Northwest Semitic Philology

The Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations of the University of Chicago offers three main alternatives in the study of ancient Syria-Palestine: Northwest Semitic Philology/ History of Palestine and Syria, and Archaeology of Palestine and Syria.* In addition it offers degree programs in both ancient and medieval Near Eastern Judaica. Courses of study emphasizing any of these areas are integrated with the other areas and with the other offerings of the department/ leading to proficiency in a given area of specialization as well as to a general knowledge of ancient or medieval Near Eastern civilization. One or more of the languages of the area are often important components in a program in Comparative Semitics, based on the various offerings of the department as a whole; or in the joint program with the Department of Linguistics, in which the student satisfies the basic requirements of both departments, specializing in one of the major languages or groups of languages taught in the department.

Northwest Semitic Philology consists primarily of the linguistic and philological study of Hebrew, Phoenician-Punic, Ugaritic, Aramaic, including Syriac studies. The secondary fields are: a Semitic language of another family. History and Archaeology (of the Near East in general, and of Syria-Palestine in particular).

Archaeology of Palestine and Syria is devoted primarily to the study of non-literary evidence. The secondary areas of preparation are: the archaeology of a second main area ( Egypt, Anatolia, or Mesopotamia), the principal language (Hebrew), and the literary materials for historical reconstruction.

History of Palestine and Syria covers the political, social, economic, and religious aspects of Syro-Palestinian history in the pre-Christian era, taking into consideration all categories of evidence for historical reconstruction. The main areas of supporting preparation are: the principal languages of the area (Hebrew, Arabic, and Akkadian), the archaeological record, and the history of at least one other main area ( Egypt, Anatolia, or Mesopotamia).

Ancient and Medieval Near Eastern Judaica covers various aspects of Jewish history and culture in the Near East (through the Medieval period). The main branches of the field as studied in this department are Hebrew and Judeo-Arabic philology and Jewish history. The areas of secondary study are: the languages necessary for historical research (Aramaic, and e.g., Arabic, Greek, or Latin), and the history and culture of ancient Palestine.

Comparative Semitics is devoted primarily to the mastery of the languages of the Near East, with a less important history-archaeology component than in Northwest Semitic Philology; as one of the programs here described, the principal languages would be Hebrew and Aramaic. For details, see the brochure devoted to this program.

In the Joint Program with Linguistics, the two primary areas of study are linguistic theory and the mastery of one of the languages or groups of languages of the Near East; again, as one of the programs described here, the principal languages would be Hebrew and Aramaic. For details, see the brochure devoted to this program.

* Syria-Palestine may also be studied from other perspectives (e.g., Anatolian, North-Mesopotamian, Aegean). Such a program should be worked out in conjunction with specialists in other fields of this or other departments.


A. The Ph.D. Program. The program outlined here presupposes that the student has a B.A. with a major in a field other than that of the ancient Near Eastern languages. Students whose previous work has partially prepared them for the examinations listed below may either accelerate their examination schedule or widen their preparation by taking courses in fields other than Northwest Semitic Philology.

Preparation . Because this program does not presuppose a specific preparation in Near Eastern studies, the prospective applicant should enroll in an undergraduate program which will provide her/him with the tools necessary for graduate study. Primary among these is a reading knowledge of German, French (and Italian for some specializations, especially Phoenician-Punic), Greek, and Latin. A knowledge of the science of linguistics is also essential. Because ancient Near Eastern texts deal with every aspect of life, it is strongly urged that each student be able, by the end of his/her program, to apply an interdisciplinary area of expertise to philological study (e.g. linguistics, text criticism, epigraphy, historiography, anthropology, sociology, history of science, history of medicine, botany, agronomy, etc.). For the programs in archaeology and history, a good general background in the social sciences is recommended (most useful are anthropology, geography, sociology, and economics). A B.A. in one of these ancillary disciplines, along with preparation in the required languages, will permit the student to devote more of the graduate course work to philological subjects.

Coursework. The coursework should be finished in four years. The minimum course load is 27, but for the student with a B.A. and a major in another field, 36 courses will usually be necessary, i.e., three courses over 12 quarters, or four academic years (c.f. Departmental Regulations Nos. 6-7). In such a 36-course program the following diversity is desirable, and admission to candidacy for the Ph.D. in Northwest Semitic Philology will presuppose it or its equivalent, worked out with the advisor. Listed below are only the basic courses of a program; for general departmental requirements, the student must consult the departmental rules. All students in the ancient programs must take NEHC 30001, 30002, 30003.

B. The Terminal M.A. Program. This program is not encouraged, but for any who would seek to study for this degree, the course-work would be roughly half of the courses required for the Ph.D. program and should include elements of each principal area of a given program.

C. The B.A. Program. Students who take courses in this department as a major for the B.A. may be of two sorts: those with a program to terminate at the B.A. level, and those with a program preliminary to graduate studies. Those of the first sort will work out their programs with college advisors. It has been stated above (Ph.D. preparation) that those who plan to take graduate studies in this department may prefer to major in another area of the University and take their electives in this department. For students who do wish an undergraduate major in Northwest Semitic Philology as preparation for graduate study the recommended sequence is:

  1. Three to six ancient language courses, depending on field of specialization.
  2. Three to six courses in archaeology and/or history, depending on field of specialization.
  3. Guided electives in field of specialization.
  4. Guided electives in an inter-disciplinary field of specialization.

Northwest Semitic Philology

"Northwest Semitic Philology" is intended as a comprehensive title to include a variety of specific programs devoted to the study of texts in the languages and dialects of the Northwest Semitic peoples (Ugaritic, Phoenician-Punic, the Transjordanian dialects, all dialects of Hebrew and of Aramaic). The core of the program is a knowledge of Classical Hebrew language and literature in its historical and descriptive aspects. Working from this base, the student will develop his/her general knowledge of the other languages and dialect, as well as his/her particular interest for an area of specialization. In addition to the language requirements, each student is expected to be proficient in another major Semitic language and in the history and archaeology of the ancient Near East (and of Syria-Palestine in particular).

Outline of courses (or equivalent study):

  1. A combination of 18 courses in Hebrew, Aramaic, Phoenician-Punic, and Ugaritic.
  2. Six courses in another language (Akkadian or Arabic are urged as being most useful, though other Near Eastern languages, such as Hittite or Egyptian, may be taken to fulfill this requirement).
  3. A combination of 9 courses in History and Archaeology (must include NEHC 30001, 30002, 30003), as available.
  4. Two courses in Linguistics (e.g., LING 30100, 30200, 30300) and/or Introduction to Comparative Semitic Grammar (NELG 30303), as available.
  5. Six courses in Greek and Latin (if this has not been acquired in undergraduate study).

(The actual number of courses listed above is 41. It is assumed that the student will arrive with proficiency in one area or another or will fulfill the requirements through personal study or auditing.)

Ph.D. Comprehensive Examinations:

  1. Principal language of interest (e.g., Hebrew, Syriac, etc.) [full exam]
  2. Secondary language of interest (e.g., Hebrew, Syriac, etc.) [full exam]
  3. Post-Biblical Hebrew [full exam]
  4. Other languages/dialects (Hebrew/Transjordanian inscriptions, Phoenician, Punic, Ugaritic; Aramaic dialects) or an examination in theory/method as pertinent to the individual student [counts as full exam; language examinations may be given as no more than three two-hour exams]
  5. History of the Ancient Near East and particularly of Syria-Palestine [Half exam]
  6. Archaeology of the Ancient Near East and particularly of Syria-Palestine [Half exam}

Total: five "full" examinations, none of which may exceed eight hours in length (will usually not exceed four hours per examination).

Nota bene:

I. Language examinations do not test simple language competence or only the material covered in courses but the student's command of the full range of philology in the area at the appropriate level.

II. Other general requirements not traditionally figuring among this department's examinations:

  1. Non-West-Semitic language of the Near East requirement fulfilled by attaining an average of B or above for six quarters.
  2. Introduction to Linguistics and/or Comparative Semitics requirement fulfilled by attaining an average of B or above for a minimum of two quarters or by satisfying advisor of adequate knowledge in these areas.
  3. Introduction to Greek and Latin requirement fulfilled by attaining an average of B or above for a minimum of six quarters or by satisfying advisor of adequate knowledge in these areas.

The function of the program entitled Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East is to allow for a basic Northwest Semitic Philology program with emphasis on the Hebrew Bible to be joined either with another field within NELC (e.g., Egyptology, Assyriology) or with training in biblical criticism and exegesis in the Divinity School.