About Ziony Zevit

Ziony Zevit

Dr. Ziony Zevit is Distinguished Professor of Biblical Literature and Northwest Semitic Languages at the American Jewish University (University of Judaism). He has held visiting appointments at Portland State University, California State University at Northridge, UCLA, USC, UC San Diego and the University of Pennsylvania, as well as the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and has participated in archaeological excavations at Tel Lachish and Tel Dan.

In addition to his graduate studies at UC Berkeley, he also attended UCLA, the Graduate Theological Union, the University of Michigan, the University of Vienna and the Hebrew University. In 1987, Dr. Zevit was designated the first Avraham Biran Fellow in Biblical Archaeology at the Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology in Jerusalem. He has been awarded fellowships by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Lady Davis Fellowship Trust and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation; in 2004, he was awarded the Frank Moore Cross Award by the American Schools of Oriental Research for substantial publications in Near Eastern and Eastern Mediterranean epigraphy, texts and traditions.

Dr. Zevit has published studies in almost every major American, European, and Israeli scholarly journal in his fields of interest. In his first book, he studied the development of Hebrew spelling in the Biblical period. This enables scholars to date ancient writings on the basis of how words are spelled. In 1998, he published a second book clarifying problems in the verbal system of classical Hebrew. His research affects the way many Biblical narratives are understood and interpreted. His most recent book, published in 2001, is The Religions of Ancient Israel, a study of popular and folk religion in ancient Israel based on both Biblical and archaeological evidence. His current research focuses on how Israelite religion of the Biblical period evolved into proto-Judaism during the Persian and early Greco-Roman periods.

Presenter at

Bible & Archaeology Fest XX, November 17 – 19, 2017
Contentious Conversations

There are many ways of reading the Biblical narratives aloud – performing them, so to speak, for an appreciative audience. Each way conveys different insights into the nature of the individuals portrayed and their attitudes toward each other. In this session, we will closely read the series of conversations between God and Moses in Exodus 3-4 that describe Moses’ life from the fateful encounter at the burning bush until his first success in Egypt. Time permitting, we will also consider how the story informs us about ancient Israelite religious beliefs.

Montreat Conference Center, May 25 – May 31, 2015

Sweet-Singers, Story-Tellers and Scribes
Most narratives in the Hebrew Bible are short, filling a chapter or less. Yet, despite an appearance of straightforwardness and simplicity, they are often complicated stories, whose characters, driven by unstated motivations, move in undescribed settings. This renders biblical narratives easy to read but difficult to understand. Understanding them, however, enables us to enter the thought-world of those who wrote them in ancient Israel, a world very different from our own. Hebrew Bible scholar Dr. Ziony Zevit of the American Jewish University examines the context of some of the most well-known but perhaps little-understood narratives of the Old Testament.

  1. How Did the Bible Come to Be?
  2. The Creation of the Cosmos
  3. Abraham and the Binding of Isaac
  4. Stories about Child Sacrifice
  5. Why Was Israel Enslaved?
  6. Reading the “So-Called” Ten Commandments
  7. Some Characteristic Features of Biblical Narrative
  8. Ruth and Real Estate
  9. The Garden Story (Part I)
  10. The Garden Story (Part 2)

Summer Vacation Seminar at St. Olaf, July 11 – 17, 2010
Short Stories and Narratives in the Bible: How they Work and What they Tell Us

The objective of these lectures and discussions is to illustrate how Biblical stories—stories that are usually short—work. We will explore how they portray characters as well as how they use time and describe scenes and contexts. During the course of these lectures, we will examine how these stories create meaning as well as explore our role as readers and interpreters.

Storytelling in the Bible: How and Why?
This introductory session will consider stories that take place at “set scenes.” In this case we’ll examine stories that are set against the backdrop of a well, such as Abraham’s servant and Rebekah (Genesis 24), Jacob and Rachel (Genesis 29), Moses and Jethro’s daughters (Exodus 2), and Saul and the maidens of Zuph (1 Samuel 9).

Child Sacrifice: Considering the Context
In our culture we sacrifice for children, but three narratives in the Hebrew Bible describe the sacrifice of children: Abraham of Isaac (Genesis 22), Jephthah of his daughter (Judges 11), and Mesha, the king of Moab, of his son (2 Kings 3). We will examine the art of the first two stories—the second is a perfunctory report—but will consider them all within the cultural context of historical Israel.

The Exodus: Story or History?
This lecture will examine the Exodus narrative (Exod 1–2, 13–14) as a historical report and examine to what extent historical and archaeological data support its historicity. We will explore offhanded references in the text may seem irrelevant to the narrative but that can be of major importance to its interpretation.

Enslaved in Egypt: What Genesis Suggests About Israelite Slavery
Nowhere in the Bible is there an explicit explanation of why the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt (Exodus 1–2). This lecture, based on ideas developed by Yair Zakovitch, will suggest that implicit reasons are provided in Genesis.

The Story of Ruth: Examining the Missing Pieces
The story of Ruth (Ruth 1–4) is interpreted as being about comeliness, kindness and grace. What is left unexplained is why nobody offered to help Ruth or Naomi, why they did not return to the farmstead that they obviously owned, and why the land became a point of contention in the final chapter of the book. This session will undertake to respond wisely to the “Why’s” of one of the Old Testament’s most enigmatic books.

Understanding the Ten Commandments
This lecture will undertake to respond to issues raised by the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20), such as: How many commandments are there? What do they mean when considered from a legal vantage-point? What reasons are provided for obeying them and why?

Unpunished Crimes in the Bible
This session, following the lecture on The Ten Commandments, will undertake to examine why some crimes described in Biblical narratives go more or less unpunished. We will consider cases usually understood as involving murder and/or rape, such as Cain and Abel (Genesis 4) Amnon and Tamar (2 Samuel 13:1–22) and Absalom and Amnon (2 Samuel 13: 23–14:27).

What Really Happened in the Garden of Eden? (2-part lecture)
The Eden story (Genesis 2–3) is interpreted in many ways. In these two lectures, we first examine when and how the standard interpretation came into existence and why it is so important. We will then examine the light that new research has on the story and consider how it might affect the story’s interpretation, as well as look at how the narrative represents the characters of God, Adam, the Serpent and Eve.

Selected Articles by Ziony Zevit

Three Ways to Look at the Ten Plagues
BR 06:03, June 1990

The Problem of Ai
BAR 11:02, Mar/Apr 1985