Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Notes on Modern Scribal Training

In consequence of something I mentioned earlier (here), A friend of mine (who is a physician) asked if it is true that one can become a biblical scholar without taking any archaeology or history classes.

Here are only the coursework requirements (not teaching, writing, or dissertation requirements) from a number of Ph.D. programs in biblical studies. All of these programs have good reputations:


A certain amount of coursework is required:
Three years of full-time residence are required at the normal rate of at least seven term courses each academic year.
These courses could cover many subjects but the following are required:
Students in the Bible and Ancient Near East concentration (BANE) must establish competence in biblical Hebrew, Akkadian, Northwest Semitic Languages, and two secondary research languages (normally German and French); in addition, students focusing on Bible must establish competence in modern Hebrew as a research language. 
Aside from demonstrating competence in five different languages, no other courses or subjects are listed as required.

This is supported by this paragraph:
Students in the BANE doctoral program take courses for the first three years. Typically a student will take four courses each semester (the minimum full time load is seven courses per year). In a typical semester, a student will take a course in Hebrew Bible, Akkadian and Northwest Semitics, with a fourth text or content course. (The latter includes courses such as Ancient Near Eastern Religion and Mythology, Women in the Bible, Near Eastern Law, Dead Sea Scrolls, etc.) The fourth course may be chosen in accordance with a student's ultimate specialty. Students interested in grammar or semitics are encouraged to study Arabic; those who want to do textual criticism should study Greek. Each student is to consult with all BANE faculty members about course selection at the beginning of each semester.
So Brandeis does not require courses in archaeology or history.


This is complicated because there are a number of different degrees. If one wants to get a degree in Religion with an emphasis in Hebrew Bible, then the following is required:
A high standard of reading proficiency in two modern languages of secondary scholarship relevant to a student's course of study (in addition to English) is required. This proficiency is to be demonstrated through coursework or by exam after enrollment in the program. A student and his or her adviser will determine the choice of the two modern languages, which should not be confused with primary source languages necessary for the specialization. Typically French and German are selected as modern languages of secondary scholarship, however in certain fields other modern languages are more relevant.
In addition:
The committee requires of each student satisfactory completion of two common seminars in the first two years (normally in the first and fourth term of study), and in addition two courses outside the specialty, focusing on a religious tradition, a geographical-historical complex or a methodological approach other than the one a student elects as the context of study.
 For Hebrew Bible specifically, the requirements are:
The field of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament requires students to pursue a number of languages to attain the requisite proficiency of a scholar in the field. These include biblical Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and German. Students often study others, such as Akkadian, Ugaritic, Egyptian, Modern Hebrew, and French, as well.
No other specific courses are required. The student will face the following four examinations:
  1. The language and textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.
  2. Issue in Biblical Scholarship, which concentrates on literary, historical, theological, and hermeneutical issues.
  3. An area of concentration, of which the most common are (a) the religion of ancient Israel and the comparative study of religion, (b) pre-exilic history, (c) post-exilic Second Temple history, (d) late Second Temple, early rabbinic, and early Christian interpretation of the Hebrew Bible, and (d) theology of the Hebrew Bible. Students work out their area of concentration with the faculty.
  4. A special topic, to be worked out in consultation with the relevant faculty.
Through the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, two different Ph.D. programs are offered: Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, and the Hebrew Bible in its Jewish Interpretive Context. Both have the following course requirements:
PhD candidates are required to complete a minimum of sixteen half-courses or the equivalent. Particular requirements of certain fields of study may require additional coursework.
The primary language requirements are:
The major language of the student’s field of research is normally one of the fields of the general examinations.
In addition, all students are expected to have or acquire knowledge of a second departmental language. The minimum level of competence expected in this requirement is a grade of B in the final examination of a second-year course in the language.
Instead of such language coursework, a student may demonstrate the equivalent level of competence in a required language by taking a special examination administered by a member of the faculty.
If a second departmental language is included in the general examinations, the level of competence will be significantly greater than that ­required in a second-year language course examination.
The modern language requirements are as follows:
Each student must demonstrate reading proficiency in two modern languages of secondary scholarship (other than English) of direct relevance to their proposed subject of study. One of these languages must be either French or German.
But one should note the following:
Courses in the languages of modern scholarship do not count toward the required sixteen half-courses or the equivalent (see above).
Though courses are offered in biblical archaeology, it does not appear that anyone is required to take them. Courses in history seem to be encouraged but not required.

Johns Hopkins:

This is the university where Albight taught. A number of languages are required:
The study of the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible forms the core of the program.  Students read a wide variety of texts in Hebrew each semester.   The three-year cycle of courses currently includes Archaic Biblical Poetry, Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomistic History (Book of Kings), Prophetic Literature (The Book of Ezekiel), Wisdom Literature (The Book of Job, Qohelet [=Ecclesiastes]) and Persian Period Texts. The approach of each course varies yet common methodologies include textual criticism, historical linguistics, literary criticism, and the application of socio-scientific methods.
Other ancient languages are also required:
 The academic study of the Hebrew Bible as an ancient Near Eastern text requires additional training in cognate languages.  In addition to a student’s minor language (two-three years of Akkadian and/or Egyptian, on which see below), students must also master other languages in the Northwest Semitic language family especially Aramaic and Ugaritic.
Johns Hopkins is one of the rare programs in biblical studies to emphasize epigraphy:
Students are trained in epigraphic methods (both conventional and digital) through dedicated courses covering epigraphic Hebrew, Aramaic, Phoenician and Moabite as well as texts that resist easy classification such as the TransJordanian Deir Alla texts.  In addition, the advanced course in Aramaic deals almost exclusively with epigraphic Aramaic (especially concentrating on Old Aramaic inscriptions).  All Ugaritic texts are read from the original alphabetic cuneiform inscriptions.
They also emphasize placing the Bible in its ancient Near Eastern milieu which means studying history:
Most noticeable is our requirement that all students complete a three-year Near Eastern history cycle--a year each of Egyptian history, Mesopotamian history, and Syro-Palestinian history.  Seminars (e.g. The Seminar in Israelite Religion) regularly situate topics under discussion (e.g. Divinity, Royal Cult, Domestic Religion, Sacred Space, Blood Rituals, Divination) in their broader ancient Near Eastern cultural context.
Johns Hopkins is exceptional in emphasizing material culture:
All students in Hebrew Bible/Northwest Semitics are strongly encouraged to study material culture.  Through the efforts of William Foxwell Albright, Johns Hopkins was the institution that gave birth to the discipline of  Syro-Palestinian Archaeology (formerly termed “Biblical Archaeology”). We have a very strong graduate program in Near Eastern Archaeology, one of our four areas of concentration. 
The strong encouragement is good, but there seems to be no archaeology requirement but history is required.


There are three different ways to study the Hebrew Bible at Yale: One is through the Department of Religious Studies, one is through the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.

In Religious Studies, one must take the following languages:
Language prerequisites for admission to graduate study in the field are as follows: two or more years of Biblical Hebrew (most applicants have more than two years); some Greek; and a reading knowledge of German and French. Proficiency in German must be demonstrated on entrance and proficiency in French must be demonstrated before the beginning of the third year. Proficiency in German and French is demonstrated by (1) passing an examination administered by the department; (2) by accreditation from a Yale Summer School course designed for this purpose; or (3) by achieving a grade of A or B in one of Yale’s intermediate language courses. During the first two years of course work, students must take at least one semester of Biblical Aramaic, if they have not already studied that language, and they must take a full year of Ugaritic. Students normally take at least a year of another ancient language, usually Akkadian, although in some cases Arabic, Greek, Egyptian, or further work in Aramaic may be appropriate.
Additionally, they must take other courses:
Each student must take at least one graduate seminar in OT/HB and at least one of the following advanced Hebrew courses each semester: Rapid Reading and the Syntax of Hebrew Prose, Problems in Biblical Hebrew Poetry, Problems in the History of the Hebrew Language, Text Criticism. Students normally fill in the remainder of their course schedules with aditional language work, biblical seminars, or courses in related fields, such as New Testament, Judaic Studies, Classics, Anthropology, or Literary Criticism.
There is no archaeology requirement and no history requirement and no courses are listed.

Through Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, things have changed:
 The Department of Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations no longer maintains an active independent doctoral program in Northwest Semitic languages, Bible, or Comparative Semitics, although courses in Ugaritic, Hebrew, Aramaic, and cognate languages are regularly available in the Department. Students interested in doctoral study in Bible and Northwest Semitic languages or in the history, culture, and religion of Israel are advised to consult the Department of Religious Studies.
 So neither archaeology nor history is required.


So the short answer to the question is that one can get a good Ph.D. in biblical studies from a very reputable university without any exposure to archaeology. This does not, of course, mean that all those with doctoral degrees from these institutions have necessarily gotten their degrees without exposure to archaeology or history, just that such courses of study have not been required. That top programs in biblical studies do not require either history or archaeology says something about how biblical studies in conceived by its practitioners.