Rainer Hirsch-Luipold

Commentary on the Gospel of John in the series Das Neue Testament Deutsch.

In every volume, this complete and current general commentary on the New Testaments offers translations, explanations, overarching thematic excurses, and suggestions for further reading. Over the years, the scholarly quality, lucid expositions, and sensible pricetag have established the series as a go-to resource for pastors, teachers, students, and ecclesial personnel (publisher's text, trans. Institute for NT – Bern).

Commentary on the Letter to the Ephesians for the series Theologischer Kommentar zum Neuen Testament.


Since the ground-breaking project on “Plutarch’s Writings and Early Christian Literature” initiated by H.D. Betz 40 years ago, the discussion on the use of “parallels” to the New Testament has changed considerably. While efforts to bridge the “Hellenism-Judaism” divide have been made, studies of Hellenistic and early imperial philosophy led to renewed reflection on the validity of the “religion-philosophy” divide. Since the publication of Athanassiadi and Frede’s volume of collected essays in 1999, a fervent dispute about the existence of a “pagan monotheism” has emerged. Plutarch, the Platonist philosopher and priest of Apollo at Delphi, is a central figure in all these discussions. He seems to be particularly close to the more philosophical writings of the New Testament in many respects (genre, ethics, figurative language, theology, views on women, love, marriage etc.). The very fact of his enormous reception history within Christianity signals that this author was thought to be more than a mere parallel – he appeared at times as a kind of a pagan Greek “Church father,” similar to Seneca in the Latin West. Since the 1970s, the study of Plutarch’s voluminous works has boomed with major developments in the analysis of his literary and philosophical technique as well as of his hermeneutics of religious traditions and the importance of theological reflections for Plutarch's philosophical mind-set.

Plutarch und das Neue Testament

The series SAPERE (Scripta Antiquitatis Posterioris ad Ethicam Religionemque pertinentia) is dedicated to the writings of Later Antiquity (1st–4th centuries CE) which treat ethical and religious questions. In commission of the Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities, it is edited by Prof. Heinz-Günther Nesselrath (speaker), Prof. Dr. Reinhard Feldmeier, and Prof. Dr. Rainer Hirsch-Luipold. As of yet, 38 volumes have been published, first with the Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft (vols. 1–9), then with Mohr Siebeck (as of vol. 10). The series undertakes the task of identifying those Greek and Latin texts which have long been overshadowed by "classical" titles in order to make them accessible both to scholars and to a broader reading audience through an innovative combination of edition, translation, and commentary in the form of interpretative essays.

SAPERE – Writings of Later Antiquity with Ethical and Religious Themes


The Human Being as Image of God and the Abyss of Desires

Theological implications of anthropological conceptualization in Hellenistic Judaism, early Christianity and pagan-religious Platonism.

According to traditional theological conceptions, the human being can appear on the one hand as the "image" of the ineffable God, yet on the other hand as a bottomless abyss of desires. This traditional understanding sets an apparently irresolvable paradox before all religious-philosophical anthropology: as the image of the divine, the human being ought to provide an epistemic bridge between the corporeal world and the transcendent God, and yet bears – as a fallen creature – within itself an abyss which represents the utmost alienation from God.

The project investigates the manner in which the theological implications of this fundamental paradox were put to productive theological use by authors within religious Platonism from the early Roman Imperial era to Late Antiquity (1st–6th cent. CE). To this end, the concepts, images, and arguments found in Jewish (Philo of Alexandria), pagan (e.g. Plutarch and Plotinus), and Christian texts (e.g. Ambrose, Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite) will be examined. These ideas culminate in a new apophatic anthropology which finds a fuller expression among the Church Fathers and transforms the bottomless abyss into unfathomable depths which leads to the ineffable divine.


In cooperation with the Inselspital and the Theological Faculty of the University of Bern, this project examines the manner in which persons with epilepsy interpret themselves with a religious lens and how their epilepsy is interpreted in religious terms by interested third parties. This has two subprojects: 

  • a clinical study of epilepsy patients who have undergone brain surgery;
  • an historical study of the religious interpretation of epilepsy in various historical sources, be they medicinal literature from the Corpus Hippocraticum and from Galen, be they the stories of the Bible and the Church Fathers. 
  • http://www.epilepsy-and-spirituality.unibe.ch


Is monotheism necessarily a cause of conflict? This project, pushing back against this common assumption, investigates the social and ethical integrative power of monotheist positions by looking at the way God’s uniqueness is presented in one of the most productive and influential ancient philosophers: Plutarch of Chaironeia. He wrote in the 1st -2nd centuries of our era, as a Platonic philosopher and priest of Apollo in Delphi, about the most diverse religious traditions and phenomena. Our hypothesis is that Plutarch’s project of showing that the many gods and cults of polytheism all lead back to the worship of the one god is aimed at unifying the various religious and cultural traditions in a common religious and philosophical search for truth. In this way, he tries both to grasp the various traditions in their independence whilst also subordinating them to a single system of values. Our project is a contribution to the on-going debate about pagan monotheism, and opens perspectives for contemporary strategies for dealing with conflicting claims to truth, often in a religious context. 


IRC – Religious Conflicts and Coping Strategies

A focal point of theological study in Bern is the thoroughgoing connection between the study of ancient languages and theology. We offer language education and the opportunity to attain philological competence for participants at all levels of higher education through reading seminars, language tutoring, workshops, and individual counseling. To foster such efforts, we offer consultation concerning detailed philological questions to scholars working on diverse projects and, in this regard, we aim especially to support our junior scholars.

The project concerns the complete revision of BAA. The following is envisaged: the semantic definition of all lexems; the consistent rubrication of all entries according to semantic criteria; the localization of lexemes in semantic fields; the minimization of "Luther-Idioms"; the expansion of lexicographical evidence, particularly papyrological and inscriptional findings.

SNF-Projekt: «Das ‹Evangelium der Natur›. Der griechische Physiologus und die Wurzeln der frühchristlichen Naturdeutung»

Was hat der Pelikan mit Christus zu tun oder das Einhorn mit der Jungfrau Maria? Antworten auf solcherlei Fragen findet man im Physiologus, einer griechischen, wohl im 2. Jhdt. n.Chr. in Ägypten verfassten Schrift. Unter Aufnahme biblischer wie paganer Motivik und Hermeneutik bietet sie erstmals eine christliche, christologische Gesamtdeutung der Natur. Über mittelalterliche Bestiarien findet die Symbolik des Physiologus Eingang in Kunst, Literatur und Heraldik. Die Bedeutung dieser tief in antiker Naturlehre und biblischer Motivik verwurzelten, christologisch ausgedeuteten Bildsprache bleibt heutzutage vielfach rätselhaft. Das vorliegende SNF-Projekt Das ‹Evangelium der Natur›. Der griechische Physiologus und die Wurzeln der frühchristlichen Naturdeutung setzt es sich zum Ziel, die Wurzeln dieser alten Natursymbolik des Physiologus aufzudecken und so einen hermeneutischen Schlüssel zu ihrer Deutung zu erarbeiten.      

Weitere Mitarbeitende: Dr. Zbyněk Kindschi Garský

Das ‹Evangelium der Natur›. Der griechische Physiologus und die Wurzeln der frühchristlichen Naturdeutung

DFG-Projekt: «Sophist. Zur Diffamierung des Gegners als eines Intellektuellen»

Zwei verschiedene „Sophistenbilder“ gewinnen wir bei Platon und bei Flavios Philostratos: Der Sophist macht das schwächere Argument zum stärkeren. Er ist ein begnadeter Seelenfänger, Fabrikant von Wortgeklingel, der Sieg im Argumentationskampf zählt, Wahrheit ist zweitrangig (Platon, 5./4. Jhd. v.Chr.) - Der Sophist ist ein hoch angesehener, prominenter Showredner, ein aristokratischer Popstar der Kaiserzeit, oft auch ein respektabler Diplomat oder Politiker in seiner Heimatstadt (Flavios Philostratos, Vitae Sophistarum, 3. Jhd.). Trotz der positiven Bewertung von erster und zweiter Sophistik in der modernen Forschung gibt es in der antiken Literatur eine durchgehende Tradition von negativen Stimmen über den Sophisten. Sophistenkritik findet sich auch in der jüdischen und christlichen Literatur. Deshalb meine These: „Sophist“ ist die Bezeichnung des intellektuellen Gegners eines Autors. Ziel der Arbeit ist eine Darstellung der literarischen Entwicklung der Sophistenkritik von Platon (5./4. Jhd. v.Chr.) bis Iulius Pollux (2. Jhd.) und eine genauere historische und soziale Verortung des intellektuellen Gegners.

Weitere Mitarbeitende: Dr. phil. Beatrice Wyss

The interdisciplinary reserach group is led by Prof. Dr. Rainer Hirsch-Luipold and investigates the connection between philosophy and lived religion during the New Testament era. Further information can be found on the project's Homepage.