Editorial history

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The term editorial history (also editorial criticism ; to Latin redactio "[text] revision" and gr. Kritiké techne " ability to differentiate") as part of the historical-critical method regarding the exegesis of biblical texts goes back to Willi Marxsen's habilitation thesis Der , published in 1956 Mark the Evangelist . Studies on the editorial history of the gospel .

The editorial criticism asks about the theological orientation of the author and possibly the editors of a biblical text. It examines the concepts that the authors and editors have guided in the selection of their topics, their text templates, the processing of these templates and the formulation of their texts as well as the composition of the entire work. The view that focused on the details in the criticism of text and form , in the editorial criticism again extends to the theological context in which and for which the final editor writes, in order to be able to understand individual passages again in this context.


The editorial history method arose within German-language exegesis since the 1950s and was already rudimentarily developed by Günther Bornkamm and Hans Conzelmann before Marxsen , without them having explicitly used the term editorial history . In this respect, because of the coining of this term and its introduction into exegesis, Marxsen is considered the actual initiator of this method internationally. In French exegesis, for example, the term “ editorial history” is used untranslated , while the scientific use of language in English, Spanish and Italian is analogous.

The main concern of editorial history research is to examine the available biblical writings on the work of the editors who have brought together texts or collections of texts with their own theological positions, edited them and changed their statements. The editorial history regards the Old and New Testament writings as the works of various editors who have composed them with specific theological interests in each case.

Starting points

Some starting points for the editorial history investigation :

  • Stylistic improvements ( present historicum in Mk, past tense in Lk)
  • Explanations (additions for a specific readership)
  • Omissions (something appears to the editor as superfluous or inappropriate)
  • Reformulating an image (images must be understandable to the audience)
  • Changes in processes ( temptation of Jesus with Mt: desert - Jerusalem - mountain, with Luke: desert - mountain - Jerusalem)
  • Completion of the material from other lines of tradition
  • Tightening and shortening
  • First composition of independent statements
  • Dramatizing a story

Since the editorial history requires knowledge of different lines of tradition, it is mainly used in the area of ​​Gospel exegesis, where the synoptic tradition offers rich material. Their methodology can be applied to other texts in the same way, provided that several lines of transmission are tangible. The tradition of the Old Testament creation stories can be named as an example, into which the discussion of Babylonian ideas has flowed (→ Epic of Gilgamesh ).

Rest of the procedure

In order to be able to methodically examine the editing of a text, the passages that were subsequently inserted into an existing text must first be recognized and isolated. Editorial history is therefore only possible after prior literary criticism . This was pointed out by W. Richter ("Exegese als Literaturwissenschaft", 1971). Consequently, one should not speak of “traditions” in a general and imprecise way that are subsequently linked to one another, but rather precisely about “texts” or parts of them. For each previously isolated editorial contribution, both the technique of insertion and the motivation for the intervention can be recorded via stylistics.

The standard is that an editorial intervention - v. a. into an artistically demanding text - there (destroys) the literary structure, enters contradicting information, causes irritation. All of this is the chance for literary criticism to isolate the editorial contributions. - After extensive analyzes of the Joseph story (Gen 37–50), Harald Schweizer raised the following motivations from editors. An illustrative text example is given for each . But mostly several could be named:

  • Killing of the narrative tension through anticipation (according to the secondary Gen 37.4, the brothers "hated" Josef, although one cannot yet understand this narrative, but only after his dream story (37.6-8 / original))
  • The text is stretched by filling in gaps in the story (Gen. 41.36-40 / original, Joseph comes breathtakingly to the top of the Egyptian state; in 41.41-43 an editor decorated this with a signet ring, gold chain, sumptuous clothes and cheers).
  • Parasitic abuse through additional accents and corrections (Gen 47: the "whole" land of the Egyptians passed into the possession of Pharaoh, but - now the editorial contribution begins (47,22) - not that of the priests)
  • Curse of the evil deed: editorial compulsion (in the original the pharaoh dreams only once in Gen 41. An editor lets him dream a second time, verses 5-7. This forces him to emphasize below that it was only a single dream : V.25bc; and the dream narration - V.22-24a - and then the dream interpretation - V.25-28 - must be doubled)
  • emotional leveling (45.24cd: sometimes editors cannot withstand and dampen violent feelings that are actually literarily understandable, therefore level: "don't be aroused!")
  • Forced integration of the religious level - disregard of the fiction of the story (Joseph's being lost in Egypt - beginning of Gen. 39 -, the uncertainty of his future fate - one editor could not stand and added several times that Yahweh was with him . The original text leaves the reader at this point / Listeners experience Joseph's lack of perspective, he also offers no comforting view of the savior in the background)
  • Head teacher reinforcements, false dramatizations (everything that causes a subsequent pathetic / quantitative charge of the original text. In 50.7-10, the funeral ceremonies for the deceased Israel / Jacob are dramatically expanded)
  • Non-endurance of poetic imagery and provocation (in Gen 41 the editor adds the more familiar "ears" to the original, but more strange "cows" picture)

See also



  • Reinhard G. Kratz / Otto Merk: Editorial history / editorial criticism I. Old Testament II. New Testament . Theologische Realenzyklopädie 28 (1997), 367-378.378-384 (rich in material; especially research history of the RG)
  • Heinrich Zimmermann : New Testament methodology. Presentation of the historical-critical method . 7th edition Stuttgart 1982 (pp. 215-238 on the editorial history; very understandable)
  • N. Perrin: What is Redaction Criticism? Philadelphia 1969.
  • Stephen S. Smalley: Redaction Criticism . In: IH Marshall (ed.): New Testament Interpretation. Essays on Principles and Methods, Exeter 1977, 181-195.


  • Hans Conzelmann : The Middle of Time. Studies on the theology of Luke . BHTh 17. Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 1954. (7th edition 1993) ISBN 3-16-145946-6
  • Willi Marxsen : The Evangelist Markus. Studies on the editorial history of the gospel . FRLANT 67. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1956. (2nd edition 1959)
  • Günther Bornkamm / Gerhard Barth / Heinz Joachim Held: Tradition and interpretation in the Gospel of Matthew . WMANT 1. Neukirchener Verl., Neukirchen-Vluyn 1960. (7th edition 1975)
  • Joachim Rohde: The editorial history method. Introduction and review of the state of research . Furche-Verl., Hamburg 1966. (detailed description of the editorial history works by Bornkamm, Marxsen, Conzelmann et al. Published up to then)
  • Tim Schramm: The Markus material from Lukas. A literary-critical and editorial-historical investigation . SNTS Monograph Series 14th University Press, Cambridge 1971.


Individual evidence

  1. cf. the revision of the method: http://www-ct.informatik.uni-tuebingen.de/daten/impuls.pdf
  2. cf. the article http://www-ct.informatik.uni-tuebingen.de/daten/jgbn.pdf