Passing of Prof. Norman Nahum Golb

Shalom Berger's picture
H-Judaic is greatly saddened to learn of the passing of Norman Nahum Golb (1928-2020), Ludwig Rosenberger Professor of Jewish History and Civilization Emeritus at the University of Chicago, where he taught for over fifty years.  Yaron Eliav, in a review of  a festschrift in honor of Golb's 85th birthday, noted that Golb was perhaps the only scholar of Judaica in the world who could claim expertise "in the literature of late Hellenistic and Roman Qumran, in Judaeo-Arabic research founded on texts from the Geniza of Early Islamic Cairo, as well as in the Jewish communities in the faraway regions of Normandy in northwestern France during the period of the First Crusade."  Golb's wide-ranging, if sometimes highly controversial, scholarship is likewise reflected in the select list of his publications found on Wikipedia:
(1998) The  Jews  in   medieval   Normandy:   A   social  and  intellectual  history     New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521580328
  • (1997) Judaeo-Arabic studies: proceedings of the Founding Conference of the Society for Judaeo-Arabic Studies Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers. (Conference Proceedings from the Founding Conference of the Society for Judaeo-Arabic Studies)
  • (1995) Who wrote the Dead Sea scrolls?: The search for the secret of Qumran New York: Scribner.
  • (1994) "The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Ethics of Museology" (Journal Article in The Aspen Institute quarterly: AQ : issues and arguments for leaders )
  • (1992) "The Freeing of the Scrolls and Its Aftermath" (Journal Article in The Qumran chronicle)
  • (1992) "The Qumran–Essene Hypothesis: A Fiction of Scholarship" (Journal Article in The Christian century)
  • (1990) "Khirbet Qumran and the Manuscripts of the Judaean Wilderness: Observations on the Logic of their Investigation" (Journal Article in Journal of Near Eastern studies)
  • (1989) "The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Perspective" (Journal Article in The American scholar)
  • (1985) Les Juifs de Rouen au Moyen Age: Portrait d'une culture oubliée Rouen: Université de Rouen. (Book in the series Publications de l’Université de Rouen )
  • (1984) "A Marriage Document from Wardunia de-Baghdad" (Journal Article in Journal of Near Eastern studies)
  • (1982) with Omeljan PritsakKhazarian Hebrew documents of the tenth century Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  • (1980) "The Problem of Origin and Identification of the Dead Sea Scrolls" (Journal Article in Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society held at Philadelphia for promoting useful knowledge)
  • (1976) Toledot hayehudim be'ir rouen bimé habenayim Tel Aviv, Israel: Dvir Publishing House.
  • (1973) A Judaeo–Arabic Court Document of Syracuse, A.D. 1020 (Journal Article in Journal of Near Eastern studies )
  • (1972) Spertus College of Judaica Yemenite manuscripts Chicago: Spertus College of Judaica Press.
  • (1967) The Music of Obadiah the Proselyte and his Conversion (Journal Article in The Journal of Jewish studies)
  • (1965) Notes on the Conversion of Prominent European Christians to Judaism During the Eleventh Century (Journal Article in The Journal of Jewish studies)
  • (1957) "Literary and Doctrinal Aspects of the Damascus Covenant in the Light of Karaite Literature" (Journal Article in The Jewish Quarterly Review: New Series)
  • (1957) "Sixty Years of Genizah Research" (Journal Article in Judaism)
Menachem Butler has kindly forwarded to us the following necrology distributed by Benjamin Z. Kedar:
Norman Golb, Notable University of Chicago Semitics Scholar, is dead.
A figure who began his life in a densely packed immigrant neighborhood in Chicago and rose to become one of the world's leading Hebrew manuscript and Semitics scholars has passed away days before his 93rd birthday. Norman Golb was born in Albany Park in 1928. His parents, from the Ukraine, met after their families had settled in that northwest Chicago neighborhood along with thousands of other Jewish immigrants.
A part-time actor in the Yiddish theater, Golb’s father Joseph sustained his family during the Depression by working as a barber, and later for the City of Chicago’s water department. Golb’s mother Rose née Bilow was a homemaker and part-time sales clerk at the old Fair department store. Golb received his first advanced training in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic texts, as well as Latin and Greek, at the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute (1948–50). He went on to study archaeology, the history of ancient Palestine, and several of the newly found Dead Sea Scroll texts at Johns Hopkins University, where he received his Ph.D. in 1954, at the age of twenty-six.
After a year spent studying Arabic at Dropsie College (Philadelphia) and two years in Jerusalem, Golb lectured in Hebrew and Semitic Studies at the University of Wisconsin (1957–58). He then moved to the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, where he taught Arabic, Hebrew, and medieval Jewish philosophy for five years (1958–63).
In 1963 he was appointed to a position in the University of Chicago's Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and at the Oriental Institute, in Hebrew and Judeo-Arabic studies. In 1988, he was named Ludwig Rosenberger Professor in Jewish History and Civilization.
Golb did pathbreaking historical research for over half a century. He was a master in three main areas: the Dead Sea Scrolls and Judaism in late antiquity, the Jews in the Arab world during the Middle Ages, and medieval European history.
His linguistic and palaeographical expertise, as well as his versatility in Jewish history were exceptional, indeed unique. He made numerous discoveries, including the first documentary proof that Khazars converted to Judaism, and the presence of a major Jewish community in medieval Rouen (France).
In 1985, Golb was awarded the Grand Medal of the City of Rouen. In 1987 he was granted an honorary doctorate by the University of Rouen, and was awarded the Medal of the Region of Haute Normandie. In 2006 he was granted honorary citizenship by the commune of Oppido Lucano (Basilicata, Italy) for his research on Obadiah the Proselyte and related topics.
Golb's discoveries also became the basis for the international best-selling novel The Convert, by the award-winning Flemish author Stefan Hertmans.
Golb received many research awards, including two Guggenheim Fellowships. He spent long research stays working on the famous Cairo Genizah documents in St. Petersburg and the Cambridge University Library; he was made a life member of Cambridge University's Clare Hall. His scholarship on the Dead Sea Scrolls was pioneering and highly publicized.
Golb was one of the last surviving figures in a generation of American Jewish intellectuals who came from working-class roots and ended up enriching world knowledge and academic debate to an extraordinary degree. He and his wife Ruth (Magid), a special education teacher in private practice and Chicago's public schools, were also active in city and local Hyde Park affairs for well over a half-century, while maintaining close ties to friends and colleagues in England, France, and Israel.
Norman Golb is survived by his wife; by three children: Joel ,Rachel Landes, and Raphael; by a granddaughter, Dana Vowinckel, and by two nieces and many cousins.
H-Judaic extends deepest condolences to Prof. Golb's family, friends and students.
Jonathan D. Sarna
Chair, H-Judaic
Categories: Obituary
Keywords: Necrology