Skip to main content

Hebrew Bible and Ancient Israel

PURPOSE. The Ph.D. program is designed to prepare a student for teaching and advanced scholarship in the Hebrew Bible and its historical, literary, and cultural contexts. The area, however, is not considered narrowly but is to be viewed in the broader perspective of ancient and classical civilizations, the history of religions, and the methods appropriate for study.

ADMISSION REQUIREMENTS. Students applying for admission to the program are expected to have adequate preparation to carry out advanced study in the Hebrew Bible and to possess a knowledge of the requisite languages (see below). Deficiencies in preparation must be made up as part of the orientation program described under the policies and procedures of the Graduate Department of Religion.

RANGE OF STUDIES. Although each student is to select a major area of concentration and a minor field of studies, all students are required to give evidence of a competent grasp of the broad field of critical biblical scholarship. Such competence should include problems of method and interpretation as well as a general understanding of the contents of the literature, the history of the period, and the broader cultural context.

COMPETENCE IN LANGUAGES. Candidates for the Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible must demonstrate a reading knowledge of two of the following modern languages: French, German, Spanish, Modern Hebrew, the student's native language if not English, or another research language approved on petition to the faculty. French or German must be one of the languages on which to be tested. With respect to ancient languages, each student is required to demonstrate an advanced proficiency in Hebrew and a substantial knowledge of Aramaic and Greek. The facility in Greek is to be certified by an instructor on the faculty, and the Aramaic requirement can be satisfied by successfully completing the Department's course or its equivalent at another institution. Each student should be prepared to learn such other languages, ancient or modern, as may appear requisite for the pursuit of her or his scholarly interests. A detailed description of ancient languages available for study in the Department is available. For additional information, see Hebrew Bible Area: Languages.

HEBREW LANGUAGE EXAMINATION. In fulfillment of the competency requirement for Hebrew, each student must take a written examination, four hours in length, to demonstrate ability both to work with the language and, if asked, to teach it. Language examinations are given twice a year at the beginning of the semester (August and January) and must be passed before the student may take the Qualifying Examinations. Prior to taking this examination a student should consult with the adviser in the field about its scope and format.

Taking the Hebrew Examination. Because preparation and evaluation of the Hebrew Language Examination require a significant investment of faculty time and resources, the department urges students to weigh seriously the decision to sit for either the January or August administration of the language examination. Accordingly, once a student schedules an exam, that student may withdraw up to thirty days prior to the examination without penalty. Any non-excused withdrawal within thirty days of the examination will require that student to skip the next scheduled examination, in effect awaiting a full year before sitting again for the exam. It is understood that only the severest conditions, generally confirmable by medical authority, will provide a valid excuse for withdrawal one month before the examination.

REQUIRED COURSES. Three courses are required of every Ph.D. student in Hebrew Bible: The History of Ancient Israel, which combines discussion of historiographical methods with a study of key periods in Israelite history; Exegesis Seminar, in which each student will prepare an exegetical paper on an approved text; and, to enhance familiarity with the wider context, either Cultures of the Ancient Near or Literature in the Ancient Near East.

MAJOR FIELD. No later than the beginning of the final year of course work and well in advance of taking the Qualifying Examinations, each student will, in consultation with the faculty, develop a program of concentration emphasizing independent study and directed research, with the aim of acquiring a more detailed grasp of the materials, methods, and literature of this area. The area of concentration will ordinarily comprise the broader context within which the student plans to locate her or his dissertation research. Some examples of major fields are: the social world of ancient Israel; Yehud and the Persian period; wisdom literature; prophecy; worship in ancient Israel; literary analysis of Hebrew narrative; textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible.

MINOR FIELD. The minor field, consisting of a minimum of twelve hours of course work taken normally at Vanderbilt, may be chosen for its supportive role in contributing to the student's particular research interest or for its value in preparation for teaching. In the latter case, it is important for the student to anticipate eventual teaching placement and to consider acquiring secondary competence in an ancillary or related field in which biblical instructors may be called upon to contribute to a liberal arts program. Some examples of the minor area are: ancient Near Eastern civilizations; Judaism in Late Antiquity; New Testament; history of religions; early Church history; theology; Greek classics; philosophy; linguistics; archaeology; and anthropology. The student should select the minor area by the beginning of the second year in the program. Faculty in the minor field, together with the student's Ph.D. adviser, will assist in the selection of courses.

PROSPECTUS FOR QUALIFYING EXAMINATIONS. In the semester prior to sitting for the Qualifying Examinations, the student will prepare a prospectus covering the following items and will meet with the faculty in the Hebrew Bible area for discussion and approval of it, after which a copy is to be retained on file in the Departmental office:

1. Title of the major area.

2. Title of the minor area and statement of how the requirement for the minor area will be satisfied, as negotiated with the minor area adviser.

3. List of Ph.D. Committee members, specifying first reader, second reader, GDR member outside the Hebrew Bible area, and non-GDR member of the Graduate School faculty. All Hebrew Bible faculty in the Department will normally serve on all Ph.D. Committees in the area. The minor area adviser will also normally be a member of the committee.

4. Preliminary descriptions of two dissertation topics that differ in content and scope (not more than 500 words each).

5. Reading list for the major area, plus any addenda to the four reading lists supplied by the area.

READING LISTS FOR QUALIFYING EXAMINATIONS. The faculty in Hebrew Bible has prepared several reading lists of basic publications with which all students taking the Qualifying Examinations should be familiar. These lists are subject to change and updating as necessary.
The lists treat the following areas:

1. History of Ancient Israel

2. Methods and History of Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible

3. One of the following, depending on the examination to be taken: Religion in Ancient Israel; Literature of the Ancient Near East; or Social World of the Ancient Near East.

4. Miscellaneous

QUALIFYING EXAMINATIONS. After completion of at least 48 course hours and passage of the language examinations the student may take the Qualifying Examinations. The written parts of the examinations are administered at the times specified by the Graduate School, and each examination will last a total of five hours. The oral discussion with the examiners and the oral examination with the student's Ph.D. Committee are held within four weeks after the written portions are completed. The parts of the Qualifying Examinations receiving a separate grade are ## 2, 3, 4, 5, and 7; the oral discussion (# 6) will be taken into consideration in the grading:

1. A draft of a dissertation proposal, to be submitted and approved by the first two readers prior to commencement of the written examinations.

2. A written examination on the history of ancient Israel, including questions of historiographical method. The student's area of concentration will be given special consideration.

3. A written examination on the methods and history of interpretation of the Hebrew Bible since ca. 1750 C.E. The student's area of concentration will be given special consideration.

4. A written examination on one of the following options: religion in ancient Israel; the literature of the ancient Near East, or the social world of the ancient Near East.

5. Demonstration of competence in the minor area, to be ascertained and certified by a faculty member in that field in conjunction with the student's Ph.D. adviser. The student's interests and purposes in the selection of the minor area will be taken into consideration. There are two options for demonstrating competence in the minor area:

a. Written work such as a paper, a series of essays, a bibliographic essay, or a detailed course syllabus with lecture outlines. This work is to be submitted prior to the beginning of the other written parts of the Qualifying Examinations.

b. A written examination on subjects within the minor area.

The minor area adviser, the student, and the Ph.D. adviser should, as soon in the program as possible, agree on the means for satisfying this requirement.

6. An oral discussion of the written examinations with the examiners.

7. An oral examination, lasting one to two hours in length, with the full Ph.D. Committee. The student's draft of a proposal for a dissertation topic, submitted prior to the start of the Qualifying Examinations, serves as the basis for the discussion.

CANDIDACY FOR TEACHING FELLOWSHIP IN HEBREW. First-year Hebrew is normally offered in the Fall semester and continues through the Spring semester of the year following. Candidates to a teaching fellowship in Hebrew must pass the Hebrew examination by the end of the January prior to that Fall semester.

DISSERTATION PROPOSAL AND DISSERTATION. The dissertation proposal is to be completed no later than six months after the end of the Qualifying Examinations. The proposal is prepared in consultation with the primary adviser(s), is then to be reviewed and approved by the Ph.D. Committee, and is submitted to the Graduate Department of Religion faculty for approval. Guidelines for the preparation of proposals are available in the Departmental office. During the writing of the dissertation the student should, as appropriate, consult with members of the committee. For details on submitting the final draft of the dissertation and arranging the defense, consult the Departmental guidelines.

NOTE: This description of requirements supplements The Bulletin of Vanderbilt University Graduate School and "The Guidelines of the Graduate Department of Religion." Students are expected to meet all of the common requirements of the graduate program as described in those publications.

Hebrew Bible Area: Languages.

Reading Lists for Qualifying Examinations