Petr Pokorný is eighty - and still spry and active

Professor Petr Pokorný, one of the leading Czech Bible scholars, celebrated his 80th birthday in April. For many years he led the „New Testament“Department at the Protestant Theological Faculty and was director of the Centre for Biblical Studies at Charles University and the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic. As he celebrates this milestone birthday he is still spry and active. He has limited his teaching at the faculty, but not stopped completely. Since he is now freed from administrative duties at the faculty, he is increasingly active in the Academic Society of the Czech Republic, to which he was elected as its chairman for the 2012-2014 period.

He has filled the past decades of his life with numerous scientific and testimonial works. The main topics of his professional work remain unchanged and also show his fundamental style: starting from specific problems, the boundaries of theology or biblical interpretation are expanded towards more general issues. For exemple, he shows this in his book "Hermeneutika jako teorie porozuměni" (Hermeneutics as a Theory of Understanding - 2005), which dates back to his theological training in methodological interpretation of biblical texts and to which Petr Pokorný once contributed a script. In "Hermeneutics", whose first part was also published in English, the "tools" are not the focus, but the fundamental assumptions are; namely, the question of how the biblical texts can actually "talk" and pass their message to the current reader or listener and how they become a source of support and faith. Since biblical texts affect the general human faculties of perception and understanding, it is necessary to think about a general "theory of understanding". Pokorný builds his approach on that of Paul Ricoeur and his analysis of what testimony actually is and how it "works".

At the core of Christian witness is the figure of Jesus Christ and his story. Pokorný has also dealt with this for a long time. One of his first books was a commentary on the oldest representation of this story, the Gospel according to Mark. Recently Prof. Pokorný has dedicated himself to the question of research on the historic Jesus. Together with faculty from Princeton Theological Seminary he has organized three international conferences around this topic, its results will gradually be published in America (Jesus Research Project). In Czech he published a collection of his studies under the title „Ježís Nazaretský – historický obraz a jeho interpretace (Jesus of Nazareth - historical image and its interpretation - 2005)“. Again, the subtitle is important: what Pokorný is interested in is not some kind of independent reconstruction of the "historical Jesus", but the mutual relationship of "faith and history", a process in which the memory of Jesus' earthly journey shaped the understanding of its meaning.

Pokorný’s ongoing interest in the most important non-canonical text about Jesus' legacy, the Gospel of Thomas also organically fits with the above mentioned interests. He has published his new translation, with explanatory notes, in the first volume of „Rukopisy z Nag Hammádi“ (The Nag Hammadi Manuscripts – 2008). The English version, with its extended interpretation, was published in 2009 in a separate monograph. Contiguously he published his views on the process of the formation of the Christian witness in the latest publication, which focuses on the question of how the meaning of the word "gospel" developed in early Christianity ("From the Gospel to the Gospels" - 2013 , the Czech version "Od evangelia k evangeliím" is in preparation).

Pokorný dealt in detail with the question of how the individual books of the New Testament canon were created in his most extensive book, the complete textbook "Uvod do literatury a teologie Nového zákona" (Introduction to Literature and Theology of the New Testament), which he wrote originally (2007) for German students, but which will also be published shortly in Czech. Professor Pokorný also returns again and again to a systematic exegesis of biblical texts. He opened the new series of “Czech Ecumenical Commentary on the New Testament” with a commentary of the letter to the Ephesians ("List Efeským" - 2005) and is currently working on a new version of his commentary on the Gospel of Mark.

"Conversations on biblical texts" is meant for the general public. For several years he and Petr Vaďura, have led this program on the radio and in the past year it was published in book form under the meaningful title "Má to smysl" (It makes sense - 2012). It is Pokorný's belief that this applies not only to the interpretation of biblical texts, but he also considers it a concise summary of the Christian message, which is based on the resurrection of Jesus. The Gospel is the promise of what makes sense, what has a (eternal) future with God. To bear witness to this is, according to Pokorný, the basic task of the Church and in which he, as a theologian, emphatically involves himself.

We are grateful to Petr Pokorný for this testimony, which permeates his professional and his popular-scientific work. And, for the coming days, we wish him the joy that comes, since Easter, in the light of the new day that brightens the darkness.

Jan Roskovec


01.10.2013, 10:26