Sunday, December 09, 2007

John Strugnell Dies at 77

I just found this out by reading Paleojudaica: John Strugnell Dies at 77; Scholar Undone by His Slur. I studied with Strugnell when I was an undergraduate and a graduate student at Harvard in the 1980s. I took his course on "Intertestamental Literature" when I was a senior, and we spent most of the semester reading 1 Enoch (in the then new Old Testament Pseudepigrapha translation). I wrote a paper for the course on the Apocalypse of Abraham - it was one of the first papers I wrote as a student on ancient Jewish mysticism. As a graduate student, I took the New Testament seminar with him in 1986 or 1987 when the topic was 4QMiqtzat Ma'aseh Torah. It hadn't been published yet - in fact, we were very lucky to be able to study it, as Strugnell was the Dead Sea Scrolls editor who had been entrusted with its publication, and this was still in the days before all of the scrolls were released to be studied by any scholar. I remember going to the AAR/SBL that year and getting into a conversation at breakfast one day with a scholar from another university who asked me if I had a copy of Strugnell's transcription, because he wanted to look at it! When I went to Israel in 1987 for two years, I would periodically go visit Strugnell at the Ecole Biblique and we would talk about ancient Judaism. I wasn't aware of his negative opinions about Judaism until the whole scandal broke in 1990. At some point during these years I was talking to him in his Harvard office and agreed with him that the most interesting parts of ancient Jewish literature were the wierd ones, like the pseudepigrapha or the mystical texts. He was always very helpful to me and I was sad when I heard about his opinions on Judaism. Nonetheless, he had many accomplishments as a scholar, including teaching many undergraduate and graduate students how to read ancient Jewish texts in a careful and analytic manner. Whatever his feelings about Judaism as a religion, it did not affect how he related to me as a Jewish student or how he taught me about ancient Judaism.

Update - This is Jim Davila's encomium of Strugnell, with which I agree - John Strugnell. He says that "many of his friends and students, myself included, signed a statement in his defense which was published in Biblical Archaeology Review in 1991." I also signed this statement.

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