Benjamin D. Sommer joined the JTS faculty as professor of Bible in July 2008. Dr. Sommer is spending the 2012–2013 academic year on sabbatical as a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem as a member of the Convergence and Divergence in the Study of the Pentateuch research group.
Previously, he served as director of the Crown Family Center for Jewish Studies at Northwestern University, where he had taught since 1994. Dr. Sommer has been a fellow at the Tikvah Center for Jewish Law and Civilization at the New York University School of Law and at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, as well as a visiting faculty member at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, Texas. He has received fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies and the Yad Hanadiv/Berakha Foundation.
Dr. Sommer's research focuses on the history of Israelite religion, literary analysis of the Bible, and biblical theology. An overarching concern of his scholarship involves the close and manifold relationships between biblical thought and later Jewish theology or, to use the Hebrew phrasing, between Torah shebikhtav and Torah shebe'al peh.
Dr. Sommer's second book, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel (Cambridge University Press, 2009), received two major honors: the Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion (Textual Studies Category) from the American Academy of Religion, for the best book in religious studies focusing on textual analysis published in 2009; and the 2009 Jordan Schnitzer Award from the Association for Jewish Studies, for the best book published in the years 2006–2009 in biblical studies, rabbinics, or archaeology. The book addresses perceptions of divine embodiment in ancient Israel, Canaan, and Assyria, and how these perceptions reappear in later Jewish philosophy and mysticism. The AJS Prize Committee described Sommer's book as "an original, wide-ranging and accessible work of scholarship . . . a cross-cultural tour de force" and wrote that his "thesis has implications for understanding not only the theology of ancient Israel but also the theologies of its surrounding world, whether in Mesopotamia or the Levant, as well as those of rabbinic Judaism and Christianity."
Dr. Sommer's first book, A Prophet Reads Scripture: Allusion in Isaiah 40–66 (Stanford University Press, 1998), was awarded the Salo Wittmayer Baron Prize by the American Academy of Jewish Research for best first book on ancient or medieval Judaism in 1998. Among other honors, he was the first recipient of the André Ungar Scholarship from Temple Emanuel in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey.
Dr. Sommer is the editor of the Psalms volumes of the Jewish Publication Society Bible Commentary series and is writing the first book of that five-volume set. He is also working on a book, Artifact or Scripture? The Jewish Bible Between History and Theology, which is under contract to Yale University Press in the Anchor Bible Reference Series. This book will examine whether the Bible, understood as the ancient Near Eastern document it is, can be relevant to modern Jewish thought.
Dr. Sommer serves on the editorial boards of Prooftexts: A Journal of Jewish Literary History, the Journal of Biblical Literature, and the Society for Biblical Literature's book series Ancient Israel and Its Literature. He has received fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies and the Yad Hanadiv / Beracha Foundation. Dr. Sommer has been a visiting faculty member at various institutions, including Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the Shalom Hartman Institute, the Spertus Institute, the Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University, and the University of Chicago.
Dr. Sommer has long been active as a lecturer and scholar-in-residence, teaching rabbis, Jewish educators, and laypeople in a variety of settings in the United States and Israel.
Dr. Sommer grew up in Temple Emanuel in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey, and attended JTS's Rebecca and Israel Ivry Prozdor High School from 1978 through 1982.
Dr. Sommer and his family are members of Congregation Beth Sholom in Teaneck, New Jersey. He and his wife, Jennifer Dugdale, have three children, who are currently attending schools in Jerusalem.
A Prophet Reads Scripture: Allusion in Isaiah 40–66 (winner of the 1999 Salo Wittmayer Baron Prize from the American Academy for Jewish Research for the best first book published in ancient or medieval Jewish Studies in 1998)
The Bodies of God in Ancient Israel and Its World (winner of the 2009 Jordan Schnitzer Award of the Association of Jewish Studies in the category of "Biblical Studies, Rabbinics, and Archaeology" for books published in this area in the years 2006–2009 and of the 2010 Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion [Textual Studies Category] from the American Academy of Religion)