This project examines the use and interpretation of “biblical texts” in Late Antiquity when there was no “Bible” and the level of literacy was low. It asks in what various ways the ancients related to authoritative texts, how these ways shaped what they understood as biblical, and how the texts influenced their lives. The focus is on three interrelated phenomena: asceticism, martyrdom, and miracles.
The research combines recent trends in early Jewish and Christian studies by addressing textual fluidity of biblical texts in a novel way. Characterizing scriptures in antiquity as lived, it directs attention to the corporeality of practices described and implied in them. While acknowledging that sources do not represent all voices in equal measure, the project scrutinizes the variety of lived realities which these texts reflect and from which they emerge. Thus, the project contributes to a better understanding of the reciprocal relations between scriptures and their various users, and the formation of collections of authoritative texts.
The project studies early acta literature – apocryphal acts, martyr literature and hagiography – as biblical texts. In this way, the theological and historical significance of these sources is no longer downplayed as non-canonical; instead, the project highlights their importance as texts which build on biblical traditions and at the same time sustain and create them. Moreover, such sources could cross boundaries between religious traditions, as various biblical traditions shared by Jews, Christians, and Muslims attest.
The project promotes the notion of reception in order to expand the historical reality that surrounds texts from their primary producers to their audiences, including various users who partake in the constructions of their meanings. The research is informed by culture and gender critical approaches, appreciating the corporeality of the past, as well as the framework of lived religion. Focusing on biblical texts as lived scriptures, it takes into account the situatedness of each textual act in a particular sociohistorical, cultural and geographical location.
Academic study of biblical texts is not disconnected from their wider, popular reception in religious communities or politics and culture in general. The perspective of lived scriptures provides analytical tools to evaluate developing traditions critically, as well as to reassess contemporary readings which are on a continuum with the past.