Research – University of Copenhagen


Research in the department focuses on the interpretation and illumination of the biblical scriptures from a range of perspectives. The emphasis is currently on:


Old Testament literature, its content and origins

The Department of Biblical Exegesis is the home of the "Copenhagen School for the Study of the Old Testament", whose defining position is that the Old Testament is not so much a book about ancient Israel's history and religion as it is a book aimed at early Jewish society in the fourth to second centuries BC, with the intention of informing that society about itself and the country to which it belongs, and about its relationship with God.
With this background in mind, the department's Old Testament research is largely directed at the study of historical and contemporary Old Testament literature.

The Dead Sea Scrolls

The writings that originate in the period between the Old and the New Testament shed light on the Bible as a whole. However, the Dead Sea Scrolls are particularly significant, as they are the only Jewish writings from the period around the start of Christianity to have been preserved in their original form, rather than as copies made much later. The Scrolls offer a unique insight into the origins of the Old Testament, and shed light on questions pertaining to Judaism's development in the time immediately preceding Christianity: How did the Jews interpret the Law of Moses? How did they envisage the Messiah), and how did they perceive "wisdom"? What form did the Jewish worship ceremonies take? Several members of staff in the department participated in the publication of the original hand-written scrolls, and are currently exploring the content of the texts.

The history of Bible translations

As far back as antiquity, biblical texts have been translated to other languages, the oldest known example being the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament. A later Latin translation of the whole Bible, the Vulgate served as the basis for the translation of the Bible into several European languages during the Middle Ages. The real breakthrough came with Luther's German translation, which served as the basis for translations in several of the countries that embraced the Reformation - including the Christian III Bible, the first Danish translation of the whole Bible. The Bible has since been translated over and over again, and there are now countless translations in many different languages, each defined by its historical, cultural, hermeneutic and theological context. As such, each version reflects an attitude towards the scriptures and their interpretation that is characteristic of its time and place. The study of the history of Bible translations is, therefore, an important part of the study of the history of the Bible's reception and interpretation.

Hellenic philosophy

In recognition of the fact that our understanding of the New Testament must move beyond the old contradiction between "Jewish" and "Hellenic" (Greek, Roman), attempts are also being made to approach the scripture from the perspective of Greek and Roman philosophy. In this context, the philosophy appears both in purely Greek or Roman forms (Stoicism, Epicureanism and Platonism, specifically Middle Platonism), and in the form in which it is assimilated by Jewish authors (e.g. Philo of Alexandria). A research project entitled "Philosophy at Christianity's Roots" (Philosophy at the roots of Christianity) has been completed and is being followed up at a  "Centre for Naturalism and Christian Semantics", where  the inter-relationships between Greco-Roman philosophy and early Christianity, right up to the period around 200 AD when Platonism gradually became Christianity's crucial interlocutor.

Gender hermeneutics

The use of gender as social symbolism in the New Testament reflects ancient society as a patriarchal, hierarchical status society. Based on the fundamental androcentric tenet of man as the normal human being, the figure of the female, along with, e.g., the leper, the tax collector and the Samaritan, represents deviation from the norm. In literary terms, social gender characteristics are the difference between honour and dishonour, purity and impurity, spirit and flesh. In critically reflecting upon the scriptures' gender conventions and stereotypes, gender hermeneutics takes as its foundation insights from social and cultural anthropology, as seen in the context of more recent gender and theories of sexuality.

Semiotics and text theory

In recognition of the fact that the biblical scriptures consist of constructed texts, it is essential when analysing them to incorporate knowledge about how meaning arises through them. Semiotic theory is concerned with the role of linguistic signs in human communication, and is therefore applicable to analyses of the construction of meaning in the biblical scriptures. Since the majority of the Bible is either narrative or persuasive in nature, theories of narrativity and rhetoric have major roles to play for example, ancient ideas about politics and rhetoric, as well as modern theories such as structuralism, narratology, different forms of semiotics and cognition.

The history of biblical interpretation

The Old Testament and the New Testament feature in tradition as actual texts themselves, but also in the many and different interpretations characteristic of their time and place. This is also the case for a broader spectrum of media, e.g. academic commentaries, devotional interpretations, biblical dramas, visual art, music and, in recent times, cinema. The questions posed are determined by the issues that define the interpretation paradigms. The history of interpretation must be taken into account when approaching a biblical text. This is evident from the development of idioms through various historical interpretations (e.g. "the Son of Man"), and also from an investigation of the treatment of special thematics (e.g. "the historical Jesus").

The Gospels as Rewritten Bible

The project “The Gospels as Rewritten Bible” aims to map the literary development from the oldest to the youngest New Testament gospel. The Gospel of Mark forms the earliest extant collection of traditional Jesus material into a narrative whole. Following on Mark, three different writers, though, each with his own theological stance and place in history, reshaped the story of Jesus, believing, apparently, that Mark’s manner of accounting for Jesus’ life and achievements was somehow inadequate. The project challenges the received opinion that two of the narratives that emerged in the wake of Mark, viz., Matthew and Luke, should be roughly contemporary and indebted to a common source, traditionally labeled Q, that has now been lost. It does so by placing the gospel of Luke (and its sequel, The Acts of the Apostles) into the second century and by arguing for a literary dependence of Luke on Matthew, thereby rendering the assumption of the existence of Q redundant. Dispensing with the theory of Q, the project attempts to conceptualize and interpret the four canonical gospels as each representing a different stage in a development of early Christian consciousness and identity formation – a development that continued into the apocryphal and gnostic traditions.