Historical Studies: Judaism and Christianity in Antiquity (JCA)

Historical Studies: Judaism and Christianity in Antiquity (JCA)

The program in Judaism and Christianity in Antiquity provides the opportunity for the advanced study of Judaism from the early Second Temple period through the period of the Talmud, and of Christianity from its origins through the early medieval period. The program combines the fields traditionally distinguished as “Hebrew Bible,” “Second Temple Literature,” “New Testament,” “Early Christianity,” “Rabbinic Literature” and “Patristics/Late Antique Christianity.”

The rationale for the breadth of the program lies in the close historical relationship between Christianity and Judaism in the ancient Mediterranean and beyond, their use of a common set of texts, and their tendency to develop and express theological ideas through continual reinterpretation and composition. The program is designed to allow the student to study both canonical and non-canonical works not only in their historical settings, but also as they have been received and interpreted within Jewish and Christian communities.

The program provides a broad range of resources through which students can engage ancient Judaism and Christianity. The program trains students in:

  • the languages in which ancient Jewish and Christian texts were composed and received
  • close reading of texts
  • the reconstruction of the social and intellectual settings to which the texts belong
  • the history of interpretation of texts
  • points of historical contact between Judaism, Christianity and other religions of the Mediterranean

I. Areas of Concentration

The breadth of the program is qualified by the requirement that each student elect a major and minor area of concentration from the four subject areas:

  1. Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Literature
  2. New Testament and Early Christian Literature
  3. Rabbinic Literature
  4. Late Antique Christian Literature

These choices reflect only areas of concentration, and serious coursework is required in the other fields.

Note: Since both Christianity and Judaism belonged to, shaped, and were shaped by a larger common environment, the program also entails careful attention to Graeco-Roman society and culture.

II. Course Requirements

Note:  The following reflects the policies of the 2016–2017 Graduate Record. Specific requirements may differ for students who entered in other years.

Students must acquire 72 credits, at least 45 through satisfactorily completed graded course work at the 5000 level or higher (15 courses) and up to 27 other credits (often non-topical research). This coursework is normally completed in five semesters.

Students entering with an appropriate master’s degree may be granted advanced standing, for which they should apply in their first semester at UVA. If granted, this reduces the graded coursework requirement to 30 hours, or ten standard classes, which ideally will be completed in three semesters. Finishing coursework in three semesters requires one semester of four standard graded courses.

A student’s course load in any given semester will normally consist of two language courses and two graduate seminars OR one language course and three graduate seminars.  By agreement among instructors, not more than two major research papers will be required of any student in a single semester.

Our course offerings over the last four years have included:

  • Song of Songs (Martien Halvorson-Taylor)
  • The Book of Job and Wisdom Literature (Martien Halvorson-Taylor)
  • The Book of Genesis and Its Interpretation (Martien Halvorson-Taylor)
  • Midrashic Imagination (Elizabeth Alexander)
  • Mishnah Seminar (Elizabeth Alexander)
  • Theology and Ethics of the Rabbis (Elizabeth Alexander)
  • Religions of the Roman Empire (Janet Spittler)
  • Ancient Fiction and Early Christian and Jewish Narratives (Janet Spittler)
  • The Letters of Paul (Janet Spittler)
  • Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles (Janet Spittler)
  • The Gospel of Mark and Early Christian Narrative (Janet Spittler)
  • Making of Christian Orthodoxy (Karl Shuve)
  • Foundations of Western Christianity (Karl Shuve)
  • Sex, Gender and Religion (Karl Shuve)
  • The Nag Hammadi Library and Gnosticism (Karl Shuve)
  • Liturgy in Late Antiquity (Karl Shuve)
  • Jewish Bible Commentaries (Jessica Andruss)

Students are strongly encouraged to take courses from other faculty within the Religious Studies department, as well as faculty in other departments (principally Classics, History, Philosophy, and Art) as available and as relevant to their programs of study.  Courses offered recently include:

Religious Studies, Theology, Ethics and Culture:

  • Interpretation Theory (L. Bouchard)
  • Issues in the Study of Religion and Literature (L. Bouchard)


  • Roman Republic and Empire (E. Meyer)
  • Late Antiquity: 235-410 (J. Lendon)

Art History:

  • Early Christian and Byzantine Art (F. Kondyli)
  • Mediterranean Art and Myth (T.J. Smith)
  • Antioch and Dura Europos (J. Dobbins)


  • Fragmentary Greek Historians (J. Dillery)
  • Ancient Literary Criticism (C. George)
  • Plato (J. Mikalson)
  • Ancient Greek Religion (J. Mikalson)
  • Latin Palaeography (B. Hays)


  • Aristotle (D. Devereaux)
  • Plato’s Middle Dialogues (D. Devereaux)

III. Languages

Because knowledge of the classical languages of the Jewish and Christian traditions is essential to advanced study and productive scholarship, students are expected to pursue language study each and every semester they are in residence.

Students are expected to develop competency in two ancient languages from among the following:

  • Hebrew

    Competence in Hebrew is understood as the ability to read biblical and rabbinic texts.

  • Greek

    Competence in Greek is understood as the ability to read texts in Attic, Koine and Patristic Greek.

  • Latin

    Competence in Latin is understood as the ability to read texts in ecclesiastical Latin.

  • Aramaic

    Competence in Aramaic is understood as the ability to read texts in rabbinic Aramaic.

  • Coptic

    Competence in Coptic is understood as the ability to read texts in Coptic from Nag Hammadi, as well as Egyptian monastic authors.

A student who enters already well-prepared in two of these languages will be strongly encouraged to develop competence in a third language. In each case, competence is assumed when a student can translate passages supplied by an examiner with the aid of a dictionary.

JCA faculty members offer ongoing translation groups designed both to prepare students for exams and maintain/improve competence after exams are completed. Students are expected to participate in the relevant translation groups for the duration of their time in Charlottesville.

IV. Comprehensive Examinations

  1. While enrolled in courses, students are expected to achieve reading level competence in two modern languages, typically French and German.  Hebrew, Italian, or another modern language may be substituted if it is more relevant to the student’s research interests.  Students are to demonstrate this competence through exams administered through the French, German or other applicable departments.
  2. Before beginning comprehensive examinations, students need to demonstrate mastery in two ancient languages by written examination.
  3. By the end of the semester following the completion of coursework and language exams, each student will sit for written comprehensive examinations. An oral exam will be held a week or so after the written exams are completed. Though students’ major and minor concentrations will vary, every student in the program will be examined in the following five areas:


  1. Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Literature
  2. New Testament and Early Christian Literature
  3. Rabbinic Literature
  4. Late Antique Christian Literature
  5. Graeco-Roman Society and Culture

Each student sits for an eight (8) hour exam in the subject area of major concentration (A, B, C or D) and a six (6) hour exam in the subject area of minor concentration (A, B, C or D). In addition, each student sits for a four (4) hour examination in each of the remaining subject areas.

Finally, all students sit for a four (4) hour exam in Graeco-Roman society and culture.

Examinations will be set in accordance with fundamental issues in the field, the student’s coursework, and the student’s specialized interests.

V. The Colloquium in Judaism and Christianity in Antiquity

The program sponsors an on-going colloquium of faculty and graduate students that meets several times each semester and provides an informal but informative extra-curricular occasion for discussion. The format varies from meeting to meeting, and may include the presentation of a paper by a faculty member or a student, a presentation by a visiting scholar, discussion of a piece of common reading, or of dissertation work. Though extra-curricular, the colloquium has an important function in the intellectual formation of graduate students, and all graduate students in the program are expected to participate on a regular basis.

More information and a current schedule of events can be found on the JCA Colloquium web page

VI. Program Faculty in the Department of Religious Studies

Elizabeth Shanks Alexander

Jessica Andruss

Greg Schmidt Goering

Martien Halvorson-Taylor

Karl Shuve

Janet Spittler

VII. Faculty in Other University Departments

Jenny Clay (Classics)

Daniel Devereux (Philosophy)

John Dillery (Classics)

John J. Dobbins (Art History)

Coulter George (Classics)

Gregory Hays (Classics)

Foteini Kondyli (Art History)

J. E. Lendon (History)

Elizabeth A. Meyer (History)

Jon D. Mikalson (Classics)

John F. Miller (Classics)

Ivana Petrovic (Classics)

Eric Ramirez-Weaver (Art History)

Tyler Jo Smith (Art History)

A. J. Woodman (Classics)