Dissertation Projects

Dissertation project by Julian Elschenbroich

The dissertation project examines how the Pauline passages 1Cor 15,35-49; 2Cor 5,1-10; Phil 1,23f. as well as - marginally - 1Thess 4,13-18 and the ideas of mortal as well as post-mortal processes expressed therein can be connected with ideas of dying, death and post-mortal existence in imperial Platonism of the 1st century AD (Philo of Alexandria, Plutarch of Chaironeia). While research has repeatedly observed that individual terms, especially in 2Cor 5:1-10, are close to those in so-called "Middle Platonic" texts, there has been no systematic evaluation of this finding in more recent times. In particular, the role of the human "nous", "logos" or "pneuma" is of special interest here - similar to anthropogenesis. The project also wants to open up perspectives for answers to the questions about the wholeness of the Pauline image of man, which have recently come into focus again; after all, a specific, fundamental conception of the constitution of man and his relationship to God is also revealed in ideas about the processes at the moment of death and beyond.

Supervision: Prof. Dr. Rainer Hirsch-Luipold.

Website Julian Elschenbroich

Dissertation project by Michael R. Jost

The motif of liturgical communion with angels appears in early Jewish and New Testament texts. In his dissertation project, accepted with summa cum laude in 2018, Michael Jost offers the first exegetical analysis of all the relevant passages from the Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament and places them within traditio-historical developments from the Hebrew Bible to rabbinical and patristic texts. By giving special consideration to the respective performances of liturgical texts, the author reconstructs each groups' experience of angelic communion. In his analysis of the liturgical communion of the yaḥad, Jost presents new insights not only for Qumran research but also for New Testament scholarship and the understanding of the early Christian communities and communal liturgies.

The work was published in 2019 as volume 505 in the series Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament by Mohr Siebeck: https://www.mohrsiebeck.com/buch/engelgemeinschaft-im-irdischen-gottesdienst-9783161567414?no_cache=1

Complementary to this, there is a thematic anthology in which individual aspects are discussed in depth: Jörg Frey/Michael R. Jost (ed.), Gottesdienst und Engel im antiken Judentum und frühen Christentum, WUNT II/446 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2017). The book is available here.

The project was also funded by the SNF: http://p3.snf.ch/project-146552

Supervision: Prof. Dr. Benjamin Schliesser, Prof. Dr. Jörg Frey

Dissertation project by Bettina Kindschi

This dissertation project aims to shed light on the mutual relations between Paul and the Jerusalem early church in order to gain an insight into the course of events, the circles of collaborators and the various theological profiles of early Christianity. Thus, the question of the apostle's understanding of others as well as of his self-understanding, especially with regard to his role and acceptance as a missionary, will be a subject of the study. Methodologically, the exegesis of the relevant texts from the Pauline letters and Acts (including the Apostles' Convention, the Antiochian incident and the collection) as well as the socio-historical background will play a role.

Supervision: Prof. Dr. Matthias Konradt

Website Bettina Kindschi

Dissertation project by Milan Kostrešević

The dissertation presents light as a motif in the prologue of John's Gospel and in John 8:12-12. It will discuss how the motif of light is used in the Gospel of John and how this is received in the Eastern tradition (Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Dionysius Areopagita). The question of the light in John leads to the disscusion of different aspects:

  • the christological (Jesus Christ as the light of the world Jn 8,12),
  • the theological (Jesus Christ as the light from the light)
  • the ecclesiological (in so far as the light is assigned to those who live in unity with Christ).

Semantically related word fields (e.g. the dualism of day and night, the radiant glory of God, etc.) are to be included in the investigation. For this dissertation, the Gospel of John is to be used because it can be made fruitful in all the aspects mentioned in the metaphor of light. This problem has been analysed by C.H. Dodd, R. Bultmann, F.N. Klein, C.R. Koester, O. Schwankl and M. Pulver, so the study can draw on important preliminary work.

Supervision: Prof. Dr. Rainer Hirsch-LuipoldProf. em. Dr. Urs von Arx.

Website: Milan Kostrešević

Disseration project by Stefano De Feo

At the heart of this project lies a lexical and exegetical analysis of the use of the lexeme ἔσχατos between the third cent. BCE and the first cent. CE. This thesis aims to map the spreading and relevance of the lexeme ἔσχατos within ancient religious and philosophical traditions. Due to the comparative nature of this research, several guiding questions arise. First, could the use of ἔσχατος suggest intersections between the three main traditions (Pagan, Jewish, and early Christian)? If so, what explanations can be offered for these intersections? Furthermore, can we identify distinct usage patterns of this term associated with specific authors or traditions? The approach used here combines lexical, philological, and exegetical methods, offering a unique and critical perspective on the theme of end-time expectations in the ancient Mediterranean world. Moreover, this analysis makes a substantial contribution to the reevaluation of the modern category of "eschatology." It emphasizes the importance of understanding how the term ἔσχατος was employed in ancient sources, taking into consideration its diverse meanings and values.

Supervision: Prof. Dr. Rainer Hirsch-Luipold.

Dissertation project by David Staub

Around the same time as the Gospels were written, the Greek philosopher Plutarch wrote 46 biographies in which he told the life stories of important Greeks and Romans. He was not only driven by a historical concern. On the basis of the biographies, Plutarch reflects on fundamental philosophical themes, including the question of the divine and its activity in the world. If Gospel texts and Plutarch's biographies are read side by side, the question arises to what extent not only the early Christians, but also the pagan philosopher believes to recognise the work of the divine in history in the lives of great personalities and draws it into his depictions.

The research project begins with a description and analysis of the history of research on the question of the genre of the Gospels, highlighting basic tendencies, problem areas and blind spots in the discussion. The question of genre is concerned, among other things, with the comparability of the Gospels with other texts of their time, with their self-understanding and with the claim with which they are to be read and understood. From these discussions, a synchronous, reciprocal text comparison is proposed, which pays particular attention to religious aspects of comparative texts and brings them into conversation with the Gospel texts.

In a second part of the research project, such a reciprocal text comparison is carried out on the basis of Plutarch's Life of Numas and the Gospel of Luke. Both texts signal a historical as well as a strong religious interest. They show similar concepts and writerly strategies with regard to the literary depiction of the nature of the divine and its work in the life of the main character. At the same time, exciting differences in detail also emerge. Similarities as well as differences give rise to further theological discussions.

The aim of the project is to develop a new methodology of intercultural text comparison on the basis of the research-historical discussion and the exemplary example carried out, with the help of which religious aspects of pagan texts can be newly opened up and unusual impulses for Gospel exegesis can be gained. Last but not least, the research project also wants to contribute to a better understanding of the Gospels in their literary environment with regard to the discussion of genre.

This project is part of the SNF project "Resonances through History: Biographically Grounded Construals of Divine Involvement in History in the Early Roman Imperial Era", led by Prof. Dr. Rainer Hirsch-Luipold.

Dissertation Project by Saskia Urech

In 2016, sociologist Hartmut Rosa published his groundbreaking work Resonance: A Sociology of Our Relationship to the World (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2019). Many academic disciplines picked up the sociology of resonance, and the discussion shows no sign of abating even beyond the German-speaking world. In biblical studies, however, the potential of this approach has not yet been exploited. In my dissertation, I focus on Pauline pneumatology, deliberating the following question: “How does the sociological category of resonance illuminate Paul’s idea of the Spirit in Romans 8?”

In Rosa’s analysis, the metaphor “resonance” describes how human beings relate to the world; it denotes a broad range of ways in which we establish our relationship to the world in terms of a mutual and uncontrollable (unverfügbar) event of experience. In his theology, Paul deals with human experiences with the divine world, appealing to the work of the Spirit. According to Paul, the work of the Spirit occurs in and through believers and transforms their lives. In this, the interaction with the Spirit has two directions of movement: the Spirit moving the lives of believers and believers responding to that movement. In this exchange, the talk of the Spirit vacillates between the Spirit as a sphere of power or influence (Rom 8:1-2, 9: “You are in the Spirit”) and the Spirit as a person (Rom 8:26: “The Spirit intercedes for us”).

Both Rosa and Paul have in mind an “interaction event” involving tangible experience in mind. The point of reference of such experience certainly differs – for Rosa it is strictly this-worldly, whereas Paul reaches beyond – but both hold that this interaction moves people, changes them, and is uncontrollable. On this basis, the project takes a closer look at Paul’s deliberations on the work of the Spirit from a “resonance-exegetical” perspective. The phrase “resonance-exegetical” implies a systematic-exegetical investigation of Pauline pneumatology against the backdrop of Rosa’s sociological category of resonance. It is argued that the category of resonance offers helpful systematic, exegetical, linguistic and material points of contact with Paul’s theology. It can perceive the Spirit both as resonance partner and as resonance that itself becomes experiential in the interaction event with believers and transforms their lives.

Supervision: Prof. Dr. Benjamin Schliesser, Prof. em. Dr. Ingolf Dalferth 

Dissertation project by Michel Degen

Was Luke’s attitude toward the Second Temple positive or negative, especially in Luke-Acts, specifically Acts 1-15? I am investigating this question with a focus on the exegetical traditions of different Jewish groups that lived during the late 2nd Temple period. How did these groups view themselves? Did they engage in exegetical discussions that can also be found in Luke, and what was their stance on the Second Temple?

To determine Luke’s line of argument, I will make use of recent advancements in the field of study that analyzes the use of the Old Testament in the New. Additionally, I will explore the temple incident in Luke 19 and other comparable passages. Furthermore, to trace Luke’s arguments, I will delve into the question of the literary genre of Luke-Acts.

My goal is to ascertain how the ascension and the coming of the Spirit function and what their effects are, as well as how they relate to the narrative of Acts.

Supervision: Prof. Dr. Benjamin Schliesser

Dissertation project by Hanna-Maria Hengel 

The city of Colossae was situated in the Phrygian part of the Roman Province of Asia Minor on the bank of the Lycus River, in proximity to Laodicea and Hierapolis. All three cities appear in the Letter to the Colossians in the New Testament. The city of Colossae, however, has long been neglected in scholarship due to a long-held presumption that it had vanished in an earthquake that occurred at the beginning of the 60s of the first century CE. Based on this and other prior assumptions, the Letter to the Colossians was qualified as pseudepigraphic, for no city of Colossae would have existed at the presumed time of the letter’s composition.

Recent scholarship, however, has refuted the destruction of Colossae since the city existed until Byzantine times. With this, the field is open to breaking new ground on how a Christian community that was not founded by Paul came into being in a middle-size city in Asia Minor.

The project on Colossae will engage with questions regarding the circumstances of the founding of the Lycus Valley churches and regarding the network that seems to have connected Pauline coworkers with other Christ-groups: When and how did Christianity come to the Lycus Valley? What role did Epaphras and others play in this?

Can we assume missionary work from Ephesus or elsewhere? How was Christianity able to gain a foothold in Colossae and the neighboring cities? Were there structures and currents which it made use of and/or to which it adapted itself? What were the characteristics of the Christianity that reached the Lycus Valley? What special features did it develop? For which groups was Christianity attractive? What kind of networks were created by the new Christ-groups?

This project is part of the SNF project “ECCLESIAE: Early Christian Centers – Local Expressions, Social Identities & Actor Engagement,” led by Prof. Dr. Benjamin Schliesser.

Dissertation Project by Corona Langjahr

In the first century AD, Antioch on the Orontes was considered one of the four great metropolises of the ancient world, which is why it was also of crucial interest for early Christianity. It is assumed that the first Christian congregations arose there around 40 AD and, under the leadership of some prominent figures such as Paul and Barnabas, it became the centre of early missionary activity - especially in the pagan environment ("mission to the pagans"). The decisive sources are the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles of Paul, above all the Epistle to the Galatians, but also the writings of contemporary authors and documentary sources. However, since most of the Roman city still lies under the sediments of the Orontes River, archaeology and epigraphy are of limited help.

The core questions of the thesis are, on the one hand, in which religious-cultural and social context Christianity emerged in Antioch on the Orontes, who joined this new kind of assembly and which factors contributed to the spread of Christianity. On the other hand, it will be investigated which leadership concepts developed in this specific context and how these can be described with the help of current "leadership" models.

The research project under the working title "Early Christianity in Antioch on the Orontes. Spread and Leadership Structures" begins with a description and analysis of the history of research and the question of the spread and composition of the first groups of the Jesus movement. Current research agrees that the community was composed of Jews and non-Jews, which led to theological and personal conflicts among the leading personalities. Therefore, the congregation there lends itself particularly well to an investigation of leadership structures. 

In a second part of the project, leadership concepts in the immediate environment of the early Jesus movement in Antioch will be examined, including, for example, the association system or the synagogues. In the examination of these organisational dynamics, which will be brought into conversation with newer social science models, a fresh look at the nature of leadership in the Jesus movement will be made possible and can thus make a new contribution to the history of early Christianity.

The aim of the research project is to provide a new view of leadership structures in emerging Christianity in a very plural city, which is not possible in this way in the other metropolises of Christian beginnings. The methodological approach, which also draws on modern leadership models, can provide a more complex and comprehensive picture of the Antiochian Christ group(s) and elaborate social dynamics.

This project is part of the SNF project “ECCLESIAE: Early Christian Centers – Local Expressions, Social Identities & Actor Engagement,” led by Prof. Dr. Benjamin Schliesser.

Dissertation Project by Niklas Walder

In recent social-historical studies of early Christianity in its urban setting, an “institutional” perspective has served as the guiding paradigm. As for example, there has been a notable interest in Greco-Roman associations and its comparison with Christ assemblies (Kloppenborg, 2019). This also applies to research on the Christ groups in the Roman colony of Philippi, where such a comparison was prominently advanced by Richard Ascough (Ascough, 2003).

As with all such historical studies, the lack of sources presents a significant challenge in studying this subject. In the case of Philippi, the question arises as to how the source value of the local association inscriptions (such as those of the cultores Silvani from the 2nd and 3rd centuries, I. Philippi2 163-166) should be assessed in terms of their potential to shed light on the organization of Christ assemblies in the 1st century (Eckhardt, 2018).

The project conducted by Niklas Walder assesses current research and the relevant local evidence but also incorporates an explicitly non-institutional perspective on early Christianity in Philippi, utilizing Acts 16 as its foundational point of departure. It seeks to shift the focus towards individuals who are literarily and narratively attested in Acts 16 and examine them from a “subject-oriented” perspective against the background of a socio-historical reconstruction of ancient Philippi (Rüggemeier, 2020).

As is customary in narratives, Acts does not provide a meticulous record of historical events but rather makes deliberate omissions and refinements to maintain narrative coherence, leaving gaps and unmentioned details (such as the fate of Paul in Rome). However, knowledgeable readers who were acquainted with the historical context they shared with the author and thus well-versed in the ancient setting described in Acts, were capable of utilizing their cultural and historical knowledge to comprehend the text effectively by filling in the gaps left by the author.

In Acts 16, the narrated storylines are now set against a specific backdrop: the characters are situated on the stage of Philippi, a Roman colony in the 1st century within the province of Macedonia. Ancient recipients, in turn, interpreted this narrative and its characters through the lens of their knowledge concerning the conditions of Philippi or with analogous information about other Roman colonies.

While we may neither possess direct access to the implied background in the author's nor the recipients' imagination, and our socio-historically reconstructed Philippi never aligns precisely with their imagined Philippi, a comprehensive local-historical (lokalgeschichtliche) examination of Philippi in conjunction with the Acts narrative still stands as the most reliable approach for understanding Acts 16 and its figures within the specific historical and geographic context of Philippi.

This project adopts a multifaceted methodological approach, in alignment with recent scholarly trends and with particular emphasis placed on the numerous inscriptions from Philippi, with the objective of reevaluating and comprehending characters such as Lydia, the purple trader, the pythoness slave girl, and the prison guard within the socio-historical context of Philippi. It seeks to analyze how our contemporary understanding of the narrative sequences in Philippi evolves when viewed through this perspective.

This project is part of the SNF project “ECCLESIAE: Early Christian Centers – Local Expressions, Social Identities & Actor Engagement,” led by Prof. Dr. Benjamin Schliesser.

Dissertation project by Florence Gantenbein

The research project investigates the portrayal of female figures in early Christian Ephesian literature against the background of Ephesian urban culture. The focus is on the elaboration of the agency of different Ephesian women in an urban context - be it as craftswoman, prytaneis or high priestess of the imperial cult - and the analysis of early Christian female figures against this background. By drawing on sociological theories of identity, the sources are interrogated to determine in which contexts of urban life a person's gender and religious identities were activated and to what degree, and what can be concluded from this about the possibilities for women to act in an urban context.

This project is part of the SNF project “ECCLESIAE: Early Christian Centers – Local Expressions, Social Identities & Actor Engagement,” led by Prof. Dr. Benjamin Schliesser.