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Moshe Held

HELD, MOSHE (1924–1984), Bible scholar. Held was born in Poland, brought to Mandatory Palestine in 1935 and raised in Tel Aviv. He entered the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1943. His studies, interrupted by service in the British army in World War II, were resumed in 1946, but delayed once again by Israel's War of Independence. He completed his M.A. in Hebrew literature at the Hebrew University, studying Hebrew and Arabic with D. Baneth, S.D. *Goitein, and H. Polotsky, studies which he later described as "sins of his youth." His academic direction took a new turn thanks to Umberto Moshe David *Cassuto, an Italian Jewish scholar, and a pioneer in the study of the *Ugaritic tablets of the second millennium B.C.E. unearthed in 1929. Cassuto urged Held to study Ugaritic at Johns Hopkins with W.F. *Albright. Albright, in turn, sent Held to study Akkadian (Assyro-Babylonian) at the University of Chicago under the great Assyriologist Benno *Landsberger, himself a German Jewish émigré of the Hitler years. After completing his Ph.D. at Hopkins (1957), Held came to Dropsie replacing Cyrus *Gordon who had moved to Brandeis. In 1959 Held began his visits to the Jewish Theological Seminary, where he was to continue as adjunct professor of Bible for 25 years. The JTS connection brought Held under the tutelage of H.L.*Ginsberg, to whom Held always referred as "my mentor." In 1966 Held came to the Middle East Department at Columbia, where he taught until his death. The two positions enabled Held to concentrate on the study of the Bible in its larger Near Eastern context. Held was a superb comparative philologist who, in accord with his teachers Albright and Landsberger, insisted that etymological comparisons had to take a backseat to contextual comparisons, or better, "interdialectal distributions." A passionate teacher, Held's Columbia position enabled him to train Jewish students at JTS and Christians at Union Theological Seminary in the serious reading of biblical texts against the background of the ancient Near East.


S. Lieberman, in: JQR, 76 (1985), 1–3; E. Greenstein and D. Marcus, in: JANES, 19 (1989), 1–2; bibliography; ibid., 7–8; C. Cohen, ibid., 9–23; S.D. Sperling, Students of the Covenant (1992), 101–3.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.