Focalization in Early Christian Stories

The story of Jesus is the fun­damental narra­tive of Chris­tiani­ty. Eve­ry­body knows cen­tral events of his life. How­ever, early Chris­tian ver­sions of this story often differ mark­edly with re­spect to how they por­tray one and the same events – be­cause they are pre­sent­ed from dif­ferent per­spec­tives. This group aims at un­cover­ing these dif­ferent view­points.

The Junior Research Group at a glance

Place of researchLMU Munich
AssociationInternational Doctoral Program „Philology“
Project duration2023 to 2029
Group leaderDr. Christoph Heilig
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Different Perspectives on the Story of Jesus

The narra­tive of Jesus Christ has been retold count­less times over the past two thou­sand years. The events asso­ciated with his life, death, and resur­rec­tion form part of our shared con­sciousness. How­ever, through whose per­spec­tive do we per­ceive these events? Nar­ratol­ogy stresses that the same se­quence of events can be re­layed quite dif­ferently, de­pend­ing upon the per­spec­tive used to con­cep­tual­ize these hap­pen­ings. In this Inter­na­tional Junior Re­search Group, we aim to un­cover this multi­facet­ed di­men­sion, ex­plor­ing how dif­ferent per­spec­tives can pro­foundly affect our un­der­stand­ing and inter­preta­tion of the story of Jesus.

Concentrating on Narrative Perspective

The narra­tolog­ical exam­ina­tion of bibli­cal narra­tives has prov­en to be in­credi­bly in­sight­ful in recent years. How­ever, one of the key com­po­nents of telling a sto­ry - the narra­tive per­spec­tive or focal­iza­tion - has so far been large­ly over­looked. We aim to ad­dress this omis­sion. After all, a narra­tive is much more than just the plot itself, and a thor­ough analy­sis should con­sider not only what is nar­rated but also how it is con­veyed.

Significant Texts

In our pro­ject, we con­cen­trate on signif­icant col­lec­tions of early Chris­tian texts. We aim to de­ter­mine the extent to which the gos­pels of Mark, Mat­thew, and Luke di­verge in their por­trayal of events, even when essen­tially nar­rating "the same sto­ry". Simi­larly, in the apos­tle Paul's let­ters, we dis­cover nu­mer­ous con­densed nar­ra­tives about Jesus Christ. It begs the ques­tion, to what extent can dif­fer­ences in these brief narra­tives be ex­plained by the choice of di­verse view­points (e.g., God's per­spec­tive vs. Jesus' per­spec­tive)?

Portrait picture of Dr. Christoph Heilig

Unveiling the multiperspectivity within early Christian texts about Jesus is crucial, particularly in an age where societal peace relies on our ability to understand the viewpoints of others.

Dr. Christoph Heilig

Final­ly, we ana­lyze apoc­ryphal litera­ture, which pro­vides valu­able new per­spec­tives on Jesus.

An Interdisciplinary Approach

We col­la­borate with the Inter­na­tional Doc­toral Pro­gram in Phi­lolo­gy. This col­la­bora­tion ena­bles us to delve deep­ly into the rela­tion­ship be­tween narra­tology and phi­lolo­gy. Narra­tolog­ical anal­yses rely on philo­logi­cal work, such as text criti­cism. In turn, narra­tolog­ical anal­yses can pro­foundly influ­ence fun­damental philo­logi­cal prac­tices, like trans­lation. We also inves­tigate the influ­ence of "large lan­guage mod­els" (made known to the public through plat­forms like ChatGPT) on philo­logi­cal and narra­tolog­ical re­search.

Just a Matter of Perspective?

Narra­tive per­spec­tive is a cru­cial aspect of story­tell­ing. By only focus­ing on what is being nar­rated and ne­glect­ing how the events are de­picted by the narra­tor, we risk miss­ing out on the full depth of the story. This poses the ques­tion how the story of Jesus is told in to­day's world. From which view­point are we accus­tomed to seeing these events? Which per­spec­tives have been mar­ginal­ized over the centu­ries? And what rich­ness could we add back into our cul­tural herit­age if we fully em­brace this mul­tiper­spec­tivity?

The International Research Group closely cooperates with the International Doctoral Program "Philology".

Further cooperations

University of AmsterdamAmsterdam, Netherlands
University of BaselBasel, Switzerland
UUniversity of BonnBonn, Germany
University of FribourgFribourg, Switzerland
University of GöttingenGöttingen, Germany
University of RegensburgRegensburg, Germany
University of St AndrewsSt Andrews, UK
University of VirginiaCharlottesville, USA
University of ZurichZurich, Switzerland
Yale Divinity SchoolNew Haven, USA
Aristotle University of ThessalonikiThessaloniki, Greece
National and Kapodistrian University of AthensAthen, Griechenland