Geza Vermes died today from a reoccurrence of cancer. Religious studies has lost one of its most erudite and colorful scholars.
Vermes was born to Jewish parents and converted to Roman Catholicism with them before WWII. After the war he became a Roman Catholic priest, but then returned to Judaism while in his 30s. Not long after publishing his English translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls , he began teaching at Oxford. His scholarship concerning the origins of Christianity is especially weighty.
Mark Goodacre has this to say about Vermes’s legacy:
It has almost become a cliché to point out that his Jesus the Jew (1973) was revolutionary, but its impact was indeed massive. I remember seeing the book for the first time in our home when I was a teenager in the 1980s and being somewhat taken aback by its title and its appearance, with lots of Stars of David all over it. In the early 1970s, with the new quest for the historical Jesus still in full swing, it was still de rigueur for Jesus to be depicted as some kind of Lutheran figure championing his gospel in contrast to a law championed by petty legalists. The exciting thing about reading Vermes’s book was that he had actually read the rabbinic texts that many a New Testament scholar only pretended to know.
Vermes’s work that I enjoyed the most was his thorough revision of Emil Schurer’s monumental The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ. It’s an incredible resource for those investigating the earliest years of Christianity.
I certainly haven’t always agreed with Vermes, but he was always worth reading. His mastery of the primary sources was awe inspiring, and he almost always dealt with the sources in a judicious manner.
I’m sorry that his education led him away from Christianity, but I’m thankful that I can stand on his scholarly shoulders.