13. Virtus et Humanitas: Virtues and Values in Greco-Roman, Jewish and Christian Paideia at the Turn of the Common Era (2022)

Sun., 29. May– Fri., 3. June 2022

Location: Nord University, Bodø, Norway

Meeting Chairs: Gabriella Gelardini, Jason Zurawski, Gabriele Boccaccini

For additional event information, contact Gabriella Gelardini (gabriella.gelardini@nord.no). 

Seminar Description

This interdisciplinary and multi-institutional conference at the Nord University will focus on the role of education in cultivating and passing on virtues and values in the ancient Mediterranean world at the turn of the common area.

While much has been written about education in antiquity, very little of it has been devoted to this crucial aspect of education. This is astonishing, given the fact that the transmission of values has always played a fundamental role in education, from antiquity to the present.

Values are often understood as drafts for the execution of a good life, which then take shape in guidelines or certain norms. In turn, these norms shape and support the relationship one has not only to oneself but also to one’s fellow human beings and to the gods. Values hold societies and epochs together, but they are also culturally and contextually bound.

In ancient Greco-Roman, Jewish, and Christian literature we find extensive discussions as to desired and appropriate virtues and values. This seminar will focus on these unique and varying viewpoints, exploring them both in terms of knowledge content and knowledge transfer.

This examination will take place within the framework of an interdisciplinary discussion between experts in the history and literature of the ancient Mediterranean world and experts in the educational sciences.

Therefore, in our seminar we will begin by working from the primary source materials, presenting a value (or values) found in an ancient text and attempting to understand it contextually. We will then detach it from its literary-historical context and look at it conceptually or comparatively against the background of ancient and/or current theories of education.

The 2022 conference at the Bodø campus will focus on the following materials and fields:

  1. Philosophy
  2. Greek, Roman
  3. Hebrew Bible
  4. Pseudepigrapha
  5. Philo, Josephus
  6. New Testament
  7. Education

Registration Information (Coming Soon)


Session 1: Introduction & Values in Philosophy

Presider – Kåre Sigvald Fuglseth, Professor for Religion, Christianity, Worldview, and Ethics, Nord University, NO

Welcome – Lars Kirkhusmo Pharo, Professor for Religion, Christianity, Worldview, and Ethics & Vice Dean for Research and Development, Nord University, NO

Gabriella Gelardini (Professor for Religion, Christianity, Worldview, and Ethics, Nord University, NO), Introduction

Malte Brinkman (Professor of Educational Science, Humboldt University, Berlin, DE), Educational Ethics and Ethos of Difference: Norms and Values in European Pedagogy up to the Present

Starting from Socrates as the “swirl of world history” (Nietzsche), the unfolding of the debate on fundamental values is presented and the two classical answers to it in Plato and Aristotle are discussed. With Rabbow, Hadot and Foucault, the classical texts are read as practical texts in which practices of self-care (Epimeleia heautou) are central. With Meister Eckhart, Nikolaus von Kues and Ignatius von Loyola it is determined in the horizon of a God-relationship. Meister Eckhart is the first to use the concept of Bildung (as Einbildung und Entbildung) thus establishing a fundamental figure of humanistic Bildungs-practice and theory throughout the Renaissance and into modern times. Bildung is defined here as Formatio under conditions of a withdrawal of the imagined image and the goal. The “power of imagination” (Kant) of the human being is thus based on preconceptions that are simultaneously withdrawn. With Ignatius this movement can be well understood in his spiritual exercises of self-care and self-forming (Exercitia spiritualia). With Kant and Herbart the discussion of norms and values as well as the concept of Bildung is based on the concept of subjectivity. This leads to the specific modern, normative and theoretical antinomies of dignity and fundamental rights or freedom and power. In the hermeneutic and humanities-based answer to this in Schleiermacher, Gadamer and Buck, the antinomies are historicized (principle of the history of effects), but not resolved. Eugen Fink provides a new answer to modern antinomies by propagating an ethos of difference as a practical understanding of values and norms under the conditions of technical-scientific postmodernism, with recourse to Socrates’ Scepticism, Aristotle’s phronesis, Nietzsche’s nihilism and with recourse to the idea of Bildung. Values and goals are discursively produced here in the sense of a value-setting (Scheler) in a democratic community and are understood as a risky and fragmentary practice, without subjectivistically or rationally limiting the world and self-relationship.

Respondent – James N. McGuirk (Professor of Philosophy, Nord University, NO)

Session 2: Values in the Greek World

Presider – Jason M. Zurawski, Postdoctoral Institute Fellow, Frankel Center for Judaic Studies, University of Michigan, US

W. Martin Bloomer (Professor of Classics, University of Notre Dame, US), From Obedience to Manliness: school virtues and schooling virtue

Traditional schooling has at its heart a central contradiction: the student is to submit to the rules of the institution and through education to come to virtus, to andreia, manliness, maturity. I investigate how the ancient Greek school presented and inculcated these habits of behavior and mind (virtues). Is obedience a virtue? What are the parameters of this virtue (an open disposition to tradition, docility, humility, deference, respect, submission, cowardice, servility) and its opposite (manliness, courage, free speech, obstinacy, intransigence)? One of the achievements of schooling was to convince the schooled that present submission and self-denial would lead to future power and self-sufficiency. I consider in particular both direct prescriptions and the acts of imagination and impersonation by which the student inculcated this tenet of academic ideology (that he was growing into freedom). The progymnasmata and the gnomologies provided both prescription and the encouragement to role playing. Declamation in particular had the student compose scripts of manliness.

Respondent – Cok Bakker (Professor of Religious Education, University of Utrecht)

Tim Whitmarsh (Professor of Greek Culture, University of Cambridge, UK), The Bastards of Cynosarges and the Invention of Virtue

To the south-east of the city of Athens was a gymnasium called Cynosarges. In the fifth century BCE, this was devoted to Athens’ ‘bastards’ (i.e. those born of one Athenian and one non-Athenian parent). In time the gymnasium attracted intellectuals too, who sought to train the body alongside the mind. This paper will seek to reconstruct the alternative ideology of Cynosarges, arguing that it played a central role in inculcating the view that virtue consisted in the achievements of a life lived well, rather than in one’s moral inheritance from one’s parents.

Respondent – Idar Kjølsvik (Professor for Religion, Christianity, Worldview, and Ethics, Nord University, NO)

Session 3: Values in the Roman World

Presider – Gabriele Boccaccini, Professor of Second Temple Judaism and Early Rabbinic Literature, University of Michigan, US

Katell Berthelot (Professor for Judaism in the Greco-Roman World, CNRS, Aix-Marseille University, FR),
The Ethical Ideal of Philanthrôpia/Humanitas

From a conceptual point of view, the virtue of philanthrôpia/humanitas—benevolence toward fellow human beings—is closely linked to the project of education. In Plato’s Euthyphro, philanthrôpia is a Socratic quality that prompts the philosopher to share his knowledge and his wisdom with all, for free. On the other hand, philanthrôpia/humanitas may also be seen as one of education’s goals. In the Hellenistic and Roman periods, the virtue of philanthrôpia/humanitas aroused intense philosophical debates between the Stoics, the Peripatetics and the New Academy precisely around the respective roles of “nature and nurture.” Numerous questions arose, such as: Is philanthrôpia a natural tendency? What is the role of rationality in its development? How is it to be practiced? Looking at Cicero, the anonymous Commentary on Theaetetus, Seneca, Epictetus, Hierocles and Porphyry, I will attempt to clarify the different positions held in these debates and identify key evolutions in the conceptualization of philanthrôpia/humanitas during the Roman period.

Respondent – Olav Eikeland (Professor in Education and International Studies, Oslomet, NO)

Jörg Rüpke (Professor of Classical Philology and Comparative Religion, Max-Weber-Kolleg, Universität Erfurt, DE), Urbanity in the Aphorisms of Publilius Syrus

Publilius Syrus was one of the most successful mimes on the stages of 1st century BC Rome. Transmitted as Sententiae of Seneca and being subject to constant re-editing and agglomeration, it is impossible to isolate an original core, free of imperial or late ancient additions. In a perspective of reception, however, a hermeneutical approach of this massively read corpus is possible. I will argue that the maxims formulated are not just a cynical commentary on contemporary society, but the proposal of a multi-faceted value “urbanity” (never described as urbanitas in object language), adequate for and welcomed by urban audiences and readers – and well worth discussing in the face of contemporary challenges in an age of planetary urbanization.

Respondent – Julia Ipgrave )Honorary Senior Research Fellow, Department of Humanities, University of Roehampton in London, UK)

Session 4: Public I – Nord University

Presider – Per Jarle Bekken, Professor for Religion, Christianity, Worldview, and Ethics, Nord University, NO

Adela Yarbro Collins (Buckingham Professor em. of New Testament Criticism and Interpretation, Yale University, US), The Relevance of the Bible for Today’s Discussion of Norms and Ethics

Many of the norms and ethics that are influential today derive from the Bible. Much more can be learned from the Bible that can be useful in present discussions. This lecture will focus on the Christian part of the Bible, especially on the letters written by one of the most influential early Christian writers, the Apostle Paul. It will discuss the sources on which Paul based his ethical advice, such as the Jewish Bible, which was also the Bible of the early followers of Jesus Christ. Since Paul wrote in Greek, he normally cited the Greek version of the Bible, which he received as an interpreted Bible. He defined himself as a Pharisee and was born in Tarsus, which was the capital of the Roman province of Cilicia. So his understanding of the Bible was shaped by the Pharisaic tradition, as well as by some of the traditions of Diaspora Jews. Among the values Paul derived from the Bible was a strong sense of holiness and a concern for purity. He also drew upon Greek and Roman values and ethical teaching. His primary ethical norm, however, was love. He taught that implementing this norm meant acting for the benefit of others and not for one’s own. The primary context for ethical activity was the ecclesia, which originally meant both the local communities and the trans-local community of those who belonged to the movement. The lecture will attend to the question in what ways Paul’s ethics are meaningful and usable today.

Session 5: Values in the Hebrew Bible

Presider – Anne Katrine de Hemmer Gudme, Professor in Hebrew Bible, University of Oslo, NO

Bernard M. Levinson (Professor of Classical and Near Eastern Studies and of Law, University of Minnesota, US), The Redaction of the Pentateuch: Interpretive Complexity as a Cultural Value

While many historians of religion look to the content of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament for its distinctive laws, ethics, religious insights, and values, this presentation will focus instead on the literary form of the Pentateuch as the foundation of its cultural significance. There is no other text from the ancient Near East or from the surrounding Graeco-Roman world that exhibits anything approaching the editorial and redactional complexity of the Pentateuch. The final redactors of the Pentateuch embedded contradictory and inconsistent narrative and legal material alongside one another, creating a text that is essentially unreadable without interpretation. With a particular focus on the biblical flood story (Genesis 6-9), this paper will address the editorial techniques involved, their formal distinctiveness, and the larger set of ethical values involved (including critical thought and the autonomy of the interpreter).
While there is an extensive literature about human values throughout the Hebrew Bible, and an explicit focus on paideia (as the responsibility of parents to transmit cultural values to their children), there is no direct self-conscious reflection preserved in the ancient sources themselves on the cultural values of the editors and redactors of the Pentateuch. We can only get at this issue implicitly, which is the goal of this presentation. The redaction of original independent narrative and legal strands alongside one another points to a set of distinctive cultural and ethical values: the construction of an active and critical reader, affirming doubt, questioning authority, and inclusive of different voices and diverse perspectives as essential to a larger (and non-Aristotelian) concept of truth.

Respondent – Geir Skeie (Professor and UNESCO Chair with Focus on Diversity, Inclusion and Education, University Stavanger, NO)

Elisa K. Uusimäki (Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Judaism, Aarhus University, DK), Basic Decency, Ethical Alertness and Exemplarity: The Fear of God(s) as a Universalistic Virtue in the Hebrew Bible

As is well known, the fear of the Lord is an intrinsic feature of ancient Israelite thought, connoting respect, awe, and submission. Yet, the fear of God(s) does not only apply to Israelites in the biblical narrative. This paper investigates the wider ethical relevance of this value by exploring how several texts present the fear as a trait that characterizes or is expected from non-Israelites (Gen 20:11; 42:18; Exod 1:17, 21; Deut 25:18; Job 1:1, 8; Jon 1:9). Analyzing the evidence of the Hebrew Bible in the framework of descriptive ethics, I will argue that the fear represents a virtue in the sense of a good and desirable quality, but the sources prompt reflection on whether the virtue in question is moral, epistemic, or both.

Respondent – Clemens Cavallin (Associate Professor for Religion, Christianity, Worldview, and Ethics, Nord University, NO)

Session 6: Values in Apocrypha/Deuterocanonical and Pseudepigrapha

Presider – Liv Ingeborg Lied (Professor in Religious Studies, MF Norwegian School of Theology, Religion and Society, NO)

Hindy Najman (Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture, University of Oxford, UK) and Benjamin G. Wright, (Professor Religion Studies, Bible, Early Judaism, Christianity, Lehigh University, US), Virtue in Ben Sira: A Case Study in Ethical Reading

As perhaps one of the paradigmatic Jewish wisdom texts from the Hellenistic period, the book of Ben Sira ought to be a major source for thinking about virtue in ancient Judaism. Within this context, however, virtue does not equal ethics. Virtue transforms the person who acquires it. Yet, with Ben Sira, we are operating in at least two different contexts where virtue is held out as transformative. In one, given the evidence of the book, we need to consider Ben Sira’s teaching and reading about virtue in a performative context where instruction is about study of the inherited tradition and about emulating the sage who claims to have acquired virtue. In the other, readers of the book are positioned differently from Ben Sira’s students. The book transmitted in his name becomes the focus of study and emulation—and thus transformation. How does the acquisition of virtue work in these different contexts? How are readers, including modern scholarly readers, of Ben Sira’s instruction transformed by their encounter with this book?

Respondent – Kjetil Ansgar Jakobsen, Professor for Modern Intellectual History, Nord University, NO

Karina Martin Hogan (Associate Professor of Biblical Studies and Ancient Judaism, Fordham University, US), Listen to your Mother! Maternal Instruction in the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha

The “instruction of your mother” (torat ’immekha) is assumed to be as important as the discipline or commandment of one’s father in Proverbs (1:8; 6:20). While the role of mothers as moral teachers fades from view in the deuterocanonical wisdom books (Ben Sira and the Wisdom of Solomon), perhaps supplanted by the figure of personified Wisdom, it resurfaces in different forms in other books of the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha. Tobit names his mother Deborah as his primary teacher in the Torah of Moses, due to his father’s early death (Tob 1:8). The mother of the seven sons in 2 Maccabees 7 is depicted as exhorting her sons to accept death rather than violate the Torah of Moses, and she becomes an exemplary teacher of virtue in the recasting of that story in 4 Maccabees. The description of Deborah as “a mother in Israel” in Judges 5:7 becomes the basis of a lengthy moral instruction by Deborah in L.A.B 32-33. Finally, in 4 Ezra mothers are metaphorically connected to instruction in multiple verses, but most clearly in 13:55: “you have devoted your life to wisdom, and called understanding your mother.” This paper will explore the connections between the Torah of Moses, moral exhortation, and maternal instruction in selected texts of the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha.

Respondent – Karin Sporre (Professor in Educational Work with a Focus on Values, Gender and Diversity, Umeå University, S)

Session 7: Short Papers

Presider – Liv Ingeborg Lied (Professor in Religious Studies, MF Norwegian School of Theology, Religion and Society, NO)


Session 8: Values Related to Flavius Josephus

Presider Gabriella Gelardini (Professor for Religion, Christianity, Worldview, and Ethics, Nord University, NO)

S. N. (Steve) Mason (Distinguished Professor of Ancient Mediterranean Religions and Cultures, University of Groningen, NL), You Think You’re Tough? The Invincible Fortitude of Place, People, and Politeia as a Core Value in Josephus

Our study of ancient authors for inspiration brings forward their reflections on suffering and death, harmony in nature and the polis, simplicity, justice, and magnanimity — values that strengthen our human bond with them. But the assumption that everything in antiquity should suit our values is a snare for historians and translators alike. This paper takes up one of the clearest and yet most alien value-clusters that pervades Josephus’ writing: his theme of inexorable masculine toughness, severity, or hardness of both Jerusalem and the laws and people who originate there. We move from texts to context to rationale.

Respondent – Jorunn Økland, Professor of Gender Studies, University of Oslo, NO; and Director at the Norwegian Institute at Athens, GR

Daniel R. Schwartz (Professor of Jewish History in the Second Temple Period, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, IL), Josephus on Thinking Big

I propose to study Josephus’s notions, within his Jewish and Roman contexts, about “thinking big”: megalophrosynē and megalopyschia. These terms refer to people who think themselves capable of doing great things, but can run the gamut from “magnanimity” to “haughty.” If no one thinks big, nothing big will be undertaken or accomplished; but can one think big without looking down on others? Is that a problem? And is thinking big something appropriate for some but not others? How, for example, should we deal with Antiquities 18.254–256, where the emperor is twice praised for acting megalophrōn but Herodias is condemned for the same Is the difference a matter of gender? Or of station in life?

Respondent – Erich S. Gruen (Wood Professor em. of History and Classics at the University of California, Berkeley, US)

Session 9: Values Related to Philo of Alexandria

Presider – Anders Runesson (Professor of New Testament & Pro-Dean, University of Oslo, NO)

Erkki Koskenniemi (Adjunct Professor of Biblical Studies, University of Helsinki, FI), Philo and Jewish Educational Institutions in Alexandria

Philo’s works show that he had received the best Greek education in Alexandria. The privilege of gymnasium was limited to the Greek elite but at least some of the Alexandrian Jews were admitted to this institution. But what about the rest of Jewish youth? No writer directly speaks of Jewish educational institutions. Philo, however, very often quotes or refers to Greek writers and philosophers when writing to Jewish audience and sometimes presents his educational ideas. Moreover, some passages may give glimpses of the manner the Alexandrian Jews trained their youth. It is time to collect and evaluate the evidence in Philo’s works and other sources.

Respondent – Catherine Hezser, Professor of Jewish Studies, SOAS University of London, UK

Sarah J. K. Pearce (Professor of History, University of Southampton, UK), Philo on ‘schools of virtue’ and moral ‘improvement’

According to Philo’s interpretation of the Decalogue, the fourth commandment not only prohibits bodily labour on the seventh day, but also urges the students of Moses to use this day to study wisdom and thereby to ‘improve (βελτιόω)’ the soul (Spec. 2.215-216). This Shabbat exercise was, so Philo, found throughout the world of his contemporaries, practised in Jewish prayer-houses, ‘schools (διδασκαλεῖα) of…every virtue’ (Mos. 2.216 (on the existence of ‘thousands’ of such schools in every city); cf. Spec. 2.62; Legat. 312). My paper explores Philo’s conception of ‘schools of virtue’; his notion of moral/spiritual ‘improvement’, designated by the term βελτίωσις and the related verb βελτιόω; and the broader philosophical contexts to which this notion connects.

Respondent – Per Jarle Bekken (Professor for Religion, Christianity, Worldview, and Ethics, Nord University, NO)

Session 10: Values in the New Testament

Presider – Per Jarle Bekken (Professor for Religion, Christianity, Worldview, and Ethics, Nord University, NO)

Kathy Ehrensperger (Research Professor of New Testament in Jewish Perspective, University Potsdam, DE), “Written for our instruction…” Rom 15.4: Paul’s Teaching and Cultural Translation

On the one hand Paul clearly presupposes that the Jewish scriptures were authoritative also for the Christ-followers from the nations. Where else could they have learned how to related to the one God of Israel? However, Paul’s insistence that they do not become Jews but remain non-Jews, abstaining from worshipping their familiar gods implies that an understanding of these scriptures for non-Jews in Christ has to develop. Given that the use of the Greek language in Jewish texts and context was part of the web of this entire social and symbolic universe, this means that ‘what is written for our instruction’ implies a cultural translation process into the world of non-Jews. Although the cultural contexts of Jews and non-Jews in antiquity are similar, they are not identical, Paul’s teaching of the nations can be seen as a cultural translation process, with all the nuances of loss and gain in translation.

Respondent – Jostein Ådna (Professor in Diaconia and Leadership Studies, VID Specialized University, NO)

Karl Olav Sandnes (Professor of New Testament, MF Norwegian School of Theology, Religion and Society, NO), Pistis as a Moral Virtue in Paul’s Letters

Galatians 5:22–23 mentions pistis alongside other moral values in the Greco-Roman world. Why does Paul do that, and what does it mean here? What are the implications of Paul’s label “fruit of the Spirit” on moral virtues, including pistis? In antiquity, moral values were considered a result of character formation which progressed gradually according to levels of thinking or paideia. Moral values were seen to evolve from a well-educated mind. How does that fit in with the label “fruits of the Spirit”? Paul’s thinking about virtues (pistis) will be scrutinized comparatively.

Respondent – Troels Engberg-Pedersen (Professor em. in Biblical Exegesis, University of Copenhagen, DK)

Session 11: Public II – City Library Stormen & Cathedral

Presider – Gabriella Gelardini (Professor for Religion, Christianity, Worldview, and Ethics, Nord University, NO)

John Collins (Professor em. of Old Testament Criticism and Interpretation, Yale University, US
The Bible and Human Rights)


Session 12: Values in Education & Summary

Presider – Gabriella Gelardini (Professor for Religion, Christianity, Worldview, and Ethics, Nord University, NO)

Birgitte Lerheim (Associate Professor in Systematic Theology, University of Oslo, NO), Sustainibility in Education

Sustainability is a notion being used in order to characterize economical, social, institutional and environmental features of community and society, on both an individual and a societal level. Sustainability is basically about meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. The use of the notion in context of policy and public discourse originated in the document Our Common Future (1987), the so-called Brundtland report (the report from the World Commission on Environment and Development) and later in several UN policy documents. Currently, in a Norwegian and also European academic context, sustainability is a defining notion in policy and strategy documents from the Norwegian Research Council and also in the government’s letter of allocation to the Norwegian universities and institutions of higher education. In theological contexts, Genesis 1: 26-31 is often used in conversations on sustainability. Birgitte Lerheim will, in her lecture, explore and analyze current approaches to sustainability as a core value in educational practices), with emphasis on religion and theology.

Respondent Paul Otto Brunstad (Professor in Pedagogy, NLA University College Bergen, NO)

ab Kåre Sigvald Fuglseth (Professor for Religion, Christianity, Worldview, and Ethics, Nord University, NO), Summary & Closing

Gabriele Boccaccini (Professor of Second Temple Judaism and Early Rabbinic Literature, University of Michigan, US), Outlook

Registered Participants (Coming Soon)