Research in Ancient Judaism and Christianity

Religious Studies graduate students specializing in ancient Judaism and Christianity are overseen by Steven Weitzman. The program's special strengths in this area are in Second Temple Judaism and earliest Christianity, on the one hand, and the intertwined histories of Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity, on the other. Both are pursued with detailed attention to Hellenistic and Roman cultural contexts. Key topics include the formation and interaction of ancient identities, the history of biblical interpretation, and apocalyptic and other parabiblical literary production.

Among Penn's rich resources for the study of ancient Judaism are Natalie Dohrmann at the Katz Center, Julia Wilker in Classical Studies, and Isabel Cranz in NELC. Specialists in Christianity in the Roman Empire and Late Antiquity include Cam Grey in Classics and Ann Kuttner in Art History. Bob Kraft is emeritus in RELS but continues to work informally with students, particularly in papyrology.

Students also benefit from experts within and beyond RELS in intersecting areas such as ancient divination and "magic" (e.g., Peter StruckJustin McDaniel), ethnicity in the ancient Mediterranean world (e.g., Jeremy McInerney), and ancient medicine (e.g., Ralph Rosen). In exploring questions concerning the oral and textual transmission of traditions, moreover, students can draw on the rich resources in this area at Penn, including Justin McDaniel and Donovan Schaefer in RELS.

Additional resources include the Philadelphia Seminar on Christian Origins, an informal seminar that meets once a month during the school year, with topics chosen and organized by graduate students at Penn and other area schools, and the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, which brings international fellows each year to work on a theme of interdisciplinary interest and offers opportunities for graduate students to study with fellows through "modules." Students can also draw upon the rich papyrological and other resources at the Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

Coursework and research using advanced language skills (esp. Greek and Hebrew) are essential beginning in the first year of study. Before entering the program most applicants have completed at least two years of formal study of their primary language, and by the beginning of the third year, they are expected to have strengths in their secondary ancient languages, as well as to have passed their modern language exams in French and German.

Interdisciplinary investigation is encouraged, and students typically take courses not only in Religious Studies but also in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Classical Studies, Ancient History, and the Art and Archaeology of the Mediterranean World. Theoretical interests can be explored in other departments as well, ranging from Political Science to Art History. Likewise, in the second and third years, students have opportunities to gain teaching experience in multiple religious traditions as TAs within the department and in multiple disciplines as TAs in other departments as well.

Students interested in applying to the program to work in this area are encouraged to contact faculty whose interests might overlap with their own. A list of Penn faculty working in Judaism can be found on the website of the Jewish Studies Program, and others in the ancient Mediterranean world are listed on the websites of the Classical Studies Department and the Graduate Groups of Ancient History and Art and Archaeology of the Mediterranean World. Prospective applicants are also encouraged to contact current doctoral students.