The research team is formed by Dr. Susanna Asikainen and doctoral students Vilja Alanko and Anna-Liisa Rafael. The international academic advisory board has renowed scholars of their respective fields, and these experts will provide their insights for the project and each will be invited to visit Helsinki to participate in project events.
Reception of authoritative texts in early Christianity
Outi Lehtipuu works as Senior Lecturer at the Department of Biblical Studies at the University of Helsinki. Previously (2012–2017) she held a research position as Academy Research Fellow at the same university. She is a team leader at the Centre of Excellence Reason and Religious Recognition, funded by the Academy of Finland. Currently, she serves as President of the European Association of Biblical Studies (EABS, 2018–2021). She belongs to the board of the doctoral programme Gender, Culture, and Society at the University of Helsinki, to the executive group of the Master’s degree programme at the Faculty of Theology, to the steering committee of the Nordic Network for the Study of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in the First Millennium, and she served as the Chair of the local organizing committee of the International Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature held jointly with the Annual Conference of EABS at the University of Helsinki in August 2018.
Lehtipuu has published widely in the fields of New Testament studies and Early Christianity. In her work, she emphasizes the diversity of the early Christian movement and its embeddedness in the wider Late Ancient world. Her first book, based on her dissertation and entitled The Afterlife Imagery in Luke’s Story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Brill, 2005) examines ancient representations of the afterlife. Her second book, Debates over the Resurrection of the Dead: Constructing Early Christian Identity (OUP, 2015) focuses on competing readings of key biblical passages that were used in early Christian discourses on the resurrection of the dead. She is editor of several collections of essays on a variety of topics, including ancient anthropology, early Jewish and Christian responses to the Roman Empire, women and knowledge in ancient Christianity, and female figures in ancient Christian apocryphal texts (as part of the multilingual project The Bible and Women: An Encyclopaedia of Exegesis and Cultural History).
Lehtipuu’s current research addresses questions pertaining to the use of biblical texts in multiple contexts. She is particularly interested in the reciprocal relations between texts and their early readers: how, on the one hand, authoritative texts are invoked and interpreted to transfer their authority to their users, and, on the other hand, how the use of these texts enhance the authority of the texts.
For more information, see her profile on the University of Helsinki research portal.
Emergence of 'biblical martyrs'
Anna-Liisa Rafael (née Tolonen) is currently employed as a doctoral student by the CoE in Reason and Religious Recognition, and she is also a member of the research project Conceptions of Virtue in Early Judaism. Having graduated from a joint Nordic MA programme, ‘Religious Roots of Europe’, her academic background is in the comparative, historical study of scriptural traditions in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in their formative periods. In her doctoral research, Rafael has broadly explored the reception of the story of the mother and her seven sons known from early Jewish, early Christian, rabbinic, as well as early Islamic literature. In her dissertation, she suggests a fundamental re-interpretation of the earliest, so-called Maccabean versions of the story. As far as it concerns the story of the mother and her seven sons, the Maccabean books, she argues, must be read as part of the late antique reception history of the story, rather than as the originals, from which the later reception history springs.
Within the context of 'Lived Scriptures', Rafael analyzes the emergence of 'biblical martyrs', that is, biblical figures mostly from the Christian Old Testament that are presented as martyrs in late antique Christian writings. Figures such as Abel (Gen 4:1–16; cf. Matth 23:35), Isaac (Gen 22:1–19), the daughter of Jephtah (Judg 11:1–12:7), the three young men in the fiery furnace (Dan 3) or Daniel in the lion’s den (Dan 6) do not meet up the standard modern scholarly criteria for a martyr, as they are not publicly executed or even die; yet, they become regarded as martyrs by means of exegetical and homiletic scriptural discourse. Rafael builds on the hypothesis that the Christian phenomenon and ideology of martyrdom encouraged discursive practices that (re)organized scriptures and (re)imagined biblical history in order to enhance the authority of scriptures. The recasting of biblical stories as stories of martyrdom brought them closer to their audiences, providing a scriptural platform for discussions that were relevant for the daily concerns, while it also claimed scripturality to be an integral part of those concerns.
Rafael’s research interests emphasize the importance of the study of scriptures in the context of their users. Martyrs, as well as ascetics and miracle-workers, represent more than memories of historical figures or popular literary constructions: they functioned as the media through which scriptures communicated beyond the elite who studied them in a way that accentuates scriptures as a manual for Christian life. For more information, see her profile on the University of Helsinki research portal.
Female characters in biblical reception
Susanna Asikainen wrote her dissertation on masculinities in the synoptic Gospels (University of Helsinki, 2016). The monograph from her dissertation, Jesus and Other Men: Ideal Masculinities in the Synoptic Gospels, was published by Brill in 2018. In addition to her studies in Biblical Studies, she holds an MA degree in Greek language and literature, and has analysed representations of heterosexuality in the ancient Greek novels. Asikainen has taught various courses on New Testament Greek as well as on the topic of gender in biblical texts. She is a co-editor of a Finnish introductory book on gender in the biblical world (Sukupuoli Raamatun ajan maailmassa, published by the Finnish Exegetical Society in 2019). Asikainen also participates in a project that translates the writings of the Apostolic Fathers into Finnish and is a board member of the Finnish Exegetical Society (2018–).
Asikainen’s postdoctoral research project focuses on ideal femininities and the ideals of sexual purity in the rewritings of biblical texts. These texts include some works by Josephus and Philo as well as some Greek texts that belong to the Old Testament pseudepigrapha, such as the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs and Joseph and Aseneth. She examines how these texts reinterpret the biblical female characters such as Esther, Judith, Susannah, and Aseneth. The themes of sexual purity, threat of martyrdom, and miraculous salvation are part of the accounts of these women. Asikainen argues that these women can be seen not only as examples of virtuous females but also as examples of female masculinity. The analysis of these texts expands our perspectives on early Jewish and Christian gender ideals.
Asikainen’s main research interests include gender and sexuality, especially masculinity and heterosexuality in the ancient Greco-Roman world. For more information, see her profile on the University of Helsinki research portal.
Mothers and daughters in early Christian hagiography
Vilja Alanko is a doctoral student at the faculty of theology and in the multidisciplinary doctoral programme Gender, Culture and Society for which she also serves as a board member. In relation to her doctoral studies, she is participating in the Nordic Network for the Study of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as well as the international network Feminist Readings. Alanko has previously been employed in the academy project Embodied Religion and is currently a member in the CoE in Reason and Religious Recognition.
Alanko's research project, titled 'Stories of Feminine Becoming: Mothers and Daughters in Early Christian Hagiography', examines the relationships of mothers and daughters in three early Christian hagiographies from second through seventh centuries – the Acts of (Paul and) Thecla, the Life of Macrina, and the Life of Mary of Egypt. These selected accounts provide three different representations of a holy woman, while they all both include elements of gender ambivalence and manifest a strong sense of agency attributed to their protagonists. On this reading, the presence of mothers and daughters in hagiographical narratives, regardless of whether their bond is biological, adoptive, or divine, is the starting point for the analysis feminine subjectification and relationality.
Theoretically, this study builds on Luce Irigaray’s thought that emphasizes the significance of feminine genealogies and especially maternal relations for feminine subjectivity. Alanko's work thus further joins the study of early Christian asceticism and its impact on notions of gender and sexuality. For more information, see her profile on the University of Helsinki research portal.
Professor (emerita) Galit Hasan-Rokem Hebrew University, Jerusalem) is a specialist on rabbinic Judaism and gendered folklore. She has recently (fall 2017) visited Helsinki for two weeks offering a course on late antique Rabbinic texts and a presentation on the “Wandering Jew” figure in European cultures.
Professor Marianne Bjelland Kartzow (New Testament Studies, University of Oslo) is an expert on New Testament literature and ancient social history. She has applied several innovative methodological approaches in her studies of early Christianity, including intersectional and reception historical analyses.
Professor Laura Nasrallah (Harvard Divinity School) is known for her work that brings together early Christian literature with material culture, as shown in the archaeological remains of the Mediterranean world. Her research engages critically issues of colonialism, gender, status, and power.