Department of Religious Studies

Religion in the Ancient Mediterranean

General Information
Major FieldsPreparation for Admission
Program Requirements
Qualifying Exams Languages

General Information

This concentration area deals with the character and interactions of the ancient religious traditions of the Mediterranean, including Ancient Israel and its neighbors, Greco-Roman culture, ancient Judaism, and early Christianity. Students will develop primary expertise in one of the areas of specialization listed below; they will also do significant work in two of the others. There will be a strong emphasis on mastery of the requisite languages and on a range of appropriate methodologies. In addition, all students will receive training in archaeological analysis so that they can deal with the literature and the material culture of these traditions. The chronological span is from the Ancient Near Eastern to the Hellenistic period and from the Hellenistic-Roman to the Late Antique period. Graduates will be prepared for Religious Studies appointments that involve research and teaching in the major fields listed below.

Major Fields

  • Hebrew Bible & Religions of the Ancient Near East
  • Formative and Classical Judaism
  • Greco-Roman Religion
  • New Testament, Christian Origins, Ancient Christianity
  • Religions of Late Antiquity

Preparation for Admission

Applicants should have a strong academic record in one of the standard disciplines of the Humanities and Liberal Arts curriculum, with specific training in one or more of the core disciplinary areas listed above. Specialized coursework in historical-critical approaches to the ancient world, its history, cultures, and literatures, provides a solid grounding for advanced work. Ancient languages are an essential tool of this field of study, and applicants should not expect to be ready to begin doctoral level of study without significant mastery of three primary research languages (Greek, Latin, and Hebrew). Students should have advanced level of preparation in at least one of these primary research languages and, at minimum, beginning levels in the others. Students should ideally have reading competency in one or both of the modern scholarly languages (typically German and French) upon entering the program. Prospective students will often find that prior post-graduate studies in one or more of these specialized areas is beneficial for successful application and progress toward doctoral candidacy. Most students will enter at the master's level and advance to doctoral candidacy after completion of preliminary requirements (see below).

Program Requirements 

In addition to the general program requirements, students in Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean will complete at least four of the following courses, depending on their Major Field and selected in consultation with area faculty advisers and the Graduate Adviser:

R S 385H. Proseminar in Ancient Near Eastern Studies (same as MES 381)
A survey of methods and approaches of study in the Ancient Near Eastern and early Hebrew environment.

R S 385K. Early Jewish and Christian Literature I
A survey of major categories of early Jewish and Christian literature by genre in light of comparative historical research.

R S 385L. Early Jewish and Christian Literature II
A survey of major categories of early Jewish and Christian literature by genre in light of comparative historical research.

R S 386C. Critical Problems in Christian Origins
An introduction to key scholarly work and critical approaches to the study of Christian origins in its historical, social, and cultural contexts.

R S 386H. Critical Problems in Hebrew Bible (same as HEB 380C - Advanced Hebrew Bible)
An advanced study of critical problems in research on key areas of study in the Hebrew Bible and its environment.

R S 386M. Critical Problems in Ancient Mediterranean Religions
An introduction to key scholarly work and critical approaches to the study of religion in the Ancient Mediterranean in historical, cultural, and archaeological contexts.

Students will take additional courses, including primary language and research seminars, chosen in consultation with their faculty advisor, in preparation for the qualifying exams listed below.

Qualifying Examinations

Ph.D. candidates in Religious Studies are required to pass a set of qualifying examinations. The exams will be in four fields and will consist of written essays for each field and an oral defense of the essays. They are:  

  1. Major Field: The Major Field exam is based on one of the Major Fields, listed above.
  2. Supporting Fields: Two Supporting Fields are selected from the fields listed above.
  3. Thematic Field: The goal of the thematic exam is to demonstrate mastery of particular theoretical and/or methodological materials for use in dissertation research. The exam focuses on one theme, method, theory, or phenomenon in the study of religion that is relevant to the student’s primary interests. There are innumerable possible foci, including ritual, gender, violence, identity, diaspora, ethnicity, economy and religion, anthropology of religion, intertextuality, etc.  Reading and preparation for the exam normally requires students to deal with materials from historical and cultural settings outside the ancient Mediterranean world that have demonstrable potential for informing the student’s primary areas of research.  The focus is selected in consultation with the student’s advisers. 
  4. Special Topic/Dissertation Field: Like the Thematic Field, the Special Topic/Dissertation Field is intended to prepare the student for dissertation work. Where the Thematic Field is directed at theoretical and methodological issues, the Special Topic/Dissertation Field deals with the specific area(s) of research within the student’s major field from which s/he will develop a dissertation topic. The topic is selected in consultation with the student’s advisers.  


AMR students must demonstrate competence in the following languages:

Primary (ancient) languages: (three required)

  • Greek **
  • Latin *
  • Hebrew *
    Others: Syriac, Aramaic, Coptic

Secondary/scholarly languages: (two required)

  • German **
  • French or Italian *
    Others: e.g., Spanish, Arabic

** required of all students
*   normal expectation, but others may be substituted by petition

Faculty advisors will consult with entering students about language preparation and placement.

Area Faculty

Steven Friesen, L.F. Boyer Professor of Biblical Studies
Ph.D., Harvard University
Areas: Social history of the early Christian churches / Roman imperial cults / Revelation and apocalypticism / indigenous religions / social locations and functions of religion

Karl Galinsky, F.A. Cailloux Centennial Professor of Classics
Ph.D., Princeton University
Areas: Roman literature / Augustine culture / Greco-Roman religion / social memory

Jo Ann Hackett, Professor of Middle Eastern Studies
Ph.D., Harvard University
Areas: Old Testament and Hebrew studies / Semitic languages and epigraphy / women in the ancient Near East / mythology

Jonathan Kaplan, Assistant Professor of Middle Eastern Studies
Ph.D., Harvard University
Areas: Hebrew Bible / Second Temple Judaism / Dead Sea Scrolls / Rabbinic Judaism / Midrash / Literary Theory

Brent Landau
Th.D., Harvard University
Areas: ancient Christian apocryphal literature / traditions about Jesus’ birth and childhood / early Christian papyri / biblical studies pedagogies

Glenn Peers, Professor of Art History
Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University
Areas: Early medieval and Byzantine art

Jonathan Schofer, Associate Professor of Religious Studies
Ph.D., University of Chicago
AreasRabbinic literature / ethics / Jewish law / mysticism

Geoff Smith, Assitant Professor of Religious Studies
Ph.D., Princeton University
Areas: New Testament / Early Christianity / Patristics / Nag Hammadi / Papyrology / Coptic Language and Literature

L. Michael White, R.N. Smith Professor of Classics & Christian Origins
Ph.D., Yale University
Areas: New Testament / Christian Origins / Greco-Roman Religions / Hellenistic Judaism / Archaeology and Social History approaches

Affiliated Faculty

John Clarke, A.L. Howard Regents Professor in Fine Arts
Ph.D., Yale University
Areas: Greek and Roman art and architecture

John Huehnergard, Professor
Ph.D., Harvard University
Areas: Semitic languages and linguistics / historical linguistics / writing systems / ancient Near Eastern history

Na'ama Pat-El, Assistant Professor
Ph.D., Harvard University
Areas: Comparative Semitic linguistics / historical linguistics / languages in contact