Vermes, Geza 1924–

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Vermes, Geza 1924–

(Géza Vermès)


Born June 22, 1924, in Mako, Hungary; immigrated to England, 1957, naturalized citizen, 1962; son of Ernö (a journalist) and Terezia Vermes; married Noreen Pamela Hobson (a writer), May 12, 1958 (died, 1993); married Margaret Unarska (a scientist), November 29, 1996. Education: Attended Budapest University, 1945-46; University of Louvain, license in Oriental philology and history, 1952, D.Theol., 1953; Oxford University, M.A., 1965, Litt.D., 1988. Politics: Member of Liberal Party. Religion: Jewish. Hobbies and other interests: Studying wildlife.


Home—Boars Hill, Oxford, England. E-mail—[email protected].


Theologian, educator, and writer. Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris, France, researcher, 1954-57; University of Newcastle upon Tyne, Newcastle upon Tyne, England, lecturer, 1957-64, senior lecturer in religious studies, 1964-65; University of Oxford, Oriental Institute, Oxford, England, reader, 1965-89, professor of Jewish studies, 1989-91, professor emeritus, 1991—. Oxford Centre for Hebrew Studies, Oxford, England, governor, 1972-92, director of publications, 1987-91, director of the Forum for Qumran Research, 1991—. Professorial fellow of Wolfson College, 1965-91 (now emeritus), chair of curators, 1971-74, chair of the board of the Faculty of Oriental Studies, 1978-80. Journal of Jewish Studies, editor, 1971—.


British Academy (fellow, 1985), Society for Old Testament Study, British Association for Jewish Studies (president, 1975-88), European Association for Jewish Studies (president, 1981-84), Oxford Council of Christians and Jews (chair, 1980-86), European Academy of Arts Sciences and Humanities (2001).


Honorary degrees from Edinburgh University, 1989, Durham University, 1990, and Sheffield University, 1994; W. Bacher Medalist, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, 1996; fellow of the European Academy of Arts, Sciences, and Humanities, 2000; Memorial Medal of the City of Mako (Hungary); honorary degree from Central European University, 2008.


Les manuscrits du désert de Juda, Desclee (Tournai, Belgium), 1953, 2nd edition, 1954, first edition translated and published as Discovery in the Judean Desert, Desclee (New York, NY), 1956.

Scripture and Tradition in Judaism, E.J. Brill (Leiden, the Netherlands), 1961, revised edition, 1973.

(Editor and translator) The Dead Sea Scrolls in English, Penguin (Baltimore, MD), 1962, 4th edition, Penguin Books (Baltimore, MD), 1995, published as The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English, Allen Lane/Penguin Press (New York, NY), 1997, revised edition, Penguin Books (London, England), 2004.

(Editor and translator) The Dead Sea Scrolls, illustrated by Shraga Weil, Heritage Press (New York, NY), 1967.

Jesus the Jew: A Historian's Reading of the Gospels, Collins (London, England), 1973, reprinted, Fortress Press (Philadelphia, PA), 1993.

(Editor, with others) Emil Schüerer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (three volumes), T.T. Clark (Edinburgh, Scotland), 1973-87.

(Editor, with T.A. Burkill) Paul Winter, On the Trial of Jesus, 2nd edition, De Gruyter (New York, NY), 1974.

Post-Biblical Jewish Studies, E.J. Brill (Leiden, Netherlands), 1975.

(With the collaboration of Pamela Vermes) The Dead Sea Scrolls: Qumran in Perspective, Collins (London, England), 1977, revised edition, SCM Press (London, England), 1994, reprinted as An Introduction to the Complete Dead Sea Scrolls, Fortress Press (Minneapolis, MN), 2000.

The Gospel of Jesus the Jew, University of Newcastle upon Tyne (Newcastle upon Tyne, England), 1981.

Jesus and the World of Judaism, 1983, reprinted, Fortress Press (Philadelphia, PA), 1984.

(Editor, with Jacob Neusner) Essays in Honor of Yigael Yadin, Allanheld, Osmun (Totowa, NJ), 1983.

The Dead Sea Scrolls Forty Years On: The Fourteenth Sacks Lecture Delivered on 20th May, 1987, Oxford Centre for Postgraduate Hebrew Studies (Oxford, England), 1987.

(With Martin D. Goodman) The Essenes: According to the Classical Sources, JSOT Press (Sheffield, England), 1989.

A Tribute to Geza Vermes: Essays on Jewish and Christian Literature and History, edited by Philip R. Davies and Richard T. White, JSOT Press (Sheffield, England), 1990.

The Religion of Jesus the Jew, Fortress Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1993.

Providential Accidents: An Autobiography, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (Lanham, MD), 1998.

(With Philip S. Alexander) Discoveries in the Judaean Desert XXVI, Clarendon Press (Oxford, England), 1998.

The Changing Faces of Jesus, Allen Lane (London, England), 2000, Viking Compass (New York, NY), 2001.

The Authentic Gospel of Jesus, Allen Lane (London, England), 2003.

Jesus in His Jewish Context, Fortress Press (Minneapolis, MN), 2003.

Scrolls, Scriptures, and Early Christianity, T&T Clark International (New York, NY), 2005.

The Nativity: History and Legend, Penguin Books (London, England), 2006.

The Passion, Penguin Books (New York, NY), 2006.

The Resurrection, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2008.

Contributor to biblical, Semitic, and Jewish academic journals, and to periodicals, including Jewish Chronicle, Guardian, Independent, Daily Telegraph, New York Review of Books, and Times Literary Supplement.


Geza Vermes is a biblical scholar and author whose books include The Religion of Jesus the Jew, a volume that follows up his Jesus the Jew: A Historian's Reading of the Gospels and Jesus and the World of Judaism. "His portrayal of Jesus as a Galilean hasid takes its place as an interesting option among the many reconstructions of the so-called historical Jesus," wrote W. Barnes Tatum for Interpretation. In comparing this with similar studies, Christian Century contributor Leander E. Keck wrote that "Vermes's Jesus is much more plausible."

Vermes has been studying and translating the Dead Sea Scrolls since their discovery in a cave by a Bedouin shepherd boy in 1947; a total of eleven caves were subsequently excavated, yielding 812 texts that have provided a greater understanding of early Judaism and Christianity. Vermes's translation, published in 1962, was one of the earliest, and the volume has been revised and reprinted many times, most recently as The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English. Journal of Religion contributor Michael O. Wise called this fifth edition "a handsome book with a pleasing heft. It also offers the general reader more helps than earlier editions, in particular … several maps. Readers will appreciate the ‘Scroll Catalogue’ in the rear of the book, which lists most of the texts and their place of publication, and the ‘Index of Qumran Texts’ that tells where any given manuscript may be found in the book."

A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that "Vermes's account of the discovery of the scrolls and the events subsequent to the discovery, including political intrigue, makes for fascinating reading." Vermes does not include an English translation of the biblical texts, one-quarter of the 812.

In reviewing The Changing Faces of Jesus for Publishers Weekly a reviewer wrote that "this academic yet accessible book tackles the question of Jesus' identity by attempting to strip away theological and historical interpretations in order to reach the original, Jewish, human Jesus." Vermes begins with the Gospel of St. John and then continues through the Pauline letters, the Book of Acts, and the Synoptic Gospels. A Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that the first of the Synoptic Gospels, the Gospel of St. Mark, "recounts almost no miracles at all, suggesting that the miraculous accounts of Christ's superhuman power were introduced later to substantiate the claim of his godlike authority."

Charlotte Allen wrote in Washington Post Book World that the last part of the book "makes heady reading. Christian believers and nonbelievers alike will thrill to Vermes's portrait of a virile Jesus operating from the rugged landscape and culture of northern Israel, out of which sprang wild-eyed revolutionaries against Rome in Jesus' time and, in centuries earlier, the greatest of the Hebrew prophets, Elijah and Elisha, who fed the hungry, healed the sick, raised the dead, and fearlessly called their people to repentance." Booklist contributor Ilene Cooper noted that, "despite the depth of the scholarship, this is never a difficult read." "Vermes's vast knowledge of first century Judaism ensures that this work will become one of the most important works in historical Jesus studies," wrote David Bourquin in Library Journal.

Vermes retired from the University of Oxford in 1991, a move that has enabled him to focus even more on his scholarship. "For Geza Vermes, retirement seems to have concentrated the mind," wrote John Crace in a 2008 interview with Geza for the Guardian of Manchester England. "Since giving up the day job as professor of Jewish studies at Oxford University … he has been writing books at a faster rate than he ever did when he was meant to be working. And … he shows no sign of letting up."

In his 2003 book, The Authentic Gospel of Jesus, Vermes provides an in-depth look into the sayings attributed to Jesus from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Summing up the author's analysis, Rupert Shortt wrote for the Guardian: "The carpenter's son from Nazareth performed exorcisms, healed the sick and preached the coming of the Kingdom of God. But he had no message for the Gentiles, still less any urge to found a universal church." In a review for the Independent, Justin Cartwright noted the author's emphasis on placing the Biblical sayings of Jesus within the context of Jewish society at the time. Cartwright commented that the author "deploys all that is known about first-century Judaism and its religious and historical texts."

Jesus in His Jewish Context is a collection of essays written by the author over nearly three decades. "Vermes's rehearsal of the background of Jesus' life will help many readers," commented Bruce Chilton for Interpretation. Although Shofar contributor Nicola Denzey preferred much of the author's earlier writings analyzing the life of Jewish within a Jewish context, he also noted: "For those unfamiliar with Vermes' work, however, there is much here to widen eyes."

Scrolls, Scriptures, and Early Christianity includes eight essays by the author focusing on Dead Sea Scrolls research. He also writes about his own long-time research into the scrolls, which spans fifty years.

With his book The Nativity: History and Legend, Vermes looks at a fundamental story of Jesus in the Bible. Continuing his efforts to place the New Testament and the Gospels within historical context, Vermes follows the story told in the Bible and, in the process, presents his case for what is true and what is legend. "Vermes's method is exegetical, comparative and historical," noted Daniel J. Harrington in a review for America. "He provides detailed literary analyses of the individual passages that make up the New Testament infancy narratives, compares those texts with parallel Jewish and Greco-Roman documents and tries to clarify the history and the meaning of the story of Jesus' nativity." Agreeing with the author's analysis of the story of Jesus's birth, Frank Kermode, writing for the London Review of Books, noted: "The Infancy narratives are, as Vermes mildly remarks, not the stuff of which history is made. Under critical eyes the detail fades: the manger, the shepherds, the star, the heavenly choir."

The Passion, published in 2006, continues the author's examination of fundamental biblical tales concerning Jesus. Once again, the author focuses on evidence to create what he believes is an authentic version of the Passion, which encompasses Jesus's Stations of the Cross. In addition to analyzing biblical evidence for the story, the author also examines the film The Passion of the Christ, directed by Mel Gibson. Calling Vermes's analysis "highly succinct and readable," Quadrant contributor John Williams also noted: "The Passion is a welcome counterpoise to the publicity and media hype that accompanied the film's release."

The Resurrection, published in 2008, examines the evidence for the biblical story of Jesus rising from the dead after his crucifixion. The author conducts his examination as the story is chronologically revealed in the Bible, from the crucifixion and care for the body to witness statements and Christ's appearances to his disciples. Once again, the author places the story within the context of Jewish tradition and society at that time, noting factors such as how common the idea of resurrection was in the day's Jewish culture. In a review for the Times, Ziauddin Sardar wrote: "His main concern is to establish facts, a feat he accomplishes through concise textual analysis and precise arguments." Writing for America, Daniel J. Harrington commented: "As in his other books on Jesus, Vermes is an engaging and challenging guide through the ancient Jewish and early Christian texts."



Davies, Philip R., and Richard T. White, editors, A Tribute to Geza Vermes: Essays on Jewish and Christian Literature and History, JSOT Press (Sheffield, England), 1990.


America, March 7, 1998, Daniel J. Harrington, review of The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English, p. 22; November 5, 2007, Daniel J. Harrington, "How Much ‘Storytelling’?," review of The Nativity: History and Legend, p. 32; March 24, 2008, Daniel J. Harrington, "No Evidence?," review of The Resurrection, p. 23.

Booklist, April 15, 2001, Ilene Cooper, review of The Changing Faces of Jesus, p. 1513; October 15, 2007, Margaret Flanagan, review of The Nativity, p. 7.

Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, October, 1993, review of The Religion of Jesus the Jew, p. 310.

Christian Century, August 24, 1994, Leander E. Keck, review of The Religion of Jesus the Jew, p. 784.

Contemporary Review, June, 2004, review of The Authentic Gospel of Jesus, p. 381; October, 2005, review of The Passion, p. 252.

Guardian (London, England), December 20, 2003, Rupert Shortt, "A Question of Faith," review of The Authentic Gospel of Jesus; March 18 2008, John Crace, "Geza Vermes: Questions Arising," interview with author.

Independent (London, England), December 21, 2003, Justin Cartwright, "The Wilder Shores of Galilee," review of The Authentic Gospel of Jesus.

Interpretation, April, 1995, W. Barnes Tatum, review of The Religion of Jesus the Jew, p. 204; April, 2004, Bruce Chilton, review of Jesus in His Jewish Context, p. 210.

Journal of Religion, April, 1986, review of Jesus and the World of Judaism, p. 231; October, 1998, Michael O. Wise, review of The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English, p. 602; October, 2000, Michael Douglas, review of Discoveries in the Judaean Desert XXVI, p. 665.

Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2001, review of The Changing Faces of Jesus, p. 246.

Library Journal, August, 1997, Craig W. Beard, review of The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English, p. 93; February 15, 2001, David Bourquin, review of The Changing Faces of Jesus, p. 174; November 15, 2007, Charles Murray, review of The Nativity, p. 64; March 15, 2008, Wesley Mills, review of The Resurrection, p. 76.

London Review of Books, January 4, 2007, Frank Kermode, "Was It a Super Nova?," review of The Nativity.

New Republic, October 15, 2001, Paula Frederikson, review of The Changing Faces of Jesus and Providential Accidents.

New York Review of Books, November 15, 2001, E.P. Sanders, review of The Changing Faces of Jesus, p. 33.

Publishers Weekly, September 13, 1993, review of The Religion of Jesus the Jew, p. 36; July 14, 1997, review of The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English, p. 79; March 12, 2001, review of The Changing Faces of Jesus, p. 79; August 27, 2007, review of The Nativity, p. 80.

Quadrant, July-August, 2005, John Williams, "The Ineffable Mystery," review of The Passion.

Reference & Research Book News, February, 2006, review of Scrolls, Scriptures, and Early Christianity.

Religious Studies Review, March, 1985, review of Jesus and the World of Judaism, p. 107; April, 1990, review of The Essenes: According to the Classical Sources, p. 164; April, 1991, review of The Dead Sea Scrolls in English, p. 175.

Shofar, fall, 2005, Nicola Denzey, review of Jesus in His Jewish Context, p. 168.

Spectator, December 16, 2006, Christopher Howse, "That Old Bethlehem Story," review of The Nativity; March 22, 2008, Edward Norman, "Scripture Was Composed by Believers," review of The Resurrection, p. 44.

Times (London, England), March 22, 2008, Ziauddin Sardar, review of The Resurrection.

Times Literary Supplement, April 9, 1993, review of The Religion of Jesus the Jew, p. 4; April 10, 1998, review of Providential Accidents: An Autobiography, p. 8.

Washington Post Book World, April 1, 2001, Charlotte Allen, review of The Changing Faces of Jesus, p. 4.

Wilson Quarterly, summer, 1997, review of The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English, p. 102.


Cadre Comments, (August 23, 2008), review of The Resurrection.