The Bible clearly still plays a role in current politics and culture. But do research findings on Bible texts reach wider society and, if so, do they influence groups of religious practitioners?
Jennifer Nyström, a doctoral student in Bible studies specialising in the apostle Paul, has pondered these questions.
Views on the apostle Paul have changed within the research community and Jennifer Nyström is working on finding out how and whether this affects the Jewish community in Jerusalem.
She has conducted around 50 interviews in Israel and on the West Bank and is approaching the end of her field work. She has met religious leaders from four groups: Palestinian Christians, catholic priests, rabbis and messianic pastors (Jews who believe in Jesus Christ) involved in dialogue and reconciliation issues – albeit with different aims. The talks centred on reading and interpretation, as well as the application of the text in the reader’s specific situation.
The text Jennifer Nyström is working on is the Letter to the Romans in the New Testament, specifically its eleventh chapter.
‟This chapter is dynamite both within research on the apostle Paul and for Judeo-Christian dialogue, as it deals with questions of identity, relations between Jews and gentiles and the place of Israel in God’s plan”, she says.
Scholarly research into the apostle Paul has long had a Lutheran slant, but Jennifer Nyström believes recent changes in its approach to the apostle can have positive consequences in society today. For example, her colleague Magnus Zetterholm published a book last year entitled ‟Paul within Judaism”, representing the most radical school in studies of the apostle, according to which Paul remained a law-abiding Jew, in contrast to the traditional perception that he became a Christian.
‟Christianity in itself, and even more so the idea of it as separate from Judaism, did not exist at the time so the entire argument is anachronistic!”
The responses in Jennifer Nyström’s interviews vary. But she thinks that on a general level, she received a positive reply to the main question of whether research findings reach wider society.
‟It is going to be exciting to start analysing my empirical material in depth, to really determine whether my preliminary hypotheses hold. The answer to that will be in my doctoral thesis”, she says with a smile.
Text: Maria Lindh
Photo: Gunnar Menander