Course handbook: Jewish Studies

First year (First Public Examination)

For those taking Hebrew or Jewish Studies, the first three terms of the course comprise intensive class instruction in the Hebrew language in all its main periods.  The aim is to cover basic grammar in the first term and to consolidate this information in the second and third terms, when simple texts in each form of the language are also taught.  This demanding objective is essential in order to achieve a level of reading proficiency that will stand you in good stead for the rest of the course.  There are three class hours a week in both Classical (Biblical) and Modern Hebrew. Readings in Rabbinic, Medieval and Modern Hebrew are introduced in the second and third terms. 

Students also prepare for a general paper which provides an introductory framework for the rest of the course.  Outline surveys are given in lectures through the year, but the main form of teaching is in tutorials, for which there is recommended reading and an essay to be written.

Four papers are set for Prelims, taken at the end of the third term.

  1. Hebrew Texts I: Biblical and Rabbinic Hebrew.
  2. Hebrew Texts II: Medieval and Modern Hebrew.
  3. Grammar and Translation into Hebrew.
  4. General Paper.

Candidates who perform particularly well in Biblical Hebrew in Prelims are eligible fore the Junior Pusey and Ellerton Prize.  In the unlikely event of failure, it is possible to resit the paper(s) in question later on.  You must pass Prelims, however, in order to proceed to Finals.

All examinations are held at the end of Trinity Term. 

 

Second and Third Year (Final Honour School)

a.  Students should select one paper from the following languages: Biblical and Rabbinic Hebrew, Medieval Hebrew, Modern Hebrew, or Yiddish.  Papers for Biblical and Rabbinic Hebrew, Medieval Hebrew and Modern Hebrew are the same papers taken by those studying Hebrew as a subsidiary language.

These are:

i) Biblical and Rabbinic Hebrew: Prose composition and unprepared translation

ii) Medieval Hebrew: Unprepared Translation

iii) Modern Hebrew: Prose composition and unprepared translation

Teaching for some language options may not be available every year.

 

b. History, Culture and Society

 

c. Student should select five options, of which at least one must be chosen from each of sections I, II, and III. At least three must be chosen from papers that require a study of set texts in the original language. Not more than one paper may be chosen from section V. The list of options will appear in the course handbook by Monday on the first week of Michaelmas Term in the year preceding the examinations.  

Section I

(a) Biblical History
(b) Biblical Archaeology
(c) Biblical Narrative
(d) Biblical Prophecy

Section II

(e) Second Temple Judaism
(f) Second Temple History
(g) History of the Talmudic Period
(h) Medieval and Early Modern Jewish History
(i) Jewish Aramaic Literature

Section III

(j) Modern Jewish Society
(k) Israel: History, Politics and Society
(l) Modern Hebrew Literature

Section IV

(m) History of Jewish-Christian Relations
(n) History of Jewish Bible Interpretation
(o) Orthodox Judaisms

Section V

(p) Biblical Religion
(q) Medieval Jewish Thought
(r) Modern Jewish History
(s) Modern Judaism

Papers in section V will be examined in the form of two essays (one compulsory, the other from a choice of two) not exceeding 5,000 words in total. The subjects will be published at 10 a.m. on Monday of second week in the term in which the final examination is to be offered, and must be handed in to the Examination Schools, High Street, Oxford no later than 12 noon on Monday of third week. Candidates will be contacted with details on how to collect or access the question paper. A signed statement that the essays are the candidate's own work should be submitted separately in a sealed envelope bearing his or her candidate number, to the Chair of Examiners (forms are available from the Faculty Office, Oriental Institute).Special subjects may be offered subject to the approval of the Oriental Studies Board.  Please consult your tutor.

 

d. A dissertation

Special subjects may be offered instead of one of the five options above, subject to the approval of the Oriental Studies Board.

Some options may not be available in every year.

Applications for the approval of options must be submitted by the deadline published below.   

Teaching Staff

Important Deadlines

 

NOTE: the examination regulations relating to all Oriental Studies courses are available at https://www.admin.ox.ac.uk/examregs/ . If there is a conflict between information in any of the faculty handbooks and the exam regulations, you should always follow the exam regulations. If you have any concerns please contact academic@administrator.ox.ac.uk. The information in this handbook is accurate as at 1st October 2016, however it may be necessary for changes to be made in certain circumstances, as explained at www.graduate.ox.ac.uk/coursechanges . If such changes are made the department will publish a new version of this handbook together with a list of the changes. Students will also be informed.


Special Subjects

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Biblical History

Course description:

Although the Hebrew Bible is not a history book, it intimately relates to history in various ways. It purports to depict history from the creation of the world to the time of the Persian emperors in the fourth century BCE. It is also itself a product of history, having been written at different stages in response to historical events and circumstances. For any proper study of the Hebrew Bible, therefore, it is necessary to pay attention to its historical background. In addition to the biblical texts, archaeology, epigraphy and Ancient Near Eastern documents provide important evidence that allows the student to retrace this background at least in outline.

 

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Biblical Archaeology

Course description:

This course provides an introduction to the discipline of Near Eastern Archaeology with particular reference to Israel in the Iron Age (1200-586 BCE); the Babylonian and Persian periods (586-332 BCE) may also be considered. The course will provide the student with the archaeological background to the historical events of the period, and incorporates the basic elements of the subject, including the role of excavation, the limits of time and space, basic terminology, important sites and personalities, significant finds, and its relevance to the biblical account.  

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Biblical Narrative

Course description:

Much of the Hebrew Bible takes the form of historical narrative: the patriarchal narratives in Genesis, the stories in the Book of Judges, or the 'Succession History' in 2 Samuel 11 – 1 Kings 2. All these stories have an artistic form and lend themselves to a literary approach. The conventions of ancient Hebrew narrative are complex and sophisticated, but close reading will reveal some of the main principles. Alongside historical analysis and theological evaluation, the literary approach is an important tool for comprehension of the biblical texts.

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Biblical Prophecy

Course description:

Biblical prophecy shows clear links to Ancient Near Eastern forms of prophecy, but also presents a number of distinct developments, particularly manifested in the classical prophets of the eighth to sixth centuries BCE such as Amos, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. The activity of these historical figures gave rise to the creation of prophetic books. The exploration of these books and their redaction history assists our understanding of ancient Israelite society and religion.

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Second Temple Judaism

Course description:

The course aims to provide students with a basic knowledge of the main trends in Judaism in the period 200 BCE - 100 CE with particular reference to prescribed texts including the writings of Josephus and Philo, the Dead Sea scrolls, and early rabbinic literature.

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Second Temple History

Course description:

The course aims to provide students with a basic knowledge of the main issues in the political, social, economic and religious history of the Jews from 200 BCE - 70 CE, and to equip them with skills in historical methodology in the use of the main sources (including Josephus, Philo, rabbinic literature, New Testament, and archaeology).

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History of the Talmudic Period

Course description:

The course aims to acquaint students with the main issues in the political, social, economic and religious history of the Jews from 70 CE to 500 CE, with special attention to  factors which encouraged the growth of rabbinic Judaism under both Roman and Sassanian rule. 

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Medieval and Early Modern Jewish History

Course description:

This course will investigate some of the historical and historiographical issues that relate to Jewish life in Islamic and Christian lands in the medieval and early modern period. Key issues such as Jewish ‘power and powerlessness’, the Crusades, usury, papal policy and literary creativity will be examined in the light of extant documents and sources.

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Jewish Aramaic Literature

Course description:

Aramaic is a North West Semitic sister language to Hebrew. Under the Assyrian, Babylonian and then Persian empires, it acted as something of a lingua franca in the Middle East from the seventh century BCE until the conquests of Alexander the Great in the late 4th century. It continued to be used in everyday life by various communities, including Jews, who had adopted Aramaic during the Babylonian Exile. The course introduces the basic grammar of the Jewish Aramaic dialects, and covers some of the most interesting and important texts written in Aramaic. 

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Modern Jewish Society

Course description:

Focusing on the varying influences of the societies in which Jewish communities developed in the modern period, this paper considers some of the distinctive influences that location can exert on the construction of Jewish identities. It will assess how different areas of Jewish settlement presented a range of challenges and opportunities reflecting the role of both the host society and variations between Jewish communities.

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Israel: History, Politics and Society

Course description:

This course will consider the development of both the modern Israeli state and its society from 1882 to the present through the paradigm of aliya ('ascent').  Through both primary and secondary source material, students will gain an appreciation of both changes and continuities over time and problematize this historiographical framework which has shaped the study of Zionism and Israel over the past century.

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Modern Hebrew Literature

Course description:

This course offers an overview of Modern Hebrew literature from the early twentieth century to the present day and examines, in particular, figures and themes of (linguistic, cultural, geographical) marginality; the relation between Hebrew literature’s 'minor' status on the global literary map and its own politics of inclusion and exclusion; cultural and linguistic translation; and Hebrew literature’s persistent preoccupation with representations of home and homeland. 

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History of Jewish-Christian Relations

Course description:

The course introduces students to the complex relations between Jews and Christians from the first century to the present, examining some of the key religious, social, economic and political factors which affected this relationship in different ways in different periods and places.

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History of Jewish Bible Interpretation

Course description:

The course will provide a history of the ways that the Hebrew Bible was read and interpreted from antiquity to the Middle Ages. We will examine some of the earliest examples of exegesis such as the book of Jubilees, as well as the Aramaic paraphrases, the Targumim, rabbinic interpretive texts called Midrashim and medieval biblical commentaries. 

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Orthodox Judaisms

Course description:

This paper offers an opportunity to study the range of Orthodox Judaisms that have developed in the Modern period: Ashkenazi and Sephardi, Hasidic and Mitnaggdic, Religious Zionist, and the variety of expressions of Modern Orthodoxy. Variations between communities in Europe, the United States, and Israel highlight the range of meanings Orthodox Judaism has acquired.

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Biblical Religion

Course description:

This course will explore major themes in Israel’s religion, covering introductory questions of methodology, the relationship of Israel’s deity to those of the surrounding cultures, covenant and law, prophets and prophecy, priesthood and sacrifice, the monarchy, major festivals, and personal piety.

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Medieval Jewish Thought

Course description:

The course will provide an interpretive study of main trends in Jewish thought, from the 9th to the 16th centuries. The course will cover biblical exegesis, the competing theological systems of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) and philosophical rationalism, and inter-religious influence and polemics.

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Modern Jewish History

Course description:

This option covers the period from the Enlightenment to the Holocaust, ie roughly from the middle of the eighteenth century to the Second World War, providing an overview of the primary themes, ideas and movements of modern Jewish history. We explore topics such as emancipation and acculturation, Jewish politics, migration, antisemitism and the Holocaust, ranging across western and eastern Europe, Russia and sometimes further afield.

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Modern Judaism

Course description:

This paper examines the development of Modern Judaism, assessing how Judaism has responded in religious terms to the challenges it has faced since around the time of the French Revolution. Driven by a focus on theology, the emergence of distinctive religious movements of Modern Judaism will be studied to provide an appreciation of the varied forms of modern Jewish identities that have been constructed in response to changing socio-cultural, religious, political, and intellectual influences. The appeal of fundamentalism, nationalism, secularism and critical scholarship and the impact of feminism and Enlightenment thought are among the topics that will be covered.


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Important Deadlines

Monday Wk 9 of Trinity  Term

Year 1

Provisional start date of the First Public Examinations.

Monday  Wk 0 of Hilary Term

Year 3

Deadline for applications for approval for Special Subjects and dissertation title.

Forms available here.

 

12 noon, Friday Wk 10 of Hilary Term 

 

Year 3

Deadline for submission of dissertation.

 

10am, Monday Wk 2 of Trinity Term

Year 3

Essays titles for Papers in Section V (refer to Examination Regulations) are available from the Faculty Office.

 

12 noon, Monday Wk 3 of Trinity Term

Year 3

Deadline for submission of Papers in Section V (refer to Examination Regulations) at the Examination Schools.

 

Monday Wk 7 of Trinity  Term

Year 4

Provisional start date of the Final Honour School examinations.