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Further information - Helsinki.fi

Centre of Excellence in Changes in Sacred Texts and Traditions

Director: Prof. Martti Nissinen (University of Helsinki)

Vice-Director: Prof. Anneli Aejmelaeus (University of Helsinki)

Sacred texts matter. Not only are they at the roots of civilizations all over the world,

but even today, their interpretation continues to influence societal values, social

hierarchies, and even world politics. Their critical study is indispensable for

contemporary societies to enable assessment of arguments rising from their

interpretation. However, sacred texts are never timeless and changeless. Investigating

the historical processes and mechanisms of CHANGES both in the texts and in their

cultural environments contributes decisively to the understanding of their

contemporary influence, which is also constantly in a state of flux.

CSTT aims at a more comprehensive understanding of the emergence and influence of

the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament (HB) within the multicultural milieu of the ancient

Near East. It provides an interdisciplinary approach to cultural, ideological, and

material changes in the period when the sacred traditions of the HB were created,

transmitted, and continuously transformed. The nature of the changes to be

investigated involves two levels. (1) The types of changes taking place in TEXTUAL

scribal work, testified by manuscript evidence. CSTT focuses on the composition and

development of sacred texts in early Judaism: their writing, copying and editing, their

rewriting and authorization. (2) SOCIAL AND RELIGIOUS changes in the ancient

Near East, testified by material culture as well as texts. Texts can be viewed as both

products and promoters of changes in society and religion.

These changes, pre- and postdating the emergence of the HB writings are examined

from the point of view of archaeology, sociology, and history of religion. The four

research teams of CSTT gather around a mutual interdisciplinary interest in texts that

eventually became part of the HB as well as texts that remained outside the biblical

canon; the Septuagint as well as the Dead Sea Scrolls; relevant ancient Near Eastern

texts, especially from Mesopotamia, and archaeological evidence. The major

innovations of CSTT are that it cross-fertilizes fields of study that have drifted apart

from each other in the course of the scholarly development, and investigates the

biblical texts in the light of new source materials.



Research Team 1: Society and Religion in the Ancient Near East

Team Leader: Martti Nissinen

Changes in biblical texts and traditions never took place in a socioreligious vacuum.

To understand them, it is necessary to explore the cultural, religious, and demographic

developments in the Near Eastern world preceding and accompanying the emergence

of biblical texts and traditions. Team 1 contextualizes these changes by focusing on

nonbiblical sources, that is, archaeological records and ancient Near Eastern texts. It

investigates (1) changes in religious concepts and practices, for instance, the nature of

ancient Near Eastern prophecy and its textualization and literarization in Judah; (2)

continuity and change in the settlement patterns, material culture, and religion in

Galilee in Iron Age, relying mainly on archaeological sources; and (3) changes in

demographic conditions as well as the social location and identity of ethnic minorities,


for instance, the Judeans in Babylonia and other ethnic groups in the multicultural

setting of Mesopotamian empires.

Research Team 2: Text and Authority

Team Leader: Anneli Aejmelaeus

Team 2 examines the processes of transmission of biblical texts and the scribal

practices prior to the stabilization of the text of the Hebrew Bible (HB). The sources

are the manuscripts from Qumran (2 nd BCE–1 st c. CE), the Septuagint (Greek

translation of the HB, 3 rd –2 nd c. BCE), and the later standard text (Masoretic text, 2 nd c.

CE onwards). Observation of changes in textual witnesses until fairly late (1 st BCE–1 st

CE) raises questions concerning the development of scriptural authority and the

immutability of authoritative writings. The group provides case studies on the

Pentateuch, historical books, Jeremiah, Minor Prophets, and Psalms. The method is

textual criticism understood broadly and complemented with the translation technical

approach, which enables the use of translations as witnesses of the HB. The status of

these texts is studied through their use as sources in other writings of Second Temple

Judaism and the New Testament (intertextuality, rewriting, exegesis).

Research Team 3: Literary Criticism in the Light of Documented Evidence

Team Leader: Juha Pakkala

Team 3 investigates the methodological relationship between literary criticism

(Literarkritik) and other methodologies of Biblical and related studies. The starting

point will be the changes observed in the Hebrew scriptures by literary criticism, but it

engages documented evidence of textual witnesses, thus deepening our understanding

of how to investigate texts where documented evidence is not available. It also

investigates the interrelationship between changes in the texts and changes in the

society, religion and history as witnessed by other methodologies, such as archaeology

and Near Eastern studies. The ultimate goal is to ask, how integral and necessary

literary criticism is for investigating ancient Israel and Yehud.

Research Team 4: Society and Religion in Late Second Temple Judaism

Team Leader: Jutta Jokiranta

The focus of Team 4 is in social and religious changes in the late Second Temple

Judaism: changes in practices and ways of thinking that become more widespread and

compelling than previously, especially new ritual practices, new discourse and identity

formation, economic and material changes in the changing political circumstances. The

Dead Sea Scrolls are considered as reflective of wider Judean literati as well as a

particular socio-religious movement. Team 4 investigates (1) the extent to which the

practices and beliefs cherished in the texts were not only reflecting, but also effecting

and contributing to the social changes of the time and (2) changes in material culture,

settlement and society, with the special focus on rural Galilee (excavations in Horvat

Kur). The group draws on a wide array of social-scientific theories that can inform the

investigation and help to communicate it to other disciplines.


The four research teams are strongly cooperative and linked with each other in

multiple ways. Teams 1 and 4 investigate cross-cultural religious phenomena, and

Team 4 benefits from the archaeological study of iron-age rural Galilee in Team 1 in

its investigation of changes in Galilee in the Greco-Roman and later times. The

phenomenon of intertextuality is one of the core areas of Team 2, but also belongs to

research interests of members of Teams 3 and 4. Teams 2 and 4 engage in the

investigation of the process in which texts become to carry authority and create

authority, including the sociological dimensions of such process. Teams 3 and 4

cooperate in evaluating and challenging the methodological assumptions in literary

critical work in light of the Qumran textual evidence. The scribalization of prophecy

and the historical link between the “Babylonian exile” and textual production

constitute links between Teams 1 and 2.

Competence Areas of Research Teams

Team 1 Team 2 Team 3 Team 4

Sociology of religion X X

Textual criticism X X X

Literary criticism X X

Qumran studies X X X X

Archaeology X X X

Assyriology

X

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