Shape history

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History of form is a method within the historical-critical method of biblical exegesis . The term comes from the natural science influenced by Goethe's view of morphology ("The theory of shape is the theory of metamorphosis"): The botanist Franz Joseph Schelver coined it. The history of forms examines the biblical text according to the theologian Karl Ludwig Schmidt with regard to the types of text it contains . Instead of the history of form, the terms form criticism and genre criticism are also used, with slight nuances in meaning .

For example, the first account of creation in Genesis 1,1-2,4a results in a fundamentally different approach and understanding if this text is seen as a partly polemical demarcation from the Mesopotamian - Near Eastern states of Israel and not as a scientific factual report .

Criticism of form differentiates between hymn-like texts such as the Psalter , which place more emphasis on statements of faith than history, and books with greater historical significance such as the books of kings or the chronicles.

Genera in the Old Testament

Poetic forms

Secular songs

Secular songs can only be found sporadically and partially in fragments in the Old Testament and are not always easy to identify as such. The following are particularly important:

Religious and cult songs

Religious and cultic songs can be found mainly in the Psalter , occasionally also outside it. The basic differences are:

Lamentations form the basis and main part of the Psalter. They contain as regularly occurring elements:

  • Invocation to God
  • Complaint (description of the need, threat, question to God why he does not help)
  • Confession of trust
  • Ask God for help
  • Reasons for God's intervention (e.g. helplessness, innocence, honor of God)
  • Vows in case of hearing (often combined with a commitment to the certainty of hearing and thanks)

In the lamentations of the individual (e.g. Psalm 3, 5, 6, 7, 13, 17, 22, 25) one can distinguish as subgroups: prayers from innocent accused (Ps 4, 7, 11 and others); Penitential psalms ( Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143) which play a special role in the Christian liturgy; Trust songs of the individual (Ps, 16, 23, 62, 131, etc.).

Lamentations of the people were sung at public lawsuits as described in Joel 1-2. War, plague, crop failure, and famine are reasons that can lead to such collective lamentations.

Prosaic forms

Non-narrative prose

  • Discourses and sermons : Jeremiah's temple speech Jer 7 : 1-15  EU , Ezekiel's speech to the elders of Israel Ez 20  EU , many passages of Deuteronomy .
  • Farewell speeches : Josua Jos 23  EU , Samuel 1 Sam 12  EU , David 1 Kings 2.1-9  EU hold farewell speeches.
  • Contracts : Contracts are reported in the Old Testament; sometimes the contract text or fragments of it have been preserved in the Bible text. For example at Jeremias Ackerkauf in Anatot Jer 32  EU , the contract between the semi-nomad Isaac and the landowner Abimelech Gen 26.26-33  EU or the so-called King's Treaty between David and the northern tribes 2 Sam 5.1-3  EU .
  • Letters : In the Old Testament (partially) preserved are a letter from Jehu to the rulers of Samaria 2 Kings 10.1ff  EU , Jeremiah's letter to the exiles Jer 29  EU and the diplomatic correspondence with the Persian great king EsrEU .
  • Rituals : The sacrificial rituals in Lev 1-7  EU also count as non-narrative prose.
  • Prayers : Most of the prayers in the Old Testament are poetic forms. Prose prayers are spoken by individuals outside the temple; B. Simson in Ri 16.28  EU .
  • Rules, laws and commandments.

Narrative prose

Most of the larger units of the Old Testament are narrative prose , into which individual passages of non-narrative prose or poetic passages are then incorporated. But there are also smaller narrative units.

  • Myths : They are only present in fragments and remnants in the Old Testament. The best-known example is the prehistory Gen 1-11, but one can also find the dragon fight motif Isa 51,9  EU and the fall of Lucifer Isa 14,12-15  EU .
  • Fairy tales : Even fairy tales are only contained in fragments in the Old Testament, for example in the story of Balaam's donkey Num 22,22-35  EU and in the Elijah and Elisha stories 1 Kings 17  EU and 2 Kings 2-6  EU .
  • Fables : Two fables have been completely preserved, namely Jotham's fable about the king of trees, a mocking fable about the monarchy (Judg 9.8-15) and a short fable in 2 Kings 14.9  EU .
  • Say : They are a preliminary stage in writing history. Orally transmitted memories are reproduced, enriched with later historical (including contemporary) experience, whereby the main characters are depicted as types of people, not as individuals. Most of the tradition from the pre-state period of Israel (Gen 12-50, Ex, Num, Jos, Ri, 1 Sam) has the character of a legend. Etiological sagas explain the names of places or landmarks.
  • Legends : sagas and legends merge. The specificity of legends is that they deal with sacred things, sacred places and people. Many legends, like some legends, are to be understood etiologically , that is, to establish a sanctuary or a cult practice. Examples in the Old Testament are Jacob's dream in Bethel (Gen 28,10ff), Moses' calling (Ex 3), Samuel's youth at the sanctuary in Silo (1 Sam 1-3), the stories of the Ark of the Covenant (1 Sam 4-6 and 2 Sam 6) as well as parts of the Elijah and Elisha stories (1 Kings 17 to 2 Kings 8).
  • Heroic sagas : While sagas generally occupy a large place in the Old Testament, heroic sagas are comparatively rare. In particular, the father's time is not told in the type of heroic saga. However, heroic legends can be found in the times of the judges and early kings: Ri 9, Ri 13-16, 1 Sam 11, 1 Sam 13f.
  • Annals : This basic form of historiography (at the royal court or in the temple) is mentioned in the Old Testament, but not preserved. For example, 1 Kings 11:41 mentions a “Chronicle of Solomon”. In 1 Kings 14 a “book of the history of the kings of Israel” and a “book of the history of the kings of Judah” are mentioned. Parts of these annals probably served as a template for biblical historiography.
  • Lists : While the annals organizes according to years, the official historiography also uses the order according to subject groups in lists. To be mentioned are, for example, judges' lists Ri 10.1-5  EU ; Ri 12.7-12  EU , local and Gaulisten Jos 15-19  EU , bag lists Num 31.32ff EU , civil servants lists  2 Sam 8.16  EU ; 1 Kings 4,7-18  EU .
  • Historiography : It is no longer just a mere stringing together and listing, but also presents conditions, circumstances, reasons, motivations and consequences of the events. Actual historiography begins in the Old Testament with the figure of King David, for example in the story of his ascent (1 Sam 16.14 to 2 Sam 5.25) and the story of his succession to the throne (2 Sam 6 to 1 Kings 2). The great historical works of the Old Testament, the Deuteronomistic History and the Chronic History , each have a theological guiding principle and often serve as a framework for various other genres. For example, laws or poetic texts are embedded in a historical work and interpreted theologically.

Between poetry and prose: the "saying"

Messenger saying, prophet saying

  • Secular messenger saying : This is used in the whole of the Old Orient and can be found in the Old Testament in Gen 32.4-6  EU ; 1 Kings 21: 17-19  EU ; Jer 2.1  EU . In the example of Gen 32,4-6 the individual elements of the messenger's saying can be clearly seen: consignment (with addressee, place, messenger assignment); Messenger formula ("So has spoken ..."); Message.
  • Prophetic messenger sayings (older term: oracle) are based on the secular messenger saying. The word event formula often precedes the broadcast ("And the word of YHWH came to me"). The actual prophetic saying is also introduced here by a message formula "ko amar YHWH" (= "so speaks YHWH") and / or characterized by the intermediate or final formula "neum YHWH" (= "saying YHWH"). A distinction is made between the following prophetic forms of speech:
    • Judgment Announcement: The Prophet announces the judgment of YHWH on Israel and its King. There are also court announcements aimed at neighboring peoples. The court announcement can also be expressly justified with the wrongdoing of the people. Instead of a court announcement, one also speaks of a threatening word . Examples: On 7.11  EU (without explanation); On 3.1-2  EU (with justification).
    • Accusation , also called reproach : The prophet cites the wrongdoing of the people or the king, often as a reason for a subsequent court announcement. Examples: Hos 4,1ff  EU ; Isa 5:21  EU .
    • Admonition : The prophet exhorts the people to take the right path (again). Example: Am 5.14  EU .
    • Word of promise / oracle of salvation : God announces healing and salvation. Examples: Hos 14.4  EU ; Isa 9,1-6  EU (later interpreted in Jewish and Christian terms for the birth of the Messiah ); many pieces in Deutero- and Tritojesaja (Isa 39-66).

See also


  • The framework of the story of Jesus: literary-critical investigations into the oldest Jesus tradition . Berlin: Trowitzsch & Son, 1919; 2., unchanged reprographic reprint / Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1969.
  • Gerhard Lohfink: I now understand the Bible. A non-fiction book on criticism of form. 13th edition. Kath. Bibelwerk, Stuttgart 1986 ISBN 3-460-30632-7 .
  • Klaus Koch: What is the history of form? Methods of Bible Exegesis . (1964) 5th edition Neukirchen-Vluyn 1989.
  • Hans Conzelmann / Andreas Lindemann: Workbook for the New Testament . UTB 52. (1975) 12th ed. Tübingen 1998 (pp. 82-114.131-148) ISBN 3-8252-0052-3 (classic).
  • Thomas Söding: Ways of interpreting scriptures. New Testament method book . Among employees v. Christian Münch. Herder, Freiburg / Basel / Vienna 1998 (pp. 128-173) ISBN 3-451-26545-1 .
  • Odil Hannes Steck: Exegesis of the Old Testament. Guide to the methodology. A workbook for proseminars, seminars and lectures . 14th, through u. exp. Aufl. Neukirchener, Neukirchen-Vluyn 1999 (pp. 98-125) ISBN 3-7887-1586-3 (standard work).
  • Martin Meiser / Uwe Kühneweg u. a .: Proseminar II. New Testament - Church history. A work book . Kohlhammer, Stuttgart / Berlin / Cologne 2000 (pp. 84-101) ISBN 3-17-015531-8 .
  • Helmut Utzschneider / Stefan Ark Nitsche: workbook literary biblical interpretation. A methodology for the exegesis of the Old Testament . Kaiser / Gütersloher Verlagshaus, Gütersloh 2001 (pp. 113–149) ISBN 3-579-00409-3 .
  • Manfred Dreytza, Walter Hilbrands and Hartmut Schmid : The study of the Old Testament. An introduction to the methods of exegesis . Biblical monographs 10. 2., revised. Ed. R. Brockhaus, Wuppertal 2007 (pp. 79–99) ISBN 3-417-29471-1 .
  • Uwe Becker: Exegesis of the Old Testament. A method and work book . UTB 2664. Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2005 (pp. 97–115) ISBN 3-8252-2664-6 (brief overview; further references).
  • Martin Ebner , Bernhard Heininger: Exegesis of the New Testament. A workbook for teaching and practice. 3rd updated edition 2015. UTB 2677. Schöningh, Paderborn 2015 (pp. 183–208) ISBN 3-8252-4268-4
  • Udo Schnelle : Introduction to New Testament Exegesis . 6. rework. Aufl. UTB 1253. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2005 (pp. 100–129) ISBN 3-525-03230-7 (brief overview; often used in theological studies).

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. See Reinhard Breymayer : Vladimir Jakovlevič Propp (1895-1970) - Life, Work and Significance. In: Linguistica Biblica 15/16 (1972), pp. 36-77 (pp. 67-77 Bibliography); here p. 64.
  2. Hedwig Jahnow : The Hebrew funeral song in the context of folk poetry. Giessen 1923.