The Harvard Divinity School's recent appointment of a Hebrew Bible scholar marks the first time a professor at the predominantly Christian-focused institution will assume a full-time teaching position that revolves around the Jewish culture and religion.
Jon D. Levenson '71 will join the Divinity School faculty this fall as the first full-time occupant of the Albert A. List Chair of Jewish Studies, which was established in 1981 but has been filled previously by visiting professors.
Levenson, who was a professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School from 1982 until last year, is recognized as a scholar who has contributed to both Christian and Jewish scholarship.
"I haven't assessed the situation enough to know what major goals or changes I plan for Jewish studies at the Divinity School," says Levenson. "But I do know that it will be a challenge to make Jewish studies at the Divinity School integrated with the University without its getting absorbed into the Jewish Studies or Near Eastern Studies Departments."
Dean of the Divinity School Ronald F. Thiemann said that Levenson was chosen to fill the List chair because his work involving Jewish and Christian thought is among the most respected in the world.
"He does work that is set solidly in the Jewish tradition," Thiemann said. "Christianity and Judaism have been seen to have a sibling role and tradition. But Jon is rethinking the relationship between Judaism and Christianity to see what is common and what is different."
"He is rethinking the role of the Bible, and his work is in conversation with that of Christian scholars while at the same time of interest to scholars of Judaism," Theimann said.
Levenson said he will teach two full-year courses for the Divinity School beginning this September. One, called "Judaism: The Liturgical Year", will focus on the Jewish calendar and how Jewish texts are intergrated into the Jewish lifestyle and history. The other class will be a seminar focusing on the first 11 books of the Torah and how their original "contexts" have been perceived throughout history, he said.
"The class on the Jewish liturgical year will be the third or fourth time I've tried to develop an introduction to Jewish history," said Levenson. "It will focus on the Jewish texts and the thread is the Jewish calendar. I'll be looking at the rhythm of the Jewish year."
Levenson, who is the author of the recently published book, Creation and the Persistence of Evil: Jewish Drama of Divine Omnipotence, said next year he hopes to study the concept of chosenness, or God's preference of one person over another in the Bible, and its theological implications.
"Being chosen often reflects God's preference of people but can provoke hostility in the non-chosen, and that has explicit theological implications," said Levenson.
Levenson received his masters from Harvard in 1974 and his Ph.D. in Near Eastern Studies from Harvard in 1975, before teaching at Wellesley College until 1982.