Page 168 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 40

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SHAYE J.D. COHEN
Elias J . Bickerman: An Appreciation
E
l ia s
J
o s e p h
b i c k e r m a n
1
(July 1, 1897 — August 31, 1981), for
many years a professor of ancient history at Columbia University
and a special research fellow at the Jewish Theological Seminary,
was one of the greatest classicists of the twentieth century. His
erudition extended to practically all aspects of Greco-Roman
antiquity: Diplomatics and the history of political institutions;
chronology; historiography; intellectual, cultural, and religious
history (Greek, Roman, Christian, and Jewish); and belles-lettres.
In six languages he published several books and over a hundred
articles, many of which are now classics.2 Bickerman’s extraordi­
nary range can be illustrated by the titles of some of the articles he
published during the last years of his life: “Love Story in the
Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite,” “The Notion of Marriage at
Athens,” “Darius I, Pseudo-Smerdis, and the Magi,” and “The
Generation of Ezra and Nehemiah.” Since a full appreciation of
Bickerman’s scholarship would swell this essay beyond reasonable
length, I shall first describe some characteristics of his work and
then summarize three of his important contributions to Jewish
studies.
Bickerman always had a profound respect for the ancients.
Believing that their words must be treated seriously, he had little
patience for those modern scholars who cavalierly dismissed vari­
ous documents as inauthentic or hastily generalized about
“Greeks” and “Orientals” without appreciation for the com­
plexities of ancient culture. Like his teacher Michael Rostovtzeff,
Bickerman stressed the minute study of documents, determining
their precise nuances, identifying the standard and the excep­
tional clauses, and tracing the institutional channels through
which the documents were composed and transmitted. On the
1 In French publications the name frequently appears as Elie Bikerman, in
German as Elias Bickermann.
2 Many of Bickerman’s articles have been collected in
Studies inJewish and Christian
History
(Leiden; part I, 1976; part II, 1980; part III, in preparation). In addi­
tion, a volume of classical studies is planned.
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