One of the ambitious aims of this project is to make an impact on biblical and cognate studies by developing an area of research in which both philological and conceptual approaches are relevant. To achieve this aim, the project has initiated a new research unit “Virtue in Biblical Literature” to be held at the annual meeting of the European Association of Biblical Studies in Helsinki, 30.7.–3.8.2018, which coincides with the International Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature. The purpose of this event is to invite and encourage researchers of ancient Judaism and Christianity to engage with the topic of virtue. After the first meeting in 2018, the plan is to develop a five-year programme unit, which would enable a deeper exploration of the topic.


Programme of the Research Unit

What did virtue (i.e. human behaviour perceived as morally exemplary) mean for ancient Jews and Christians? How did they discuss it? This research unit analyses conceptions of virtue in ancient Judaism and early Christianity in the ancient Mediterranean context (ca. 500 BCE – 300 CE).

Scholars have typically searched for the roots of western virtue ethics in Greek philosophy, considering Jewish and Christian sources to be, at best, of secondary importance. Admittedly, the Semitic languages lack a specific term designating virtue, but this does not mean that texts written in those languages could not be interested in, or familiar with, conceptions of virtue. Moreover, the Greek term ἀρετή is adopted early on in Jewish and Christian literature composed in Greek.

Today, as the diversity and interrelatedness of Mediterranean cultures are recognized, ancient conceptions of virtue must be reassessed. The unit invites scholars to reflect critically on early Jewish and Christian ideas of virtue. The Greek culture is not given a primacy in defining what virtue is; rather, the aim is to acknowledge the variety of ancient discursive practices concerning morally valuable life.


Call for Papers

What did virtue mean for Jews and Christians who lived in the ancient Mediterranean region? How did they discuss and practise virtue? What constituted their “moral vocabularies”? This research unit analyses conceptions of virtue (i.e. human activity regarded as morally valuable) in ancient Judaism and early Christianity (ca. 500 BCE – 300 CE). While scholars have typically searched for the roots of western virtue ethics in Greek philosophy, ancient Jewish and Christian sources cannot be ignored if the diversity of the Mediterranean virtue discourses is taken seriously. Thus we welcome any papers that explore questions related to virtue in Jewish and Christian antiquity. We encourage participants to examine questions that include, but are not limited to, the following: What does ‘virtue’ mean in the context of Semitic sources that do not employ any separate term denoting virtue (cf. Greek ἀρετή; Latin virtus)? How do Jewish and Christian authors make use of the concept of ἀρετή? What are the sources and cultural influences of their virtue discourses? How do Jewish and Christian sources transform the study of ancient virtue ethics?