Theodore J. Lewis

Theodore J. Lewis

Fellow: Awarded 2009
Field of Study: Religion

Competition: US & Canada

Theodore J. Lewis is the Blum-Iwry Professor of Hebrew Bible and Northwest Semitic Philology and Chair of the Department of Near Eastern Studies at the Johns Hopkins University. He is a Semitist, a biblical scholar, and a historian of religion specializing in the religions of ancient Israel and Syria in the Late Bronze and Iron Ages. In addition to the texts of the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament), he works with alphabetic cuneiform texts from the ancient Syrian city of Ugarit.

His department’s web site details his education (Harvard University, Hebrew University in Jerusalem, University of Wisconsin, Madison), his publications (he has a book on Cults of the Dead and a co-authored volume on ancient Syrian poetry), and various positions he has held ranging from being the past editor of the journals Near Eastern Archaeology (for the American Schools of Oriental Research) and Hebrew Annual Review to a current role as an academic trustee of the W. F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem.

Mr. Lewis has edited a dozen books including Text, Artifact, and Image: Revealing Ancient Israelite Religion (with Gary Beckman) in the Brown Judaic Studies series and numerous ancient Near Eastern volumes in the series Writings from the Ancient World (SBL/E. J. Brill). His recent research has found him publishing on a variety of topics ranging from Assyrian war crimes to Zerubbabel’s failed bid to be the messiah of Israel, and including family religion, royal icons of power and persuasion, blood rituals in ancient treaties, the iconography of the gods, and incantations thought by the ancients to ward off evil.

As a Guggenheim Fellow, Mr. Lewis will be researching and writing a volume on Ancient Israelite Religion for the Yale Anchor Bible Reference Library series. The inherent interest in Israelite religion is as enduring as it is compelling for those who study intellectual history, ancient history, the history of religion, and the humanities in general. That this material (especially the Hebrew Bible) is foundational for Judaism and Christianity gives the topic wide appeal.

Whereas most treatments of Israelite religion concentrate on the Iron Age II period, the focal point of Theodore Lewis’s volume will be on early Israelite religion and the transition from the Iron Age I to Iron II periods. In particular, close attention will be paid to the worship of the god El and its development into Yahwism. He highlights the paramount importance of family, domestic and local/community religion especially when juxtaposed against elite religion from royal and priestly perspectives.


Photograph by Will Kirk, The Johns Hopkins University.

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