Undergraduate Program

The major in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations is a liberal arts major that gives students a sound competence in a Near Eastern language and a broad knowledge of the literatures, civilizations, history, and archaeology of the Near East. The major also provides essential preparation for graduate or professional work in which a knowledge of Near Eastern languages, history, and archaeology is required.

Depending on the student’s interests, the major is built around study of one or more Near Eastern languages, leading to a concentration in the ancient Near East (Mesopotamia, Egypt, or Syria-Palestine), in Hebrew language and literature, or in Arabic and Islamic studies.


You may apply at Yale College Undergraduate Admissions.

Requirements of the Major. Twelve term courses in the department, or their equivalent, are required for the major, including the senior essay course. No more than six course credits from other institutions will be accepted toward this requirement. The course work includes at least two years of study of a Near Eastern language and no fewer than three term courses in the history and civilizations of the Near East, at least one term of which must be in the ancient and one in the Islamic Near East. Students should develop coherent programs of study in one of three areas of concentration:

  1. Ancient Near Eastern languages and civilizations, with emphasis on Mesopotamia, Egypt, or Syria-Palestine. Students interested in Mesopotamia take at least two years of Akkadian, as well as courses in the history and civilizations of the ancient Near East. Students interested in Egypt take at least two years of Egyptian, as well as courses in the history and civilizations of ancient Egypt. Students interested in Syria-Palestine take at least two years of biblical Hebrew, as well as courses in the history and civilizations of the ancient Near East.
  2. Hebrew language and literature. Students take two years or more of Hebrew (ancient or modern, but in any case at least two years of one period of the language), and courses in Hebrew literature, the history and civilizations of the ancient Near East, and Near Eastern Judaism.
  3. Arabic and Islamic studies. ARBC 120 is a prerequisite for this area and counts as one term course toward the twelve required. Students take at least two years of Arabic beyond the prerequisite, and courses selected from Arabic literature, Arab civilization, Islamic religion, Near Eastern history, and Persian or Turkish language. In their senior year, students take NELC 490, Introduction to Arabic and Islamic Studies. Majors in this area of concentration are strongly advised to begin their language training as early as possible, and certainly not later than the sophomore year. Students should consult Dimitri Gutas, HGS 316, 203-432-2947.

Well-qualified students who have acquired the requisite background in undergraduate courses may, with the permission of the instructor, the director of Undergraduate Studies, and the director of Graduate Studies, be admitted to graduate courses where no suitable undergraduate courses exist. In addition, courses from such other departments and programs as Archaeological Studies, History, History of Art, Judaic Studies, Political Science, and Religious Studies, as well as college seminars, are routinely accepted for credit toward the major if they deal with Near Eastern topics.

All course schedules must be approved by the director of Undergraduate Studies.

Egyptian Book label, 1402-1363 B.C.Senior Essay. To derive full benefit from the major, students should acquire practical experience in using Near Eastern languages for research purposes. Therefore all students in the major undertake a senior essay that involves substantial use of materials in one or more Near Eastern languages. The senior essay is a research paper of at least thirty pages prepared under the supervision of a departmental faculty member. It may be written under the rubric of NELC 492 and/or 493, or as an extended seminar paper in a departmental seminar course, in which case the instructor serves as the essay adviser. The topic and a prospectus signed by an adviser are to be submitted to the director of undergraduate studies by the end of the fourth week of classes in either term of the senior year. The particular subject matter and theoretical approach of the essay are decided by the student after consultation with the faculty adviser.

In cases in which students demonstrably need more time for an extensive essay, the senior essay may be approved as a year course after consultation with the adviser and the director of undergraduate studies. Only those students who have advanced language skills and whose project is considered to be of exceptional promise are eligible. The requirements for the two-term essay are the same as for the one-term essay, except that the essay should be at least sixty pages.

Languages currently offered by the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations include Akkadian, Arabic, Egyptian, Hebrew, Persian, Syriac, and Turkish. Students who take a foreign language during a term, year, or summer abroad must complete a departmental placement examination after they return to Yale; there are no exceptions to this requirement.


Poem by Enheduanna, Old Babylonia, Yale Babylonian Collection, YBC 4656.

Prerequisites.  Arabic and Islamic studies—ARBC 120; All other areas—none

Number of courses. 12 term courses (incl prereq and senior essay)

Distribution of courses. 2 years of a Near Eastern lang; 3 courses in Near Eastern hist and civ, incl 1 in ancient and 1 in Islamic Near East; area of concentration as specified

Specific course required.  Arabic and Islamic studies—NELC 490

Senior requirement. Senior essay using materials in 1 or more Near Eastern languages (in NELC 492 and/or 493 or in department seminar)