Moore, George Foot

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MOORE, GEORGE FOOT . George Foot Moore (18511931) was an American scholar of Hebrew scriptures, Judaism, and the history of religions. Born of Scottish-Irish ancestry in West Chester, Pennsylvania, Moore received his B.A. degree from Yale University (1872) and his B.D. degree from Union Theological Seminary, New York (1877). Following ordination as a Presbyterian clergyman (1878), he served a five-year pastorate in Zanesville, Ohio. Moore's academic career began with his appointment as professor of Hebrew language and literature at Andover Theological Seminary (1883). Moore became professor of theology at Harvard University (1902) and later professor of the history of religions there (1904), a position in which he remained until his retirement in 1928.

Moore's reputation in biblical studies was established with the publication of A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Judges (1895) and The Literature of the Old Testament (1913). His Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era, the Age of Tannaim (19271930) is still the finest description of the religion of the rabbis of the Mishnah in existence. Moore's work is in line with the then regnant paradigm among Jewish scholars (e.g., Solomon Schechter, Louis Ginzberg) for study of the Pharisees/rabbis. This approach focused primarily upon the religion and literature of the Rabbinic elite and its construction of Judaism. Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era has been criticized by more recent scholars, principally Morton Smith and his school, for treating the rabbis as representative of what Morton Smith called "Normative Judaism," without focusing on the mystical, magical, or apocalyptic in Judaism beyond the rabbis. Morton Smith's approach is well in line with Moore's general interest in religious elites.

Moore's two-volume History of Religions (19131919) filled the need for a new handbook on the history of religions with the unity and continuity that single authorship could provide. In this work, Moore limits his treatment to the religions of the "civilized" peoples, omitting any discussion of "primitive" (i.e., tribal) religions. Moore's treatment of the various religions manifests an impressive capacity to master the best current scholarship. Two uncritical assumptions underlie his work, neither of which was uncommon in his day: an evolutionary theory concerning the development of religion and a basic methodological distinction between the religions of "civilized peoples" and "other" (i.e., "primitive" or tribal) religions.

His contributions as a historian of religions were marked by two notable qualities. First, he demonstrated the possibility of pursuing work in the history of religions in a manner that was characterized by openness to the richness of diverse religious traditions (among the "civilized" peoples) on the one hand and by disciplined scholarship on the other. Second, it was singularly important to the study of religion in North America that, even though most work in comparative religion and the history of religions had tended to focus attention on religious traditions other than Judaism and Christianity, his History of Religions extended equivalence of treatment and analytical criticism to these "higher" religions. This approach was significant for the development of the study of religion in America and in the communal realm for the ecumenical movement between Christians and Jews.

Moore made frequent contributions to scholarly journals, writing almost forty articles for the Encyclopedia Biblica (18991903) alone. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Harvard Theological Review, contributed to it often, and twice was its editor (19081914 and 19211931). Moore held presidencies in such notable professional societies as the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (of which he was a fellow), the American Oriental Society, the Society of Biblical Literature and Exegesis, and the Massachusetts Historical Society.


Bibliographical information concerning Moore can be found in W. W. Fenn's "George Foot Moore: A Memoir," Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society 64 (February 1932). The most profound reader and interpreter of Moore was Morton Smith. See Smith's discussion of this scholar in Harvard Library Bulletin, 15 (1967), 169179.

Major Works by Moore

A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Judges. New York, 1895. This important volume of the International Critical Commentary is still useful and demonstrates Moore's reputation as a careful and diligent scholar of the Hebrew Bible.

The Literature of the Old Testament. New York, 1913. This modest volume in the Home University Library series presents in lucid and concise form both a discourse on the sources, formation, and structure of the Pentateuch and a discussion of every book of the Hebrew Bible, informed by the most careful scholarship of the period and intended for the general reader.

History of Religions. 2 vols. New York, 19131919. Volume one discusses the religions of China, Japan, Egypt, Babylonia, Assyria, India, ancient Greece, ancient Rome, and Persia, while volume two discusses Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Moore's succinct survey of major religious traditions is informed by his mastery of the most competent scholarship in each field and by his special competence in Christianity and Judaism. The approach is characterized more by an interest in the history and thought of each tradition than by a consideration of their sociological and anthropological aspects. A remarkable accomplishment in its time, the work has enduring value.

The Birth and Growth of Religion. New York, 1923. This publication of the Morse Lectures of 1922 presents Moore's theory that religion is grounded in the universal impulse for self-preservation and is developed in an evolutionary fashion, ultimately manifesting an aspiration for self-realization.

"The Rise of Normative Judaism: To the Reorganization of Jamnia." Harvard Theological Review 17 (October 1924): 307373.

"The Rise of Normative Judaism: To the Close of the Mishnah." Harvard Theological Review 18 (January 1925): 138.

Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era, the Age of Tannaim. 3 vols. Cambridge, Mass., 19271930. This introduction to the religion of the early rabbis has not been surpassed.

F. Stanley Lusby (1987)

Steven Fine (2005)