B. Centrale begreber og problemstillinger


Faculty of Theology

Theme 1: The discursive fight over religious texts in antiquity

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B. Crucial concepts and issues

Religious text, canon and normativity

The theme focuses on the definition of a religious text and the meaning of normativity. Which aspects (form, content and use) contribute to making a text religious? It has to be investigated whether some factors are more normative than others and whether the norms only apply to the individual or to the group in general? Finally, it has to be clarified whether the idea that a text is canonical is of decisive importance to its normativity?

This leads to a differentiation in normativity between canonical texts and other texts and thus also between commented text and commentary. It is therefore necessary to define the text/commentary relationship, and it must be clarified when and why conflicts occur about the normative status of texts.

Religious groups – imagined communities and institutionalisation

The following groups in antiquity are included in the investigation: Christians, Jews, pagans and heretics. These religious groups will be described and discussed by means of, for example, the concept of Imagined Communities. It is important to emphasise that the concept imagined does not imply that the community is less real.The point is simplythat the community is significant because its individual members share an idea of it (e.g., native country, God’s congregation, the chosen people) and of themselves as belonging to it.

By using the concept of ‘imagined communities’ about the religious groups in antiquity, we avoid making biased and anachronistic distinctions between, e.g., orthodoxy and heresy, Judaism and Christianity. The distinction is instead made with reference to the notions of how ancient religious groups perceived themselves and others.

The fight

The establishment of defined religious groups in antiquity was often characterised by polemics. One or more of these groups were sometimes subject to persecutions. The issue was not only about how to define the different groups but also which texts to be used by one or the other group, for which aim and with which status.

Such fights were fought internally in the individual groups and externally among the different groups. The ends and means of the fights were sometimes defensive (preserving/apologetic), aiming to maintain well-known positions, to keep existing support to the group or to defend it against persecution. At other times the ends and means of the fights were offensive (repressive/ proselytising) aiming to take over the positions of other groups (usurpation), to suppress other groups or make proselytes/converts. Fights among religious groups in antiquity were about: (1) texts; (2) the right interpretation of texts; (3) the normative role of texts. This also applies to alternative sources of status and authority (e.g., divine inspiration, office, martyrdom, asceticism and oral tradition.

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Revised 2010.03.04