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Emotions and Passions in the New Testament


Methodological Issues


In: Biblical Interpretation
Author: Anke Inselmann1
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Numerous texts from the New Testament deal with passions in a wide variety of genres. Historical-critical methods have been applied but cannot be regarded as complete. Especially for texts dealing with passions, no consensus of methodology has yet been established. The situation is further complicated by the existence of differing or ambiguous definitions and many unclear categories. This article highlights some important aspects we ought to consider when describing and analyzing passions in their given literary contexts with precision. They belong to abstract concepts; they appear in explicit terms, but also in paraphrases – that is, in a descriptive manner represented by facial expressions and gestures, for example. They are expressed by descriptions of diverse physical symptoms and by metaphors. This variety results in semantic problems. Many additional factors have to be taken into account. The duration, quality, and intensity of passions described ought to be considered. Emotions are embedded in psychological processes, and they might be connected to pragmatic intentions. The different genres and concepts of texts in which they occur should not be neglected either. Most of the emotional phenomena are culturally acquired forms of expression and communication. Therefore, it is always necessary to be aware of the danger of anachronism, and to consider the historical and cultural background along with its respective display rules: namely, the socially accepted patterns and rituals in which these passions could be encountered. In the last section of this article, a functional psychological approach of exegesis with concrete examples is offered to assist with finding suitable methods.


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