Bible Interpretation MSt

Folio 46r from the Syriac Bible of Paris (Bibliothèque Nationale, MS syr. 341), Job

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 15,000-word 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.

You may come to Oxford with precise ideas about the subject of your dissertation, or you may have a broader interest in a particular topic that needs to be developed. Either way, you will be able to discuss dissertation ideas with your supervisor or lecturers towards the end of the first term, spend time thinking and reading over the Christmas Vacation, and submit your title at the very beginning of the second term (Hilary). You may meet with your thesis supervisor two or three times over the course of the second term as your work progresses. They will read and offer feedback on two or three drafts over the Easter Vacation and the beginning of the third term, before you submit. It is vital to start work on the dissertation early in the academic year, and not to leave it too late.

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.


Assessment takes place at the end of the academic year, and takes the form of three examination papers (one on the compulsory core paper, and the other two on prescribed texts), plus a dissertation on some aspect of Bible interpretation in antiquity. The topic and title of the dissertation are chosen in consultation with your supervisor, and the dissertation itself will be submitted at the end of the fourth week of Trinity term, before the examinations for the other papers.

The first examination paper consists of essay questions for the compulsory core paper on early translations and interpretations of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. On both of the two papers chosen as options you will be asked to translate into English a number of passages from set texts and comment on points of exegetical and other interest in them, and also to answer one essay on the background or aspects of the set texts. Candidates may be required to attend a viva.

In taught graduate degrees the pass mark is 50. In the MSt, a distinction may be awarded for a final overall mark of 70 or above. The final mark is arrived at as a numerical mean of the marks on individual papers, with the qualification that you must also pass on each paper individually.

Further information on the course, and the examination process, can be found in the course handbook here (information is current for the academic year of publication).

Our graduates have found employment in many and diverse fields including business, finance law, civil service, journalism, government and industry. Many graduates have also undertaken further research into subjects linked with Asian and Middle Eastern studies and have pursued successful careers in the academic world, education and in museums.


While studying for the MSt in Bible Interpretation at Oxford you will have access to the major holdings of the Bodleian Library and its associated central libraries, the collections of the Nizami Ganjavi Library, (which holds many Syriac books), the Art, Archaeology and Ancient World Library Library (Classics and the Ancient Near East), the Philosophy and Theology Faculties Library (for patristic writers), and the Leopold Muller Memorial Library. at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies — especially the Louis Jacobs Collection, a recent acquisition in the field of Rabbinics.

In addition to this, there are a number of other specialist library collections in Oxford that focus on Asian and Middle Eastern studies, such as:

The Khalili Research Centre is the University of Oxford's centre for research and teaching in the art and material culture of the Islamic societies of the Middle East and of non-Muslim members and neighbours.

A limited amount of grant money for trips abroad (eg for supplementary language study during vacations) may be sought from the Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies.

You will also have access to the University's centrally provided electronic resources, the department's IT Officer and other bibliographic, archive or material sources as appropriate to the research topic. There is a computing room for the use of graduate students at 1 Pusey Lane, as well as a common room where tea and coffee are available and staff and students can meet.

Sources of funding

Applications received for this course by the January deadline will also be considered for funding if applications fulfill the eligibility criteria. Please use the University's fees, funding and scholarship search tool to find what funding you may be eligible for.

The Faculty has a number of scholarships and funding opportunities across a wide range of subjects. Please see here for a list of these opportunities. A limited amount of grant money for trips abroad (eg for supplementary language study during vacations) may be sought from the Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies.