SOAS University of London

Department of Religions & Philosophies, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

The Bible and its Interpretation in Ancient Judaism

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2017/2018
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Term 2

This course will familiarize students with the Hebrew Bible, called “Tanach” by Jews and “Old Testament” by Christians, and its interpretation in ancient Judaism. The Hebrew Bible constitutes the basic document on which all three monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) are based. The course will provide an introduction to the origins and contents of the Bible and discuss the various types of ancient Jewish Bible interpretations such as the rewritten Bible (e.g., Book of Jubilees), the Bible commentaries found at Qumran (Pesher) and rabbinic Midrash.
In the first half of the course we shall discuss the origins and development of the Bible from oral transmission to written form and eventual canonization. Besides learning about the literary formation of the Bible students will be able to gain a basic knowledge of the contents of the biblical books. The second part of the course will investigate the various types of post-biblical Jewish Bible interpretation. We shall analyze the differences between rabbinic Midrash and earlier Jewish Bible exegesis and discuss the rabbinic concept of Written and Oral Law and its possible precedents.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of this course, student should be able to

  • understand of the structure and contents of the Hebrew Bible
  • identify major personages and events mentioned in the Bible
  • outline the various stages in the formation and composition of the Bible
  • discuss the question of canonization of biblical books
  • distinguish the various forms of ancient Jewish Bible interpretation
  • understand the meaning of Midrash as process and literary genre
  • delinetate the variant ways in which early Jewish writings relate to the Bible
  • analyse the logic and sequence of argumentation underlying midrashic homilies
  • explain the historical and social context in which ancient Jewish Bible interpretations emerged

Method of assessment

1 essay (2500 words) (40%), 2-hour exam (60%).

Suggested reading

  • Mulder, M.J. (1988) Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading and Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity, Philadelphia.
  • Brooks, Roger/Collins, J.J. (1990) Hebrew Bible or Old Testament? Studying the Bible in Judaism and Christianity, Notre Dame.
  • Hirshman, Marc G. (1996) A Rivalry for Genius. Jewish and Christian Biblical Interpretation in Late Antiquity, Albany.


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