Campus & Community

Kugel wins Grawemeyer Award in Religion for book

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James L.
James L. Kugel (Staff photo by Jon Chase)

James L. Kugel, Harry Starr Professor of Classical, Modern Jewish, and Hebrew Literature at Harvard University and a member of the Faculty of Divinity, has won the 2001 Grawemeyer Award in Religion for his book “The Bible as It Was.” The award, a $200,000 prize presented by Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and the University of Louisville, “recognizes outstanding and creative works that promote understanding of the relationship between human beings and the divine.”

“The Bible as It Was,” which was published in 1997 by Harvard University Press, presents more than 10 years of investigation into ancient Jewish and Christian sources that attempted to explain the many stories of the Pentateuch. From his research, Kugel suggests that four basic assumptions governed all ancient biblical interpretation: that it required specially trained interpreters, that it was deeply relevant to people’s lives, that it was harmonious in all its parts and meaningful in all its details, and that it was divinely inspired. One aspect of Kugel’s work is a demonstration that Christians and Jews share more than just the written text of the Hebrew Bible. “What I wish to show,” he writes, “is that … rabbinic Judaism and Christianity emerged out of a common mentality including, prominently, a common set of beliefs about the Bible.”

Kugel has taught at Harvard since 1982, and also holds a professorship at Bar Ilan University in Israel. Another Harvard professor in religion and member of the Faculty of Divinity, Diana Eck, professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies, won the Grawemeyer Award in Religion in 1995 for her book “Encountering God: A Spiritual Journey from Bozeman to Banaras.”