The Centre of Excellence in ‘Changes in Sacred Texts and Traditions’ (CSTT) is funded by the Academy of Finland. CSTT is directed by Prof. Martti Nissinen and is hosted by the Faculty of Theology, University of Helsinki.
Sacred texts matter. Not only are they at the roots of civilizations all over the world, but even today, their interpretation continues to influence societal values, social hierarchies, and even world politics. Their critical study is indispensable for contemporary societies to enable assessment of arguments rising from their interpretation. However, sacred texts are never timeless and changeless. Investigating the historical processes and mechanisms of CHANGES both in the texts and in their cultural environments contributes decisively to the understanding of their contemporary influence, which is also constantly in a state of flux.
CSTT aims at a more comprehensive understanding of the emergence and influence of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament (HB) within the multicultural milieu of the ancient Near East. It provides an interdisciplinary approach to cultural, ideological, and material changes in the period when the sacred traditions of the HB were created, transmitted, and continuously transformed. The nature of the changes to be investigated involves two levels. (1) The types of changes taking place in TEXTUAL scribal work, testified by manuscript evidence. CSTT focuses on the composition and development of sacred texts in early Judaism: their writing, copying and editing, their rewriting and authorization. (2) SOCIAL AND RELIGIOUS changes in the ancient Near East, testified by material culture as well as texts. Texts can be viewed as both products and promoters of changes in society and religion.
These changes, pre- and postdating the emergence of the HB writings are examined from the point of view of archaeology, sociology, and history of religion. The four research teams of CSTT gather around a mutual interdisciplinary interest in texts that eventually became part of the HB as well as texts that remained outside the biblical canon; the Septuagint as well as the Dead Sea Scrolls; relevant ancient Near Eastern texts, especially from Mesopotamia, and archaeological evidence. The major innovations of CSTT are that it cross-fertilizes fields of study that have drifted apart from each other in the course of the scholarly development, and investigates the biblical texts in the light of new source materials.
In terms of organization, CSTT consists of four research teams:
1. Society and Religion in the Ancient Near East;
2. Text and Authority;
3. Literary Criticism in the Light of Documented Evidence;
4. Society and Religion in Late Second Temple Judaism.
The four research teams are strongly cooperative and linked with each other in multiple ways. Teams 1 and 4 investigate cross-cultural religious phenomena, and Team 4 benefits from the archaeological study of iron-age rural Galilee in Team 1 in its investigation of changes in Galilee in the Greco-Roman and later times. The phenomenon of intertextuality is one of the core areas of Team 2, but also belongs to research interests of members of Teams 3 and 4. Teams 2 and 4 engage in the investigation of the process in which texts become to carry authority and create authority, including the sociological dimensions of such process. Teams 3 and 4 cooperate in evaluating and challenging the methodological assumptions in literary critical work in light of the Qumran textual evidence. The scribalization of prophecy and the historical link between the “Babylonian exile” and textual production constitute links between Teams 1 and 2.
See the two interviews with Prof. Martti Nissinen, director of CSTT (both in Finnish).