Håkan Ulfgard

Professor emeritus

My main area of research is the biblical and post-biblical literature in its ancient Hellenistic-Jewish context - historically, culturally and socially. I also have a special interest in the ideologically and theologically motivated development of biblical interpretation both within the Bible itself (the New Testament is also part of the scriptural ‘Wirkungsgeschichte’) as well as post-biblical hermeneutics right up to the medieval period. In particular, I have over the years been engaged in the study of the Dead Sea writings and of apocalyptic literature.

Exegesis is about much more than just the Bible



At Linköping University, I am employed as Professor in Religious Studies, especially Biblical Studies with particular emphasis on New Testament exegesis - probably one of the longest titles at the university. However, this reflects the broad perspective of what I am doing. My doctoral thesis in New Testament Exegesis focused on a text in the Book of Revelation, but both in it and in my subsequent research I have been open to much wider perspectives than just to study the New Testament texts.

As a researcher in Biblical studies, it is natural for me to study both the Old and New Testament writings, their contents and origins, but equally obviously, I devote myself also to the so-called 'intertestamental' period and its literature, as well as to the post-biblical literature in general in its Hellenistic-Jewish context. And as a biblical scholar working with a Religious Studies-approach, I make use of a wide range of methods in order to study various aspects of the biblical and post-biblical literature and world of thought: historical, cultural, philosophical, religious, literary and social contexts etc. It has also been natural for me to include the history of biblical interpretation (‘Wirkungsgeschichte’) - the New Testament is itself an expression of this, with its many connections to and allusions to Scriptural texts and traditions – in my research, which means that I have also devoted myself to later writings from the early Christian church and from the medieval period, as well as post-biblical Jewish literature from rabbinic and talmudic times.

My doctoral thesis and its sequel: The Book of Revelation and the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot)

In focus for my dissertation was one of the visionary texts of the Book of Revelation (Rev 7:9-17). My aim was to discuss its interpretation in the light of the book as a whole, with particular focus on the question whether this passage may allude to the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot). With support of the Council for Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences I could then continue my research in a subsequent longitudinal study of the background and development of this most important Jewish festival, including its celebration and interpretation from the Old Testament and into the talmudic period. Hence, I study the festival from a cultural and historical perspective while at the same time I also seek to clarify its place in the ideological and theological development of biblical and post-biblical Judaism within its Near Eastern and Hellenistic-Roman context. Both in my dissertation and in the following study, I venture into areas that have not been so well researched, which means that I have been able to contribute with new perspectives and new knowledge to the international biblical research. In the latter case, there simply was no similar study of this central Jewish festival, which has contributed to making my study internationally acclaimed.

Research in Biblical Studies, especially focusing on Qumran/the Dead Sea Scrolls

A consistent area of research for several of my articles is the ideological and theological development of post-biblical Hellenistic Judaism, and how this is manifested in Jewish and Christian apocalyptic literature, as well as in the Dead Sea Scrolls/the writings from Qumran. An example is the study of some qumranite liturgical texts, the so-called 'Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice', which in its style, language and content- has several interesting similarities with the Book of Revelation. Here I make a contribution to current research concerning both the relationship between Revelation and the Qumran texts and the relationship between early Christianity and its contemporary Jewish context. Another example of my research in the interface between New Testament exegesis and the study of ancient Judaism is a comparative study of Messianic beliefs in qumranite and New Testament texts.

Medieval exegesis

The history of biblical interpretation (the Bible’s ‘Wirkungsgeschichte’) is an interesting research field with great potential, combining the insights from Biblical studies and Church history/the history of Christian ideas. The area is generally not so well researched by exegetes, but with support from the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters (Kungliga Vitterhetsakademien), I have been able to devote myself to an example of medieval Swedish biblical hermeneutics in a project on a commentary on the Book of Revelation (Exposicio in Apocalypsim) from the mid-1300s, authored by St. Bridget's confessor Master Mathias from Linköping. I see my study of this hitherto little-known work as an example of how biblical scholarship can be combined with a perspective that takes into account later historical and theological developments within the church. Of particular value is that this study may shed light on how medieval Swedish biblical interpretation can be related to its larger contemporary European context.

Recently completed research

Together with more than 70 researchers from all over the world, I have since 2012 participated in the international multidisciplinary research project Sacred Meal, Communal Meal, Table Fellowship, and the Eucharist: Late Antiquity, Early Judaism and Early Christianity. In my contribution to the three-volume project publication I examine the food, drink and meal imagery in the Book of Revelation, both within the book itself, and also against the broader setting (cultural, religious, social etc.) of the contemporary Greco-Roman and Hellenistic-Jewish context. My article ‘Sharing with the Divine in the Apocalypse: Meals as Metaphors - Concepts and Contexts' will be published late 2015 by J. C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck) in Tübingen.

Publications
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2018

2017