Skip to main content

Unit information: Ancient Jewish Novels in 2018/19

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Ancient Jewish Novels
Unit code THRS30071
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Professor. Gethin
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Religion and Theology
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This unit covers selected literary works that can be roughly described as ancient Jewish novels or novellas of the Second Temple period (sixth century BCE to 70 CE). Texts covered will include canonical and deuterocanonical works such as Ruth, Esther, Judith, Jonah, Tobit, Daniel, and the additions to Daniel. Other texts will be extrabiblical or non-canonical: Joseph and Asenath, The Life of Adam and Eve, and The Testament of Job. The unit will also touch upon compelling narratives from Philo and Josephus that fall into the category of romanticized or historicized tales. The unit will be taught in one three-hour seminar per week, with opportunities for student-led presentation and discussion. The unit will focus on analysis of these texts from historical, literary, theological, and socio-cultural perspectives. Discussion will include debates on the nature of fiction versus myth and legend, sacred versus secular literature, and crossroads in the development of Jewish storytelling.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, students will be able to demonstrate

(1) a detailed knowledge and critical understanding of several ancient Jewish novels;

(2) an in-depth understanding of the evidential and theoretical contexts pertaining to understanding those novels against the relevant historical, theological, and literary backgrounds;

(3) the ability to analyse and evaluate competing scholarly perceptions of the significance of ancient Jewish novels;

(4) an ability to identify and evaluate pertinent evidence/data in order to illustrate/demonstrate a cogent argument;

(5) high-level skills in evaluating, analysing, synthesising and (where apt) critiquing the novelistic aspects of the primary data concerned.

Teaching details

Seminars - 3 hours per week

Assessment Details

One summative coursework essay of 3000 words (50%) and one unseen examination of two hours comprising 2 questions out of 6 (50%) (ILOs 1-5).

Reading and References

  • Bible with Apocrypha (ESV, RSV, or NRSV)
  • OT Guides, Guides to the Apocrypha & Pseudepigrapha, Anchor Bible Commentaries
  • Embry, Herms, and Wright, Early Jewish Literature: An Anthology, 2 volumes (2018)
  • L.M. Wills, The Jewish Novel in the Ancient World (1995)
  • L.M. Wills, Ancient Jewish Novels: An Anthology (2002)
  • Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative, Revised edition. (2011)