Northwest Semitic Studies


West Semitic and biblical research

The "northwest Semitic and biblical studies" team is led by Thomas Römer. The team's research is organized into four main areas: the formation of the Pentateuch, the formation of the prophetic corpus, the archaeology and history of the Levant, and West Semitic epigraphy.

 1. The formation of the Pentateuch

The question of the formation of the first part of the Hebrew Bible has been for some decades the fundamental question in biblical studies. After the collapse of the traditional consensus in the 1970s, no alternative model has yet been able to garner consensus within the scientific community. Several team members are actively involved in opening new perspectives. This new research attempts to better integrate "material culture" and socio-historical approaches, while the model known as the "documentary hypothesis" was mainly based on a philological and diachronic approach (in German "Literarkritik") to biblical texts. Several aspects of the formation of the Pentateuch were studied during the evaluation period. The results are encouraging, as shown by the reaction of other specialists internationally.

2. The formation of the prophetic corpus

A Franco-German COREGRAP (Composition and writing of three Great Prophets) project has been conducted in collaboration with Professor Uwe Becker of the University of Jena with joint funding from the ANR and the DFG. Several members of the UMR conduct research on the prophetic books.

3. History and Archaeology of the Levant

For a long time, Bible studies were overly focused on literary studies, which are fundamental and essential. However, they must be combined with historical approaches and results of archaeological excavations to better understand the socio-historical context of the emergence of the traditions and literatures of ancient Israel. To accomplish this, the team leads several projects in close collaboration with the Department of Archaeology at the University of Tel Aviv.

4. West Semitic epigraphy

Since its foundation, this field is one of the strengths of a team that includes a number of specialists on the West Semitic epigraphy among its members. During the evaluation period, these researchers published, edited and commented on unpublished documents and proposed broader analyses of various corpuses. Through this research, they have provided easy access to these sources and their use by non-specialist colleagues in this field.

The Semitica journals

The Semitica journals were created in 1948 by the Institute of Semitic Studies at the University of Paris. In 1973, the Institute was transferred to the Collège de France, which continued publishing the journals. Unfortunately, following a vacancy of a Chair in connection with the Levant and the Bible, the publication of Semitica was halted. In 2010, Thomas Römer took the initiative of reviving Semitica with a new editorial board that included a majority of members from UMR 7192. The Semitica journal is a peer-reviewed publication that publishes articles in French and English and includes all branches of Semitic studies – linguistics, philology, history, archeology, and epigraphy. It is one of the few publications that reports on French research activities concerning the ancient Levant on an international level.

Research activities of the Chair in the Hebrew Bible and its Contexts

Research activities are conducted primarily within the context of the West Semitic and biblical studies team. More specifically, the Professor’s current research focuses on traditions surrounding the exodus from Egypt and the formation of the book of Exodus. A large American publishing house specializing in Biblical Studies has signed a contract with Thomas Römer to publish a commentary on the biblical book of Exodus that takes into account the new advances in biblical research. Unlike the vast majority of commentaries, it will no longer be based on the documentary hypothesis, but will take as its starting point the hypothesis of the initial writing down of traditions regarding Moses from the Neo-Assyrian period. An extensive bibliography will require compiling a collection of documents and the help of an assistant. The various hypotheses arising from the literary and historical research will be presented during lectures at the Collège de France.

Research on the Pentateuch

Successful collaboration with the "ProPent" team from the University of Pretoria, which began in 2011, are expected to continue. Professor Römer has also received the title of "extraordinary professor" at the University of Pretoria. Seminars with South African colleagues and as well as certain European guests provide an ideal opportunity to openly address certain points in a serene setting that is sometimes lacking in the context of research on the Pentateuch.

Publications by R. Rendtorff and H. H. Schmid published in 1976 radically questioned the traditional view of the formation of the Pentateuch.

In 2016, after 40 years of wandering, it is time to bring together researchers from Europe, the United States, and Israel working with different models in order to compare these varying approaches and assumptions. Such a workshop could be held on the premises of the Fondation Hugot. Researchers will propose different analyses of the same text, and subsequently we will attempt to compare these analyses and discuss methodological decisions and results.