Saturday, July 16, 2011

An Eyewitness to Morton Smith's Stay in Jerusalem During the 1940s

"The Secretary of the School (= 'the American School' of the American School of Oriental Research [ASOR] in Jerusalem) at the time was Mrs. Ina Pomerantz, and on my first visit, she introduced me to a tall gentleman, who started to speak to me in fluent Hebrew. This was the exceptional Morton Smith, a Fellow at ASOR, who told me he was in the final stages of writing his dissertation on the New Testament and Rabbinics. One of his supervisors was Prof. Schwabe. I learned later that Morton Smith had several private Hebrew teachers: one for Biblical Hebrew and another for Mishnaic Hebrew. To give you an idea of his linguistic talents—one day, on entering the library, he noticed the dust on the shelves and said in Hebrew, Ha'avadim ve-hashfakhot lo ba'u haboker lenakot. Morton Smith was the first Gentile to write a dissertation at the Hebrew University." [Joseph Aviram in Symbiosis, Symbolism, and the Power of the Past: Canaan, Ancient Israel, and Their Neighbors from the Late Bronze Age Through Roman Palaestina p. 573]

The importance of this story (other than to show case his brilliance) is his close relationship with ASOR in Jerusalem. It is hard to imagine that he undertook to catalogue the books in the Mar Saba library with ASOR's knowledge, assistance and approval. After all, he was Thayer Fellow at the American School of Oriental Research, Jerusalem, in 1942-1943. It was at Jerusalem that he enrolled as a research student in the Hebrew University, from 1940 to 1944. It was only after he was awarded his Harvard ThD in 1957 that he went back to Mar Saba the following year (he had first been there in 1941). It is hard to believe that Morton Smith was acting completely independently while in Jerusalem. He must have had some assistance from ASOR while in Jerusalem in 1958. I have corresponded with its former president Jack Sasson about Morton Smith before (he seemed to be in awe of the man). Maybe I should see if there are any records of ASOR's involvement or assistance with respect to Smith's visit to Palestine in 1958.

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