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Nahum M. Sarna

SARNA, NAHUM M. (1923–2006), biblical scholar. Sarna was born in London into a family that was both traditionally observant and Zionist. After receiving an intensive elementary and secondary Jewish education, he attended Jews' College, then part of the University of London, where he earned his B.A. (1944) and M.A. (1946), studying rabbinics, Bible and Semitic languages. From Jews' College Sarna also received a Minister's Diploma (1949), a degree that certified its holders as pulpit ministers rather than legal decisors (posekim). He moved briefly to postwar Israel (1949), but because conditions there were not favorable for serious study, Sarna came to Dropsie College in Philadelphia and completed his Ph.D. (1955) under Cyrus *Gordon. While pursuing his studies, and shortly thereafter, Sarna taught at Gratz College in Philadelphia (1951–57). Between 1957 and 1965 Sarna served at the Jewish Theological Seminary as librarian (1957–63) and as associate professor of Bible. Not receiving promotion at JTS, Sarna moved to Brandeis University as Golding Professor, and served in that chair from 1965 to 1985. Between 1966 and 1981 Sarna was a member of the committee that translated the last section of the Jewish Bible (Ketuvim, or Writings) for the Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures of the Jewish Publication Society (1982). Sarna successfully employed both ancient Near Eastern material and the traditional Jewish sources to illuminate the Bible. He also pioneered in "inner biblical interpretation," showing how biblical writers often interpreted and reinterpreted each other. In a very active retirement, Sarna held visiting professorships and initiated and edited the JPS Torah Commentary, for which he wrote the volumes Genesis (1989), and Exodus (1991). Famed as a pedagogue and lecturer, Sarna was highly influential in training many of the current generation of Bible scholars. But Sarna wrote for intelligent laics as well. As Jeffrey Tigay observed, "No scholar has done as much as Sarna to educate English-speaking Jewry about the Bible," as exemplified in Exploring Exodus (1986) and in Songs of the Heart: An Introduction to the Book of Psalms (1993), and the aforementioned JPS Torah volumes.


M. Brettler in: DBI, 2:438–39; J. Tigay, in: N. Sarna, Studies in Biblical Interpretation (2000), xiii–xxiv; bibliography of Sarna's publications, in: ibid., 431–36.

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