Maxwell Benster (Theology & Religion, 2021) has been awarded the Faculty Preliminary Examination Prize (for the best performance in the Preliminary Examination in Theology and Religion) and the Junior Pusey and Ellerton Prize (for the best performance in Biblical Hebrew in the Preliminary Examination) by the Faculty of Theology and Religion.
Max is involved in Oxford’s Jewish Society (JSOC), and is the Jewish chair for the Interfaith Scriptural Reasoning Society. When asked what initially sparked his interest in studying Theology, Max replied:
“It combines all the different things I enjoy – history (ancient and modern), literature, philosophy and language – and brings them together in an attempt to answer some of the biggest questions. This is also why I am especially interested in Biblical Studies – it involves engaging with literary, historical, philosophical, archaeological and linguistic questions. But when you take a step back, it becomes clear that the Bible is not just any other book, but one that has had an immeasurable impact on the course of human history. It is this combination – of the varied nature of how theology is studied, and the profound significance of what is being studied – that initially drew me to Theology”.
Max is one of two Oriel students this term to be awarded prizes by the Faculty of Theology and Religion. Of his experience of studying theology at Oriel so far, he says:
“I have really enjoyed studying Hebrew this year with Dr Cian Power, and it is something I really want to continue with going forward. One of the very special things about theology at Oriel is the regular Hebrew Bible seminars, lectures and reading groups that are put on by the Centre for the Study of the Bible. Professor Hindy Najman has been extremely kind in welcoming me into that community, and allowing me to join the sessions this past year. I feel like I have learnt a lot from them”.
Max said he was “very surprised and very happy” upon learning that he had won the prizes. He is “looking forward to carrying on next year, and hopefully doing well at it. I am especially excited about being able to really focus in on the Hebrew Bible for the rest of my degree. I’m also taking papers in the Early Church, and Rabbinic Judaism next year, which I think will be really interesting. If possible, I would love to stay on and do a Master’s in the Hebrew Bible”.
Outside of his degree, Max enjoys playing ‘real tennis’ and teamed up with “three other Oriel students in Hilary for Croquet cuppers”, making it to the last 16 out of over 200 teams, and hoping to beat that record next year. Max has also worked on an Oxford Film Society ‘Projects 21’ short film called No Solution, which was shown at last year’s film festival. He hopes to pursue more film projects in the upcoming academic year.
Max’s advice to students aspiring to study theology and religion is to “read lots about all sorts of different things”. He notes that “the A level (that I did at least) covers few of the things you would study in Theology at Oxford. So I think it’s probably good to read a bit about the sorts of things that you will have the option to study in the degree. For example Biblical Studies, Church History and Systematic theology are all huge areas of theology that you can study at Oxford which are not really covered by the A level. At the very least, this would certainly be a good indication of whether or not theology is actually the subject you want to study”.