By William Yardley May 16, Geza Vermes, a religious scholar who argued that Jesus as a historical figure could be understood only through the Jewish tradition from which he emerged, and who helped expand that understanding through his widely read English translations of the Dead Sea Scrolls, died on May 8 in Oxford, England. He was Vermes was most recently an honorary fellow. Drawing on new archaeological evidence — particularly the scrolls, which were discovered by an Arab shepherd in a cave northwest of the Dead Sea in — historians of many stripes agreed on a basic sketch of Jesus, but their religious biases sometimes colored details. It is often used as a course text. Vermes had long been frustrated that only a handful of scholars had direct access to the scrolls, and he eventually made his frustrations public.

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Geza Vermes was a formidable scholar. Of the three major English translations of the Scrolls, it is his that I typically use and prefer. In the s he began publishing a series of books on Jesus that did more than almost anything to push for the idea that if Jesus is to be understood, he must be understood as a first century Jew. This was something of a novel idea at the time.

It has become the standard view that virtually every Jesus scholar on the planet shares. Professor at Oxford, he was an incredible linguist, intimately familiar with every ancient historical source of relevance, a creative thinker. He wrote books for scholars but also books that were accessible to the educated layperson. He was at the very top of Dead Sea Scrolls studies and Jesus studies, at one and the same time.

He died at the age of The parents had hoped that this conversion would save them from the coming onslaught of the Nazis. It ended up saving Vermes, but not his parents. He was accepted in the Catholic Seminary, and in he saw his parents for the last time.

They died — he never knew how or where — in the holocaust. At the time, the seminary hid him away, so that he survived. He was trained in Catholic circles, but eventually became disenchanted with Christianity and returned to the synagogue. I had known about Vermes and his work since I was a graduate student in the early s.

But I never met him until a couple of years ago. He was in Chapel Hill giving a lecture, and he, his wife, and I all had a very nice and intimate dinner together. He was soft-spoken, sharp, interesting. He had a sense of humor and a gentle disposition. He was interested in my work, and not just interested in talking about his own.

I was far more interested in hearing him talk — he was a legend. It is very sad to see that he has now passed away. The academic community has lost a real scholar with a real story to tell.


Geza Vermes obituary

He then became a priest, which saved his life during the second world war. In the early s he completed the first-ever doctorate on the Dead Sea Scrolls — a risky topic to choose. In , an Arab shepherd had chanced upon the first scrolls — texts written in ancient Hebrew and its sister language Aramaic — in a cave in the cliffs along the north-west shore of the Dead Sea. These were published rapidly, but reports kept circulating that more caves containing more manuscripts were being found. No scholarly consensus had yet emerged as to when the scrolls were written, or by whom.


The Dead Sea Scrolls in English (Fourth Edition)

I realized I ought to recognize my genuine identity. In Vermes obtained a doctorate in theology with the first dissertation written on the Dead Sea Scrolls and its historical framework. She was married and the mother of two children, but her marriage was in the process of ending. Vermes died on 8 May at the age of


Geza Vermes, Scholar of ‘Historical Jesus,’ Dies at 88


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