Sunday, October 9, 2016

Jacob Neusner (1932-2016)

I was sad to hear that Jacob Neusner passed away last week. He was a remarkable man, and an extremely prolific scholar.

My parents once spent an enjoyable evening at the opera with Professor Neusner and his family.

Neusner's amazing output was the subject of a joke I first heard about thirty-five years ago:
A man called Jacob Neusner's office. The secretary answered the phone and told the man, "I''m sorry. Professor Neusner is writing a book and cannot be disturbed." To which the man replied, "That's okay, just put me on hold."
About twenty-five years ago, Neusner weighed in on an argument going on in Mormon Studies. At the time David Wright and others were arguing that the Book of Mormon was not historical but merely inspired fiction, but that that somehow made it "true" in some sense. Wright and others also redefined the term "prophet" so that a prophet was some sort of inspired leader of a community, but not that he actually spoke with God or received revelation that had any sort of actual specific content. Others were publicly espousing these views but it was to Wright that Neusner responded in a nice little piece called "Is Wright Wrong?" The BYU Administration of the time wisely decided that Wright should not be paid with tithing funds to spread his ideas.

I am grateful for Professor Neusner weighing in on the side of the Church in this controversy. He was a decent man.