Attractiveness through Ethics. Interactions between Jewish, Hellenistic-Roman and Christian Ethics in Antiquity

During the research period from June 2008 through to May 2009, the main focus will be on the question of the so-called "Todesrecht". The last comprehensive study on the topic within the German-speaking world was published in 1969 by Hermann Schulz under the title "Das Todesrecht im Alten Israel". Since then, a number of scholars have proposed one understand the frequently repeated death formulae in the law collections of the Old Testament not as hints at a factual death penalty, but merely as in indication of the graveness of the crimes thus qualified, without clear judicial consequences (see, e.g., Erhard S. Gerstenberger, "Apodiktisches Recht - Todes Recht? [in P. Mommer u.a., Gottes Recht als Lebensraum, 1993]). The question raised by such an interpretation has to be addressed and, texts permitting, solved. In the same context, it is also necessary to investigate the grammatical function of the preposition beth in Genesis 9:6a; a non-instrumental understanding of the preposition together with a non-literal understanding of the death formulae as described above would effectively eliminate the concept of capital punishment in the Old Testament. The issue of the death penalty is important for the study of Old Testament ethics for two main reasons: First, capital punishment is part of the organization of the penal system which is in itself an integral branch of material ethics; second, quite independent of how the death formulae are understood, they reflect the value system informing moral evaluations of various types of behaviour. There are also connections to the purity theme, in the sense that notions related to "purity" can be found in the context of the death formulae. It goes without saying that even in terms of politics the issue of capital punishment continues to play an important role within the Western world as well, as the example of the U.S. shows. A second focus - against the background of the discussion on the existence and the role of an ("attractive") "ethics of commandments" in the New Testament - will be the topic of the reception of chronologically earlier commands by the later congregation of Israel outside the narrative frame in which the passing of the laws is embedded within the historical construct presented by the Old Testament itself. This can be studied paradigmatically in the case of Nehemiah 13.1-3. In this case, the separation from "the foreigners" is, in its broader context, understood as a measure of self-purification by the congregation and as a way to keep its "seed" pure. This again creates a link to the thematic field of "purity". The project will investigate whether the way of dealing with given commandments is also found in other texts of the Old Testament, and whether this specific pattern embodies an analogous model for the reception of authoritative "torah" in the New Testament. The results of such an investigation are likely to provide hints pertaining to the systematic-ethical issue of how Old Testament ethics in particular and biblical ethics in general can be related to the discourse on current ethical challenges in a fruitful way. The dynamics of cross-cultural religious contacts play an important role both with respect to the question of capital punishment and with respect to the diachronic reception of law within the Old Testament; the discussion of the topics mentioned above must always address the question of how analogous phenomena from the ancient Near East can be connected with observations drawn from the Israelite material.

In accordance with one of the fundamental research goals of the IKGF, at all points of the investigation, both during its first phase and during further work on the portions that lie beyond the one year fellowship period, the primary element of reflection will be interconnections between the primary subject of analysis, the Old Testament, and the traditions of the surrounding cultures. We will also address the following question: Which lines of development can be drawn linking conditions prevailing in ancient Israel to those mirrored in the texts of the New Testament? One of the overarching aims of the present project - in addition to the investigation of various specific topics within the field of Old Testament ethics - is to fill the gap mentioned in the first paragraph, by publishing a comprehensive study on "Old Testament Ethics" that deals afresh with the aspects and perspectives indicated earlier and combines them in a way compatible with the interdisciplinary approach that characterizes the "Dynamics in the History of Religions" project. It is, however, clear that this overarching goal can be attained only outside of the time limits set by the one year research fellowship 2008-2009.

Affiliated Persons

Photograph of Prof. Dr. Peter Wick

Prof. Dr. Peter Wick

Project Leader

Universitätsstr. 150
44801  Bochum
Office GA 8/148
+49 234 32-28103

Prof. Dr. Markus Zehnder

Cooperation Partner