Biblical Studies

The modern discipline of biblical studies has been around arguably since the Reformation but its existence as a separate discipline from Christian theology began in the late 19th century with the rise of historical critical methods. With the onset of historical critical methods scholars focused their attentions on the biblical text by asking questions of who might have been the author(s) who wrote the material and the communities they were writing to/for/about. In the academy at the undergraduate level my concern is to introduce students to these methods so that they may better understand the milieu in which the biblical text was written. Here at McGill this includes /has included courses such as RELG 202, [popup url=’′] RELG 302 [/popup], and RELG 303.

The historical critical of approaches of Source criticism, Form Criticism, Traditio-Historical and Canon Criticism are employed when trying to arrive at the historical theological meaning of text. But what of the historical and contemporary uses of the text in the two on going faith communities which claim the Hebrew bible as authoritative? The various literary approaches and reception critical approaches to the Hebrew bible factor in to this area of biblical studies and include another area I am interested in namely feminist approaches to the biblical text. Courses such as [popup url=’′] RELG 313 [/popup] and [popup url=’′] RELG 314 [/popup] are examples of these synchronic approaches.

There are of course basic skills which allow someone to progress in the discipline at deeper and more precise levels and chief amongst these is knowledge of the languages both of the bible and the period of its formation. And so the teaching of biblical Hebrew and Aramaic both at the primary and secondary levels has always been a passion with me. Courses such as RELG390, [popup url=’′] RELG 491 & 492 [/popup] and RELG520. For those at the graduate level there is an opportunity to study Ugaritic which is the closest cognate language to biblical Hebrew prior to 1200 B.C.E..


Alongside of Biblical Studies is the discipline of archaeology which has long been associated with the historical reconstruction of the biblical period. The study of this particular discipline has been studied in conjunction with a field study component created specifically for [popup url=’′] RELG 555 [/popup]. In the past 10 years the field component has been organized in conjunction with the the Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology, Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, Jerusalem and Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, Cincinnati and its ongoing work at Tel Dan.

Tel Dan is located in the Hula valley, where the largest tributary of the Jordan River begins its course south. In the Hebrew Bible, the site is also referred to as Laish (Genesis 14:14; Joshua 19:47; Judges 18:29). The name appears in ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian texts dating from the 19th to the 15th century BCE. Massive ramparts and an intact mud-brick gate with three complete arches dating to approximately 1750 BCE were uncovered, the gate being one of the earliest found anywhere. The discipline of archaeology as it pertains to the biblical text has made some significant paradigm changes in its efforts to distinguish itself from earlier endeavors which saw itself as a proving ground for the historicity of biblical narratives. Often referred to as ‘Biblical Archaeology’ this sub discipline is now known as Syro-Palestinian Archaeology.

Some of the most volatile debates within the discipline of Biblical Studies have emerged as part of the larger discussion of what constitutes History, Historiography, and History Writing. Many of these debates have sought to delineate between those biblical narratives which were historically accurate and those narratives which were not on the basis of undeclared theological bias as opposed to evidential argument. Hence the search for a definition of history which could be used in the biblical context as the word History never appears in the biblical text but is rather a later concept. The Graduate seminars of [popup url=’′] RELG 605 [/popup] and [popup url=’′] RELG 607 [/popup] offer the student of biblical studies the opportunity of looking more closely at some of the thinking that has shaped the theories around biblical composition and transmission.

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