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Explaining Early Jewish and Christian Movements:
Ritual, Memory and Identity


Contact us:

Project Director:
Petri Luomanen
Academy research fellow
Department of Biblical Studies
P.O. BOX 33 (Aleksanterinkatu 7)
FI-00014 University of Helsinki
Tel: +358-(0)9 191 24014
Fax: +358-(0)9 191 22106


Petri Luomanen (b. 1961)

  • Coordinator of the project 2007–
  • Docent of New Testament Studies
  • Th.D. 1996
  • Academy Research Fellow, Academy of Finland 2005–
  • During the term 1999-2000 a visiting researcher at the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity, Claremont Graduate University
  • Since 1987 working as a teacher and researcher at the Academy of Finland and at the University of Helsinki (Department of Biblical Studies and Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies)
  • E-mail address

Petri Luomanen studies early Jewish Christian groups that are to be located somewhere in the "no man's land" between the religions that are nowadays known as Judaism and Christianity. Luomanen's study will focus on early Jewish Christianity, which means that the latest primary sources to be used were composed at the end of the fourth or in the very beginning of the fifth century. The objective of the research is to investigate to which extent universal social and cognitive factors explain the enmity that existed towards early Jewish Christians. In the first part of the study Luomanen will discuss recent developments within social identity approach, review the discussion of collective memory and investigate inter-group relations in the light of cognitive science. The aim is to define which cognitive and social factors are attested well enough, at the present state of research, to provide a relatively secure basis for a discussion about their relevance in the contexts where sources exemplify negative attitudes towards and hatred and persecution of early Jewish Christians. The second part of the study consists of case studies which will illuminate the history of early Jewish Christians in a series of snapshots. Because the case studies will deal with sources from the first to the fourth century, and these sources partly depend on each other (for instance, the early heresiologies), Luomanen will also assess the role of collective memory in transmitting the attitudes and stereotypes effective in inter-group relations.

Petri Luomanen has made use of social-scientific concepts and models in several of his publications ever since his doctoral dissertation on the gospel of Matthew which drew on Berger and Luckmann's sociology of knowledge. In his post-doctoral research, Luomanen has applied Stark and Bainbridges' general theory of religion to the study of the genesis of early Jewish and Christian movements. In his latest articles and papers, Luomanen has analyzed the early heresiologists' description of Jewish Christian groups in the light of the social identity theory.

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Raimo Hakola (b. 1966 )

  • Researcher in the project, 2007–
  • Docent of New Testament Studies
  • Th. D. (University of Helsinki, 2003)
  • Postdoctoral Researcher at the Department Bilical Studies funded by the Academy of Finland, 2004 -2007
  • Since 1993, Hakola has worked as a trainee, a teaching fellow, a university lecturer and a researcher at the Department of Biblical Studies
  • E-mail address

Raimo Hakola argued in his doctoral dissertation Identity Matters: John, the Jews and Jewishness (Leiden: Brill, 2005) that the references to the Pharisees in John should be understood as an expression of the self-understanding of the Johannine community rather than as a direct reflection of the historical reality behind the gospel. He drew on many recent studies that have emphasized that the Pharisees or their post-70 C.E. successors, the rabbis, did not have much influence on other Jews or Jewish society as a whole. This conclusion raises the following question: Why do the Pharisees have such a central role in some parts of the New Testament? Why did they become the principal enemies of Jesus and his followers? How and why was the stereotypical image of the Pharisees constructed?

Hakola's present project ("The Need of the Other: The Pharisees as Enemies in Early Christian Imagination") uses the social identity approach to explain more clearly how the stereotyped portrayals of the Pharisees contributed to early Christian self-understandings and to the emergence of early Christianity as a religious movement independent of Judaism. The study looks for appropriate ways to describe the role of the caricature painted of the Pharisees in the identity construction of early Christian groups. The main sources of the study are the New Testament Gospels (including the saying source Q), the Book of Acts and Paul's letter to the Philippians (the only letter where Paul refers to his past as a Pharisee).

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Jutta Jokiranta (b. 1971)

  • Research Fellow in the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies 2007-2010
  • Th.D. 2006 (University of Helsinki, Biblical Studies)
  • Studies at Flinders University, Australia, 2000
  • Working as a researcher, assistant and teacher at the Department of Biblical Studies in Helsinki since 1998.
  • E-mail address

Jokiranta argued in her dissertation ("Identity on a Continuum: Constructing and Expressing Sectarian Social Identity in Qumran Serakhim and Pesharim," University of Helsinki, 2005; forthcoming in STJD; Leiden: Brill) for those sect models in which the distinguishing criteria between various religious groups are well defined and are placed on a continuum. The model by Rodney Stark and William Sims Bainbridge proved useful for analysing the Qumran movement in its context. It showed that two central rule documents, the Community Rule and the Damascus Document, reflect groups with a similar tension with their socio-cultural environment, although sometimes in different degree. The Qumran movement in its large contours was antagonistic towards outsiders, followed different norms than the outsiders, and the social relations of its members were largely restricted to insiders. Yet, this tension did not mean that the movement was totally isolated.

Another theoretical framework, the social identity approach, was found successful in explaining various features in the pesharim, Qumran biblical commentaries. For example, the figure of the Righteous Teacher, which is almost solely attested in the pesharim, is presented as the prototype of the group: he is a privileged carrier of revelation but persecuted and a victim of evil attacks.

Jokiranta's present project "Explaining the Qumran Movement: Identity, Ritual, and Memory" will explain identity construction, rituals and social memory in the Qumran movement, employing both social-scientific methods and insights from the cognitive science of religion. The first task of the project is to publish the dissertation in the STJD series. The future research will address other identity construction strategies in the rule documents, analyse the interplay between the personal and social identities of individual members, and the role of rituals (e.g., the ritual of passage; communal meetings) in modifying the social identity of members. The study of social memory makes it possible to include a historical perspective: which traditions, events and figures played a central role in the social (collective) memory of the movement and why.

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Minna Shkul (b. 1971)

  • Assistant Director of Open Learning Theology and Religious Studies at University of Wales Lampeter
  • Currently finishing her doctoral thesis at the University of Sheffield in England
  • BA in Biblical Theology in Mattersey Hall, affiliated with the University of Sheffield (1996-1999)
  • MA in Biblical Studies also at Sheffield (1999-2000)
  • Has lived in the United Kingdom since 1996
  • Homepage

Minna Shkul's Ph.D. thesis is a social-scientific reading of Ephesians that utilises an eclectic theoretical framework in exploring Ephesians' social entrepreneurship. Reading the epistle as social entrepreneurship facilitates the understanding of a wide range of social processes and a variety of factors that all contribute to the shaping of Christian identity in the text and its interaction with the late first century C.E. Jewish and Graeco-Roman environment.

The thesis utilises the social identity theory to establish how Ephesians shapes Christian identity. Literature on social remembering and reputation construction is applied in examining how the text uses the reputations of Christ and Paul to legitimate the community, explaining non-Israelite inclusion into the "people of God." The thesis considers reforms of Jewish culture, such as abolishing the law, and examines the contours of the early Christian identity testing its Jewishness and Christianness. Ephesians' social entrepreneurship also involves providing guidance for social interaction using communal prototypes and antitypes.

Upon the completion of her Ph.D. Shkul will continue her research in the deutero-Pauline epistles, exploring how the later writers adapt the Pauline legacy to suit their social circumstances. Her project work will focus upon exploring the remembering of Paul in the pseudo-Pauline epistles, social processes of post-Pauline communities and their reflection of Jewish culture and construction of emerging Christianness.

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Risto Uro (b. 1953)

  • Professor of Biblical Languages (substitute) 2007–
  • Head of the Department of Biblical Studies, 2007–
  • University Lecturer in New Testament Studies, 2001–
  • Member of the International Q Project (IAC and the Society of Biblical Literature)
  • Docent of New Testament Studies
  • Th.D. (University of Helsinki, 1988)
  • Co-director of the research project on "Body and Society in the Biblical World" (University of Helsinki ), 2001-2005
  • Director of the research projects "The Gospel of Thomas" and "Gnosticism and Early Christian Culture" (University of Helsinki), 1993-99
  • Post-doctoral studies in Claremont, California (Institute for Antiquity and Christianity) in 1989 and 1992
  • Since 1983 Uro has worked as a researcher and a teacher at the Department of Biblical Studies
  • E-mail address

Risto Uro's project ("Ritual, Memory, and the Transmission of Early Christian Traditions") will focus on the role of the ritualizing process in the formation and transmission of early Christian traditions. In addition to the traditional questions about the origin, social function and cultural meanings of early Christian rituals, the study will raise the issue of ritual form and cognitive structure. Two cognitive theories on ritual, advanced by Harvey Whitehouse (the theory of the modes of religiosity) and Robert McCauley and Thomas Lawson (the ritual form or competence theory), will be compared and their applicability to early Christian material tested. Uro will deal with several Jewish and Christian movements in which rituals had a significant impact on social formation: John the Baptist's movement, the early Jesus movement, Pauline and post-Pauline congregations as well as Valentinian (Gnostic) groups. The working title of the book in progress is Early Christian Rituals: From John the Baptist to Valentinus.

Uro's earlier studies have dealt with the Sayings Gospel Q and the Gospel of Thomas, the most famous document from Nag Hammadi. He has worked as the leader and a member of the project "Myth and Social Reality in Gnostic and Related Documents" for several years. Uro is the author of Thomas: Seeking the Historical Context of the Gospel of Thomas (Continuum, 2003) and the editor of Thomas at the Crossroads: Essays on the Gospel of Thomas (T&T Clark, 1998). For further information click here.

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Timo Vanhoja (b. 1963)

  • Th.D. student
  • M.Th. (University of Helsinki, 2002)
  • Has worked since 2002 as an assistant, researcher and teacher at the Department of Biblical Studie as well as at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies in a project funded by the Acadey of Finland
  • E-mail address

In his doctoral thesis, Timo Vanhoja aims to place a fragmentary writing known as the Egerton Gospel in the field of early Christianity. The Egerton Gospel, published for the first time in 1935, contains parallel material both to the Synoptic Gospels and to the Gospel of John. The Egerton Gospel has been the subject of a lively debate due to the early dating of the text suggested by the editors.

Some researchers consider the Egerton Gospel dependent on the canonical Gospels. Others, instead, have argued that the Egerton Gospel is independent of them. Vanhoja suggests that Egerton's combination of passages paralleling to disparate parts of the fourth gospel may be explained by common written material derived from early notebooks. If so, some of these scraps may originally have been used in the Johannine community's debates with early Jewish Christians. Vanhoja agrees with scholars who have argued that Egerton's parallel material to the Synoptic Gospels may have become included through hearing the common oral tradition proclaimed in the community. Thereby, the Egerton Gospel seems to reflect an interaction between the Synoptic and Johannine traditions at least in the contexts of their early use and dissemination.

Early Christian notebooks can be taken as "a microstructure" of the gospel tradition whose revelation contributes to explaining a significant intersection between the psychological/cognitive and social levels. Therefore, in addition to the established methods of the biblical studies, Vanhoja deliberates on the possibility of applying the models and theories of cognitive science of religion and social psychology.

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