Oberlin, Ohio (Apr. 8)
Joseph Eliash, associate professor and director of Judaic and Near Eastern Studies at Oberlin College has died of a heart attack at age 48 in Oberlin’s Allen Memorial Hospital. Considered one of the Western world’s foremost authorities on Shi’i Islam, Eliash was called to Washington at one point during the final hostage negotiations with Iran. At the time of his death, he had been pursuing research on Shi’i Muslim law and was editing and translating selections from the Shi’i Muslim Corpus of Oral Tradition, which supplements the Koran as the source of Shi’i Muslim law.
Eliash discovered through his research that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had violated the laws of his own Shi’i Muslim religion by holding the 52 American hostages and by forming an Iranian government which, in the strict Shi’i view, is illegitimate.
Born in Jerusalem, Eliash received B.A. and M.A. degrees from Jerusalem’s Hebrew University and earned a Ph.D. from the University of London. Before joining the Oberlin faculty in 1971, he served for four years as assistant professor at the University of California in Los Angeles. He visited Iran several times between the early 1960s and 1977.