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Old Testament MPhil Pathway

Old Testament MPhil Pathway

Michaelmas Term 2019

M.Phil. Old Testament Core Subject, Michaelmas 2019

This course is compulsory for those writing a thesis in the field of Old Testament.

Hebrew Bible, Septuagint and beyond

Case Study: The Book of Joshua

Course Coordinator: Dr James Aitken

The course seeks to equip students with advanced exegetical tools and to acquaint them with textual resources that they may not have encountered during their undergraduate education.  The emphasis will be to demonstrate methodological and theoretical issues through hands-on experience and concrete examples.  The specific example for study will be the book of Joshua, which students should aim to read through before the course.  The exegetical tools covered will be redaction criticism and inner-biblical interpretation; the textual resources are the Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls.  A particular concern of the course will be to show that these are not four independent issues, but methods and resources that shed light on a complex, interrelated set of problems.

1.    The first class will introduce students to the discussion of Joshua’s redaction history.  The focus will be on the conquest narratives in Joshua 2-12, a text usually thought to contain the oldest core of the book of Joshua.  Through specific examples students will learn how later redactional material is identified.

2.    The second class will explore the inter-textual relationship that the book of Joshua has with surrounding texts.  The focus will be on Joshua chapters 1, 13-19, 22-24 and their relationship to the books of Numbers, Deuteronomy and Judges.  Students will consider contemporary debates about whether it is helpful to consider Joshua to be part of a Hexateuch or a Deuteronomistic History.

3.    The third class will examine the texts of Joshua in the Dead Sea Scrolls (4QJosha-b), which throws, light on the early history of the text.  A careful examination of the editions will be undertaken but also other ‘para-biblical’ Joshua material at Qumran will be considered.  Students will thus see a possibly earlier form of the text in the Scrolls that will shed light on the redaction history, but also be introduced to ways in which traditions can develop.

4.    The fourth 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.


Choose one of the following questions:

1)    Discuss the redactional relationship of the book of Joshua to either Numbers, Deuteronomy, or Judges.

2)    Using one or more passages from Joshua, discuss the relationship between the book’s redaction history and its textual history.

3)    What picture does the Qumran evidence provide of the textual and interpretative history of Joshua?

4)    Does the LXX attest to a proto-MT of Joshua?

Lent Term 2020

Pentateuchal Criticism

Course Coordinator: Dr Nathan MacDonald

The course seeks to equip students with a broad methodological overview of some of the challenges and prospects in contemporary Pentateuchal study.  The course will assume some knowledge of the earlier history of Pentateuchal criticism prior to the 1970s, a good knowledge of the Pentateuch, and some of the basic issues in Pentateuchal research (e.g. distinction between H and P, distinction between Deuteronomic and deuteronomistic).  The classes will discuss issues of method, but will range across various Pentateuchal texts and give detailed attention to some particular texts.

1)    The first class will discuss the crisis in Pentateuchal criticism beginning with Rendtorff’s seminal work on traditional history, the resulting attention to blocks of tradition, the renewed attention to the significance of book divisions and the re-emergence of Tetrateuch, Pentateuch and Hexateuch.

2)    The second class will introduce recent work on scribal culture and inner-biblical interpretation, and the significance this has had on understandings of the composition of the Pentateuch.  The necessity of speaking about redaction, and its attendant problems, will be considered.

3)    The third class will examine biblical law, the relation of biblical law to Near Eastern law, and diachronic change in the law collections.

4)    The fourth class will examine the rise of so-called neo-documentarianism.  Its proponents’ understanding of the history of scholarship and the idea of the redactor will be examined, and the strengths and weaknesses of the theory considered.


A 5,000 word essay is to be written on the composition and redaction of one Pentateuchal text to be agreed upon in discussion with the course coordinator.          


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?