Between the Orient and Europe: The Old Testament

Currently, the permanent staff of Old Testament studies consists of three people:

In addition, the team is regularly supported by other lecturers. Together, we provide a curriculum of basic and advanced studies as well as research-oriented classes. Our research projects cover a broad spectrum of Old Testament –related subjects. The Old Testament is the first part of the Bible. Under the term “Tanakh”, the scriptures of the Christian Old Testament are also the Holy Book of Judaism. Many texts from the Old Testament were also adopted in the Koran. In this way, the Old Testament unites Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It is their common root. Old Testament Studies embrace the origination and interpretation of the Old Testament scriptures and other literature from early Judaism in pre-Christian times. However, not only the texts themselves are examined but also the world of the Old Testament, which encompasses the entire Ancient Orient from Persia to Ethiopia. The cultures of the Ancient Orient influenced the evolution of the Old Testament. Through their contact to the Egyptians, Phoenicians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans, the people of Israel developed their own quite individual, distinctive, and fascinating profile, which we find in the writings of the Old Testament. In the course of the history of Judaism and Christianity, this profile has wandered westwards and become part of (Christian) Europe.

Not only theology, but also literature, art, film, and even politics have drawn inspiration from the Old Testament. Old Testament Studies at Goethe-University Frankfurt are threefold and cover theology, history, and cultural studies. With regard to theology, the Old Testament is examined as an essential and indispensable part of the twofold Bible, of which Christian theology is founded. One of our research foci is therefore texts and theologies shared by the Old Testament and the New Testament. Our work centres on the history of religion and of theology, reception history, and hermeneutical issues. From a historical perspective, Old Testament Studies investigate the circumstances under which it evolved. Fundamental to this are the interpretation stages of the “historical-critical method”, with which students are familiarized in the framework of an introductory seminar and teacher training seminars and which are explored in greater depth in advanced classes. An understanding of the historical origin of the texts is the starting point for the many questions about their possible uses in the present day.

Proper study of the Old Testament demands knowledge of the Old Testament languages of Hebrew and Aramaic. These are taught in respective language courses. Dr. Johannes Diehl additionally offers courses in other languages from the Semitic language area on a regular basis, as well as the reading of extra-biblical texts in Hebrew (inscriptions, letters). Thorough treatment of the linguistic form of the Old Testament is a feature of Old Testament Studies in Frankfurt. In the context of cultural studies, we understand the Old Testament and its world as a (past) culture with its typical written and non-written manifestations: Texts, images, social formations, religion etc. We attempt to understand and describe these manifestations and to show the various ways they have migrated between the Orient and Europe. In the foreground is the perception that Israel at the time of the Old Testament was part of an extraordinarily pluralist world, in which a wide range of languages, religions as well as social and political constellations were in contact with each other. A better understanding of this diversity also contributes to our perception of modern phenomena of globalization and pluralism. In research and teaching, this aspect also includes the portrayal of Old Testament texts as literature and elucidating the circumstances of their reception.