Hunting down a Ghost: A Critical Study of the Concept of Docetism and Its Use and Abuse in Ancient and Modern Discussions on Early Christian Christology and Soteriology
Docetism is the word scholars have coined for referring to a number of rather diverse phenomena and teachings attempting to explain that Christ did not really become human and/or did not really suffer on the cross. The concept and the phenomena it claims to cover have hardly ever been studied in a systematic and extensive way. It is telling that the only monograph to be written on docetism is an unpublished Heidelberg PhD dissertation of 1961. The project does not so much wish to study “the history of Docetism”, but rather the history of the research into the concept, how it came about and was used in scholarly discussion, and how ancient sources have been interpreted in this perspective. The initial hypothesis is that ancient docetism is something of a ghost concept. The team will study all the relevant ancient sources, which include Paul, John, a number of “mainstream” early Christian authors denouncing “docetism”, and a wide range of apocryphal, Gnostic, and other writings. The project will study the ancient sources with an eye on how they have been using modern exegetical and historical discussion on the development on early Christology and soteriology.