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History and Religion of Ancient Israel - 20 credits (RT2301)

Module Tutor: Dr Daniel King

Summary of course content

The module examines what can be known about the history and religion of ancient Israel and Judah, principally from the time of the origins of an entity or entities which can be recognised as such to about the time of the conquest of the Near East by Alexander the Great (late 4th century B.C.).  It also examines the ways in which the account of that history and religion in the ‘Old Testament’, otherwise known as the ‘Hebrew Bible’, may be read and interpreted.  In studying the history of this ancient community or communities, the emphasis will be on those aspects of it which are of most interest for the understanding of ‘Old Testament religion’.

Credits: 20 

Availability of module: alternate years only

Prerequisites: N/A

Necessary for: N/A


  1. Provide a general understanding of the history and religion of ‘ancient Israel’ (itself a term, the meaning of which may not be unproblematic) from its beginnings (concerning which there is much debate) to the end of the Persian period (and later, inasmuch as what happened or is evidenced later is relevant to the assessment of what happened or is described as having happened earlier).
  2. Develop an appreciation of the scholarly methods used in the investigation of these matters, and of the reasons for the diversity of interpretation in this area.
  3. Explore issues concerning the interpretation of the Old Testament, particularly of those parts of it which give or at least appear to give an account of ‘ancient Israel’ and major figures in it (such as leaders, kings, prophets, psalmists and priests).
  4. While recognising that within this framework expertise in archaeology or Assyriology, Egyptology, etc. is not feasible, nevertheless to open up the issue of how these disciplines can contribute to the questions discussed here and to look at some items of evidence from these fields.
  5. To encourage students to make their own assessments of different methodologies and approaches to the material when they have studied a range of interpretations.

Learning outcomes

  1. To debate and negotiate your way through a range of professionally-held points of view on a sensitive and significant topic; to appreciate strongly held opinions that differ from one’s own; and to communicate those opinions in a critical yet tolerant manner.
  2. To explain to a non-specialist audience the main issues at stake in the subject and why the study of them is both important and inspiring.
  3. To write a carefully structured, coherent, and well-presented essay which suggests and defends a particular hypothesis by means of the interpretation and effective deployment of significant evidence.
  4. To assess the quality of your own work as well as that of others, to pinpoint its strengths and weaknesses and improve upon it through a process of critical reflection.
  5. To arrive at a well-balanced and sophisticated, evidence-based judgement on a question of great importance for modern religion and culture, namely the degree of historicity that may be ascribed to the holy scriptures of the Jews and Christians.

Teaching methods

Lectures and Seminars


2hr examination (75%); coursework and presentation (25%)

Suggested book purchases


Suggested preparatory reading

P. D. Miller, The Religion of Ancient Israel (London, 2000)
I. Finkelstein and N.A. Silberman, The Bible Unearthed (New York and London, 2001)
K.A. Kitchen, The Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans, 2003)