Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster: Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration

The Sacred and the Profane

Narrative Adaptations of Biblical Texts in Medieval and Early Modern Times as Concepts of Cultural Integration

Prof. Dr. Bruno Quast


This research project is concerned with narrative adoptions of biblical texts in the vernacular that occurred in a time period from the 12th to the 15th centuries.  In particular, it raises the question on how the so-called medieval bible epics synthesize the sacred and the profane. The specific narrative structure of bible epics creates its own representational status, a status that has to be distinguished from a mere ritual and liturgical practise. The validity of the ritual text is transformed to a re-narration of the Holy Bible which is in itself clearly informed by works of fictions originating in courtly societies as well as in late medieval cities. Compared to the antagonistic relationship between the Koran and literary texts, the integration of the holy and the profane in various bible epics has to be considered an exception specific to Christian cultures.  However one evaluates the specific relationship between the Holy and the Profane in the biblical narratives – as secularisation, as profanation of the holy text or as sanctification of the profane – it is evident that the Jewish Christian holy text can be object of narrative treatment whereas the Koran cannot.

The project wants to point to the various historical stages of bible narrations from the Middle Ages to the Early Modern time period (12th-15th centuries). Mainly, it aims to demonstrate the rise of a specific cultural concept of integration that realized itself in specific modes of interferences of the sacred and the profane in these narratives.  Late Antiquity as well as the late 18th century mark the time frame for the work on the project. This frame indicates an understanding of the Middle Ages as a rather long period of time. It will not be easy to point to the literary process of synthesizing the holy and the profane in bible epics using a precise terminology. How can one describe the integration of the sacred and the profane in its repetitive narrative realisations? How would one conceptualize what integration means in this context? One could possibly speak of profane adoptions in cases, where the sacred, where the holy text is claimed by a public for its own purposes (Giorgio Agamben). Other voices insist on a persistence of the sacred even within the profane. And: If bible epics adopt narrative schemes of profane literature, what does that mean for our understanding of so-called worldly literatures? Is there a sanctification of the worldly plots at work and can this process be described in similar terms as the secularisation of the sacred? Finally, what terminology can be developed to describe the genre of bible epics as a hybrid sort of texts?