Matthew Thiessen
Associate Professor, Religious Studies

My research interests focus on the rise of Christianity particularly as it relates to early Judaism. I focus on questions related to ethnicity and identity construction in order to better understand the way in which ancient religions functioned.

My current research focuses on the way in which the synoptic gospels present Jesus in relation to the Jewish laws of ritual purity. Building on the ground-breaking work of Mary Douglas and Jacob Milgrom, I will demonstrate that Jesus was not opposed to the Jewish ritual purity system. What Jesus opposes is not the system of ritual purity and impurity, but the very existence of ritual impurity, which he consistently removes from those who suffer it. Essential to my treatment of the gospel accounts, is Milgrom’s argument, based on the anthropological work of Mary Douglas, that in Judaism ritual impurity represents the forces of death. Consequently, Jesus’ ministry of removing impurities suggests that his ministry is one of bringing life to those suffering from the power of death.
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