Trinity News press release:
The Frank Moore Cross Award is Bestowed on Trinity’s Seth SandersSeth also has a blog called Serving the Word.
Honor is for Most Substantial Book on Near Eastern Epigraphy, Tradition
HARTFORD, Conn. – Back in the late 1980s, Seth L. Sanders studied at Harvard College under one of the most eminent Biblical scholars of the 20th century, Frank Moore Cross Jr. Thus, it’s only fitting that Sanders, assistant professor of religion at Trinity, was recently awarded the 2010 Frank Moore Cross Award for Sanders’s 2009 volume, The Invention of Hebrew, which argues that Hebrew was the first successful vernacular literature.
In comparing Biblical documents with ancient texts in Hebrew, Ugaritic and Babylonian, Sanders’s book demonstrates the ways in which Hebrew was a “powerfully self-conscious political language [and] how Hebrew assumed and promoted a source of power previously unknown in written literature: the people as the protagonist of religion and politics.”
The award, named in honor of Cross, now professor emeritus at the Harvard Divinity School, is presented annually by the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR), based at Boston University.
Founded in 1900, ASOR’s mission is to initiate, encourage and support research and public understanding of the peoples and cultures of the Near East from the earliest times. The organization has more than 1,300 individual and 95 institutional members. The Frank Moore Cross Award is given to the author of “the most substantial volume related to ancient Near Eastern and eastern Mediterranean epigraphy, text and/or tradition.”
In issuing its citation for the award, ASOR praised Sanders’s book for being “the first to approach the Bible in light of recent findings in the history of writing.” Noting that researchers and historians have engaged in “bitter, old debates over whether the Bible is history or ideology,” debates that rightfully should give way to productive new ones over the relationship between the Bible’s written form and its political power, ASOR credits The Invention of Hebrew with documenting “distinct ways in which Hebrew was a powerfully self-conscious political language.”
The Invention of Hebrew, published by the University of Illinois Press, was also a finalist in the scholarship category of the 2009 National Jewish Book Awards. Sanders, a member of Trinity’s faculty since 2007, received his B.A. from Harvard and his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University. He is also the editor of the Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions. On sabbatical this year, Sanders is working on a second book, Divine Personae and Journeys to Heaven: Ancient Near Eastern Elements of Early Jewish Mysticism and Apocalypticism.
In reviewing The Invention of Hebrew, Alex Golub, professor of anthropology at the University of Hawaii, said, ”Seth Sanders combines anthropology and biblical studies to describe how Hebrew came to be used so widely, and to explain the unique status of the Bible as a written document.”
Golub described the book as “extremely clearly written,” and one that “even has a certain flair to it.” Continuing, he said, “In my opinion, this book is great. It combines so many fields that have been kept separate, compares ancient Israel with so many other cultures and societies. Reading Sanders’s book, you feel as if your eyes have been opened and the fog has lifted on a lot of ancient history.”
On entering Harvard, Sanders thought he was going to be an artist. But he found that religion and mythology fascinated him. In particular, he became interested in connecting social theory with ancient myth and inscriptions. Eventually, that led to his research and subsequent book.
“I thought there might be something about the form in which the Bible is written that might explain the power of its content,” he said.
“Some people want to see events in the Bible as entirely true and accurate,” he added. “Other people see it as all propaganda or nostalgia. There’s enough solid evidence to decide either way. My book doesn’t end the debate but it may provide more solid ground historically.”
Although The Invention of Hebrew is primarily intended for academic use, Sanders said that he wrote the book in a way that lay people could understand and appreciate, as well as those interested in Jewish studies, anthropology and political thought.
ASOR’s U.S.-based coordination center, its publications program and its three affiliated overseas centers in the Middle East have been in the forefront of America research efforts for more than a century. Among ASOR’s distinguished alumni are many of the world’s major Near Eastern and Biblical scholars.
According to ASOR’s web site, its main purpose is to “enable properly qualified persons to pursue Biblical, linguistic, archaeological, historical, and other kindred studies…under more favorable conditions than can be secured at a distance from the Holy Land.”
ASOR disseminates news of the latest research findings in its publications and through lectures at its annual meeting, which brings together scholars from around the world. The Frank Moore Cross Award is one of seven honors that ASOR bestows each year.