TFF3250 – Media and Message

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Course content

In the last century several new discoveries of ancient manuscripts have changed our ideas about biblical literature, its transmission and reception. Such findings have often been surrounded with scandal, mystery and intrigue. Speculations and conspiracy have at times surrounded such newly discovered documents, not least for the purpose of selling books. Hitherto unknown documents are often presented to the general public as having the potential to change our views about the biblical past, or the history of the Church. Take for instance sensationalizing presentation of the Coptic Gospel of Judas in 2006 with much fanfare, or the reception of the Nag Hammadi texts by Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. The real impact of such discoveries is usually not reported by the mainstream media, but is no less spectacular.

Manuscript discoveries of the second half of the twentieth century, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Nag Hammadi Codices, the remains in the Cairo Geniza, and the Bodmer Papyri (a.k.a. the Dishna manuscripts), have, like earlier manuscript discoveries, such as the Oxyrhyncus papyri discovered in the late nineteenth century, profoundly changed the source situation with regard to our knowledge of biblical literature, its contexts, composition, reception, and fluidity in transmission. As new sources have been discovered, scholars have been confronted with new challenges, as they have tried to integrate new sources in existing scholarly paradigms. Doing so has never been easy, and in most cases, a thorough rethinking of scholarly models and theories have, sooner or later, emerged as an inevitable result of the newly available sources. This course will review the theoretical, methodological, and historical impact of the most important manuscript discoveries.

The Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered more than half a century ago at Qumran, on the northeast coast of the Dead Sea, have proved to be the most important modern discovery related to biblical literature, Judaism of late antiquity, and early Christianity. Only the most recent critical editions of the biblical Hebrew texts are starting to make full use of these and other relevant finds and of recent interpretations of this material.

Among the 5700 Greek fragments or whole manuscript we have of the New Testament text, how to decide what is most trustworthy, and what ideologies influence which versions that are selected for our modern translations?

The Nag Hammadi Codices and related Coptic manuscript discoveries raises important questions regarding the reception and canonization of biblical literature, with a window into the theological interests of Christians in fourth-/fifth-century Egypt.

The course will look at the methods of both “old” and “new” philology, giving an overview and discussion of methods of establishing “original” texts and the study of textual transmission, textual variants, and reception in various contexts, looking at the study of manuscripts as windows into the lives and attitudes of those who produced and used them. Various methods and implications of the dating of newly discovered manuscripts will be discussed.

Related issues of canon and canonicity, and religious and theological diversity and conflict will also be treated. The biblical canon is supposed to be the stabilized norm with power and authority, deciding which texts to include as whole scripture. It is evident from the recent manuscript discoveries that different groups and individuals had different ideas about which texts to include as authoritative, and even different notions of canon, helping us to see canonicity as a process, as a never-ending work in progress, as being negotiated in ongoing dialogue and conflict. The issue of dating of these manuscripts and the texts they contain is highly important and often controversial. The scholarly tendency to date manuscripts and texts early, in order to give them higher authority or historical significance, has recently been challenged by other perspectives where each text is interpreted in its own environment, emphasizing the centrality of the manuscript context for interpreting a text. What questions can our manuscripts and texts help us answer? This course will discuss the various methodological problems and the multitude of research questions and perspectives relating to the historical and philological study of manuscripts.

Learning outcome

This course will enable you to understand how the modern Bible came to be; from the discovery of manuscript fragments in the deserts of Egypt and the shores of the Dead Sea, through a complex process of transmission and translation, finally becoming the standard version we have today. It will also enable you to explore some of the intriguing texts that did not make it into the modern canon. What do we know for example of the Gospels of Mary, Judas and Thomas? By gaining insight into these issues, you will have a better understanding of the important debates and controversies that continue to rage concerning the early Jesus movement and the development of Christianity.


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Overlapping courses

10 credits overlap with TFF4250 – Media and Message


Mandatory requirements

During the semester, students will complete one assignment of 1,500 words. Feedback on the first draft will be provided in the form of a one-to-one session with the tutor. The student must submit the final version of this assignment by the date given by the tutor at the beginning of the semester.

Students must participate in at least 80% of the course sessions.

Students must have completed the set assignment to a satisfactory standard in order to take the exam.


Six hour examination with supervision.

Language of examination

The examination text is given in English, and you submit your response in English.

Grading scale

Grades are awarded on a scale from A to F, where A is the best grade and F is a fail. Read more about the grading system.

Explanations and appeals

Resit an examination

Withdrawal from an examination

It is possible to take the exam up to 3 times. If you withdraw from the exam after the deadline or during the exam, this will be counted as an examination attempt.

Special examination arrangements

Application form, deadline and requirements for special examination arrangements.

Facts about this course






Autumn 2015


Autumn 2015

Teaching language