Is God fictional

Bible as literature and God as a fictional character

Preliminary remarks on the main topic of this issue

By Thomas Anz

An occasion for the choice of the main topic in the November issue of literaturkritik.de was that a project started more than sixty years ago has come to a preliminary conclusion - with the publication of an adaptation of biblical texts that presents the book of books, the “Holy Scriptures”, as a “historical and literary reader”. The canonical texts were checked from a theological, historical, philological, didactic and aesthetic point of view, rearranged, shortened, partly newly translated and supplemented by non-canonized texts. The result invites you to read the “Old Testament” and the “New Testament” differently: as a history and story book with the title that characterizes it Israel and Judah. Legend and history, wisdom and hope of a people in self-testimonies.

The editor, translator and commentator of this reader is August Möhle (1885-1971). He was a theologian and he was probably an atheist. He was a scholar who learned over fifteen languages, a researcher who, as an employee of the Septuagint company of the Göttingen Society of Sciences, edited in his dissertation the commentary on Isaiah by the Theodoret of Cyrus, which he found in Constantinople, and a teacher who did his Knew how to captivate high school students with unorthodox Bible lessons. After retiring in 1950, he worked on this reader for over ten years. There are several versions. Attempts to publish it failed in the 1950s and 1960s because of the orthodoxy, ignorance or lack of courage of those to whom it was offered. And the high costs that a publisher would have had to submit to publish the work comprising over six hundred tightly printed typewriter pages.

Since December 2010, parts of his work have appeared as a special publication by literaturkritik.de. The typescript left by August Möhle, revised with numerous handwritten improvements, has been completely rewritten, corrected and posted on the Internet by a number of helpers over the years. The publication is now complete, apart from minor additions and corrections.

August Möhle is my grandfather. As a teenager, I took part in the creation of his reader and in his cautious disappointment that he did not succeed in publishing it. But for several years now, as a literary scholar, I have noticed that his ideas about the Bible are now far less isolated than they were then.

One of the employees working on the focus of this issue of literaturkritik.deIn 2008, Daniel Weidner, together with Hans-Peter Schmidt, published a book entitled “Bible as Literature” (cf. the review in literaturkritik.de 1-2009). Among other things, it provides information on Anglo-American debates - under the keyword Bible as Literature - since the 1970s have produced literary research on the Bible, especially in America, England and Israel. In 2005, Hans-Peter Schmidt published the remarkable book “Schicksal Gott Fiktion. The Bible as a literary masterpiece ”(cf. literaturkritik.de 3-2006) and declared:“ No book in the history of literature has become more than the Bible a source of inspiration for writers and artists of all times. Which of course also has to do with the fact that no character in a novel is more grateful than that of Almighty God, since, apart from the devil, no other character gives the power of imagination so richly and lures the imagination astray from well-established thinking.

Jan Assmann wrote a foreword to the book with the title “The Birth of Religion from the Spirit of Literature”. The title thesis refers to the monotheistic religions. It was only when certain literary books were not allowed to be “contaminated”, explains Assmann, that nothing could be added, taken away or changed, that literature became a religion, fiction became reality, and writing became a rule. "As the new form of the scriptural religion gained shape and validity, the literary character of the 'books' that had become the 'Bible' faded. But as the Bible's claim to absolute religious authority faded, so did the literary character of the books of which it was composed. That is the great thing about the Hebrew as well as the Christian Bible, that it survived its religious decline and was resurrected as literature. "

The literary scholar Heinrich Detering initially suggests a somewhat different perspective in a contribution to the “Handbuch Literaturwissenschaft” on religion and literature, published in 2007: the birth of literature from the spirit of religion. According to this point of view, “at the beginning of all literature there are texts of prehistoric and early historical myths in most of the known, perhaps in all human cultures.” Literature in the sense of 'beautiful literature' or 'fiction' is the result of a cultural process differentiation, in which previously religious types of text become autonomous in relation to their religious functions. In the cultural system, a literary sub-system "now appears independently alongside the system of religion, which in turn continues to exist independently".

Perhaps, from this system-theoretical perspective, the question of the temporal priority of literature and (monotheistic) religion can be answered in a way that allows both a birth of religion from literature and a birth of literature from religion, insofar as the two are not originally one another were to be separated. And even today they are related to one another in many ways - as well as literary studies and theology in the common tradition of editorial-philological text criticism, the interpretation of texts or their canonization, although they act institutionally separately, but have many points of contact and opportunities for cooperation.

That is what this issue of is all about literaturkritik.de. A number of articles deal with books that make biblical texts the subject of literary or media studies. Narratological competencies in literary studies in particular are suitable for analyzing biblical stories in terms of their narrative techniques differently than is customary in theological exegesis. Conversely, as an essay by Daniel Weidner reminds us, authors like Kafka have repeatedly provoked theological or theological interpretations. New literary and literary publications, which will also be discussed, show that writers' confrontations with religion and adaptations of religious texts in literature and other arts are an inexhaustible field for investigations into the relationships between art and religion.

Wherever biblical texts, their claims to truth or the religious worldviews based on them are criticized, the associated controversies and conflicts today mostly run on relatively civilized channels, but they move on very different levels. This edition also offers examples of this. Where religion is involved in political conflicts, things are less peaceful. A contribution to the history of religion and church during the Nazi era and an essay on the current circumcision debate show that cultural conflicts in the assertion or rejection of religious claims have an emotionalizing power, the destructive potential of which should still not be underestimated. Under certain circumstances it can be satisfactory to read sacred texts as well as profane literature.

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