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University of Oxford: Bible Interpretation

Institution University of Oxford
Department Interdepartmental
Telephone +44 (0)1865 270059
Study type Taught


The information provided on this page was correct at the time of publication (November 2023). For complete and up-to-date information about this course, please visit the relevant University of Oxford course page via

This course is intended to give you experience in reading a range of primary exegetical texts in Classical Hebrew, Aramaic and Syriac; help you develop research methodologies through the writing of a dissertation; and to provide you with a solid basis in the subject area if you are considering to going on to do original research.

Teaching for the compulsory core course is covered by a combination of lectures, seminars and tutorials covering the principal sources for exegesis of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, and select topics will be covered in Michaelmas and Hilary terms. These may include ancient Bible translations, Qumran texts, the New Testament, Rabbinic hermeneutics, Greek and Latin patristics, or early Syriac commentaries. They will be explored in the essays set which you will present in meetings with your tutor, either in one-to-one sessions or with one or two other students in related subjects (such sessions are known as ‘tutorials’).

For your other two papers, you will select two options from the following five:

  • Hebrew biblical and exegetical texts

  • Aramaic biblical, exegetical and Targum texts

  • Syriac biblical and exegetical texts

  • Greek biblical and exegetical texts

  • Latin biblical and exegetical texts.

Set texts in the first Semitic language (or in Latin and/or Greek if chosen) will be studied in classes in all three terms.

If required, intensive elementary language teaching in a second Semitic language followed by textual study is available in the first term, comprising two to three hours per week. Since elementary language teaching will start with the basics of the grammar, classes may be shared with beginners in other appropriate courses (Classical Hebrew, Syriac and Aramaic at undergraduate or graduate level). You will be expected to attend such classes regularly, and to complete any homework set in good time. It is also essential to spend time consolidating your knowledge of the grammar and vocabulary of the languages you are studying during the university vacations at Christmas and Easter.

Most teaching for this Master’s course will take place in small classes or tutorials, normally given mainly by the course convenor, Professor Alison Salvesen, but also supplemented by recommended lectures, classes and seminars. You will be expected to prepare the set texts in advance of each class, in order to derive the maximum benefit from the intense form of study. Numbers of students on the course are very small (one or two per year) and so teaching is tailored according to the needs and interests of individual students. Classes are sometimes shared with those on other similar courses.

You will also be expected to attend seminars in relevant areas: there are regular seminar series in Jewish Studies in the Greco-Roman Period, Patristics, Late Antique and Byzantine Studies, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, and New Testament, as well as special lectures given by visiting scholars. An average attendance of two seminars per week in Michaelmas and Hilary terms is advisable, in line with your subject choices and interests.

Overall, you may expect to spend 10-12 hours attending lectures, seminars, tutorials, and classes each week during term, and a minimum of a further 30 hours on self-directed study. The university vacations are also important times for reading and study, especially the Easter vacation, when you will principally need to focus on your dissertation.


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