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Max Leopold Margolis

MARGOLIS, MAX LEOPOLD (1886–1932), U.S. biblical and Semitic scholar. Born in Russia, Margolis received a thorough training in Bible and Talmud as well as in modern sciences and languages in his native country and in Berlin. In 1889 he went to the United States. His first field of specialization was the text-criticism of the Talmud to which his dissertation was devoted. His earliest work reveals meticulous attention to detail, thorough mastery of the subject, rigorous application of the inductive method, and brilliance and solidity in the conclusions. At the end of his fellowship year at Columbia University, Margolis was invited by Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati to serve as assistant professor of Hebrew and biblical exegesis. During his incumbency he published his Elementary Textbook of Hebrew Accidence (1893), a succinct and original contribution to Hebrew grammar and phonetics, as well as several works dealing with Reform Jewish theology. In 1897 he went to the University of California at Berkeley to teach Semitic languages and in 1905 returned to Hebrew Union College as professor of biblical exegesis. He resigned from Hebrew Union College in 1910, after he and other faculty members differed with the College president regarding educational philosophy and Zionism – Margolis was a strong Zionist. He went to Europe to complete his work on his pioneering and still classic Manual of the Aramaic Language of the Babylonian Talmud, which appeared both in English and in German (1910). The Jewish Publication Society chose Margolis to be secretary of the Board of Editors and editor-in-chief of their new translation of the Bible into English. To this major task he devoted himself until 1917. After the translation appeared, his mimeographed Notes on the New Translation of the Holy Scriptures (1921), which served as the basis of the work, appeared in a tome of 646 pages for private circulation. When Dropsie College was opened in Philadelphia, Margolis became professor of biblical philology, a position he occupied from 1909 until his death. Two brief popular works The Story of Bible Translations (1917) and The Hebrew Scriptures in the Making (1922) were never expanded into full-length scholarly treatments because his energies were increasingly absorbed by his vision of a truly critical edition of the Septuagint. Choosing the Book of Joshua, he collated all the existing Greek manuscripts and by dint of minute and brilliant analysis established the principal recensions of the Septuagint, which he called Palestinian, Egyptian, Syrian, Constantinopolitan, and Mixed. On the basis of these he then recreated what he regarded as the original septuagintal text. While some scholars have differed with his underlying theory as to the nature of the Greek translation, The Book of Joshua in Greek (1931) is considered a work of brilliant scholarship. In the area of septuagintal studies, he also published scores of technical papers. In the field of biblical exegesis he published a brief but valuable English commentary on Micah, Holy Scriptures with Commentary: Micah (1908), and Hebrew commentaries on Zephaniah and Malachi in the Kahana Bible Commentary Series (1930). The book by which he is perhaps most widely known is a one-volume A History of the Jewish People (1927, 19622) written in collaboration with Alexander Marx. Within the confines of a single volume the multitude of details of nearly 40 centuries of Jewish history were compressed with conciseness, clarity, and completeness. Moreover, the entire work is informed by a broad philosophic grasp of the subject, a rare balance and objectivity of treatment, and a warm love for the Jewish people and its heritage.


R. Gordis (ed.), Max Leopold Margolis: Scholar and Teacher (1952), includes an annotated bibliography of Margolis' writings.

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