Othmar Keel

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Othmar Keel (2009)

Othmar Keel (born December 6, 1937 in Einsiedeln , Switzerland ) is a Catholic theologian , biblical and religious scholar and Egyptologist . The BIBLE + ORIENT collection he founded in the Bible and Orient Museum in Freiburg / Switzerland and his writings on vertical ecumenism are primarily known .



Othmar Keel studied Hebrew, history of religion, theology and exegesis in Zurich, Rome and Friborg / Switzerland from 1958 to 1964 . 1964–1967 studied biblical studies, ancient oriental art history and Egyptology in Jerusalem and Zurich. He traveled extensively throughout the Middle East, and ancient oriental iconography became his passion. In 1967 he received his doctorate in theology in Freiburg / Switzerland. 1971–1972 he completed further studies in Egyptology and ancient oriental art history in Chicago / USA.


Since 1969 Othmar Keel has been married to Hildi geb. Leu. The couple has two children. Othmar Keel is a younger brother of the Diogenes publisher Daniel Keel and thus also brother-in-law of the artist Anna Keel . His godchild is Simonetta Sommaruga .

Professional Activities

From 1965 Keel was a board member and 1970/1971 President of the Swiss Catholic Biblical Works . At the University of Friborg (Switzerland) he was a lecturer in Old Testament exegesis and biblical environment from 1967 to 1969, assistant professor from 1969, associate professor from 1973 and full professor from 1977–2002 (retirement); 1987–89 Dean of Theol. Faculty, 1988–95 President of the Publications Commission, 1991–98 member and temporarily President of the Environmental Science Commission and 1995–98 member of the Senate and Senate Committee.

From 1967 he was invited to guest lectures, visiting professorships and professorships, to symposia and congresses at around 100 universities in Europe, South Africa, the Middle East and the USA. In 1970 he was a founding member of the then newly established Biblical Institute of the University of Friborg / Switzerland, now known as the "Department for Biblical Studies". Since 1973 founder and editor of the series “Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis” (until March 2010 248 volumes) and since 1980 of the series “Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis, Series Archaeologica” (until March 2010 38 volumes). Since 2004 he has been President of the BIBLE + ORIENT Foundation.

Scientific work

Othmar Keel's scientific work is dedicated to researching the connections between the imagery of the Ancient Near East and the Bible as well as the religious history of Palestine / Israel . In his biblical publications he has shown how the pictorial symbolism of ancient oriental cultures can serve as a key to understanding Old Testament texts (e.g. Song of Songs , God's speeches in the book of Job , YHWH visions in the books of Isaiah , Ezekiel and Zechariah ).

Research priorities

Religious history of Canaan and Israel, especially the history of monotheism , the relationships between biblical metaphors, symbols and visions and those of neighboring cultures; related to this, the study of the visual "means of mass communication" (scarabs, stamp seals, amulets, cylinder seals, etc.) as well as the mutual dependence of the monotheistic religions. He founded a collection of ancient oriental art at the University of Friborg / Switzerland with the aim of establishing a Bible + Orient Museum in Friborg / Switzerland.


  • I decided on theology, but never allowed myself to be ordained : on the one hand, because I hated the clergy's appropriation, and on the other, because celibate priests were only allowed to be of limited interest in the feminine, which fascinated me early on.
  • I have always had certain reservations about dialectical theology with its insistence on the word of God, on election and the exclusivity of the Christian faith.
  • Basically, the question is always: What is decisive, what ancient Israel had in common with other peoples, or what distinguishes it from them? After the experiences of the Second World War, which was a time of exclusion and persecution, what unites seemed to me to be more important than what divides. And I also think that if we take the concept of God the Creator, who is a father of all human beings, really seriously, then we must actually reject any marginalization of people of different faiths as impious.
  • There are good reasons for criticizing numerous details of the " Bible in Just Language " - which has happened in abundance. It must be credited to her that she has tackled the solution of an urgent problem.


  • 1996 Doctor honoris causa der Theol. Faculty of the University of Lund / Sweden
  • 1998 Irene Levi-Sala Book Prize in the Archeology of Israel
  • 1999 Publication Award from the Biblical Archeology Society (USA)
  • 2000 Doctor honoris causa of the Faculté autonome de théologie protestant at the University of Geneva
  • 2005 Marcel Benoist Prize (the most valuable Swiss science prize)
  • 2007 Doctor honoris causa of the Catholic Theol. Faculty of the University of Bochum

Fonts (selection)

  • Enemies and deniers of God. Studies on the image of the adversary in the individual psalms. Stuttgart 1969. (Stuttgart Biblical Monographs 7)
  • Back from the stars. Criticism and positioning of Erich von Däniken's thesis. Freiburg / Switzerland 1970. (Biblical contributions 7)
  • Synoptic texts from Genesis.
    • 1st part: The texts. Add. with Max Küchler. 2nd Edition. Friborg 1975. (Biblical contributions 8.1)
    • Part 2: The Commentary. Add. with Max Küchler . Freiburg / Switzerland 1971, ISBN 3-7203-0008-0 . (Biblical contributions 8.2)
  • Powerful signs of victory in the Old Testament. Iconographic studies for Jos 8:28; Ex 17.8-13; 2 Kings 13: 14-19 and 1 Kings 22:11. Göttingen 1974, ISBN 3-7278-0119-0 . (Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 5)
  • Wisdom plays before God. An iconographic contribution to the interpretation of the mesahäqät in Prov 8,30f. Göttingen 1974, ISBN 3-525-53304-7 .
  • Birds as messengers. Studies on Ps 68,12-14; Gene 8,6-12; Koh 10:20 and the sending of messenger birds in Egypt. Göttingen 1977, ISBN 3-525-53317-9 . (Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 14)
  • Yahweh visions and sealing art. A new interpretation of the majesty portrayals in Isa 6, Ez 1 and 10 and Sach 3. Stuttgart 1977, ISBN 3-460-03841-1 . (Stuttgart Bible Studies 84/85)
  • Yahweh's reply to Job . An interpretation of Job 38-41 against the background of contemporary visual art. Göttingen 1978, ISBN 3-525-53282-2 . (Research on the religion and literature of the Old and New Testaments 121)
  • Monotheism in ancient Israel and in its environment. Freiburg / Switzerland 1980, ISBN 3-7203-0014-5 . (Biblical contributions 14)
  • The kid in the milk of his mother and relatives. In the light of an ancient oriental motif. Göttingen 1980, ISBN 3-525-53340-3 . (Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 33)
  • Places and Landscapes of the Bible. A handbook and study guide to the Holy Land. together with Max Küchler. Volume 2: The South, Göttingen 1982, ISBN 3-525-50167-6 .
  • The Bible interferes. Sermons and “Words for Sunday”. Zurich 1984, ISBN 3-545-21054-5 .
  • Places and Landscapes of the Bible. A handbook and study guide to the Holy Land. Volume 1: Geographical-historical regional studies, together with Max Küchler and Christoph Uehlinger. Göttingen 1984, ISBN 3-525-50166-8 .
  • Your looks are doves. On the metaphor of the Song of Songs. Stuttgart 1984, ISBN 3-460-04141-2 . (Stuttgart Bible Studies 114/115)
  • Studies on the stamp seals from Palestine / Israel I. together with Silvia Schroer. Göttingen 1985, ISBN 3-525-53690-9 . (Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 67)
  • Studies on the stamp seals from Palestine / Israel II. Together with Hildi Keel-Leu and Silvia Schroer. Göttingen 1989, ISBN 3-525-53718-2 . (Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 88)
  • Studies on the stamp seals from Palestine / Israel III. The early iron age. A workshop, together with Menakhem Shuval and Christoph Uehlinger. Göttingen 1990/1998, ISBN 3-525-53732-8 . (Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 100)
  • Beautiful, difficult world - life with complaints and praise. Selected psalms. Berlin / Neukirchen / Vluyn 1991. (54th Bible Week of the Missionary Services Working Group)
  • The Song of Songs. 2nd Edition. Theological Publishing House, Zurich 1992, ISBN 3-290-14739-8 . (Zurich Bible Commentaries. Old Testament 18)
  • Studies on the stamp seals from Palestine / Israel IV. With registers for the volumes 1-1 V. Göttingen 1994, ISBN 3-525-53770-0 . (Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 135)
  • Corpus of the stamp seal amulets from Palestine / Israel. From the beginning to the Persian period. Introduction. Göttingen 1995, ISBN 3-525-53890-1 . (Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis. Series Archaeologica 10)
  • Ancient oriental miniature art. The oldest visual means of mass communication. together with Christoph Uehlinger. Freiburg / Switzerland 1996, ISBN 3-7278-1053-X .
  • The world of the ancient oriental symbolism and the Old Testament. Using the example of the psalms. 5th edition. Göttingen 1996, ISBN 3-525-53638-0 .
  • The right of images to be seen. Three case studies on the method of interpreting ancient oriental images. Göttingen 1997, ISBN 3-525-53756-5 . (Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 122)
  • Corpus of the stamp seal amulets from Palestine / Israel. From the beginning to the Persian period. Catalog Volume 1. From part Abu Farag to 'Atlit. Göttingen 1997, ISBN 3-525-53894-4 . (Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis. Series Archaeologica 13)
  • Goddesses and Trees, New Moon and Yahweh. Ancient Near Eastern Art and the Hebrew Bible , (Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, Supplement Series 261) Sheffield, 1998, ISBN 1-85075-915-4
  • Moon, bull and cult at the city gate. The stele of Betsaida (et-Tell) , (Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 161) with Monika Bernett , Göttingen, 1998, ISBN 3-7278-1176-0 .
  • Hellenism and Judaism. Four studies on Daniel 7 and the religious distress under Antiochus IV, together with Urs Staub. Göttingen 2000, ISBN 3-525-53992-4 . (Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 178)
  • Goddesses, gods and god symbols. New insights into the religious history of Canaan and Israel based on previously unexplored iconographic sources, together with Christoph Uehlinger. 5th edition Freiburg i. Br. 2001, ISBN 3-451-02134-X . (Quaestiones disputatae 134), 7th unchanged edition 2012.
  • In the shadow of your wings. Animals in the Bible and in the ancient Orient. together with Thomas Staubli. Freiburg / Switzerland 2001, ISBN 3-7278-1358-X .
  • Canaan – Israel – Christianity. A plea for vertical ecumenism. Franz Delitzsch lecture. Münster iW 2002.
  • Vertical ecumenism. Remembrance work in the service of interreligious dialogue. Freiburg / Switzerland 2005, ISBN 3-7278-1516-7 .
  • The iconography of Palestine / Israel and the ancient Orient. A history of religion in pictures Volume 1: From the end of the Mesolithic to the Early Bronze Age. together with Silvia Schroer. Freiburg / Switzerland 2005, ISBN 3-7278-1508-6 .
  • Eva - mother of all living things. Idols of women and goddesses from the ancient Orient, together with Silvia Schroer. 2nd Edition. Freiburg / Switzerland 2006, ISBN 3-7278-1460-8 .
  • Corpus of the seal amulets from Jordan: From the Neolithic to the Persian period. together with Jürg Eggler. Herder Freiburg / Switzerland 2006, ISBN 3-7278-1549-3 .
  • The history of Jerusalem and the emergence of monotheism. Series Places and Landscapes of the Bible, Volume 4/1. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2007, (2 volumes) ISBN 978-3-525-50177-1 .
  • God feminine: a hidden side of the biblical God. Gütersloh 2008, ISBN 978-3-579-08044-4 .
  • Creation: Biblical theologies in the context of ancient oriental religions. together with Silvia Schroer. 2nd Edition. Göttingen 2008, ISBN 978-3-525-53500-4 .
  • Self-Glorification: the figure of Abraham in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Basel 2009, ISBN 978-3-7965-2583-4 .
  • Jerusalem and the One God: A History of Religion. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2011, ISBN 978-3-525-54010-7 .

Many writings and books have also been translated into other languages.

Individual evidence

  1. Michael Meier: The Bible interpreter. The theologian Othmar Keel revolutionized the interpretation of the Bible. Today, the 77-year-old from Freiburg researches and collects for his own Bible and Orient Museum. Der kleine Bund , Bern February 17, 2015
  2. a b NZZ.ch: “The feminine fascinated me early on” , April 13, 2003
  3. NZZ.ch: How masculine is the God of the Bible? , July 5, 2007

Web links