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, to develop research methodologies in the writing of a 15,000-word dissertation and to provide a solid basis in the subject area for those intending to go 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). 

Most teaching for this Masters 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 language exercises or 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.

Assessment and Examination

Assessment takes place at the end of the academic year, and takes the form of three 3-hour examination papers (one on the compulsory core paper, and the other two on prescribed texts), plus a 15,000-word 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; you are required to answer three essay questions (out of at least seven that are set). On both of the two papers chosen as options you will be asked to translate into English three passages out of four from the set texts and comment on points of exegetical and other interest in them, and also to write one essay (out of a choice of four) on the background or aspects of the set texts. You will normally also be examined orally (viva voce), unless individually excused by the examiners.

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.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 Oriental studies and have pursued successful careers in the academic world, education and in museums.


For this course, the allocation of graduate supervision is the responsibility of the Faculty of Oriental Studies and it is not always possible to accommodate the preferences of incoming graduate students to work with a particular member of staff. Under exceptional circumstances a supervisor may be found outside the Faculty of Oriental Studies and Faculty of Theology and Religion.

Entry Requirements

Degree-level and other qualifications, evidence of excellence, relevant experience and Enligsh language requirements for this course can be found here.

Further Information

For further information please refer to our Postgraduate Taught Courses Handbook.