Graduate Program in Biblical Studies


At the heart of NELC’s Hebrew Bible/Old Testament track are texts composed over a period extending from the early Iron Age to the Hellenistic-Roman period. The goal of this track is to prepare students to research and teach these texts, in both the historical contexts in which they were originally composed, and as they have been understood in later historical periods. Drawing on faculty in NELC, the Jewish Studies Program, and other departments, the Biblical Studies program takes an interdisciplinary approach to biblical literature that involves the study of language, literature, history, archaeology, and other fields. This program can be tailored for individual students with different interests.

In general, the student is to follow the MA general procedures or the PhD general procedures of the Department, but the following statements outline the regulations specific to the PhD program in Biblical Studies.

  • Textual Mastery

    All students are expected to develop the ability to produce original research about biblical texts in their original languages, which entails an ability to sight-read biblical Hebrew, explain its grammar, and interpret biblical Aramaic and the Greek of the Septuagint. 
  • Method

    All students are expected to become conversant in the various methods and approaches used to understand biblical literature, and to be able to apply such methods in their own research.
  • Context

    All students are expected to develop an understanding of the larger social and cultural context in which biblical literature developed. This includes an understanding of ancient Israelite society; the broader history and literature of the ancient Near East; and Judean/Jewish culture in the Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman periods.
  • Interpretive History

    All students are expected to gain some familiarity with the history of biblical interpretation—Jewish, Christian, Islamic, or secular. 
  • Secondary Field

    All students are also expected to develop proficiency in one of the following two secondary fields:
    • Ancient Near East. This track deepens the student’s understanding of the Hebrew Bible in its Near Eastern context by requiring the study of Assyriology, Egyptology, or Near Eastern archaeology.
    • The Cultural/Religious Afterlife of the Bible. This track involves more advanced study of the history of biblical interpretation and may involve the study of Second Temple period and classical rabbinic literature; medieval and modern Jewish biblical exegesis; the role of the Bible in Islamic exegesis, etc.
  • Hebrew and Aramaic of the biblical period

    Includes the language of extra-biblical texts; knowledge of historical grammar and ability to sight-translate biblical prose; and interpret biblical poetry.
  • Biblical literature

    Ability to identify passages and details from the Hebrew or Aramaic text, and to discuss textual, literary-critical, and methodological issues. Exams on assigned texts and secondary literature are given at the start of each academic year.
  • History, geography, and archaeology of Israel in the biblical period in their ancient Near Eastern context

  • Culture

    Social and political institutions and history of Israelite religion within their ancient Near Eastern context.
  • Ancillary fields

    – A secondary field in either Cuneiform Studies (Akkadian) or Egyptology, and comparative studies relating the secondary field to Biblical Israel; or a secondary field in Biblical Archaeology

    – Hebrew epigraphy, Northwest Semitic languages, elementary Arabic, and comparative Semitics; Greek adequate for use of the Septuagint; post-biblical literature and exegesis
  • Hebrew

    4 graduate-level courses in Biblical Hebrew texts; ability to sight-translate uncomplicated texts
  • Biblical literature

    Familiarity with the content of the Bible, distinctive features of its main genres, and important literary-critical issues
  • History and culture of ancient Israel

  • Comparative studies relating Biblical Israel to the student's Primary Field

  • Qualifying Exams

    Qualifying Exams in Biblical Studies are normally comprised of (1) a competency examination in Biblical Hebrew (three-five hours in length) taken in the Department and (2) the submission of two syllabi for proposed courses. The topics of the two proposed courses will be determined by the student’s supervisor and given to the student three months before the timing of the competency examination.
  • Candidacy Exams

    Candidacy Exams in Biblical Studies are normally comprised of four exams, taken over one week. The student will be tested in four areas; three will be Biblical Hebrew, biblical criticism, and the history of the ancient Near East or Late Antiquity. The fourth area will be connected to the student’s specific research interest (e.g., the history of Jewish interpretation or archaeology). The first three exams will be written in the Department, and the fourth will be an open book take-home exam.