Thursday, October 18, 2012

Frank Moore Cross, 1921-2012

REPORTS ARE COMING IN from many sources that my beloved doctoral supervisor Frank Moore Cross passed away peacefully yesterday, aged 91. I studied with Professor Cross at Harvard University from 1983 to 1988, writing a dissertation under him on unpublished manuscripts of Genesis and Exodus from Qumran Cave 4, one of the last of the over 100 dissertations he supervised.

I read Northwest Semitic inscriptions and Ugaritic with him, and also took his class on the textual criticism of 1-2 Samuel. I recall spending endless hours in the library vocalizing arcane texts with Sidnie White (Crawford), Julie Duncan, and Russ Fuller for his classes. He also graciously agreed to do a special readings course in early Hebrew poetry with Sidnie, Julie, and me toward the end of our time in the NELC program. Among ourselves we referred to him as "FMC," but our other nickname for him (never to his face, although I bet Sidnie told him about it later) was "El," the mighty head of the Canaanite pantheon. It was the beard, you see. Along with the regal sense of authority and wisdom.

As a student I was terrified of him, although he was always thoughtful and kind to me, as to all his students. I learned vastly from him, not only about Semitic philology and paleography, but also about academic politics and scholars as people. He was an excellent teacher who expected and got the very best from his students, and he also taught by example, just by being who he was. He had a wry sense of humor and he had endless entertaining stories. It was very important to him to get to know each student as an individual and to keep track of his students' careers once they had graduated. He told us once in class how frustrating it was for him to run into an old student at a conference and immediately to remember that student's dissertation topic, every position the student had held since graduating, and the name of the student's spouse and children, but not to be able to remember that student's name. Then he said that when this happened (and I'm sure it was exceedingly rare), he would tell the story about how William Foxwell Albright was once introducing Cross and David Noel Freedman at length and with great praise about how they were two of his star students, and then Albright couldn't remember either of their names.

Frank's influence on me is extensive, wide-ranging, and pervasive. Some of what I learned from him took years to sink in. His influence in many fields has been enormous: Hebrew Bible, Northwest Semitic epigraphy, Ugaritic, and, of course, the Dead Sea Scrolls. And a great many of the scholars who entered those fields in the twentieth century were trained by him. On Facebook, Sidnie writes "He was, for me, the real Teacher of Righteousness." Amen to that. And as Jack Sasson said on the Agade List, "Truly, the end of an era."

A Wikipedia biography is here. Some past PaleoJudaica posts mentioning him are here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

The gracious gods are welcoming him into their midst. Requiescat in pace, Frank.

UPDATE (26 October): More here, here, here, here, and here. I have posted some more of my own memories at the last link.