Remembering Geza Vermes, historian and scholar of The Dead Sea Scrolls

Professor Geza Vermes, the world’s leading authority on the Dead Sea Scrolls, died on Wednesday 8 May, aged 88. An exceptional scholar, his translations and analysis of the Dead Sea Scrolls did much to aid our understanding of one of the most precious texts in history.

Born in Hungary in 1924, Vermes’s early years were marked by tragedy. Though Catholic converts, both his parents were deported and murdered in the Holocaust due to their Jewish background. Vermes was training as a priest at the time of their deportation and, protected by the Catholic Church, was able to survive the war. Having been ordained he left Hungary in 1946 and pursued academic studies in Belgium and Paris. At that point in the Judaean Desert the Dead Sea Scrolls had been discovered and his fascination with early Judeo-Christian scripture began. In 1957, on a visit to England, he met and fell in love with Pamela, a married mother of two children. After he left the priesthood and she divorced her husband, they were married and would remain together until her death in 1993.

After his marriage Vermes was able to devote himself to his studies, publishing his much lauded English translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1962, which would go on to sell half-a-million copies. Having relocated to Oxford University in 1972, Vermes became heavily involved in Jewish Studies and the history of the Holy Land in the time of Jesus. As editor of the Journal of Jewish Studies and in his books on early Christianity - Jesus the Jew (1973), The Changing Faces of Jesus (2000) and The Authentic Gospel of Jesus (2003) - he was instrumental in transforming Jewish Studies from an often disregarded theological speciality to an academic discipline.

In 1991 after a long struggle, he achieved success in his campaign for all academics to have access to all the Dead Sea Scrolls, a right previously reserved for a small editorial team at the Jordanian Department of Antiquities.

His final book, Christian Beginnings from Nazareth to Nicaea, AD 30-32 was published in 2012. His friends and family have commented that his curiosity and intellect were largely undimmed by age and up until the week of his death, he was writing and planning his next work.

At the time of his death he was Professor Emeritus of Jewish Studies at Oxford University, a Fellow of the British Academy and was regarded as ‘the greatest Jesus scholar of his generation’ (Sunday Telegraph).

The Folio Society was proud to have collaborated twice with Geza Vermes, firstly on our edition of his translation of The Dead Sea Scrolls in 2000 and secondly on The Authentic Gospel of Jesus in 2009.

last modified: Fri, May 31st 2013Bookmark and Share
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