Department of Middle Eastern Studies
Department of Middle Eastern Studies

Bruce Wells


Associate ProfessorPhD, Near Eastern Studies, 2003, Johns Hopkins University

Bruce Wells

Contact

Interests


Law, religion, and culture in ancient Israel and Mesopotamia; pentateuchal studies; marriage and family relations in the ancient world

Biography


Bruce Wells is Associate Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas where he specializes in the study of the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East. Wells earned his Ph.D. from the Department of Near Eastern Studies at Johns Hopkins University in 2003. For the next two years, he served as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Religion at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. From 2005–2018, Wells taught in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. During that time, he served for four years as co-Principal Investigator on the NEH-funded collaborative research project, “Neo-Babylonian Trial Procedure,” as a Humboldt Research Fellow at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich from 2008–2009, and as chair of the Biblical Law Section of the Society of Biblical Literature from 2011–2015. He is the author of The Law of Testimony in the Pentateuchal Codes (2004), co-author (with Raymond Westbrook) of Everyday Law in Biblical Israel (2009), and co-author (with F. Rachel Magdalene and Cornelia Wunsch) of Fault, Responsibility, and Administrative Law in Late Babylonian Legal Texts (2019).

Courses


MES 310C • Intro To The Old Testament

41174 • Fall 2021
Meets MWF 10:00AM-11:00AM PAR 203
GC (also listed as J S 311, R S 313C)

This class aims to introduce students to the modern study of the Old Testament. The class will focus on the study of the history, literature, religion, and the Ancient Near Eastern background of the Old Testament.  The final goal is to equip students for more advanced classes and research.

MES 342 • Law/Justice In The Bible

41209 • Fall 2021
Meets MWF 11:00AM-12:00PM GEA 114
GC (also listed as CTI 354L, J S 363, R S 353K)

This course examines the legal traditions of the Torah (Pentateuch) and what they reveal about the practice of law and justice in ancient Israel and the wider biblical world. It then explores the law and legal systems of the broader ancient Near East in order to see how the biblical traditions relate to ideas and practices attested in other societies in the region.Theories concerning ethics and justicewill also be used to provide context for understanding conceptions oflaw and justice in the ancient worldand especially in the Hebrew Bible. Legal topics such as marriage, family structures, litigation, debt, slavery, homicide, theft, false accusation, contracts, and other matters will be examined. The course acquaints students with how various biblical traditions developed over time to form the foundation for later rabbinic and Christian ethical thought.

MEL 301J • The Ancient Middle East

41430 • Spring 2021
Meets MWF 12:00PM-1:00PM UTC 4.122
Hybrid/Blended
(also listed as AHC 310, HIS 306Q, MES 301J)

This course will survey the history of the Middle East from the beginning of the Neolithic period (9000 BCE) through the invasion of the region by Alexander the Great in 332 BCE and into the pre-Islamic era. It will examine the civilizations of ancient Iraq (Sumer, Babylonia, Assyria), Turkey (the Hittites), the Levant (Syria and Palestine), and Iran (the Persians, Parthians, Sasanians). Some attention will be paid to ancient Egypt as well. While the focus will be on political history, the course will also cover important aspects of these societies’ culture, law, religion, and daily life.

MEL 380C • Akkadian II

41445 • Spring 2021
Meets MW 10:00AM-11:30AM CAL 422
Hybrid/Blended

This course is a continuation of the first semester of Akkadian. As such, it will continue to train the student in the basic grammar, morphology, and syntax of Akkadian, the language used in ancient Babylonia and Assyria. More time will be directed this semester toward learning and understanding the system of cuneiform signs utilized by the Akkadian language. Since Huehnergard’s grammar will be the focus of the course, the student will concentrate on the grammar and script of the Old Babylonian period. Students will be exposed to the Neo-Assyrian script and to other dialects of Akkadian, but they will be held responsible only for learning Old Babylonian. Other objectives of the course include understanding the use of Sumerian logograms in the Akkadian language, an introduction to the research tools used in the field of Assyriology, and direct exposure to various kinds of extant Akkadian literature. The latter goal will be accomplished by reading texts such as contracts, court records, letters, omens, and selections from the Code of Hammurabi.

MES F342 • Law/Justice In The Bible

81450 • Summer 2020
Meets MTWTHF 11:30AM-1:00PM
Two-way Interactive Video
GC (also listed as R S F353)

This course examines the legal traditions of the Torah (Pentateuch) and what they reveal about the practice of law and justice in ancient Israel and the wider biblical world. It then explores the reuse of these traditions in other portions of the Hebrew Bible and the growth of related traditions in prophetic and wisdom literature. Legal and ethical theories will also be used to provide context for understanding ideas about law and justice in the ancient world. The course acquaints students with how various biblical traditions developed over time to form the foundation for later rabbinic and Christian ethical thought.

MEL 321 • Debating Genesis

40735 • Spring 2020
Meets MWF 9:00AM-10:00AM PAR 306
GC (also listed as J S 363, MES 342, R S 353)

The biblical book of Genesis has been the subject of vigorous debate for centuries, and current scholarship continues to argue about many aspects of the book. Some of the main controversies have included the authorship of Genesis, the degree to which it can be considered historical, and whether its stories borrowed ideas from other ancient literature. This course will deal with those issues and will also consider recent scholarship on additional questions. Why are the book’s stories full of sex, deception, and betrayal? In what ways did these stories communicate religious ideas? And why were these stories important for the identity of ancient Israel? The course will give students the chance to examine the book of Genesis in depth and to familiarize themselves with related literature from the ancient Middle East.

MES 343 • Origins Of Monotheism

40340 • Spring 2020
Meets MWF 11:00AM-12:00PM MEZ 1.120
GC (also listed as J S 364, R S 358)

Like many ideas, the notion of a single God has a long and complicated history. This course explores where and how it all began. The primary focus will be on understanding the emergence of the Israelite god, Yahweh, belief in whom became the foundation for the world’s three major monotheistic faiths—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. How did Yahweh go from being revered as one god among many to being considered the one and only God? The course will look at texts from the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Transjordan, and the ancient city of Ugarit in Syria. The Ugaritic texts, in particular, provide important insight into many of the ideas that shaped the development of Yahweh-worship in ancient Israel. Students will discover how the idea of monotheism developed over time and explore the question of its value and legacy.

HEB 380C • The Bible In Hebrew I

40235 • Fall 2019
Meets TH 3:30PM-6:30PM CAL 422

Please contact the graduate coordinator for more information.

MES 310 • Intro To The Old Testament

39880 • Fall 2019
Meets TTH 11:00AM-12:30PM MEZ B0.306
GC (also listed as CTI 305G, J S 311, R S 313C)

This course will examine the biblical traditions and texts of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament as products of particular historical and cultural communities—namely, ancient Israel and Judah—and as literary and religious documents. It will look at what we know about where the texts of the Hebrew Bible came from, who wrote them, why they were written, and what changes were made to them over time. The course will treat the texts as both pre-Jewish and pre-Christian, since the vast majority of them were written before Judaism and Christianity came into existence. The course will also consider how an understanding of ancient Near Eastern history and culture can illumine biblical texts and ask to what degree these texts and their authors were influenced by historical and cultural factors.

MES 342 • Law/Justice In The Bible

39930 • Fall 2019
Meets TTH 9:30AM-11:00AM PAR 203
GC (also listed as R S 353)

This course examines the legal traditions of the Torah (Pentateuch) and what they reveal about the practice of law and justice in ancient Israel and the wider biblical world. It then explores the reuse of these traditions in other portions of the Hebrew Bible and the growth of related traditions in prophetic and wisdom literature. Legal and ethical theories will also be used to provide context for understanding ideas about law and justice in the ancient world. The course acquaints students with how various biblical traditions developed over time to form the foundation for later rabbinic and Christian ethical thought.

MEL 383 • Biblical Law

41195 • Spring 2019
Meets M 3:00PM-6:00PM CAL 422

This seminar considers the nature and function of the Pentateuchal texts or legal collections that typically fall into the category of biblical law. In addition, the seminar examines the relationships among the collections. Current scholarly theories seek to answer a number of questions related to these topics. First, should we consider the statements contained in the biblical collections as actual laws that were enforced in ancient Israel and Judah or as items used more for the purpose of training scribes or simply advocating moral ideals? Second, how do these collections relate to the narratives concerning the formation of the covenant between Yahweh and the Israelites? Were they added after the completion of the narratives, or were they integral to the narrative in key respects? Third, how should we order the collections chronologically? The most controversial issue has to do with the relationship between the Deuteronomic Collection and the Holiness Source. Scholars differ vigorously regarding which collection predates the other. Finally, the course will also look at ancient Near Eastern law more broadly, the role of legal theory in interpreting biblical law, and texts outside the Pentateuch that are relevant to these issues.

MES 343 • Origins Of Monotheism

40715 • Spring 2019
Meets MW 10:00AM-11:30AM MEZ 1.120
GCII (also listed as J S 364, R S 358)

The leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, claims that Jews, Christians, and Muslims worship the same God. A professor at a Christian college in Illinois was essentially let go by the college in 2016 for making the same claim. The college judged the claim to be wrong. So, who’s right—the pope or the college? Although history cannot settle the theological dispute, it can shed important light on the question. This course looks at where the idea of a single God came from. Like many ideas, this notion has a long and complicated history, and the course explores where and how it all began. The primary focus will be on understanding the emergence of the Israelite god, Yahweh, belief in whom became the foundation for the world’s three major monotheistic faiths—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. How did Yahweh go from being revered as one god among many to being considered the one and only God? And is this the “God” worshipped by Jews, Christians, and Muslims today? The course will look at texts from the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Transjordan, and the ancient city of Ugarit in Syria. The Ugaritic texts, in particular, provide important insight into many of the ideas that shaped the development of Yahweh-worship in ancient Israel. Students will discover how the idea of monotheism developed over time and explore the question of its value and legacy.

MEL 321 • Debating Genesis

41397 • Fall 2018
Meets TTH 11:00AM-12:30PM MEZ B0.302
GC (also listed as J S 363, MES 342, R S 353)

The biblical book of Genesis has been the subject of vigorous debate for centuries, and current scholarship continues to argue about many aspects of the book. Some of the main controversies have included the authorship of Genesis, the degree to which it can be considered historical, and whether its stories borrowed ideas from other ancient literature. This course will deal with those issues and will also consider recent scholarship on additional questions. Why are the book’s stories full of sex, deception, and betrayal? In what ways did these stories communicate religious ideas? And why were these stories important for the identity of ancient Israel? The course will give students the chance to examine the book of Genesis in depth and to familiarize themselves with related literature from the ancient Near East.

MES 310 • Intro To The Old Testament

40790 • Fall 2018
Meets TTH 9:30AM-11:00AM CBA 4.326
GC (also listed as CTI 305G, J S 311, R S 313C)

This course will examine the biblical traditions and texts of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament as products of particular historical and cultural communities—namely, ancient Israel and Judah—and as literary and religious documents. It will look at what we know about where the texts of the Hebrew Bible came from, who wrote them, why they were written, and what changes were made to them over time. The course will treat the texts as both pre-Jewish and pre-Christian, since the vast majority of them were written before Judaism and Christianity came into existence. The course will also consider how an understanding of ancient Near Eastern history and culture can illumine biblical texts and ask to what degree these texts and their authors were influenced by historical and cultural factors.

Curriculum Vitae


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