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Shem in the tents of Japhet: Exploring cultural negotiation in Greco-Roman Jewish-Greek literature


Admission requirements

This class can be taken in fulfilment of the requirements of both the MA and the Research MA program in Classics and Ancient Civilizations (track Classics), with differential requirements.
Admission requirements for other students: a BA degree in Classics obtained from a university in the Netherlands, or a comparable qualification obtained from a university outside the Netherlands. Moreover, students with an international degree have to contact the coordinator of studies to check admissibility.

Students from the track Hebrew and Aramaic Studies who are interested in the course are invited to contact the instructor to agree an ad hoc program.
If you are interested in taking this course, but are not sure whether you fulfill the entry requirements, please contact the instructor.


During the Greco-Roman era, many Jewish authors engaged in literary compositions using the Greek language. How far and in which ways do Jewish-Greek authors craft their works according to the literary genres and conventions of the dominant culture, and how far do they adapt them? Which role is played by their own tradition(s) in this dynamic process?

The seminar will answer these questions through the analysis of some of the most representative Jewish-Greek authors, writing in poetry and prose (e.g. Philo epicus, Ezekiel the Tragedian, the Septuagint, Artapanus, Aristobulus, Philo, and Josephus), organized according to genre. By investigating how these authors engaged in epic poetry, tragedy, wisdom literature, philosophy, biography, and historiography, and how Jewish tradition and its key characters (e.g. the Exodus tradition and Moses) are shaped accordingly, this seminar will explore the dynamics of cultural negotiation in Jewish-Greek literature from the second century BCE to the end of the first century CE.

The seminar aims to 1) provide an inclusive approach to Greek literature, by giving voice to usually marginalized authors (inclusive Classics); 2) provide a holistic approach to Jewish-Greek literature in poetry and prose; 3) analyze the dynamics of negotiation with Greek culture applied by a minority culture (i.e. Jewish culture) in different contexts (Egypt, Palestine, Rome) in the course of three centuries; 4) provide insights on the complex phenomenon of cultural translation, as well as on education practices and reading communities in the Greco-Roman period.

Course objectives


  • Thorough knowledge of a selection of Jewish-Greek texts of the Greco-Roman age in poetry and prose, and ability to explain metric, grammatical, syntactical and literary aspects of these texts;

  • Knowledge of the outline of the history of Jewish-Greek literature of the Hellenistic and Roman age (genres and authors considered in the seminar);

  • Understanding of the different ways in which Jewish-Greek authors position themselves in relation to literary genres and conventions of Greek literature;

  • Ability to understand, compare and critique secondary literature on Jewish-Greek texts;

  • Understanding of theoretical concepts, approaches and paradigms that help us to approach Jewish-Greek literature and its interaction with its cultural models.

Understanding and skills:

(for differentiation between MA and ResMA, and for students from the track Hebrew and Aramaic Studies, see below under Assessment Method)

  • Research skills: formulation of a complex research question, collecting materials, analyzing results, constructing arguments, formulating conclusions;

  • Reading skills: oral translation of Greek text into idiomatic English; ability to discuss grammatical and discourse linguistic features of a text; ability to reflect on implications of text-critical issues;

  • Critical assessment of secondary literature according to the standards of academic debate;

  • Oral presentation: the student will give a clear and well-argued interpretation of one passage or poem, making effective use of presentation devices and a handout;

  • Written presentation: the paper will offer a clear and well-structured presentation of original research;

  • The student must demonstrate his or her grasp of critical issues in recent scholarship, and assess recent scholarly contributions by confronting them with the original source material;

  • This course aims at active participation and preparation: the student demonstrates involvement in the topic by asking well-informed and constructive questions and making contributions to the collective progress, on the basis of antecedent independent preparation.

This course contributes to the achievement of learning outcomes 4a and 4c (to give and write a clear and well-argued oral and written presentation on a research topic in accordance with academic standards) of the study program Classics and Ancient Civilizations.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method

  • Examination on the Greek texts, secondary literature and topics discussed (30%)

  • Oral presentation (20%)

  • Written Paper, 3000-5000 words (40%)

  • Participation (10%)
    The requirements for MA and ResMA students are differentiated:
    ResMA student are expected to find their original research topic, secondary literature, and write a scholarly article that presents the innovative and well-argued interpretation of a passage from a Greek text from the perspective of cultural interaction. MA students may expect more help in choosing topic and literature, and their paper may present text, translation and commentary of one passage from a Greek text, and an assessment of the status quaestionis.

Students from the track Hebrew and Aramaic Studies are invited to contact the instructor to agree a separate program.


The final mark for the course is established by (i) determination of the weighted average combined with (ii) one additional requirement: the grade for the examination on the Greek texts, secondary literature and topics discussed in class must be satisfactory.


If the overall mark is unsatisfactory, the student can either revise the paper or retake the examination (after consultation with the instructor). There is no resit for the oral presentation and participation.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will be organized.

Reading list

Guide to Academic Skills of the MA Classics and Ancient Civilizations

A reading list, with titles to be found in the Leiden University Library, will be made available before the start of the seminar via Brightspace. The reading list will also indicate how texts and literature should be studied beforehand. A selection of relevant books will be made available on a special bookshelf at the University Library.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.
General information about course and exam enrolment is available on the website

Registration Studeren à la carte en Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte.
Registration Contractonderwijs.
Not applicable.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Arsenaal


Students are required to attend the classes, be prepared, and join the discussions.