Prestigious Book Award Committee Recognizes Works by JTS Scholars

Press Contact: Nina Jacobson
Office: (212) 678-8950

December 10, 2009, New York, NY

The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel (Cambridge University Press, June 2009), written by Dr. Benjamin Sommer, professor of Bible at The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), has been awarded the 2009 Jordan Schnitzer Book Award in the area of Biblical Studies, Rabbinics, and Archaeology. The award covers books written in these areas between 2006–2009.

The Schnitzer Book Award Committee also distinguished two other books by JTS professors as Notable Books: Dr. Richard Kalmin’s Jewish Babylonia Between Persia and Roman Palestine (Oxford University Press, 2006) in the category of Biblical Studies, Rabbinics, and Archaeology; and Dr. Edna Nahshon’s From the Ghetto to the Melting Pot: Israel Zangwill’s Jewish Plays (Wayne State University Press, 2006) in the category of Jews and the Arts.

The Jordan Schnitzer Book Award recognizes and promotes outstanding scholarship in the field of Jewish studies and honors scholars whose work embodies the best in the field: innovative research, excellent writing, and sophisticated methodology. JTS scholars won three of this year’s five awards.

The Prize Committee described Dr. Sommer’s book as “an original, wide-ranging, and accessible work of scholarship . . . a cross-cultural tour-de-force” and wrote that his “thesis has implications for understanding not only the theology of ancient Israel but also the theologies of its surrounding world, whether in Mesopotamia or the Levant, as well as those of rabbinic Judaism and Christianity.”

A labor of love ten years in the making, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel explores a lost ancient Near Eastern perception of divinity that believed the essential difference between gods and humans was that gods had more than one body and fluid, unbounded selves. Dr. Sommer then argues that this perception has important repercussions not only for biblical scholarship and comparative religion, but for Jewish-Christian dialogue as well.

A member of the JTS faculty since July 2008, Dr. Sommer teaches Hebrew Bible, ancient Judaism, and religions of the ancient Near East, specializing in the history of Israelite religion, literary analysis of the Bible, and biblical theology. Previously, Dr. Sommer served as the director of the Crown Family Center for Jewish Studies at Northwestern University, where he taught for fourteen years. He has been a visiting faculty member at various institutions, including the University of Chicago, the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and the Shalom Hartman Institute.

r kalminTheodore R. Racoosin Chair of Rabbinic Literature at JTS, where he has taught since 1982, Dr. Kalmin is the author of several books and numerous articles on the interpretation of rabbinic stories, ancient Jewish history, and the development of rabbinic literature. He has been a visiting professor at Yale University, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and Union Theological Seminary, and a faculty fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies at Hebrew University.

According to the Prize Committee, “Professor Kalmin has provided his readers with sophisticated, wide-ranging, and careful literary analyses of a vast compendium of rabbinic texts, many of which are not often cited in the contexts in which he uses them nor are they in many cases even familiar to other specialists in his field. Indeed, this book may be regarded as a crowning achievement of a lifetime devoted to the vast sea of rabbinic literature.”

e nahshonDr. Nahshon is professor of Hebrew at JTS with a specialty in Jewish theater and performance. In addition to From the Ghetto to the Melting Pot, she is the author of three books, including Jews and Shoes (Berg Publishers, 2008), which has received much exposure in such publications as BookForum, History Today, and Museum Anthropology, as well as Haaretz. Her many articles and essays have been published in numerous outlets in both Hebrew and English.

Dr. Nahshon is a senior associate of Oxford University's Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, serves on the editorial board of "All About Jewish Theatre," a multilingual electronic database for the preservation, deployment, and circulation of the heritage of Jewish theater worldwide, and a founding member of New York University's Center for Religion and Media's working group on "Jews, Media and Religion," where she developed its unit on Jewish theater. She is co-convener, with Professor Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett (Performance Studies, NYU), of a faculty seminar on Jews and Performance, held regularly at the JTS campus. In February 2009, Dr. Nahshon organized the groundbreaking international conference "Jews/Theatre/Performance in an Intercultural World" at JTS.

In its citation, the Prize Committee wrote, “This critical edition of three important plays by this prolific Anglo-Jewish writer is suitably weighty as almost to constitute a monograph on Zangwill with the plays as an accompaniment. The volume begins with an erudite, wide-ranging, highly readable introduction that surveys Zangwill’s life and career, which Prof. Nahshon places in the context of the Anglo-Jewish scene at the time, Zangwill’s other writings, and his Jewish activism . . . The plays themselves are important works with noteworthy histories, and are brought into print here as a result of significant detective work.”

The awards will be presented at a reception on Sunday, December 20, at the 2009 Association for Jewish Studies conference at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles.