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The University of Southampton
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Dr Helen Spurling 

Associate Professor of History; Deputy Head of School (Research)

Dr Helen Spurling's photo

Dr Helen Spurling is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Southampton.

Following a BA in Theology and an MPhil in Hebrew Bible, I completed my PhD at Christ's College, University of Cambridge, examining Jewish apocalyptic texts as a response to the rise of Islam. I then worked as a Research Associate first at the University of Sheffield (2003-2005) and then the University of Cambridge (2005-2009) before joining the Parkes Institute for the Study of Jewish/non-Jewish Relations in 2009.

My research focuses on the interpretation of midrashic literature, with particular reference to Jewish-Christian relations, Jewish history from biblical times to Late Antiquity, and eschatology and messianism. My research interests feed into my teaching in biblical studies, Jewish apocalypticism, and Jewish-Christian relations in the first centuries of the common era.

At Southampton, alongside my research and teaching, I am responsible for developing the outreach work of the Parkes Institute. The programme of events and activities centres on developing adult education initiatives in conjunction with members of the Parkes Institute, and working with schools and colleges to develop aspiration raising activities and curriculum initiatives. The aims of the programme are to raise awareness of issues in Jewish/non-Jewish relations to the public regardless of background, to encourage progression to higher education in general, and the University of Southampton and the Parkes Institute in particular, and finally to raise awareness of the work of the Parkes Institute and Jewish studies as a subject in itself.

I am also the Secretary of the British Association for Jewish Studies, a national organisation that aims to promote, cultivate and advance teaching and research in Jewish culture and history in all its aspects within Higher Education in the UK.

Research interests

My research centres on the interpretation of midrashic literature, with particular reference to Jewish-Christian relations, Jewish history from biblical times to Late Antiquity, and eschatology and apocalypticism.

I currently work on a project examining Jewish apocalyptic literature from the seventh and eighth centuries. This period was a critical time for the development of Judaism because of the impact of political events, including the rise of Islam. The aim of this research is to examine the relationship between Jews, Christians and Muslims in the seventh and eighth centuries, and to expand knowledge of Jewish history and attitudes to events at this significant period of religious history. The focus of study is Jewish apocalyptic literature, namely, Sefer Zerubbabel, Sefer Eliyyahu, Otot ha-Mashia, Pirqe Mashia, Nistarot Rabbi Shimon ben Yohai and Pirqe de Rabbi Eliezer. Many debates highlighted in these texts, such as over the status of the Temple Mount, have a significant legacy for today, and understanding the diverse perspectives they present is of primary importance for knowledge of this crucial era of religious development.

Another major research interest is Jewish biblical interpretation during Late Antiquity. A recent research project looked at ‘The Exegetical Encounter between Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity’, which investigated the relationship between Jewish and Christian exegesis of the book of Genesis. I analysed rabbinic interpretations of the book of Genesis throughout Late Antiquity, which were studied comparatively with exegesis of Genesis from Church Fathers of the eastern tradition.

Research project(s)

Jewish Apocalypticism at the Emergence of Islam

The Islamic conquests of the seventh-eighth centuries and the emergence of Islam marked a major transition period for world history, with a significant legacy for today’s societies.

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At undergraduate level, I offer courses on:


At MA level, I offer courses on:

Postgraduate Supervision:
I would welcome enquiries from graduate students interested in studying Jewish history and culture in the classical rabbinic period (from the tannaim to the geonim), midrashic literature, Jewish-Christian relations, apocalypticism or interpretation and reception of the Bible.


Dr Helen Spurling
Building 65 Faculty of Arts and Humanities, University of Southampton Avenue Campus Highfield Southampton SO17 1BF United Kingdom

Room Number : 65/2047

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