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Graduate Programs 2013-2014

(revised September 2013)

The Department of Hebrew and Semitic Studies teaches Hebrew in its classical and rabbinic forms and as a modern language. It provides the opportunity to study the literature and thought of the cultures using that language; ancient Israel; Second Temple Judaism(s); rabbinic, medieval and modern Judaism(s); and modern Israeli culture. Courses are offered in areas of study cognate to the above, such as Northwest Semitic languages and archaeology. Advanced courses teach the methodologies of scholarly investigation.

Available Programs
There are two tracks in the Master of Arts degree: Hebrew Bible, Biblical Hebrew and Greek.  These are described below.

The Doctor of Philosophy degree is in Hebrew Bible, for which the M.A. in Hebrew Bible is a prerequisite. The Bible track is intended to produce scholars who study and teach the Bible as an academic discipline or serve as editors in academic publishing houses. It is structured to cultivate a high level of competence in biblical languages, texts, and literature, achieved by demonstrating: a) competence in other Northwest Semitic languages, b) a sophisticated understanding of literary methods, and c) a judicious use of standard critical methodologies.


Rachel Feldhay Brenner, PhD, Professor. Weinstein-Bascom Professor of Jewish Studies. Senior Fellow at the Institute for Research in the Humanities. Modern Hebrew and Jewish literature.

Michael V. Fox, PhD, Professor Emeritus. Halls-Bascom Professor of Hebrew Studies. Hebrew Bible and Semitics.

Jeremy M. Hutton, PhD, Assistant Professor. Graduate Program Director. Classical Hebrew language and biblical literature. Email:

Ronald L. Troxel, PhD, Associate Professor. Department Chair. Hebrew Bible, Syriac, and ancient translations.  Email:  Office phone: 608-263-1972.

Application and Admission

Important advice to applicants (PLEASE READ).

Applicants will be evaluated based on the following materials:

* University of Wisconsin Graduate School Application for Admission form to be completed online at
* A statement of the applicant's "Reasons for Graduate Study," which, should be included with the online "Application for Admission" form. This crucial document should reflect careful thought about your reasons for applying for graduate study in our department and must be written in your most accomplished prose.
* Three (3) letters of recommendation from teachers under whom you studied in earning your previous degree(s). Please list their name, school, and email address on the online "Application for Admission" form. Letters of Recommendation Instructions can be found at
* GRE scores. (GRE scores will be submitted electronically to the University of Wisconsin Graduate School provided you list the University of Wisconsin-Madison institution code of 1846 at the time you take the test.)
* TOEFL requirement.
* One (1) set of official transcripts or adademic records from each institution attended must be mailed directly to the Department of Hebrew & Semitic Studies. International academic records must be in the original language accompanied by an official English translation. Documents must be issued by the school with official seal/stamp and official signatures.
* Writing sample, in the form of a research paper, mailed directly to the Department of Hebrew & Semitic Studies.

Applicants who wish to be considered for fellowships must have all application materials (including GRE scores) on file with the Department by January 15 of the year they plan to matriculate. Applicants may wish to apply for a Mellon Fellowship; see

Applicants are encouraged to review the information concerninig Wisconsin Residency for Tuition Purposes before submitting an application. Visit

International applicants should consult the Graduate School for special requirements. International student expenses are listed at

Though the Ph.D. program begins with M.A. studies, applicants should indicate the highest degree they are seeking on the application form.

Graduate School admission requirements are at: and the Graduate School admission checklist is as


Graduate School requirements: Consult the Bulletin of the Graduate School for the general requirements for graduate status and degrees.

Hebrew placement exams: Contact the Graduate Program Director concerning the Biblical Hebrew Placement exam. Contact the department office concerning the Modern Hebrew Placement exam.

Track I: MA in Hebrew Bible

The MA in Hebrew Bible focuses on the literature and language of the Hebrew Bible within its Northwest Semitic context. The degree may be a terminal degree or it may be used as preparation for the PhD degree.

Entry Readings: Before starting the graduate program, the student should read the introductory books listed under "Entry Readings" in the current graduate reading list (available online at Entry Readings). The list is updated annually.

Septuagintal Greek: The Track I and II MA requires a solid knowledge of Septuagintal Greek, and applicants are expected to have a least a year of Greek before entry. (This requirement does not apply to Track III MA students.) This requirement can be satisfied by one year of Classical Greek at UW during the first year of graduate study or by passing a reading test administered by the Hebrew Department before the second year of graduate studies. (NOTE: Greek is used in the Hebrew text courses taken from the outset of the program.)

First-and second-year review: Each student will meet with faculty the second semester of his/her first year and after the third semester to evaluate progress as a graduate student.

Course requirements:

A. Northwest Semitic language
Two semesters of one of the following: 601-602 (Aramaic) or 603-604 (Ugaritic and Canaanite Dialects) or 605-606 (Syriac)

B. Biblical texts, narrative (323-324) (may be fulfilled by placement test)

C. Advanced text course, four semesters: 643 (Pentateuchal Narratives) and 644 (Pentateuchal Legal Codes), or 651-652 (Isaiah), or 655 (Psalms) and 653 (Wisdom Literature)

D. Classical Hebrew Linguistics: Historical and Descriptive (623) or Biblical Archaeology (451; meets with 241)
[Classical Rabbinic Texts (448) or Medieval Hebrew Commentaries (460) can be substituted for Archaeology, with the consent of the Graduate Program Director.]

E. Two other graduate level courses in the department, one of which can be an independent study course (799) focusing on completing readings for the Ph.D. preliminary exams.

F. Graduate Seminar (numbered 951-959): two semesters
These seminars are designed to acquaint students with the fundamentals of research. Writing and bibliographic projects will be assigned, and students will critique research presented by Ph.D. students, facutly, and guests. Readings devoted to specific topics in biblical studies may also be assigned and discussed.

MA exams are based on course work and the MA Reading List. The exams are given at the end of the final semester of study for the degree, typically at the end of the summer of the second year. An exam can be taken no more than twice. MA candidates granted permission to advance to the Ph.D. program will take only the first exam, "A. Hebrew Texts and Grammar." Those pursuing a terminal M.A. must also complete exams B and C.

A. Hebrew Texts and Grammar (those continuing for the Ph.D. will meet with faculty to discuss their performance on this exam, in lieu of an oral exam)

* Translation from Hebrew to English (see annual MA Reading List), including some sight passages.
* Hebrew grammar and syntax (including parsing and producing forms).
* Translation from English to pointed Biblical Hebrew.

B. General exam (terminal M.A. only)

MA candidates should have a basic familiarity with the history and methodology of biblical studies, especially of the 19th-20th centuries. They should know the main features of the Pentateuchal sources, according to the classical source division. In text criticism, they should demonstrate a familiarity with the major documents used, the methodology of textual criticism, and the history of the masoretic text and the Septuagint. They should be able to identify the masorahs and to explain the meaning of the most common masoretic notes. The exam includes questions on biblical literature and its interpretation; history and archaeology of Israel and the ancient Near East; postbiblical Judaism; Hebrew language, biblical text and canon, and the ancient versions.

C. Oral exam (terminal M.A. only)

The candidate will prepare an exegetical presentation on a selected passage from the Hebrew Bible. (Discuss the selection of passage and the format of the presentation with the Graduate Program Director.) This exam will also include oral reading, translation, and discussion of sight passages, as well as questions calling for synthesis of knowledge learned in course work and readings.

Track II: MA in Hebrew Bible and Greek

Track II is a variation of the MA in Hebrew Bible (Track I), which allows for work in the Classics Department. A student may take 9 credits in the Classics Department in Greek text-courses numbered 300 and above. The credits taken in Greek can replace any courses besides the major text sequence (Pentateuch/Isaiah/Psalms & Wisdom Literature) and the Graduate Seminars. Usually Greek is substituted for the Semitic language. If one wishes to continue for a Ph.D. in the Hebrew Department after this degree, it is necessary to fulfill the requirements of the M.A. in Hebrew Bible prior to taking the Ph.D. Prelims.

Exams and readings: Same as the Hebrew Bible track.


The PhD is a research degree, the highest academic degree awarded. Candidates must display high linguistic competence, a broad understanding of the history and methodology of the field, and the ability to conduct individual, innovative research (presented in the form of a dissertation). The PhD qualifies students for independent research and for teaching in higher education.

Preparation and Application

The M.A. in Hebrew Bible provides preparation for the Ph.D. program but does not guarantee admittance. Acceptance into the PhD program is based on the GPA attained in the M.A. program and, most importantly, the faculty's assessment of the student's capabilities for advanced study, as communicated periodically to the student in the form of the first-and second-year reviews.

Applicants with an M.A. from another accredited institution should consult with the Graduate Program Director; courses taken previously that are judged equivalents may fulfill requirements in this program. Otherwise the entirety of the M.A. program in Hebrew Bible is required.

Time Requirements

It is essential that students planning to work for a Ph.D. carefully examine the Ph.D. requirements when beginning their M.A. work, because it is very difficult to fulfill the Ph.D. requirements in one year if they are all put off until after the M.A. Furthermore, since certain courses are offered in two or three-year cycles (in particular, Advanced Hebrew Grammar and other courses in the Northwest Semitic language cycle), they should be taken when available. It is particularly important to study French and German early in one's graduate studies, if not before. Dedicated, full-time students might be able to complete the course work for the M.A. and Ph.D. in three-and-a-half years, spend a semester preparing for preliminary exams, and complete the dissertation in two years.

Work (such as TA positions) or family obligations will likely extend this time-line.

Course Requirements

Courses taken during the period of M.A. studies at UW-Madison that are not needed for the M.A. requirements may be counted toward the Ph.D. requirements. Beyond the M.A. requirements, the PhD course work must include:

A. Northwest Semitic languages

The completion of the Northwest Semitic languages (601-602, 603-604, 605-606) not taken previously. In individual cases, permission may be given to study one of these languages independently.

B. Biblical texts, advanced

Two semesters of an advanced text sequence not taken during M.A. studies (Pentateuch, Isaiah, or Psalms & Wisdom Literature).

C. One independent study course (799) devoted to the reading list for the specialized exam in the Ph.D. prelims. The student is expected to produce a critical scholarly paper working from these readings, to be presented in the seminar (see next requirement).

D. One seminar (number 951 to 959), in addition to the two taken during the M.A. The student will present his/her paper from the 799 (see above), field questions, and receive critiques. The seminar will also be the occasion to develop the prospectus on the dissertation that will be presented formally during the oral exam that is part of the prelims.

E. Classical Hebrew Linguistics: Historical and Descriptive (623) or Biblical Archaeology (451), whichever was not taken for the MA.

Minor Field

The Ph.D. degree includes course work in a minor field. Students should consider a minor which broadens their knowledge, supports their dissertation, and helps situate them well in the job market. Course work for the minor may be started before completion of the M.A. program.

Two types of minors are available:

Option A (external): A Ph.D. minor consisting of at least 9 credits in another department, according to their specifications for a minor. Typical minors are Classics, Linguistics, Comparative Literature, or Religious Studies. This minor requires the approval of the minor department.

Option B (distributed): A Ph.D. minor consisting of at least 9 credits in one or more departments. Up to six credits may be in a different area of the Hebrew Department, namely rabbinics and medieval Hebrew. Selection of this minor requires the approval of the Graduate Program Director.

Foreign Language Reading Competencies

Since the PhD is a research degree, candidates must have a reading knowledge of German and either French or modern Hebrew. Courses that teach reading knowledge are offered through the French and German departments and UW-Extension (see


See the M.A. requirements.


Within a semester of completion of the Ph.D. course requirements and the other foreign language reading requirements, the student will take a series of preliminary exams to demonstrate readiness for scholarly research. The exams are based on course work and the PhD Reading List, which is updated annually. These exams may be retaken once at the discretion of the faculty, if the initial level of performance is unsatisfactory (see the Graduate Handbook for more details).

A. Biblical Hebrew

Translation of passages, together with textual and philological notes, and consultation of the Septuagint and Peshitta. Grammatical parsing, pointing of unpointed texts, production of forms. Discussion of Biblical Hebrew in its Northwest Semitic context, translation of Hebrew epigraphic texts (in Paleo-Hebrew script), together with discussion of problems they present.

B. Northwest Semitics

Translation of texts written in Canaanite dialects, Ugaritic, Aramaic, Syriac. Some of the texts will be read in Semitics courses; other texts must be prepared independently.

C. Individualized Exam

This exam allows the student to concentrate on an area of interest, and may be coordinated with the dissertation topic. Individualized reading lists for this option are worked out with the Graduate Program Director or the appropriate professor. Currently available options are:

* Advanced Northwest Semitics
* Hebrew Linguistics
* Text Criticism
* Rabbinic and Medieval Hebrew

Other areas of interest should be discussed with the Graduate Program Director.

D. General exam: Based on the reading lists and class work.

E. Oral exam

* Discussion of problems and methods in the theory and methodology of biblical research.
* Sight reading of biblical texts.
* Presentation of the dissertation proposal. The proposal defines the dissertation topic, sketches the major areas to be investigated, identifies the major works on the subject, and situates the proposed study in the field of existing research. The student will develop her/his proposal in consultation with the faculty member who has agreed to serve as dissertation advisor during the seminar taken as part of Ph.D. course work.

Students are responsible for assembling a dissertation committee of 5 faculty, at least one of whom must be from outside the department and have expertise in some aspect of the dissertation topic. Committee members must be approved two months in advance of the exam by the faculty member serving as the student's dissertation advisor. Even though some members of the committee might change over the course of the project, the establishment of a committee at the outset allows the dissertator to benefit from a thorough vetting of the dissertation proposal and to have access to committee members during his/her work.

COURSE OFFERINGS (graduate level)
(Curriculum Area Prefix Number 440)
(Some syllabi available at

303-304        Elementary Biblical Hebrew, I and II
323-324        Intermediate Biblical Hebrew, I and II
301-302        Introduction to Modern Hebrew Literature
328                Classical Rabbinic Literature in Translation
343                Israeli Fiction (in translation)
346                Jewish Literature of the Greco-Roman Period
355                Representations of Women in 20th c. Jewish Literature
356                Zionism in Thought, Culture & Literature
368                The Bible in the Middle Ages *
371                Topics in Jewish Civilization 
401-402        Survey of Hebrew Literature (in Hebrew)
417                History-telling in the Bible *
448                Classical Rabbinic Texts (Hebrew texts, taught in English)
451                Biblical Archaeology, Advanced
452                Topics in Biblical Archaeology *
513-514        Biblical Texts: Prophecy and Poetry (for advanced undergrads)
533-534        Readings in Contemporary Hebrew Literature (in Hebrew)
701-702        Aramaic
703-704        Ugaritic; Canaanite Dialects
705-706        Syriac
723               Classical Hebrew Linguistics: Historical and Descriptive 
741-742        Ezekiel
743               Pentateuchal Narratives
744               Pentateuchal Legal Codes
751-752        Isaiah
753-754        Wisdom Literature
755                Psalms
733                Themes in Israeli Literature
799                Independent Study

(951-959  Seminars)
951                Topics in Biblical Studies
952                Topics in Biblical Studies
953                Seminar in Pentateuchal Criticism
954                The Dead Sea Scrolls
955                Studies in the Religion of Ancient Israel
956                Seminar in Early Biblical Interpretation
957                Linguistic Approaches to Biblical Hebrew
958                Biblical Poetry
959                Biblical Narrative

990                Research and Thesis
999                Independent Work

* offered irregularly

The Northwest Semitic languages (601-602, 603-604, and 605-606) are offered on a three-year cycle, as are the advanced text courses (641-642, 643, 644, 651-652, and 654-655). Classical Hebrew Linguistics: Historical and Descriptive (623) is offered on a two-year cycle. Arabic is offered in the Department of African Languages and Literatures.

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