Tasks and focus of the Institute

The members of the institute teach and research the history of early Christianity in the first two centuries and the history of ancient Judaism. 

  • The theological-historical aspect investigates the religious utterances of the various Christian and Jewish groups;
  • the social history aspect, their social framework conditions;
  • the religious history aspect, their pagan environment particularly in the Hellenistic-Roman cultural space. The latter is revealed not only through literary but also through epigraphic and archaeological documents.
  • The hermeneutical aspect of New Testament Studies looks at the ancient texts with a view to their relevance for present-day teaching and life, developing criteria for how to reach such statements relating to the present time.
  • The aspect of historical influence follows the potential of significance and innovation which particularly New Testament texts have had in the course of church history – a new direction of research supplying valuable material to the hermeneutic discussion.

The literary documents of the early Christian and Jewish groups, studied in their original languages, include not only the writings of the New Testament and the entire Hellenistic-Jewish literature, but – among many others – also the famous Qumran texts from the Red Sea. Students become acquainted with the New Testament texts and the other ancient texts in lectures, seminars and practical exercises in a diachronic as well as in a synchronic perspective. 

In other words, the development of the literary documents, which often spans decades, is traced (diachronically), and each text layer is individually examined for its content and how it “figures into life” (synchronically), taking into account the latest methods of literary science. Thus an overall view of the environment relevant for early Christianity is created as a framework condition for an adequate understanding of a highly effective basic document of occidental culture, namely, the New Testament.

Research fields at the Institute:

  • In the area of early Judaism of the Hellenistic and Roman era, we focus on the Qumran texts and Hellenistic Judaism.
  • The early Christianity from Jesus of Nazareth to the transition to Early Church is investigated in particular under aspects of theological history; the focus of interest is particularly on the Pauline writings, the Johannine communities and the work of Jesus of Nazareth.
  • Moreover we shed light on the Hellenistic-Roman background of early Judaism and Christianity; besides literary records we take epigraphic and archaeological sources into account.
  • Last but not least we take a look at early Christianity and Judaism in an interdisciplinary dialogue in the light of psychological and sociological models; methodology plays a part as well as a sociology of knowledge-based approach to the early Christian history of theology.