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Old Testament MPhil Pathway

Old Testament MPhil Pathway

Michaelmas Term 2017

The Formation of the Hebrew Bible

Course Coordinator: Dr James Aitken (

The course seeks to equip students with advanced tools for the study of the Hebrew Bible and to acquaint them with textual resources that they may not have encountered during their undergraduate education.  The emphasis will be on demonstrating methodological and theoretical issues through hands-on experience and concrete examples.  How the Bible came about and how it is represented in our ancient evidence are highly debated fields of study.  We will trace the Bible from the earliest moments of its being written down to the copying and transmission of texts.  Students will be equipped to understand better the textual diversity for the ancient witnesses and to appreciate each witness on its own terms.  The implications for exegesis and biblical interpretation will then be addressed.

Prerequisites: A reading knowledge of Hebrew is expected.  Anyone interested in participating should consult the course coordinator, who will determine whether you have sufficient language experience.

Michaelmas Term Seminars

1.  Writing in ancient Israel

     The first seminar will begin with some introductory issues on the Masoretic text before examining the discussion of scribalism and the origins of writing in connection with biblical Israel.  The vital contribution of inscriptions for the history of the Bible will be examined.  Recent debates regarding scribes and scribal practice will then be considered.

2.  The Layers of Biblical Hebrew

     Dating of biblical texts has become an area of heated debate, bolstered by linguistic evidence that is itself subject to much discussion.  The arguments and reasons for the diverse opinions will be considered, and some of the methods for delineating layers of biblical Hebrew will be presented.

3.  Qumran and the History of the Biblical Text

     The third class will examine the biblical texts among the Dead Sea Scrolls, which throw light on the early history of the text.  A careful examination of the editions will be undertaken.  Students will thus see a form of the text in the Scrolls that will shed light on redaction history, but also be introduced to ways in which traditions can develop.

4.  The Septuagint and the Biblical Text

     The final class will focus on the Septuagint, seeing how it relates to the Dead Sea Scrolls and the MT, a topic that has attracted some attention in recent scholarly discussions.  Other methods of examining the Septuagint will also be introduced.


An essay according to the length specified in the regulations on one of the following subjects.  The focus is to be agreed upon in discussion with the course coordinator.

Is scribalism a helpful concept for understanding the formation of the biblical text?

Can we speak at all of the periodisation of biblical Hebrew?

Is it fair to speak of a plurality of biblical texts in antiquity?

How does Qumran or the Septuagint illuminate our understanding of the biblical texts?

M.Phil. Old Testament Core Subject, Michaelmas 2015

This course is compulsory for those writing a dissertation in the field of Old Testament.  Others may attend on satisfactory demonstration of requisite knowledge.

Lent Term 2018

The Biblical Wisdom Literature: definition, classification, social context and theology

Course Coordinator: Dr Katharine Dell (

4 seminars, Wednesdays 2.30 pm in alternate weeks to the OT seminar

1.    Questions of definition, scope and classification – wider wisdom options.

2.    Proverbs – oral/written; social context; theology of creation/order/retribution and


3.    Job – wisdom?, literary character, theology, relationship with the lament psalms.

4.    Ecclesiastes – Solomonic connections, canonical issues, social context, theology.

This course will examine the question whether there is indeed a wisdom tradition within the Old Testament canon and which books make this up.  Questions of definition, scope and classification will consider the character of each of the three main wisdom books, but also look at other contenders from across the canon and consider criteria for inclusion.  Then each of the main wisdom books will be examined in turn with regard to such questions of classification but also in relation to the social context and theology of each.  Particular issues raised by each book will be looked at, notably the question of whether an oral or written culture led to the production of Proverbs or whether the literary character of Job allows it to be seriously considered a mainstream wisdom book, or how to evaluate the Solomonic connections of Ecclesiastes (and Proverbs) and their canonical implications.  Current scholarship on these books will be evaluated and there will be a look at the history of interpretation and different hermeneutical perspectives.  Familiarity with the text and themes of each of the three books will also be expected.


A 5,000 word essay from one of the following:

How far do debates on literacy and orality affect our understanding of the formation of biblical texts?  Answer with special reference to one of the biblical wisdom books.

What social context (or contexts) are reflected in the Wisdom literature and the Wisdom worldview?

What theology (or theologies) are reflected in any ONE of the biblical wisdom books?

Can Job and/or Ecclesiastes be usefully categorised as ‘Wisdom in Revolt’?


The Significance of the Septuagint

Course Coordinator: Dr James Aitken (

The study of the Septuagint is a diverse field today.  The Septuagint remains an important witness to the text and interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in antiquity.  Questions continue to be raised regarding the social status of the translators, their competence and their theological intent, all dependent upon one’s understanding of the translation technique.  The course will introduce and examine the evidence and methods traditions in the so-called “Recensions”.  The course will introduce students to the issues and methods in Septuagint study, including the diverse textual history as well as the analysis of the language and vocabulary as a means for evaluating the Septuagint text and context.

Prerequisites: A reading knowledge of Greek.  Hebrew knowledge is preferable but not essential.  Anyone interested in participating should consult the course coordinator, who will determine whether you have sufficient language experience.

Lent Term Seminars

1.    Theories of the Septuagint

       What is the Septuagint?  The first class will introduce classical and recent theories of the Septuagint, and seek to understand better the nature of the text as a document.  Ancient accounts will be examined (Aristeas, Sirach Preface), and recent theories based on the likely locations, styles, and language of the Septuagint as well as understanding the Jewish community in Egypt will be evaluated.

2.    Ancient Translation and Septuagint Translation Technique

       The bedrock of the Septuagint is the translation technique.  This class will introduce ways of examining the translation technique and demonstrate the differences between individual translations.  It will also how the translation technique has been viewed in the wider context of ancient translation and modern translation theory.

3.    The Language of the Septuagint

       The third seminar will examine the debates regarding the language of the Septuagint.  It will show how a linguistic approach can inform the interpretation of the Septuagint and its purpose.  It will also demonstrate how recent research drawing upon documentary evidence and the history of Greek provides a surer ground from which to develop one’s theories.

4.    Revisions and Recensions

       The complex array of revision layers in the Septuagint text history will be explained.  These will be related to the later revisers known from tradition.  The revision process will be put into the context of biblical text history, including the evidence from the Qumran scrolls.  It will also be examined in the light of debates regarding grammatical history, sanctity of Hebrew, and the scurrility of a written text.

5.    Texts, Tools and Editions

       The final seminar will examine various tools to be used in Septuagint research as well as provide practical experience in research using database.


An essay according to the length specified in the regulations on one of the following subjects.  The focus is to be agreed upon in discussion with the course coordinator.

How far are internal features to the Septuagint relevant for explaining the origins of the translation?

How does the translation technique reveal an exegetical approach by any one translator?

Can linguistic evidence be best explained in the context of the history of the Greek language?

How far can any one of the revisions be said to have an ideological agenda behind it?