First Glance
“A boat against the current.” F. Scott Fitzgerald’s phrase aptly applies to Frank Moore Cross, the recently retired Hancock Professor of Hebrew and Other Oriental Languages at Harvard University. In an age of ever increasing academic specialization, Cross remains a resolute generalist. Many a scholar would be content to master just one of Cross’s numerous fields of expertise: biblical history, the decipherment and dating of ancient texts, history of religion, the development of the biblical canon, ancient languages and cultures, the development of the alphabet, the Dead Sea Scrolls, archaeology on both land and sea, historical geography—the list could go on. Shortly before his retirement, Cross met with BR editor Hershel Shanks for a wide-ranging interview. The result was so rich that it will constitute three articles. In the first installment of “Frank Moore Cross—An Interview,” the focus of the conversation is Israelite origins, especially Cross’s contention that the earliest members of what was later to become Israel lived in the the land of Midian after having fled Egypt—not in the Sinai peninsula as is popularly supposed. Cross describes how this ancient memory of Midianite roots embedded itself into two of the strands that make up the Pentateuch—preserved in a positive light in one strand and in a negative one in the other. Cross also explains how contradictory viewpoints can be incorporated within the biblical tradition. Parts Two and Three of the interview—to appear in our October and December issues—will focus on Israelite religion and on the development of the alphabet.
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