This project examines the use and interpretation of 'biblical texts' in Late Antiquity when there was no 'Bible' and the level of literacy was low. It asks in what various ways the ancients related to authoritative texts, how these ways shaped what they understood as biblical, and how the texts may have influenced their lives. The focus is on three interrelated phenomena: asceticism, martyrdom, and miracles.
Corporeality of the past
The research combines recent trends in early Jewish and Christian studies by addressing textual fluidity of biblical texts. Characterizing scriptures in antiquity as lived, it directs attention to the corporeality of practices described and implied in them. While acknowledging that sources do not represent all voices in equal measure, the project scrutinizes the variety of lived realities which these texts reflect and from which they emerge. Thus, the project contributes to a better understanding of the reciprocal relations between scriptures and their various users, and the formation of collections of authoritative texts.
The project promotes the notion of reception in order to expand the historical reality that surrounds texts from their primary producers to their audiences, including various users who partake in the constructions of their meanings. The research is informed by culture and gender critical approaches, appreciating the corporeality of the past, as well as the framework of lived religion. Focusing on biblical texts as lived scriptures, it takes into account the situatedness of each textual act in a particular sociohistorical, cultural and geographical location.
Early Jewish and Christian literature as lived scriptures
The focus of the project is on biblical reception in the everyday lives of people in Late Antiquity (1st – 7th centuries CE), a period of time during which biblical texts were diversely used and ‘the Bible’ did not exist as an entirely fixed collection of texts. The research builds on current biblical, early Jewish, and early Christian studies that have shown, how early Christian and Jewish movements were characterized by their diversity and the biblical texts by their fluidity. Yet, the reception of authoritative texts is never confined to the acts of reading and writing. Especially in the predominantly oral culture of Late Antiquity in which the level of literacy was low, biblical texts were not only read or listened to; they were lived out. Therefore, receptions of texts considered holy must be considered from the perspective of lived reality. In this project, the special focus is on three often interrelated phenomena – asceticism, martyrdom, and miracles – as well as on the reciprocal relationship between these phenomena and scripturality.
The project studies early acta literature – apocryphal acts, martyr literature and hagiography – as biblical texts. In this way, the theological and historical significance of these sources is no longer downplayed as non-canonical; instead, the project highlights their importance as texts which build on biblical traditions and at the same time sustain and create them. Moreover, such sources could cross boundaries between religious traditions, as various biblical traditions shared by Jews, Christians, and Muslims attest.