Department of Religious Studies

Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean (RAM)

RAM students focus on the interdisciplinary study of religion throughout the ancient Mediterranean and Near-East.

Choosing both a major and a relate minor area, students examine ancient religions synchronically, understanding how they formed and functioned in their social, intellectual, and political contexts. Includes Ancient Judaism, early Christianity, early Islam, and numerous others.

Students may choose as either a major or minor field work in:

  • Israelite religion
  • Judean religion (Judaism) from the fifth century BCE to first century CE
  • Judean religion (Judaism) from the first century CE to the seventh century CE (including rabbinics and/or the Greco-Roman Diaspora)
  • Greek religion
  • Roman religion
  • Early Christianity (first-fourth centuries CE)
  • Christianity in Late Antiquity (fourth-seventh centuries CE)
  • Early Islam

In addition to these, students may choose as a minor field only: 

  • Egyptian religion;
  • Mesopotamian religion


Most successful applicants to RAM come with an MA in a related field, although exceptionally promising BA students with significant undergraduate study in appropriate areas are also considered for admission. Students are expected to have had some training in the academic study of religion. Students intending to specialize in any aspect of ancient Israelite or Judean religion (Judaism) must have a minimum of two years of college level biblical Hebrew or its equivalent; a working knowledge of modern and rabbinic Hebrew and introductory ancient Greek are also highly desirable. Students intending to specialize in some aspect of early Christianity, or Greek, or Roman religion, should have college level training in Greek or Latin, and ideally both. Preference will be given to RAM applicants who have appropriate prior study of Greek (and other appropriate languages) and a reading knowledge of French or German, as well as prior work in the history, literature and religions of the ancient Mediterranean. 


During the first year, students, in consultation with the RAM advisor and other appropriate faculty, design a curriculum that allows for exploration while remaining appropriately focused towards the student’s primary interests. RELS 2000, which is taught every other year, should be taken as soon as possible. At the end of the first year, students choose both a major and minor field and will be assigned an advisory committee in accordance with their focus. This advisory committee may or may not be identical to the student’s eventual dissertation committee.

Students are expected to complete at least three seminars (or independent studies) in the major field and two in the minor field. All coursework must be completed prior to being allowed to sit for the Preliminary Examination.

Qualifying Requirements

These depend upon the student’s specific areas of interest, but always include language training, RELS 2000, and appropriate preparation in the sources and methods of the areas of focus. Students should discuss the expectations for their particular areas with the RAM advisor and other appropriate faculty as soon as possible.

Language Requirements

Ancient Languages

Required ancient languages are determined according to the student’s field, in consultation with the student’s advisory committee.  All major fields require knowledge of Greek. Israelite religion and all periods of Judaism also require proficiency in ancient Hebrew, and knowledge of Aramaic; early Islam requires proficiency in Arabic. Students studying Christianity are ordinarily expected to learn Latin and/or Coptic or Syriac in addition to proficiency in Greek. Diagnostic examinations are ordinarily given to entering students in Greek, Latin, Hebrew and other languages as appropriate, typically consisting of a three-hour translation test in which lexical aids may be used. Students may be asked to retake one or more of these examinations annually until they have achieved an adequate level of competence, as determined by the faculty. In some cases, advanced (graduate level) coursework, with a grade of B or better, may satisfy the requirement, at the discretion of the faculty. All language requirements should be completed by the end of the student’s second year (third if the student entered without an M.A.), and must be fulfilled prior to sitting for the Preliminary Examination.

Modern Scholarly Languages

In addition to demonstrating competence in two modern languages, ordinarily French and German, those students who major or minor in some fields must also demonstrate competency in modern scholarly Hebrew. Depending on the student’s area of interest, additional modern languages may be desirable, such as Italian, Spanish, and others.  Competency in these languages can be demonstrated in one of three ways:

  • A grade of B or higher in an appropriate course, as determined by the advisory committee in consultation with the Graduate Advisor.
  • A translation test, typically lasting three hours during which the student is asked to translate, with the aid (if desired) of lexical aids, a passage of scholarly prose; or
  •  A working exercise, administered by the faculty, in which typically a student reads a substantial scholarly article or book and submits a report on it.

Preliminary Examination

The RAM Preliminary Examination is taken in three parts: Major Field; Minor Field; Ancillary area. Ordinarily, students who entered with an MA in a relevant field will spend their third year of study preparing for and taking the Preliminary Examination. Students who entered without an MA in a related field are expected to complete the Preliminary Examination during their fourth year of study. Preparation for these examinations, including reading lists for the major and minor fields, will be made in consultation with the student’s advisory committee. The various parts of the examination may be taken in any order, although the ancillary part is normally the last.

  • The major field examination is administered by the major field advisor, in consultation with the advisory committee. Its purpose is to assess teaching and research competency, and to assure broad competency in the scholarly discussions and major debates in the major areas of the student’s primary field. 
  • The minor field examiniation is administered by the minor field advisor, also in consultation with the advisory committee. The purpose of this exam is to assure teaching competency, as well as competency in the salient issues relevant to the dissertation area.
  • The ancillary exam is determined in consultation with the advisory committee and may, as appropriate, involve the participation of additional faculty. The ancillary area may address varying types of primary source data (e.g., archaeological or documentary, in addition to textual material), or the use of varying methodologies (e.g., anthropology).

The format of each exam will be determined by consultation between the student and the advisory committee. Possible formats may include, but are not limited to: a one- week take-home exam, with option of writing on one big question (approx. 20-25pp.) or a choice of more specific questions (for example, 5 out of 7 questions, four essays of 5pp. each); a 24-hour take home exam; a four-hour-sit-down exam, writing on 2 out of 4 questions; or two papers on proposed thematic topics (10 pages each).


RAM students follow the usual departmental procedures for the preparation and submission of a dissertation prospectus, appointment of dissertation committee, research, writing, submission and defense of the dissertation. For details, see the handbook.


Core Faculty

Affiliated Faculty

Recent Seminars

  • Early Jewish Prayer
  • Ancient "Pseudepigrapha"
  • Roman Religions
  • The Cappadocians
  • Issues in Pauline Studies
  • Early Christian Hymnography
  • Christianity in the Late First and Early Second Centuries
  • Christianizing Antioch
  • The Christianization of the Syrian Orient
  • The Disappearance of the (Judean) Diaspora
  • Literature of the Early Second Temple Period
  • Early Christian Narrative Traditions (Gospels)
  • Early Christian Narrative Traditions (Apocryphal Acts)
  • Exegesis at Qumran
  • Grief in Late Antiquity
  • Orthodoxy in Antiquity
  • Jewish and Christian Women in the Greco-Roman Period
  • Midrash Sifra
  • Early Christian "Apocalypticism"
  • The Virgin Mary in Late Antiquity
  • Philo
  • Problems in Israelite History of Religion
  • Religion in the Dead Sea Scrolls

Recent Dissertations

  • "They Sit Apart at Meals" Early Rabbinic Commensality Regulations and Identity Construction
  • Inscribing Devotion and Death in Context: Deciphering Jewish Culture of Roman North Africa (2nd-6th Centuries, C.E.)
  • The Establishment of Proper Mental Disposition and Practice: the Origin, Meaning, and Social Purpose of the Prohibition of Oaths in Matthew 
  • Images of Others: Icon Parodies and Iconic Politics in Ancient Israel
  • What Temples Stood For: Constantine, Eusebius, and Roman Imperial Practice
  • Lives in Competition: Biographical Literature and the Struggle for Philosophy in Late Antiquity
  • Apostolic Memories: Religious Differentiation and the Construction of Orthodoxy in Syriac Missionary Literature
  • The End of Animal Sacrifice
  • Resistance and Multiplicity: Readings of the Acts of Mariamne and Philip
  • You Divided the Sea by Your Might: The ‘Conflict Myth’ and the Biblical Tradition
  • By the Power of Signs and Wonders: Paul, Divinatory Practices, and Symbolic Capital
  • Paul's Letters and Contemporary Greco-Roman Literature: Theorizing a New Taxonomy
  • At the Temple Gates: The Religion of Freelance Experts in Early Imperial Rome
  • Foreign Lands - Multiple Perspectives: Foreign Land Impurity in the Hebrew Bible, its Context, and its Ideological Underpinnings
  • Gaining Virtue, Gaining Christ: Moral Development in the Letters of Paul
  • Reciprocity, Sacrifice and Salvation in Judean Religion at the Turn of the Era
  • Non-Peoples and Foolish Nations: Religion, Xenophobia and Ethnic Foreigners in the Hebrew Bible and Mesopotamia
  • Non-Anthropomorphic Gods? Manufactured Entities and Divine Qualities and Attributes Characterized As Gods in the Textual Evidence from Ancient Mesopotamia, Syria, North Arabia, Palestine, and Elephantine
  • The Beginnings of Christian Literature
  • Paul the Mythmaker
  • 'A Land Cleansed of Heretics': Cult Practices and Contestation in the Christianization of Late Antique Constantinople
  • The Sons of Jacob and the Sons of Herakles: Myth Genealogy and the Construction of Identity
  • Ink Sea, Parchment Sky: Rabbinic Reading Practices in Late Antiquity

Additional Programs

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