Two archaeological discoveries from the 1940s irrevocably changed the study of early Christianity and ancient Judaism: the unearthing of the Gnostic codices found near Nag Hammadi (Upper Egypt) in 1945, and of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the first of which turned up at Qumran (Israel-Palestine), in 1947. Students of ancient religion in general and the New Testament in particular were electrified by these newly available works. The Nag Hammadi Codices may have been produced in the fourth century CE, but they preserve—it was maintained—hitherto-unknown Christian works from the second and even the first century CE. The Dead Sea Scrolls, on the other hand, were ostensibly the products of a Jewish sectarian group resembling and perhaps even contemporaneous with the Jesus Movement itself.
The excitement of these parallel discoveries, and the initial interest in relating both of them to earliest Christianity, led to scholarship that engaged the Nag Hammadi Codices alongside the Dead Sea Scrolls. For instance, lectures on Qumran were delivered at the famous Messina Colloquium on Gnosticism (1966), and published in its highly influential conference proceedings. However, subsequent research from the 1970s to today lost interest in engaging the Nag Hammadi and Qumran corpora next to one another. The artifacts are of very different provenance and material form (Christian codices vs. Jewish scrolls); the languages needed to work at the appropriate philological level are different as well (Greek and Coptic vs. Aramaic and Hebrew). Most importantly, the emergence of the study of Early Christianity in the longue durée (reaching to the rise of Islam) freed the Nag Hammadi works from the governing context of earliest Christianity, situating them rather in Late Antiquity; similarly, the Dead Sea Scrolls rightfully have become viewed as sources for developments in Judaism in its own right, rather than simply a window into the sectarian environment of Jesus’ day. Specialists of both corpora have, for the most part, ignored one another’s work for nearly half a century.
Given the transformation of the disciplines of early Christian Studies, ancient Judaism, and biblical studies over the last half-century—where we no longer look for the “parting of the ways” of ancient Judaism and Christianity, but seek to explore the porous boundaries between these religious traditions, as they developed along, aside, and within one another—engagement between Qumran and Nag Hammadi scholars appears necessary. It has become clear, for example, that the Nag Hammadi texts draw upon Jewish, scriptural traditions, our understanding of which has been transformed over the last 15 years by the contribution of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Conversely, scholars of ancient Judaism are increasingly aware that later, Christian texts—especially Christian apocrypha—preserve traditions that help us understand Judaism better—yet by and large, they have worked little with the Nag Hammadi texts, which have only recently been recognized as a goldmine of Christian apocrypha of late antiquity.
This conference arises out of the conviction that researchers of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi Codices can acquire a better understanding of their main corpora of study and the broader context of antiquity in which they were produced by engaging in conversation once more. The conference will take place at the Humboldt Universität in Berlin, at the Faculty of Theology, from 20-22 July 2018.
Drs. Dylan Burns (Freie Universität Berlin), Matthew Goff (Florida State University), and Jens Schröter (Humboldt Universität)
- Harold Attridge (Yale University)
- George Brooke (University of Manchester)
- Dylan M. Burns (Freie Universität Berlin)
- Kelley Coblenz Bautch (St. Edwards University)
- Lorenzo diTommaso (Concordia University)
- René Falkenberg (Aarhus Universitet)
- Jörg Frey (Universität Zürich)
- Florentina Badalanova Geller (Freie Universität Berlin)
- Matthew Goff (Florida State University)
- Judith Hartenstein (Universität Koblenz-Landau)
- Claudia Losekam (Ruhr-Universität Bochum)
- Hugo Lundhaug (Universitetet i Oslo)
- Christoph Markschies (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)
- Andrew Perrin (Trinity Western University)
- Tuomas Rasimus (Université Laval)
- Jens Schröter (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)
- Eibert Tigchelaar (Leuven University)
- Shani Tzoref (Universität Potsdam)
A complete conference program, with schedule and paper titles, is available here. More information about the conference is available at its official website here. If you would like to attend this conference, please contact Matthew Goff (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Dylan Burns (email@example.com).