Levenson, Jon D.

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LEVENSON, JON D. (1949– ), U.S. scholar of Bible and Midrash. Levenson was born in Wheeling, West Virginia, where he completed his secondary school education at Linsley Military Institute in 1967. He received his B.A. in English at Harvard College in 1971, and his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Harvard University in 1967 and 1971, concentrating in Hebrew Bible and Northwest Semitics. Following several years of teaching religion and biblical studies at Wellesley College (1975–82), he taught as associate professor of Hebrew Bible in the Divinity School, the University of Chicago (1982–86), as associate professor of Hebrew Bible in the Divinity School and in the Committee on General Studies in the Humanities, the University of Chicago (1986–88), and as professor of Hebrew Bible in the Divinity School and in the Committee on General Studies in the Humanities, the University of Chicago (1988). He served as the Albert A. List Professor of Jewish Studies at the Divinity School, Harvard University from 1988 and was also professor of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.

Levenson's major contribution to the field of biblical studies is the reinterpretation of texts in the Hebrew Bible and its redaction in Second Temple Judaism, including rabbinic Midrash. In several of his books, he hinges the disparity between classical and contemporary Jewish and Christian biblical interpretation on the plain-sense exegesis of scriptural passages, and negates strongly the whims and wiles of Christian supersessionist reading.

Levenson tackles the ubiquitous question of how to reconcile the goodness of God in the face of evil in Creation and the Persistence of Evil: The Jewish Drama of Divine Omnipotence (1988). A revised collection of six previously published book chapters and journal essays are found in The Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, and Historical Criticism: Jews and Christians in Biblical Studies (1993); Levinson also wrote an introduction and line by line commentary on the book of Esther in Esther: A Commentary (1997), which presents an analysis of the book's structure and themes, discusses the historicity and origins of textual variants, and underscores the politics and perplexed theology of this nationalistic book of the Hebrew (and Christian) canon. His other writings include The Book of Job in Its Time and in the Twentieth Century (1971); Traditions in Trans-formation: Turning Points in Biblical Faith (1981, edited with Baruch Halpern); and Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel: The Ultimate Victory of the God of Life (New Haven, 2006).

Additionally, Levenson has published many scholarly articles that range from the theologies of commandment in biblical Israel to introduction and annotations to Genesis in The Jewish Study Bible (2004). His approach to biblical studies is to avoid uncritical traditionalism, historicism, and positivism. By maintaining a transcendent-historical voice in arcane biblical texts, his methodology "entails a dialectical movement between synchronic and diachronic reading, and between the ancient Near Eastern world and the world of Late Antiquity in which Judaism as we know it took shape."

[Zev Garber (2nd ed.)]