with fellow graduate students.

In 2002, I moved to Cambridge to write my PhD thesis on The Interpretation of Freedom in the Letters of Paul: With Special Reference to the ‘German’ Tradition. I began my PhD research under the supervision of Markus Bockmuehl, but since the end was not in sight when he left Cambridge, we agreed that I should continue under the supervision of Graham Stanton, who generously guided me through the last few years of my degree in the midst of his battle with cancer. And I should add that I also learned much from David Ford, who supervised me for a semester while Markus Bockmuehl was on leave. While I remember my PhD as a long, dark, and painful process, the benefit of my slow progress was that I was able to work closely with two wonderful Doktorväter and become friends with an especially large number of fellow PhD students!

In 2007 I completed my PhD and was fortunate enough to obtain a tenure-track position at the University of Georgia, where I am now Associate Professor of Religion. While most of my publications have been in Pauline studies, my teaching and research interests at UGA have focused on the Synoptic Gospels and especially the Gospel of Mark.

How did the Baylor-Mohr Siebeck Studies in Early Christianity series come about?

During my studies in Tübingen I had the opportunity to translate one of Peter Stuhlmacher’s lectures and found that I really enjoyed this work, and this insight received further confirmation when I had the chance to translate Martin Hengel’s 2005 chapter “Eye-witness Memory and the Writing of the Gospels” for Graham Stanton’s Festschrift The Written Gospel and Roland Deines’ 2007 Tyndale Bulletin article “Martin Hengel: A Life in the Service of Christology” for Martin Hengel’s 80th birthday celebration in Cambridge. Against this background, I began to develop the idea of the BMSEC series as a way to pursue my enjoyment of translation, while also creating something that was more far-reaching in scope than the translation of an isolated volume here and there. Since I had published my book The Interpretation of Freedom in Paul with Mohr Siebeck, I decided to approach Henning Ziebritzki at the 2010 SBL Annual Meeting in Atlanta. He responded positively to my proposal and by January 2011 Simon Gathercole had agreed to co-edit the series with me. The decisive meeting for the series, however, did not occur until July 2011, when Simon Gathercole and I met with Henning Ziebritzki of Mohr Siebeck and Carey Newman of Baylor University Press at the International SBL in London. It was here that the four of us hammered out the precise profile of the series, and it was here that the crucial partnership between Baylor University Press and Mohr Siebeck was formed.

What criteria do you use when it comes to choosing which Mohr volume to translate?

The selection of each volume involves discussion between me and Simon Gathercole as well as consultation with Carey Newman and Henning Ziebritzki, so I think a complete answer would have to include their perspectives also. For me at least, the single decisive criterion for selecting a volume for inclusion is the level of the scholarship. I am open to including a wide range of works by scholars of differing persuasions on diverse topics from various genres, including monographs, collections of essays, and commentaries, so long as they represent the highest level of scholarship. In conjunction with this criterion, other criteria also come into play of course. Since my central vision for the series is for it to advance the field by facilitating greater interaction between German and Anglophone scholarship, I am especially attracted to volumes that also provide a window into the wider world of German scholarship. Beyond this point, I am drawn to works that show a high degree of methodological sophistication and works that are multidisciplinary in character. I am fond of works that represent impressive syntheses of a scholar’s past work, and yet I am also interested in detailed exegetical monographs on narrowly defined topics. From a more pragmatic perspective, it is obviously a bonus if there is already a certain level of excitement surrounding a given author or work, so that we can have greater confidence that it will be widely purchased and read. But I am also open to including high quality works by authors who are less well known. Finally, it is an advantage if a work can be seen to contribute something new to the field, though I am not personally inclined to prioritize this criterion as highly as many others do.

Come back tomorrow for part two of my interview with Dr. Coppins. For another recent interview with Wayne, see Michael Hölscher’s recent post.

4 thoughts on “Translating Scholarship for All: An Interview with Wayne Coppins (Pt. 1)

  1. Pingback: on learning Greek | συνεσταύρωμαι: living the crucified life

  2. Pingback: Deutschsprachige Bibelwissenschaft als Exportprodukt – Interview with Dr. Wayne Coppins (University of Georgia) | Grámmata

  3. Pingback: Wayne Coppins on translating German and the Baylor-Mohr Siebeck Studies in Early Christianity: Author Interview | Dunelm Road

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