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 working on two projects on the Book of Ruth.

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.


  • PhD Divinity, University of St Andrews (2015-2019)

  • MA Biblical Studies, University of Durham (2014-2015)

  • MTheol (Hons) Divinity, University of St Andrews (2010-2014)

Work Shared in CORE

Book chapters

Other Publications

‘Retellings in Science Fiction and Magic Realism.’ In The Routledge Handbook of the Hebrew Bible in Contemporary Fiction and Poetry. Edited by Lena-Sofia Tiemeyer. Abingdon: Routledge, c. 2024 (under contract).

‘Ruth and Jonah: Inner-biblical Explorations of the Patriarchs and Prophets.’ (provisional title) c. 2023, The Cambridge Companion to Biblical Narrative, ed. Keith Bodner. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Under contract.

God & Moviemakers podcast episode on biblical imagery in The Lord of the Rings

(Re)Reading Ruth. William A. Tooman with Marian Kelsey. Cascade Press, 2022.

‘Book of Jonah.’ Database of Religious History, Vancouver, BC: University of British Columbia, 2022.

Names/Naming in the Visual Arts 2022, Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception. Berlin: De Gruyter.

Prophetic Protest 2021, AJS Perspectives: The Protest Issue.

The Book of Jonah and the Theme of Exile 2020, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, Vol. 45. [published version here–paywall]

Jacob Wrestling: Genesis 32:22-32 2019, Chapter in Annunciations: Sacred Music for the Twenty-First Century, ed. George Corbett. Cambridge: Open Book Publishers.

Jacob and the Wife-Sister Stories 2018, Jewish Bible Quarterly, Vol. 46.

Blog Posts


    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.


    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.


    • SOTS

    • SBL

    • EABS

    • BAJS

    Marian Kelsey

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