Benjamin Williams


James Mew Lecturer in Rabbinic Hebrew; Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies

Faculty Address:

Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies / OCHJS


Within the field of the history of Rabbinic Judaism and its classical texts, I teach courses on Judaism from the late Second Temple period to the Middle Ages, and on the Mishnah, midrashic literature, talmudim, and medieval Hebrew texts. My research focuses on the development of rabbinic Bible interpretation, including the dating of late antique exegetical traditions; the transmission of midrash in manuscript and print, particularly in the Sephardi communities of the Ottoman Empire in which the editiones principes were published; and the interpretation of midrash in Jewish and Christian commentarial traditions. Recent research projects have focused on references to Graeco-Roman public institutions in rabbinic texts, the study of Hebrew grammar in late antiquity, the formation of the textus receptus of Genesis Rabba, and Christian scholarship of midrash and the Mishnah in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. I am currently finishing a monograph project on rabbinic interpretation of the book of Ruth.

Research Interests:

  • Rabbinic Judaism in Late Antiquity
  • Jewish exegesis of the Hebrew Bible
  • Rabbinic exegesis in Christian commentaries

Subjects Taught:

  • The Formation of Rabbinic Judaism
  • Varieties of Judaism (100 BCE – 100 CE)
  • Mishnaic Texts
  • Rabbinic and Medieval Jewish exegesis
  • Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah

Current Projects:

  • Athletic imagery in Rabbinic texts
  • The study of Hebrew grammar in late antiquity
  • Rabbinic interpretation of the book of Ruth

Selected Publications:

  • “The Parable of the Disappearing Gladiators: Interpreting a Late Antique Cultural Reference in Genesis Rabba’s Exposition of the Cain and Abel Narrative,” in Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic and Roman Period 53 (2022), pp. 1–42 (
  • “What did the Rabbis Know about Grammar? Exegesis and Grammatical Gender in Late Antiquity,” in Journal of Jewish Studies 73 (2022), pp. 1–23.
  • ““Some Fanciful Midrash Explanation” – Derash on the Teʿamim,” in Studies in the Masoretic Tradition of the Hebrew Bible, ed. Geoffrey Khan, Aaron Hornkohl, and Daniel J. Crowther (Cambridge: OpenBook Publishers, 2022), pp. 329–76.
  • “Bringing Maimonides to Oxford: Edward Pococke, the Mishnah, and the Porta Mosis,” in The Mishnaic Moment: Jewish Law among Jews and Christians in Early Modern Europe, ed. Joanna Weinberg, Piet van Boxel, and Kirsten MacFarlane (Oxford: OUP, 2022), pp. 157–76.
  • ““Great Mountains Suspended from Every Single Letter”: Thomas Wakefield and his Hebrew Bibles,” in Christian Hebraism in Sixteenth-Century England: Robert and Thomas Wakefield, ed. James Carley and Charles Burnett (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies: forthcoming)
  • “The Pococke Collection,” in Jewish Treasures from Oxford Libraries, ed. César Merchán-Hamann and Rebecca Abrams (Bodleian: Oxford, 2020), pp. 67–88.
  • “The Insects and the Camel – A Case Study in the Reception of Genesis Rabba,” in Jewish Quarterly Review 107 (2017), pp. 157–81.
  • Commentary on Midrash Rabba in the Sixteenth Century: The Or ha-Sekhel of Abraham ben Asher (Oxford: OUP, 2016).
  • Glossa Ordinaria and Glossa Hebraica – Midrash in Rashi and the Gloss,” in Traditio 71 (2016), pp. 179–201.
  • “More than one way to read a Midrash: The Bodleian copy of Bomberg’s Midrash Rabba,” in Jewish Texts and their Readers in Early Modern Europe, ed. Scott Mandelbrote and Joanna Weinberg (Leiden: Brill, 2016), pp. 289–311.
  • “The 1525 Rabbinic Bible and How to Read It: A Study of the Annotated Copy in the John Rylands Library,” in Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 92 (2016), pp. 53–72.
  • “The Venetian Edition of Midrash Rabba in Cambridge University Library,” in Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society 15 (2015), pp. 583–94.
  • “The First Printed Books of Midrash and their Jewish and Christian Readers,” in European Judaism 48 (2015), pp. 60–69.
  • “Doubting Abraham doubting God – The Call of Abraham in the Or ha-Sekhel,” in “Atheism, Scepticism and Challenges to Monotheism,” ed. Daniel Langton, special issue, Melilah 12 (2015), pp. 31–42.
  • “The Ingathering of Midrash Rabba: A Moment of Creativity and Innovation,” in Midrash Unbound: Transformations and Innovations, ed. Michael Fishbane and Joanna Weinberg (Oxford: Littman Library for Jewish Civilization, 2013), pp. 347–70.
Ben Williams