Norman Golb, pioneering Dead Sea Scrolls and Jewish history scholar, dies at 92


(JTA) — Norman Golb, a pathbreaking academic who broadened scholarship on the Dead Sea Scrolls and unearthed a history of Jews in Medieval France, has died at 92.

Golb died on Dec. 29, UChicago News reported last week.

After earning a doctorate in Judaic and Semitic studies from Johns Hopkins University in 1954, Golb studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and taught at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, among other universities, before becoming a professor at the University of Chicago.

In 1962, Golb discovered the Kievan Letter, thought to be the earliest text about Jewish life in what is now Kyiv, Ukraine, dating back to the 10th century.

In 1980, he published a thesis that upended study of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a series of some of the most ancient Jewish texts ever discovered. Golb posited that they were not written by a Jewish sect called the Essenes, as was widely agreed upon, but instead by multiple sects.

Golb at work in his University of Chicago office. (Courtesy of the University of Chicago)

Golb also headed a movement in the 1990s to allow increased scholarship of the scrolls, which had been restricted for decades.

In addition, he discovered manuscripts describing early Jewish life in the French city of Rouen and the wider Normandy region. His landmark book on the subject was published in Hebrew and translated into multiple languages. The city of Rouen awarded Golb a Grand Medal award in 1985, and the University of Rouen later gave him an honorary doctorate.

His other accomplishments include discovering the author of the oldest Hebrew musical manuscript (a man named Obadiah the Proselyte) and documents proving that many of the Khazars, an ancient Turkic people, converted to Judaism.

Golb is survived by his wife, Ruth, whom he had married over 70 years ago, and three children.

“We met just a few years after the Holocaust, and because we were very young — kids, really — I  had no idea where Norman’s hopes and dreams would take him, but what I did know was that he shared my values of kindness, generosity, and concern for Judaism, ” Ruth told UChicago News.

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