Elaine Ravich Professor of Jewish Studies
Department: Bible, Jewish Studies
Phone: (212) 678-8020
Building Room: Unterberg 507
Office Hours: By Appointment
Alan Cooper is the Elaine Ravich Professor of Jewish Studies. He joined the faculty in 1997 as a professor of Bible, and has served as director of publications chair of the Bible faculty, and, from 2007 to 2018, provost of JTS. In 1998, he was appointed professor of Bible at the Union Theological Seminary, a nondenominational Christian seminary, becoming the first person to hold concurrent professorships at JTS and Union. Previously, he was a professor of Bible at Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion, where for six years he was director of its School of Graduate Studies. He also taught religious studies for ten years at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
Dr. Cooper earned a bachelor’s degree in Religion at Columbia University. He went on to do his graduate work at Yale University, earning a master of philosophy degree and doctorate in Religious Studies. His doctoral dissertation was on the linguistic structure of biblical poetry. He also spent a year in Jerusalem as a Hebrew University postdoctoral fellow.
Dr. Cooper’s publications include a monograph on Canaanite divine names that appear in the Hebrew Bible, and many articles on biblical poetics and the history of interpretation. Recent articles include “Once Again Seething a Kid in Its Mother’s Milk” (in JSIJ [Jewish Studies, an Internet Journal]); “Some Aspects of Traditional Jewish Psalms Interpretation” (in The Oxford Handbook of the Psalms); and “Introduction to Leviticus” (in Engaging Torah: Modern Perspectives on the Hebrew Bible). His work in progress includes a commentary on Psalms 31 through 60 for the Jewish Publication Society.
Grants, Fellowships, and Awards
- Lilly Foundation Faculty Fellowship, 2003–2004
- Excellence in Teaching Award, Greater Cincinnati Consortium of Colleges and Universities, 1993
- Hebrew University of Jerusalem Postdoctoral Fellowship, 1979–1980
- “Some Aspects of Traditional Jewish Psalms Interpretation.” In The Oxford Handbook of the Psalms, edited by William P. Brown, 253–68. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.
- “Introduction to the Book of Leviticus” [in German], Die Tora in der Übersetzung Ludwig Philippsons (new revised ed.). Freiburg, Germany: Herder, 2014.
- “The Psalm of the Shofar: Its Use in Liturgy and Its Meaning in the Bible.” TheTorah.com, September 11, 2014.
- “Why Did God Flood the World?” On “Torah Commentary,” The Jewish Theological Seminary online, October 1, 2013.
- “The Torah’s Prescription for Healing.” On “Torah Commentary,” The Jewish Theological Seminary online, April 9, 2013.
- “Psalm 27: The Days of Awe.” On “Torah Commentary,” The Jewish Theological Seminary online, August 25, 2012.
- “God’s Form and God’s Image.” On “Torah Commentary,” The Jewish Theological Seminary online, April 28, 2012.
- “Once Again Seething a Kid in Its Mother’s Milk.” JSIJ—Jewish Studies, an Internet Journal 10 (2012), 1–34.
- “Two Jews, Three Synagogues: A Jewish View of Historical Criticism.” Conservative Judaism 64, no. 1 (Fall 2012), 3–13.
- “Original Sin in Jewish Guise: Ephraim of Luntshits on Leviticus 12.” Harvard Theological Review 97, no. 4 (2004), 445–59.
- “On the Social Role of Biblical Interpretation: The Case of Proverbs 22:6.” In With Reverence for the Word: Medieval Scriptural Exegesis in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, edited by Jane Dammen McAuliffe et al., 180–93. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.
- “The Message of Lamentations,” Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Society, 28 (2002), 1–18.
- “Snippets from the Cutting Room Floor: Stories About Moses’ Sons,” conference on “The Past and Present of Jewish Storytelling,” Columbia University, New York, May 5, 2013.
- “Do Jews Believe in Original Sin? The Doctrine of Original Sin in Jewish and Christian Thought,” 2012 Scholar-in-Residence Lecture, The Carl and Dorothy Bennett Center for Judaic Studies at Fairfield University, Fairfield, CT, October 11, 2012.
- “The Red Cow and Related Rituals of Purification,” Colloquium for Biblical Research, Dover, MA, August 12, 2011.
- “Yet Again the Kid in Its Mother’s Milk,” Bible Workshop, Harvard University, Boston, October 21, 2010; Biblical Law Group, Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta, November 21, 2010.
- “Land, Lineage, and Observance: The Emergence of Jewish Identity in the Post-Exilic Period,” Chinese University of Hong Kong, March 10, 2010.
- “Deuteronomy 32 as the Road Map of Jewish History,” History of Interpretation Section, Society of Biblical Literature, San Diego, November 19, 2007.
- “‘Embedded’ Psalms Commentary and the Jewish Study of Psalms,” Scripture in Early Judaism and Christianity Section, Society of Biblical Literature, San Diego, November 19, 2007.
- “The Concept of ‘Literal Meaning’ in Jewish Biblical Commentary from the Muslim East to France,” conference on “Cultural Crossovers: The Bible and the Profane,” Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, April 15, 2007; expanded version presented at the Colloquium for Biblical Research, Richmond, VA, August 18, 2007.
In both writing and teaching, I advocate a threefold approach to critical Jewish biblical scholarship—examining the Bible in its own context, through the lens of Jewish reception through the ages, and in relation to what it might mean today. Generally, the three aspects are at odds with one another, calling for a creative response in which tensions are highlighted and investigated, not resolved in a simplistic way.
Most of my work is in the areas of biblical poetics and religion. Currently I am participating in two multiauthored commentaries on Psalms. There is no truly satisfactory Psalms commentary extant, possibly because the problems of understanding are insurmountable. That is what makes them interesting.
I also have worked for many years on Jewish adaptations of “original sin,” particularly in traditional biblical commentary. Not only is it an important element of the Jewish-Christian encounter; it also affects the way Jews understand basic characteristics of human nature.
More recently, I have been immersed in Leviticus and priestly literature. The central religious themes of both Judaism and Christianity are adaptations of concepts found there, and I am interested both in their biblical contexts and in their subsequent transformations.