David Marcus

Professor of Bible, JTS

My name is David Marcus and I have been a professor of Bible at The Jewish Theological Seminary for 34 years. Before coming to JTS, I was a faculty member at Columbia University and, over the years, have taught classes at Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion, Union Theological Seminary, and Yale University. At Columbia I specialized in ancient Semitic languages such as Akkadian, Ugaritic, and Phoenician.

When I was invited to teach at JTS, I welcomed the opportunity to concentrate on the biblical languages of Hebrew and Aramaic. JTS enabled me to give a course on the Aramaic of the Talmud, which led to writing my Manual of Talmudic Aramaic, which is still being used at JTS and at many other colleges and universities.

Work, Philosophy, and Best Teaching Moments

I always have had an interest in languages, and have devoted much of my academic career to imparting seemingly opaque languages to beginning students. I have found that introducing students to a foreign language is both an art and a challenge. That is why, even though I have taught the same course many times, I find every new introductory class at JTS to be stimulating and exciting.

In recent years I have become immersed in Masoretic Studies, or the study of the transmission of the Hebrew Bible—which, of course, is the foundational text for nearly all our studies at JTS. In all of my classes, I try to introduce students to the wonders of the Masoretes, without whose efforts we would not have the Bible in the form that it is in today.

My best teaching moments have been not in the classroom, but when I meet former students who tell me they are now using my methods and material in their own teaching. No greater compliment can be made to an instructor than to know that he or she has made a difference is another person’s life.

Current Research and Publications

I am part of a team involved in the production of a new critical Hebrew Bible being produced by the German Bible Society. I was the editor for the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, and am currently the Masorah editor for the entire series. The most recent volume that came out with my assistance was the book of Judges, and I am now working on the books of Joshua and Ezekiel.

I also have two other works that are completed and waiting to be published, one a translation and commentary on the sage Ahiqar for the new 20-volume series Wisdom of the Ancient World, to be published by Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht in Göttingen, Germany; and the other, Aramaic Mnemonics, to be published by the Spanish National Research Council in Madrid, Spain.

Lessons Learned and Thoughts for Students

The most important and impressive thing that I have learnt studying Judaism is the

enormous respect that our ancestors had for the written text, and the love and joy of learning that emerges through their writings. My advice for all students is to learn Hebrew and engage with the texts, and so be part of a conversation and dialogue that extends back for literally millennia.

Personal Background

I was born in Dublin, Ireland, and did my undergraduate work at Trinity College in Dublin and Cambridge University in England. The scholars that influenced me the most during my formative academic years were Jacob Weingreen, author of the grammar that bears his name, and Moshe Held, my PhD advisor at Columbia University. The most important lesson I learnt from Weingreen was to keep things simple in the classroom, and not go into too much detail. From Held I learnt always to check the original texts and never rely on secondary sources. I have also tried to impart these sound pieces of advice to my students at JTS.

As for recreation, I am fortunate at my age to still be able to play squash at a competitive level twice a week, and take daily walks with our yellow Labrador, Skippy. Many an idea for a future project, class, or draft of an email has come from these dog walks.

Activities

I founded the scholarly Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Society (JANES) at Columbia University in 1968. This journal has been housed at JTS since 1982, and 32 volumes have been published under the editorship of my colleague Ed Greenstein and myself. The volumes include more than 400 articles written by nearly every leading scholar in the fields of Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Studies. This year marked the last year of JANES as a print journal. Future issues will be available online on the JTS website, where all back issues may be viewed by the general public: http://www.jtsa.edu/x5392.xml.