The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) is pleased to announce that Dr. Benjamin D. Sommer has been appointed a 2011–2012 Tikvah Fellow at The Tikvah Center for Law & Jewish Civilization at New York University’s Law School. The Tikvah Center at NYU—like JTS’s Tikvah Institute for Jewish Thought and other affiliated programs at Princeton University and the University of Toronto—is supported by the Tikvah Fund.
Dr. Sommer was also offered a position at the Center of Theological Inquiry in Princeton, which he turned down in order to accept the NYU fellowship. During his tenure as a Tikvah Fellow, Dr. Sommer will be writing a book about Jewish biblical theology. Entitled Artifact or Scripture? The Jewish Bible Between History and Theology, it is under contract to Yale University Press in the Anchor Bible Reference Series. This book will examine whether the Bible, understood as the ancient Near Eastern document it is, can be relevant to modern Jewish thought.
“His approach will take seriously every level of biblical thought rather than focusing on the text’s final form or its reception in later Jewish materials,” said Dr. Gary A. Anderson, Hesburgh Professor of Catholic Theology at the University of Notre Dame. “In this respect, the book will follow very closely from Dr. Sommers’s most recent book, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel. He believes that his approach will reveal a number of continuities between biblical themes (as discovered by higher criticism) and latter Jewish religious expressions. This proposal is strikingly original and will be a milestone for the field.”
Dr. Sommer joined the JTS faculty as professor of Bible in July 2008. Previously, he served as director of the Crown Family Center for Jewish Studies at Northwestern University, where he had taught since 1994. His research focuses on the history of Israelite religion, literary analysis of the Bible, and biblical theology. An overarching concern of his scholarship involves the close and manifold relationships between biblical thought and later Jewish theology or, to use the Hebrew phrasing, between Torah shebikhtav and Torah shebe'al peh. His second book, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel (Cambridge University Press, 2009), received two major honors: the Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion (Textual Studies Category) from the American Academy of Religion, for the best book in religious studies focusing on textual analysis published in 2009; and the 2009 Jordan Schnitzer Award from the Association for Jewish Studies, for the best book published in the years 2006–2009 in biblical studies, rabbinics, or archaeology. The book addresses perceptions of divine embodiment in ancient Israel, Canaan, and Assyria; and how these perceptions reappear in later Jewish philosophy and mysticism.
Dr. Sommer's first book, A Prophet Reads Scripture: Allusion in Isaiah 40–66 (Stanford University Press, 1998), was awarded the Salo Wittmayer Baron Prize by the American Academy of Jewish Research for best first book on ancient or medieval Judaism in 1998. He is the editor of the Psalms volumes of the Jewish Publication Society Bible Commentary series and is writing the first book of that five-volume set.
Dr. Sommer serves on the editorial boards of Prooftexts: A Journal of Jewish Literary History, the Journal of Biblical Literature, and the Society for Biblical Literature's book series Ancient Israel and Its Literature. He has received fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies and the Yad Hanadiv / Beracha Foundation. Dr. Sommer has been a visiting faculty member at various institutions, including Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the Shalom Hartman Institute, the Spertus Institute, the Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University, and the University of Chicago. Dr. Sommer has long been active as a lecturer and scholar-in-residence, teaching rabbis, Jewish educators, and laypeople in a variety of settings in the United States and Israel.
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