Translating Scholarship for All: An Interview with Wayne Coppins (Pt. 2)

*For the first part of my interview with Dr. Coppins see Translating Scholarship for All: An Interview with Wayne Coppins (Pt. 1)*

For those unfamiliar with Jens Schröter and his work Von Jesus zum Neuen Testament/From Jesus to the New Testament: Early Christian Theology and the Origin of the New Testament Canon, can you speak a little about why you chose to release it as the inaugural volume in the Baylor-Mohr Siebeck series why you regard it as especially important?

It is no accident that my initial proposal for the series already began with Jens Schröter’s book From Jesus to the New Testament. From my perspective, it had so much going for it. In the first place, it was written by a major German scholar who was relatively well known in the English-speaking world but whose major works had not yet been translated. More importantly, this work embodied so much of what I was hoping to do in the series. Against all tendencies to marginalize the German tradition by relegating it to a past phase of scholarship, I felt confident that this work would convey with all due clarity that German scholarship is alive and well. It combined penetrating engagement with classic German voices such as Harnack, Baur, Wrede, Schweitzer, Bultmann, and Käsemann with cutting edge research on the most recent developments in the field. It was both methodologically sophisticated and multidisciplinary in character. And the fact that it addressed not only the historical Jesus and the New Testament writings but also the emergence of the New Testament canon, the ancient Christian apocrypha, and the relationship between a theology of the New Testament and a history of early Christian theology or religion would effectively signal that that the series would be broad in scope rather than restricted to exegetical studies on the New Testament writings. Beyond this, it produced new insights not only by exploring territory that had received too little attention, but also by approaching classic big questions from new angles. Finally and most importantly, I thought that it represented the highest level of scholarship.

I think that Jens Schröter’s book is important for many reasons. Most obviously, his extensive discussion of the relationship between New Testament scholarship and recent research on recollection and historiography in chapters 1-4, 6, and 10 will likely play a key role in subsequent attempts to grapple with these important areas of research. In particular, I think it is salutary that he not only provides advanced theoretical reflections on the relevant issues (esp. chs. 1-2), but also attempts to show how such reflections can shape the way that one thinks about central matters such as Jesus’ death (ch. 4), the historicity of the Gospels (chs. 3 and 6), and the historicity of Acts (chs. 3 and 10). Beyond this point, I think that Schröter’s nuanced discussion of the emergence of the canon (chs. 12-14) and the relevance of this field of inquiry for thinking about how one might conceptualize a theology of the New Testament in conversation with a history-of-religions approach (chs. 15-16) is also especially significant.  Finally, I think that there are many brilliant exegetical and methodological insights in the individual chapters on Jesus (5-6), Paul (7-9), and Luke (10-11).

In this context, I would also like to add here that I am equally excited about my forthcoming translation (with Brian Pounds) of Jens Schröter’s book Jesus of Nazareth: Jew from Galilee—Savior of the World, which will be published in 2014 by Baylor University Press (though not as part of the BMSEC series).

Translating is no easy task! When translating from German to English, what are some of the translation issues you most commonly run into?

One of the biggest issues is simply the extensive amount of material that has to be translated for a book, which means that there is only so much time that can be spent revising the translation if I want to meet my deadline. For me at least, the task of translation itself is challenging in many different ways. Sometimes I don’t know what a given word or phrase means. While this is certainly a challenge, some of these problems resolve themselves in the course of translating the work, some of them can be solved using internet resources, and some of them can be addressed through communication with German friends or the German author him/herself. In reality, the more difficult problem is when I have a fairly good sense of what is being said but can’t figure out how to convey this sense in English, for there are fewer resources available for resolving this problem. More generally, I always face the problem of whether to give priority to my allegiance to the source language or to show greater loyalty to the target language, which often involves a choice between precision and readability. In the end, I think the most important insight for the translator is that rather than facing a choice between “a good translation” and “a bad translation” one usually has to choose between multiple imperfect translations that all have arguments for and against them. Finally, I have to negotiate a balance between my personal translation preferences, which favor a fairly wooden approach that remains fairly close to the German wording, and the preferences of my actual readers, which often place a higher premium on readability. Concretely, this means that I am always working towards the production of a more fluid translation, while attempting to maintain something of my own preference for remaining close to the German wording when possible. Here too I think it is a question of balancing the advantages and disadvantages of various approaches and aims rather than a choice between “a good approach to translation” and “a bad approach to translation”.

What tools do you have beside you when translating?

My translation process has two stages. During the first stage I provide a very rough first draft of the main text of the entire manuscript, skipping over everything that I can’t initially figure out, with the rationale that at least some of it will become clear as I become more familiar with a given author’s style and vocabulary in the course of the translation. In this phrase of translation, I only use a searchable Langenscheidts Handwörterbuch that I have on my computer. It is not quite as good as the internet dictionaries, but it is useful to me if I can completely avoid getting on the internet during this first phase of translation, so that I don’t find myself constantly checking Facebook! During the production of a thoroughly revised second draft translation, I then make use of two internet dictionaries, namely http://www.dict.cc/, which is the better dictionary for determining the meaning of individual words, and http://www.linguee.com/, which is more useful when looking up the meaning of phrases and very helpful for the example sentences that it provides. Beyond this, I also make frequent use of Google Books (http://books.google.com/), which is indispensible for identifying whether or not there is a standard way to translate a given term. And with the help of Google Books it is sometimes possible to use translated works as a dictionary, i.e, by first searching for a German term in the German version of a given work and then consulting the English translation to see how another translator rendered it. For example, the German and English versions of Theissen/Merz The Historical Jesus can be searched on Google Books. Finally, for my own benefit and that of others, I am gradually attempting to compile some additional tools that I have found useful under the Resources Tab of my blog.

For someone wanting to begin a journey into reading/translating theological German, where would you suggest s/he begin his or her journey?

My own path to learning German was rather unorthodox. I moved to Germany with almost no German, spent one month in a Goethe Institute, and then learned almost everything I know from my friends in Germany. Hence, it is only with great difficulty that I can use the formal Sie-forms in conversation! Against this background, I am probably not the best source for providing advice on how to approach the task of learning German in a more conventional manner, other than stressing that you should consider spending an extended phase in Germany if at all possible. But if pressed for some additional tips, I would suggest the following. First, consult the resources that I have provided on the Resources Tab of my blog, which should give you some initial orientation. For example, JohnDave Medina provides a helpful survey of resources, and Andy Rowell provides several reasons for beginning with April Wilson’s German Quickly: A Grammar for Reading German. Secondly, once you have found your feet, spend some time working through the posts on my blog that are categorized under “model sentences”, since these provide an especially detailed grammatical analysis of select sentences. Thirdly, start reading through translations of material that you know very well with reference to the German original. This will allow you to use the English translation as a crutch – not as a way of avoiding learning German but rather as an aid to doing so! Fourthly, based on positive feedback from others, I recommend checking out Thorsten Moritz’s offerings for beginners and more advanced students at http://www.theologicalgerman.com/. Finally, consider taking advantage of some of the more enjoyable learning options mentioned by Chris Tilling!

Finally, can you give us a sneak peak into some of the forthcoming volumes in the Baylor-Mohr Siebeck Studies in Early Christianity series

I am very excited about the next book in the BMSEC Series, namely Matthias Konradt’s  book Israel, Kirche und die Völker im Matthäusevangelium (2008) / Israel, Church, and the Gentiles in the Gospel of Matthew (forthcoming 2014), which has been translated with great precision and elegance by Kathleen Ess. Ulrich Luz praised the German version of this work as “die wichtigste Arbeit über das Matthäusevangelium der letzten zehn Jahre”, and I expect the English version to be received as a major contribution to the investigation of the relationship between Israel and the Church and between the mission to Israel and the mission to the Gentiles in the Gospel of Matthew.

At present I am translating Christoph Markschies’s book Kaiserzeitliche christliche Theologie und ihre Institutionen: Prolegomena zu einer Geschichte der antiken christlichen Theology (2007) / Christian Theology and its Institutions in the Early Roman Empire: Prolegomena to a History of Early Christian Theology (forthcoming 2015). I am learning a great deal from the process of translating this brilliant work and expect it to be a major contribution to our conceptualization of the first three centuries of Christianity, both because of its illuminating focus on “institutions” and because of its penetrating interaction with an astonishing range of primary sources.

The fourth volume in the series will be my translation of Michael Wolter’s commentary Das Lukasevangelium / The Gospel of Luke (forthcoming 2016), which showcases Wolter’s remarkably grasp of the cultural contexts, narrative logics, and theological profile of Luke’s Gospel. For the fifth volume Chad Wisinger and I will then translate Jörg Frey’s collection of essays Die Herrlichkeit des Gekreuzigten / The Glory of the Crucified One (forthcoming 2017), which brings together seventeen studies on John by one of the most impressive Johannine scholars in the German-speaking world.

Needless to say, I hope that individual scholars will be interested in these volumes and that they will also encourage their “institutions” to order the entire series for their libraries!

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2 thoughts on “Translating Scholarship for All: An Interview with Wayne Coppins (Pt. 2)

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

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

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