Research Leave Curiosity: Wright, Whiteley and German Philippians Scholarship

I am slowly easing myself into a sustained period of research leave that will run from July–December 2016. The main task, other than a couple of essays due for edited volumes and an SBL paper, is to complete work on a manuscript provisionally entitled Philippians and Friendship: The Relational and Rhetorical Dynamics of a Pauline Letter.

My hope is to post more information about the research as it progresses over the coming weeks. But colleagues in New Testament Studies may be interested in a scholarly curiosity thrown up by my getting my Philippians books (of which there are many) into come kind of order.

When I started doctoral studies with N. T. Wright at Oxford in 1990, Tom had recently been asked to take on responsibility for preparing a new International Critical Commentary on Philippians (still to be completed!). He inherited the project following the death of Dennis Whiteley, author of what is still a quite useful if outdated study of Paul’s theology and known as a rather eccentric Don at Jesus College. My research was on the nature of the ‘opposition’ in Philippians 3 and, in an act of generosity Tom handed over to me three or four German books from Whiteley’s own library. As the research went on I actually returned most of them back to Tom (having procured my own copies of Gnilka and Schenck). But I discovered again today that one volume stayed in my collection: Berthold Mengel’s elegantly titled Studien zum Philipperbrief: Untersuchungen zum situativen Kontext unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Frage nach der Ganzheitlichkeit oder Einheitlichkeit eines paulinischen Briefes (WUNT 2/8; Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr [Paul Siecbeck], 1982). You will see that such is the brilliance of Mengel’s title that I have pinched the last three words for my own.

Below you will see two pictures of the volume in question (click on them to go through to larger images), and you will note two extraordinary things. First, Whiteley not only paid for the book but then paid to have the binding broken, blank leaves of paper inserted in between each leaf of the original. and the binding reset. Secondly (and explaining the first oddity), Whiteley was evidently working through the volume page by page, hand writing English translations of the German at relevant points. The same was true of the other commentaries I have mentioned. For those who are thinking that the handwriting may be Tom Wright’s I can assure you that it isn’t!

Not only is it fascinating to know that Whiteley didn’t know that ‘jedoch’ means ‘however’ or ‘yet’, it also beggars belief that he actually thought that this was a viable way of engaging in research in the German scholarship. I wish my German was better than it is, but if I tried to work in this way over the next 6 months, I might just get through the German commentaries up to Philippians 1:5.