Criticism of tradition

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Traditional criticism (also known as traditional criticism ) describes a procedure for the reconstruction of the orally transmitted, written version of a text. In addition to literary criticism and editorial criticism, traditional criticism serves to analyze the prehistory of a given text as part of the historical-critical method . The instruments critical of tradition are used wherever a more original, oral version is accepted for a text or parts of a text (e.g. the Bible , folk tales and legends, literary texts based on oral traditions (e.g. Goethe's Faust )). Sometimes a methodological distinction is made between the history of tradition and the history of tradition within the critique of tradition . In this case, the traditional history examines the oral stages of transmission of a text, while the traditional history examines traditional cultural ideas and e.g. B. asks mythical substances in a text.

Basics of the method

The starting thesis for the application of the method critical of tradition is that a text is originally based on an oral tradition. We know of many texts that they were originally passed on orally. Oral tradition is a dynamic process: a story (e.g. a joke or a so-called modern myth ) changes its external form in the course of the traditional process, and often even its punch line changes. This dynamic process comes to an end when it is written down: a text that is available in writing is more resistant to change. The written framework often defines a certain interpretation, in contrast to the orally told text, which tells in different contexts and can change its focus in terms of content.

The tradition-critical process tries to infer its original oral form from an existing written text in a methodically secure manner by setting up hypotheses that gradually reverse the assumed process from oral tradition to written form. Methodically secured means that the application of the method steps leads to well-founded assumptions: The dynamic conditions of oral traditions do not permit strong hypotheses.

Method steps

Every text requires an adapted set of instruments. However, a few main steps of the analysis critical of tradition have emerged:

1st step : Exempting the orally handed down unit
If an old text is integrated into a new one, it can be assumed that this process will leave traces behind. As a rule, the discovery of such traces goes back to literary-critical investigations. The analysis that is critical of tradition is therefore always preceded by a literary-critical examination of the text. This means at the same time: As a rule, the traditional criticism only begins when the literary-critical examination suggests the assumption that a certain part of the text is a foreign text, possibly going back to oral tradition.

Step 2 : Reconstruction of possible earlier versions
Hypotheses about one or more oral versions are drawn up. The aim is to arrive at a reasonable assumption about the earliest possible version. On the one hand, literary-critical methods are used (differentiation between several layers of style, etc.) and, on the other hand, theses that are originally critical of tradition and attempt to reconstruct the process of oral transmission and its influences on the texts.

3rd step : Pragmatic analysis and 'seat in life' The
objective of the third step is to reconstruct the pragmatic function of a text ('For what purpose / with what intention was it told orally?') And thus to make assumptions about the seat in life to employ. A well-known example from biblical exegesis is the so-called Last Supper paradosis, i.e. the words of institution that have been handed down in
writing in Mt 26: 26-28 and 1 Cor 11: 23-25 ​​in different versions . The pragmatic analysis shows that these are early liturgical formulas which have their 'seat in life' in the celebration of the Lord's Supper in the early Christian community.


Methodology in selection

  • Odil Hannes Steck: Exegesis of the Old Testament. Guide to the methodology . 13th edition, Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener 1999 ISBN 3-7887-1313-5
  • Klaus Berger: Exegesis of the New Testament. New ways from text to interpretation . UTB 658, 2nd, revised edition, Heidelberg: Quelle & Meyer 1984 ISBN 3-494-02070-1
  • Wilhelm Egger: Methodology for the New Testament. Introduction to linguistic and historical-critical methods . Freiburg: Herder 1987 ISBN 3-7462-0441-0
  • Georg Fohrer et al .: Exegesis of the Old Testament. Introduction to the methodology . UTB 267, 4th, reviewed and revised edition, Heidelberg: Quelle & Meyer 1983 ISBN 3-494-02024-8


  1. Steck, Odil Hannes: Exegese des Alten Testamentes, 12., revised. u. exp. ed., 1989, p. 62 ff .; P. 124 ff.