New Book Has Important Implications for Jewish and Christian Theology

Press Contact: Nina Jacobson
Office: (212) 678-8950

September 30, 2009, New York, NY

Dr. Benjamin Sommer, professor of Bible at The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), will discuss his new book, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel (Cambridge University Press, June 2009), at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, October 20. The program will take place at JTS, 3080 Broadway (at 122nd Street), New York City.

In The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, Dr. Sommer explores a lost ancient Near Eastern perception of divinity that believed the essential difference between gods and humans was that gods had more than one body and fluid, unbounded selves. He then argues that this perception has important repercussions not only for biblical scholarship and comparative religion, but for Jewish-Christian dialogue as well.

A labor of love that has already received critical acclaim* by leading Jewish and Christian scholars, Bodies of God allowed Dr. Sommer to examine a topic that many modern Jews find difficult to discuss: God. As an academic historian of ideas and also a theologian, Dr. Sommer explores the perception of divinity that points towards God's desire to become accessible to humanity. This understanding of God matters to a modern Jewish theology, as do the ancient texts that disclose it.

A member of the JTS faculty since July 2008, Dr. Sommer teaches Hebrew Bible, ancient Judaism, and religions of the ancient Near East, specializing in the history of Israelite religion, literary analysis of the Bible, and biblical theology. Previously, Dr. Sommer served as the director of the Crown Family Center for Jewish Studies at Northwestern University, where he taught for fourteen years. He has been a visiting faculty member at various institutions, including the University of Chicago, the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and the Shalom Hartman Institute.

Long an active lecturer and scholar-in-residence, Dr. Sommer has taught rabbis, Jewish educators, and laypeople in a variety of settings in the United States and Israel. He holds a PhD in Bible from the University of Chicago, an MA in Near East and Judaic Studies from Brandeis University, and a BA in Philosophy and Judaic Studies—summa cum laude, with distinction in both majors—from Yale University.

The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel can be purchased on; Barnes&, or via Cambridge University Press.

Sponsored by The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary, the event kicks off The Library's 2009–2010 series of book talks by JTS faculty. Dr. David Kraemer, Joseph J. and Dora Abbell Librarian and professor of Talmud and Rabbinics, serves as moderator. The series continues on Tuesday, November 3, with Rabbi Michael Greenbaum, who will discuss Louis Finkelstein and the Conservative Movement: Conflict & Growth.

For further information and to RSVP, please call (212) 678-8075 or email

*Critical Praise for The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel

"An innovative and illuminating exploration of the idea that God in the Hebrew Bible is embodied. Benjamin Sommer explores the various modes of embodiment found in different sources and shows that both rabbinic and mystical Judaism, as well as Christianity, have roots in the variety of presentations in the Hebrew Bible. A characteristically lucid and original book."—John Barton, Oriel College, University of Oxford

"Sommer's audacious and original analyses of fascinating aspects of biblical theology, the fluidity and the embodiment of God against their Near Eastern backgrounds, open new questions and facilitate new solutions as to the later developments of Jewish thought, especially the sources of Kabbalistic theosophy."—Moshe Idel, Department of Jewish Thought, Hebrew University

"I found [Sommer's] perspectives quite revealing in terms of Pauline Christology as well as for notions of ‘Incarnationalism' in Judaism. I would very much recommend taking a look at his material. It contributes significantly in my view to the rethinking of the early Christian-Jewish relationship that has taken such interesting and significant turns in the last decade."—The Rev. John T. Pawlikowski, Catholic Theological Union in Chicago; President, International Council of Christians and Jews