Friday, October 26, 2012

Another Cross obituary

Frank Moore Cross, 91
A first-rate biblical scholar, but a dedicated teacher first

By Tania deLuzuriaga

Harvard Staff Writer

Thursday, October 25, 2012

“My students have given me the greatest pleasure,” said Bible scholar Frank Moore Cross, who retired from Harvard in 1992. “I have always had the view that the first task of a scholar is to pass knowledge and understanding of method and the tools of his field from one generation to the next.”

He traveled the world unearthing and interpreting religious texts from a forgotten time. His nearly 300 academic papers deepened humanity’s understanding of the time and place in which three of the world’s major religions would take root. And yet, over the course of a career that spanned five decades, Frank Moore Cross always returned to the classroom, teaching until his retirement in 1992, and advising more than 100 doctoral dissertations in the process.

“My students have given me the greatest pleasure,” he once told the editor of the Bible Review. “I have always had the view that the first task of a scholar is to pass knowledge and understanding of method and the tools of his field from one generation to the next.”

Yes. He held his students to the highest standards, while patiently explaining when we didn't understand and being understanding and supportive if one of us was having problems outside of our academic work. I never saw him irritable or impatient. I like to think that I have been able to apply some of what I saw in him to my work with my own students.

He could be a formidable critic in his classes and our doctoral seminar, but his comments were always constructive and leavened with sympathetic humor. I remember once he opened his response to a student seminar paper with, "I should begin by saying that this is a good paper on a very difficult topic. But enough of fulsome praise. ..."
Friends and colleagues remembered Cross as a consummate gentleman, with a dry wit and varied interests. He studied ancient texts, yet had a penchant for fast sports coupes. He read and wrote in several “dead” languages, even as he kept his Southern accent. He wore a bow tie to the classroom, and took up backpacking in his 40s, embarking on several long trips through the wilderness with his wife, Betty Anne. A lifelong swimmer, he learned to scuba dive in his 60s so that he could conduct underwater archaeology in the Middle East.

“His interests were incredible,” said Harvard Divinity School Professor Paul D. Hanson. “He was always cultivating some hobby.”
Indeed. I found out late in my time at Harvard that he was an avid science fiction reader, as I was and still am. Somehow the topic came up once when I was meeting with him in his office about one of my dissertation chapters. We started talking about SF and I had the surreal experience of debating the merits of a particular design for a starship drive with Frank Moore Cross.

Also once when some of us took him out to lunch to thank him for doing a special readings course with us, he mentioned in passing that he much preferred the idea of a cyclical big-bang big-crunch universe to an open universe that just faded out into cold and darkness.

A couple of small corrections:
When Albright and his students were given exclusive access to some of the scrolls, Cross was allocated the often fragmented texts of Cave No. 4.
This makes it sound as though Albright and his students made up the original team of editors. But actually Cross was just one of a group of editors from more varied backgrounds, including J. T. Milik, John Strugnell, and John Allegro. Cross was the last surviving member of the original team.

Also, Cross was allocated the biblical fragments from Cave 4, not the whole lot.
Cross came to Harvard’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations in 1957, having completed stints at Wellesley College and McCormick Seminary. By then, he was making regular trips to the Middle East to see and authenticate scrolls, journeys that often involved arduous plane rides, shoddy communications, and unsavory characters. Work sometimes entailed crawling through caves in 120-degree heat, negotiating with corrupt antiquities dealers, or excavating an archaeological site while bombs went off in the distance.

“It was very cloak-and-dagger,” Machinist said. “Israel was a newly created state, and the whole region precipitated on war.”

In a newspaper article about a trip to Lebanon in 1967, Cross recalled landing in Beirut to procure a collection of newly found scrolls. After proving his identity to an intermediary, he was directed to stand alone on a particular street corner one night, was picked up in a nondescript car, and was driven through the back roads of the city to a mansion where negotiations began. Unfortunately, the transaction fell through when the Arab-Israeli War broke out.
I heard him tell that story too. He said he was terrified when he got into the car, until he realized that Kando was in it waiting for him.

More obituaries and memorials here and links.