(D2-10) The Experience of Violence and the Wrath of God: Religious-Historical and Reception-Hermeneutic Analyses of Old Testament Laments

Old Testament laments display very different forms and completely different contents. The project focuses particularly on the laments of the individual prayer in the Book of Psalms and the Book of Job. While previous research treated these texts primarily from a genre historical perspective, other more recent approaches, which often pay greater attention to the texts’ individuality, have proven fruitful of late.

The experience of violence and suffering is inextricably linked with human existence. It is reflected and, thus, religiously interpreted in biblical laments in the engagement with God. In the investigative horizon of religion and politics, therefore, these laments are of particular interest because nowhere in the Book of Psalms is the politico-social situation of the praying self interconnected with the religious dimensions of the language of prayer as clearly as it is here, and because Job’s laments – particularly in coping with the “pleasures” – bring out his religiously interpreted suffering in notably “political” categories (e.g., legal dispute, social isolation, God as foe). The subject of violence can be seen in very different dimensions in these texts. On the one hand, the experience of suffering may be interpreted as physical violence by human beings, as the result of curses, or also as violent acts of God himself, possibly committed by human agents. On the other hand, in terms of defence and revenge, God may be summoned to commit acts of violence to human foes. Thus, lament psalms and the laments of Job refer to various ways of attributing violence to God, which need to be differentiated from a religious historical perspective and dealt with theologically in their idiosyncracy without false apologetics.

Both the Psalms and Job are biblical books that have been intensely received in Christianity throughout history. In Judaism, the same holds for the Psalms. It was already shown in the first project stage that, for instance, the collective lament of Psalm 79 could be integrated into a religious rhetoric of violence, which became very effective in the context of the crusades, through the mediation of the Books of the Maccabees. The texts dealt with here are expected to be comparable in this respect, and their impact on Judaism (Talmud, Midrash, medieval commentaries) and Christianity will be investigated from a reception hermeneutic perspective.

Subproject “He died and was gathered to his people (Genesis 25:8). The motif of being reunited with relatives in the realm of the dead, in the context of ancient conceptions of the afterlife” (PhD project of Nikita Artemov)

Of all ancient peoples, the ancient Egyptians alone hoped for ‘life after death’. In ancient Greece, hopes for an afterlife did not develop before the 6th century BC in Pythagorean-Orphic circles, and in ancient Judaism not before the Hellenistic age and in conjunction with the martyr ideology of the Maccabean revolt – according to the established view of research. It is one aim of this project to contribute to a sophisticated image of ancient Oriental and ancient Mediterranean conceptions of the afterlife by demonstrating that, in addition to bleak and dismal images of the underworld, the idea of a family reunion in the realm of the dead can be detected in almost all cultures of the ancient world. An investigation of the relevant texts and text passages against the backdrop of the images of the afterlife that find expression in contemporary sources of the same culture will give rise to important methodological and hermeneutic considerations. These may be summarised as follows: while individual texts display certain context-related images of the afterlife (which are divergent, contradictory, in need of interpretation and ambiguous), there is no coherent and, within the scope of the respective culture, universally valid ‘conception of the afterlife’ that can be (re-)constructed on the meta-level.

The Project is part of coordinated project group Legitimation and de-legitimation of violence with reference to text and tradition.