Passing of Prof. Baruch A. Levine

Shalom Berger's picture

H-Judaic is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Professor Baruch A. Levine (1930-2021), Skirball Emeritus Professor of Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Studies at New York University, and one of the foremost Jewish biblical scholars of our time.    Born in Cleveland, and educated in its public schools, with tutors, at Jewish summer camps, and at Telshe Yeshiva, Levine received his BA at Albert College of Western Reserve University, his MA at the Jewish Theological Seminary, where he was especially influenced by H.L.Ginsberg, Saul Lieberman, and Mordecai Kaplan, and at Brandeis University, where he wrote his path breaking doctorate ("Survivals of Ancient Canaanite in the Mishna") under Cyrus Gordon.    Levine taught at Brandeis from 1962-1969 and then was appointed professor at New York University, where he played a central role in the development of what became the Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies.  Levine also helped found the Association for Jewish Studies and served as its second president (1971-1972).  During the course of his long career, Prof. Levine taught legions of students, some of whom went on to become famous scholars, and  also  published numerous articles, 51 of them now collected in a two-volume series entitled IN PURSUIT OF MEANING: COLLECTED STUDIES OF BARUCH LEVINE, ed. Andrew D. Gross.  He is perhaps best known for his remarkable commentaries on Leviticus (JPS) and Numbers (2 vols. Anchor-Yale).  Prof. Lawrence H. Schiffman penned an article-length biography of Levine and Robert Chazan wrote an appreciation in the festschrift edited by R. Chazan, W. Hallo and L. Schiffman entitled KI BARUCH HU. Another volume,  entitled SEMITIC PAPYROLOGY IN CONTEXT, ed. L.H.Schiffman (2003),  was dedicated to him upon his retirement from NYU.

Levine was a pioneer in the study of cultic materials in the Bible in their Near Eastern context, and was a proponent of the Documentary Hypothesis.  Above all,  he considered himself a philologist.  In the introduction to his collected articles, he writes:

“Looking back, and reviewing my writings, I realize what it is that I have been seeking all along. I have been in pursuit of meaning, employing scholarly methods, primarily philology and semantics, to the exegesis of ancient Near Eastern texts, preserved in several languages, principally the Hebrew Bible. I regard language as the key to meaning. This conclusion would appear to be self-evident, and yet, philology is often sidelined in favor of engaging larger frameworks. Most of all, I challenge the notion that we already know the meaning of the words and clauses central to the texts under investigation, and may proceed directly to other considerations without first re-examining the smaller units. Again and again, that policy has resulted in flawed interpretation, and in missed opportunities for learning. This is not to say that scholars should stop at the smaller units, and, indeed, the tendency to do so has been largely responsible for the reaction against Semitic philology so noticeable since the latter part of the 20th century. It is our challenge to move outward from focal points to the circumference, from text to context, from content to structure.”


H-Judaic extends deepest condolences to Prof. Levine's colleagues, students and friends.     


Many thanks to our friend Menachem Butler for his assistance with this notice. 


Jonathan D. Sarna

Chair, H-Judaic

Categories: Obituary
Keywords: Necrology