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Durham University

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Staff Profile

Dr William R. Telford, MA, BD (Hons), Glasgow; STM, Union Theological Seminary, New York City; PhD, Cambridge; FRSA

Senior Lecturer (Retired) in the Department of Theology and Religion

Contact Dr William R. Telford (email at


After my preliminary degree work at Glasgow University (Master of Arts, Bachelor of Divinity, 1965-71) and Union Theological Seminary, New York City (Master of Sacred Theology, 1971-2), I went on to pursue a doctoral programme at Cambridge (Christ's College, PhD, 1972-77) in the field of New Testament studies. A subsequent period as Research Fellow and Tutor in Biblical Studies at Mansfield College, Oxford (1977-79) allowed me to prepare my doctoral dissertation (and first book) for publication as The Barren Temple and the Withered Tree. A Redaction-Critical Analysis of the Cursing of the Fig-tree Pericope in Mark's Gospel and its Relation to the Cleansing of the Temple Tradition (Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series, 1; Sheffield: JSOT, 1980).

Between 1979 and 2004, I was involved in teaching and research as, firstly, Lecturer and then Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies (Christian Origins and the New Testament) at the Department of Religious Studies in the University of Newcastle, and I currently hold this position at the Department of Theology and Religion in Durham following the merger of these two distinguished North East Departments in 2004. Apart from my love of the North of England, travel, cinema, reading, walking, photography, art and architecture are the interests that occupy me outside of work hours. For more information, see my entries in Who's Who in the World, Who's Who in Biblical Studies, The Cambridge Blue Book and The Dictionary of International Biography, or look me up on Facebook.

Teaching and Examining

In thirty-three years of undergraduate teaching, I have taught a wide variety of courses. These have included: 'The Bible and Christian Origins'; 'The Bible in the Modern World'; 'Greek (New Testament)', 'New Testament Greek and Exegesis' and 'Selected Greek Texts'; 'Jesus and the Gospel Tradition'; 'The Johannine Literature'; 'Paul and Pauline Christianity'; 'The Bible and Literature'; 'The Bible and Film'; 'Jesus in Fiction and Film'; 'Introduction to the Study of Religion', 'Themes and Approaches in the Study of Religion' and 'Introduction to the New Testament'.

At postgraduate level, I contributed, as both degree programme co-director and module leader, to the MA in Religion and Literature at Newcastle, and at Durham I contribute to the MA in Theology and Religion and the MA in Biblical Studies. I have been responsible at both Newcastle and Durham for the supervision of postgraduate students in research leading to the M.Litt., M.Phil. or Ph.D. Areas of supervision have included: The Jewish Background of the Gospel of John; the Literary and Social Environment of the Apocalypse of John; Narrative Criticism and the Gospel of Mark; Poverty in the New Testament; the Representation in Luke-Acts of High and Low Status, Wealth and Destitution; the Sayings on Hell in the Gospels; the Role and Status of Women in the Crucifixion, Burial and Resurrection Stories of the Canonical and Apocryphal Gospels; The Baptism of Jesus in the Canonical and Extra-Canonical Gospels; The Historical Relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist; John the Baptist in Tradition, Art, Literature and Film; Jesus the Healer; Historical and Social-Scientific Study of Liberation in the Ministry of Jesus; Historical and Social-Scientific Study of Jesus and his Family; Historical and Social-Scientific Study of the Last Supper in the New Testament; Jesus Tradition in Paul; Conversion in Luke and Paul. My current postgraduate students are working on such areas as the Place and Function of Exhortation in Hebrews; the Influence of the Legend of Alexander the Great on the Development of the Jesus Story; The ‘Fire’ sayings in the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of Thomas; The Gospel of Mark and its Perceived Relationship with Paganism in the Roman Near East; and Judas and the Betrayal in the Tradition of the Early Church.

In addition to undergraduate and postgraduate teaching, I have been involved in examining, both internal and external, at all levels (BA, BD, BEd, MA, MPhil, MLitt and PhD). In addition to the Universities of Newcastle and Durham, institutions for which I have examined include the Universities of Cambridge, Edinburgh, Leeds, London, Manchester, Nottingham, Oslo, Oxford, Sheffield, Sydney and Wales.

New Testament at Durham

New Testament studies is strongly represented in Durham, with three full time members of staff in this field, in addition to myself: Professors John Barclay and Francis Watson, and Dr Lutz Doering. New Testament courses are taught at both Bachelor's and Master's levels, with a strong emphasis on both the texts (in either Greek or English) and their contexts (historical, literary or theological).

Courses at level 1 introduce students to the literature of the New Testament, to the language in which it was written, and to aspects of Jewish religious thought at the time of Jesus. Courses at level 2 include New Testament Theology (exploring Paul and John), the Dead Sea Scrolls, the New Testament Passion Narratives (in Greek) and Jesus and the Gospel Tradition. Third level options include Advanced Greek Texts, the First Urban Churches, New Testament Ethics, Jesus in Fiction and Film and a dissertation. A number of these courses are taught by at least two members of staff, and some assistance is also given by postgraduate students, of whom there is a sizeable community at Durham.

Research Interests and Current Publishing Projects

My research interests cover a number of related areas: The Gospel of Mark; Pre-Synoptic Traditions; Jesus in History and Culture; Methods of Biblical Interpretation (including the recent literary approaches) and the Bible in Fiction and Film. I have published in each of these areas, my most recent publication being Writing on the Gospel of Mark  (Guides to Advanced Biblical Research) for DEO Publishing (2009), an advanced research-level handbook of some 575 pages in a new series aimed at biblical scholars and research students, which seeks to provide a comprehensive guide to recent and current developments in the field.

Two major research and writing projects currently occupy me, one in the field of hermeneutics and the other on the New Testament and film. The first, New Testament Hermeneutics: A Short Introduction for Oneworld, is a textbook in a popular series aimed at University students and teachers (as well as the intelligent layperson) and this, too, relates well to my research interests as well as to my teaching in the Department. In addition, I have signed a contract with Blackwells for a volume that will bring together my (suitably edited) published and unpublished work on Jesus in film.

Other Research-Related Activity

In addition to my research and publication, I have been involved for a number of years in other research-related activity. As first Assistant Secretary (1993-1995), and then General Secretary (1996-2005), I was privileged to serve Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas (SNTS), the premier international learned society, whose purpose is to promote the furtherance of New Testament studies. Co-chair, with Prof. Hans Klein of Romania of the society's 'Pre-Synoptic Traditions' seminar between 1991-4, I have also been involved with several of its other international seminars (such as the Gospel of Mark, the Historical Jesus and the New Testament in History and Culture). I have been a member of the Society of Biblical Literature since 1991, as well as a founding member of the British New Testament Conference (now the British New Testament Society), whose seminar on Jesus I chaired between 1992 and 1999.

A long-time supporter of Gladstone's (St Deiniol's) Library, Hawarden, founded by William Gladstone more than a century ago to promote 'divine learning', I became a Fellow of that venerable institution in 2001. The Library has sponsored a series of annual theology and film conferences and I have been a regular contributor to these since their inception in 1998. Along with Eric Christianson and Peter Francis, I both co-edited and contributed to a volume of collected essays based on these conferences, and this was published as Cinéma Divinité: Religion, Theology and the Bible in Film (London: SCM-Canterbury, 2005).

Editorial work and membership of Editorial Boards have also been part of my research-related activity. From 1993-2005, I was a member of the Editorial Board of New Testament Studies, the Journal of the Society of New Testament Studies, and, in that capacity, was also an occasional assessor for the SNTS Monograph Series.

In September, 2006, I was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society for the Arts, and in Durham I am a member of the Senior Common Rooms of both Trevelyan and St John’s Colleges.

Research Interests

  • The Gospel of Mark
  • Pre-Synoptic Traditions
  • Jesus in History and Culture
  • Methods of Biblical Interpretation
  • The Bible in Fiction and Film


Authored book

Edited book

Chapter in book

Journal Article

  • Telford, W.R. (2001). 'Maze and Amazement in Mark’s Gospel'. The Way 41: 339-348.
  • Telford, W. R. (2000). Religion, the Bible and Theology in Recent Films (1993-99). Epworth Review 27(4): 31-40.

Book review