The Ancient World

The study of any ancient civilization is always a complex endeavor. It involves not only knowledge of the artifacts left by that civilization but also their possible meanings. In order to understand their meaning they need to be contextualized. In the case of ancient Israel, this means that knowledge of the ancient civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia is necessary, along with many other cultures that had a significant influence on ancient Israelite political, familial and religious expressions, and include Ugarit, Phoenician, and Canaanite cultures.

We are fortunate that the great civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia left behind not only monumental structures of their various public institutions but also texts written on clay tablets and walls of the various pyramids and palaces in Egypt. Much of this information was discovered in the 19th century when the languages of these great civilizations was deciphered but the role of archaeology is still very pertinent throughout the Middle East as findings are unearthed from those areas often referred to as the fertile crescent.

Of interest to me is that the languages of these great civilizations created literatures with certain similar literary forms. So, for example, the literary form of myth employed in Egypt and Mesopotamia has certain similarities with the stories found in Genesis 1-11. There are of course the great narratives of the Bible that tell of ancient Israel’s dealings with the rulers of Egypt and Mesopotamia and the prophetic oracles which speak of Israel’s political foes and allies. There are also the great texts in the Hebrew Bible, referred to as wisdom texts, which have a long heritage in earlier writings from both Mesopotamia and Egypt. Indeed every institution written about by the biblical writers has a counterpart in either or both of these civilizations.

These contexts therefore are important to understand as they can shed so much light on the meaning of the biblical text and the ways in which these texts were composed transmitted and received.

At McGill we offer only a couple of courses at the undergraduate level which deal in total or in part with ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. Students wishing to examine the ancient cultures of Egypt and Mesopotamia at the graduate level are encouraged to look at the programs offered at the University of Toronto in their Ancient Near Eastern Studies Programs.

If, on the other hand, your primary interest is the Hebrew text and the historical critical questions arising from the text and want to pursue graduate work concentrating on a particular book of the Hebrew bible then please contact me.  Presently I am working in three areas: the first, the Book of Genesis with a focus on transmission theory. Secondly, I am also interested in the conclusions arrived at by Folktale Studies and how these conclusions can help in our understanding of oral narrative composition and transmission. Thirdly, I am continuing research in the area of liturgical language and its impact on promoting gender equality within faith communities. If you are interested in any of these areas or another related area not mentioned I would welcome hearing from you.

Relevant Publications