Benjamin Sommer
Benjamin Sommer
Senior Fellow

Benjamin Sommer is a Senior Fellow of the Kogod Research Center at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America. He is also Professor of Bible at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Previously he taught at Northwestern University, where he was Director of the Crown Family Center for Jewish Studies. An overarching concern of Dr. Sommer’s scholarship involves the close and manifold relationships between biblical thought and later Jewish theology, or, to use the Hebrew phrasing, between תורה שבכתב and תורה שבעל פה.

His most recent book, Revelation and Authority: Sinai in Jewish Scripture and Tradition (Yale University Press, 2015), was awarded the Goldstein-Goren Prize in Jewish thought for 2014–2016 and was a finalist for a National Jewish Book Award and the Jordan Schnitzer Prize. Publishers Weekly selected it as a recommended book in religion, describing it as a “groundbreaking work . . . clearly written and broad in application.” Reviewing the book, the newspaper Ha’aretz described Sommer as “a traditionalist and yet an iconoclast – he shatters idols and prejudices in order to nurture Jewish tradition and its applicability today (זומר הוא איקנוקלסט שמרן— הוא מנפץ אלילים ודעות קדומות כדי להגן על המסורת ועל לכידותה)” and characterized the book as “a synthesis of intellectual acuity, clarity, deep knowledge of classical Jewish texts throughout the generations along with contemporary Christian theology and ancient Near Eastern literature (ספרו של זומר משלב חדות אנליטית, בהירות ובקיאות בארון הספרים היהודי לדורותיו, תיאולוגיה נוצרית בת זמננו ובספרות המזרח הקדום הרלבנטית).” An earlier book by Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel (Cambridge University Press, 2009), received the American Academy of Religion book prize for 2009 and the Jordan Schnitzer Prize for the years 2006-2009. The Schnitzer Prize committee described this book as “an original, wide-ranging and accessible work of scholarship . . . a cross-cultural tour de force” and wrote that his “thesis has implications for understanding not only the theology of ancient Israel but also the theologies of its surrounding world, whether in Mesopotamia or the Levant, as well as those of rabbinic Judaism and Christianity.” (The American Academy of Religion jury also used the phrase “tour de force” to describe the book.) His first book, A Prophet Reads Scripture: Allusion in Isaiah 40–66 (Stanford University Press, 1998) was awarded The Salo Wittmayer Baron Prize in 1998. Sommer is the Editor of the Psalms volumes of the Jewish Publication Society Bible Commentary Series and is writing the first volume of that five-volume set.

Sommer was elected to membership in the American Academy for Jewish Research in 2017, and to membership in the Biblical Colloquium in 2014. He has been a visiting faculty member at Hebrew University, the Shalom Hartman Institute, the University of Chicago, and Brite Divinity School of Texas Christian University, and a Fellow of the Israel Institute for Advanced Studies in Givat Ram, the Tikvah Center for Law and Jewish Civilization at the New York University Law School, the Yad Hanadiv Foundation, and the American Council of Learned Societies. He frequently teaches rabbinic and lay groups in the United States and Israel.

Many of Sommer’s articles, along with reviews of his books, are available at
https://benjaminsommer.academia.edu/. Some of his divrei torah are available at http://www.jtsa.edu/jts-torah-online?search=&genre=&parashah=&holiday=&theme=&series=&author=3641.