Department of Theology and Religious Studies

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Marian Kelsey

Teaching Associate, Faculty of Arts



I am a biblical scholar specialising in Hebrew Bible. I am particularly interested in inner-biblical allusion, literary motifs, biblical reception in art, and the books of Jonah and Ruth. I first took up my current role lecturing in Hebrew Bible in September 2019, after graduating in August from St Andrews University. My PhD thesis was 'Jonah: Context and Co-texts', under the supervision of Dr William Tooman. Previously I completed a Masters degree in biblical studies at Durham University, and an MTheol at St Andrews.

Teaching Summary

In my university lecturing, I teach introductory and advanced modules in Hebrew Bible and Hebrew language.

I also teach in various adult education settings on topics including art and literature inspired by the Bible, biblical cities, Hebrew, and Latin.

Major modules

Adversaries and Allies in Ancient Israel

Students follow the literary history of foreign cities in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. In biblical texts, foreign cities are often portrayed as enemies. They are subject to many prophecies about their brutality to others and their violent end. The character of these cities as personified in the Bible outlived the texts in which they were born. For example, 'Babylon' survives into the modern day as a literary and cultural code for decadence, corruption, and imperial evil. Just as Babylon and other foreign cities were used in the Bible to shape Israelite identity in distinction from the world around it, so today we use ciphers like 'Babylon' to define what we are not, and therefore, who we are.

Art and Literature Inspired by the Bible

In this course, students explore a range of artistic pieces inspired by biblical stories. These include paintings, sculptures, book illustrations, poetry, plays, and books-from Rembrandt to comic books, and from Dracula to Harry Potter. We look at how artists interpret the Bible stories in different ways, and how they use biblical themes and ideas to enrich their own work.

The Greatest Story, Better Told: Narrative in the Hebrew Bible

Students explore examples of narrative literature in the Bible and the elements of a literary approach to the texts. You will learn about the use of plot, characterisation, repetition and ambiguity in biblical narrative, and how biblical narrative persuasively presents its ideology (or ideologies) to its readers. You will discover how allusions, text collation and scribal editing created internal references and interdependence between various parts of 'the' biblical narrative. You will consider some variations of biblical narrative, namely prophetic narrative and diaspora novella, and developments in biblical narrative beyond and outside the Hebrew Bible.

Research Summary

In my research, I focus on the literary context of biblical literature, in particular the interrelationship of text, belief and community.

I have published on Jonah, Ruth, the Jacob cycle, the use of the Hebrew Bible within the New Testament, and biblical reception in the arts.

I am currently researching the literary function of cities within the Bible and the reception of city-traditions in later Jewish and Christian literature and culture. Meanwhile, I am working with a New Testament scholar on a paper examining the use of Hosea in the Matthean infancy narrative, and a chapter on retellings of biblical narrative in sci-fi and fantasy literature.

My research draws on other disciplines to bring fresh perspectives to biblical studies: in particular, literary approaches to the texts, and insights from other disciplines into the interplay of texts, community formation, and cultural identity.

Recent Publications

  • WILLIAM TOOMAN and MARIAN KELSEY, 2022. Reading Ruth Cascade Press.
  • MARIAN KELSEY, 2022. Ruth and Jonah: Inner-biblical explorations of the patriarchs and prophets. In: KEITH BODNER, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Biblical Narrative Cambridge University Press. (In Press.)
  • MARIAN KELSEY, 2021. Prophetic Protest AJS Perspectives.
  • MARIAN KELSEY, 2021. Names/Naming in the Visual Arts Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception.

Past Research

Jonah: Co-texts and Contexts

My doctoral thesis. The book of Jonah is rich with inner-biblical allusion and exhibits an author's adept use of his or her literary context. It weaves together many narratives with shared themes, thereby engaging with and reflecting on scriptural literature. The book explores the character of God as presented in the literature, and the implications of God's character for humanity. Allusions to the primeval and exodus narratives evoke themes of expulsion and loss of God's favour. The allusions illustrate Jonah's sense of being forced away from God, while questioning Jonah's motives. Yet even in the depths of the prophet's despair, God continues trying to reason with him. Allusions to the Sodom and Gomorrah narrative, Israel at Sinai and the book of Jeremiah emphasise Jonah's failure to take up the prophetic roles of intercession and warning. Simultaneously, the collective effect of the allusions is to indicate that even prophetic intervention does not constrain God's freedom of action. The aforementioned allusions, plus others to the book of Joel and the flood narrative, create a contrast between Jonah's affirmation of a God who 'relents of harm', and God's actions as described at many points in biblical narrative. Indeed, the very city which appears to be spared at the end of the book was infamous for later having been destroyed as thoroughly as Sodom. God's freedom to spare or to destroy is also freedom to reverse such judgment. Haunting the book is the ghost-like presence of Jerusalem, never explicitly referenced but always close at hand. The fate of Jerusalem could have prompted the questions addressed by the book, including how to reconcile the affirmation of a relenting God with an experience of rejection and downfall. Nevertheless, the very reversibility of God's judgment provides hope for those living in the aftermath of Jerusalem's fall.

TheoArtistry Composers' Scheme and Poets' Scheme

I collaborated with a young composer and with established poet, providing biblical research for a new choral composition for use in church worship and poetry inspired by biblical passages.

Humour in the Bible Project

I researched the use of humour in biblical texts, with particular emphasis on the book of Judges, the book of Jonah and Jesus' parables.

Future Research

The Literary Function of Cities in the Hebrew Bible

The literary and imaginative depictions of places express the experiences and self-understanding of a culture. For example, locations such as Atlantis, Troy and Camelot function in Western culture not only as place-names, but also as concepts. They encapsulate the notion of a bygone golden age to which the present age fails to compare, yet is somehow the legitimate successor. The concepts of these places are thereby formative in Western cultural identities. Similarly, the literary and imaginative depictions of places in biblical literature express and construct Israelite cultural identity. I am researching some of the paradigmatic foreign cities in biblical literature, specifically Tyre, Nineveh and Babylon. The cultural perception of these cities frames the biblical story of God's people, their redemption and abandonment, their past losses and future hopes. The portrayals of the cities in the biblical texts reveal the development of Israel's self-understanding in distinction from other places and peoples. My research brings together analysis of the development of the literary portrayal of foreign cities over time, the function of the foreign cities in the biblical texts in their current form, and the role of the cities in shaping and illustrating Israel's cultural identity.

  • WILLIAM TOOMAN and MARIAN KELSEY, 2022. Reading Ruth Cascade Press.
  • MARIAN KELSEY, 2022. Ruth and Jonah: Inner-biblical explorations of the patriarchs and prophets. In: KEITH BODNER, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Biblical Narrative Cambridge University Press. (In Press.)
  • MARIAN KELSEY, 2021. Prophetic Protest AJS Perspectives.
  • MARIAN KELSEY, 2021. Names/Naming in the Visual Arts Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception.
  • MARIAN KELSEY, 2020. The Book of Jonah and the Theme of Exile Journal for the Study of the Old Testament. 45,
  • MARIAN KELSEY, 2019. Jacob Wrestling: Genesis 32:22-32. In: Annunciations: Sacred Music for the Twenty-First Century Open Book Publishers.
  • MARIAN KELSEY, 2018. Jacob and the Wife-Sister Stories Jewish Bible Quarterly. 46,

Department of Theology and Religious Studies

University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

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