Here is my list of the top ten most influential Old Testament scholars since 1800.1 For the sake of my academic career, I will exclude my teachers from consideration.

  1. Julius Wellhausen-no one has been more influential in the last century-plus than him
  2. William F. Albright-the person who created “Biblical Archaeology”
  3. Martin Noth-ever heard of the Deuteronomistic History?
  4. Hermann Gunkel-form critical scholar
  5. Gerhard von Rad-brought Old Testament theology back to the forefront
  6. Frank Moore Cross-dean of epigraphy
  7. Norman Gottwald-integration of the social sciences into biblical studies
  8. Brevard Childs-canonical criticism
  9. John Van Seters and Thomas L. Thompson-”minimalism” is born
  10. William Dever-archaeologist extraordinaire

Agreements? Disagreements? Jilted because you’re not on the list?


  1. My thanks to Jake McCarty for the suggestion. [back]

About the author

Charles Halton

17 Comments. Leave your Comment right now:

  1. I like Thompson, but I would not consider him to have been one of the most influential scholars in his field (unless you count the manner in which he has influenced so many to emphatically deny everything that he has to say). I would, however, add Emanuel Tov to the list – both for his work on textual criticism as well as his work on the Dead Sea Scrolls. And Yigal Yadin too, for the same reason.

  2. Similar to the comment above, I notice a suspicious lack of Jewish scholars on the list. Tov is huge and Yadin is important, but I’d put Yehezkel Kaufmann above both. I don’t agree with him on everything, but when you look at his students — Jacob Milgrom and Moshe Weinfeld in particular — you have to put Kaufmann on the top ten.

  3. by Joe Cathey

    Albright, Cross, and Dever – all good and solid scholars in my opinion! Well Done!

    Joe Cathey

  4. by jake mccarty

    Tough decision and I’m probably going to stew over this for a long time. But I definitely would not put Child’s and Thompson/Van Seters on the list. Certainly Gosta Ahlstrom has published far superior scholarship and prefigures some of the minimalist ideas, and what about M. Liverani–certainly a far more well-rounded scholar who is a “minimalist.” Even R. Albertz would fit the bill more nicely.

    I would probably question 4-5 of the scholars you put up: Childs’, Thompson, Gottwald, Dever, and von Rod. The others are solid.

    Aside from adding Cyrus Gordon (some crazy ideas but a true polymath), I can’t think of anyone else.

  5. Well, like Simon, I think Emmanual Tov would deserve more of a place on the list than some of the others. You kind of cheated by treating Thompson and Van Seters as a single person. I’m not sure whether I would really consider Dever to be an “Old Testament scholar”—of course, he himself would prefer the term “Syro-Palestinian archaeologist.”

  6. First, there is an absence of Jewish scholars only if one does not count Dever who converted to Reform Judaism. However, there is an absence of many other constituencies, notably women and non-European/North American. I debated putting Kathleen Kenyon, Sara Japhet, Susan Niditch, or Phylis Trible on the list, but in the end, while each one of these individuals are very important, I felt the other scholars should be included. As for Kaufmann, he was almost ignored when he first published his tome (this may have been for linguistic reasons) and now he is quoted primarily to serve as a foil. Yadin has made very valuable contributions, however, in my mind Tov has the best case for inclusion.

    I did cheat by putting Thompson and Seters together (I also “cheated” on the ANE list as well) but that was because their first and formative writings came out only one year apart from each other so it is in some ways hard to separate them in that regard. The fact that they have caused so much writing against their positions illustrates their influence.

    Dever is featured so often in Biblical Archaeology Review that try as he might to remain a “Syro-Palestinian archaeologist” he just can’t escape the link with the Bible.

    Thanks for the interaction, any more thoughts?

  7. by jake mccarty

    Jim,

    I think we met way back when at Brandeis?!? I relunctantly decided not to attend.

    I’m not a Y. Kaufmann fan and his basic premise still boggles my mind. I sometimes hear about S. Japhet and J. Tigay as being influenced by Kaufmann because of their conservative views, but I wonder how much influence Kaufmann has really had. His ANE contributions are virtually nil, and I think Gordon far surpass him (e.g. Ugaritic, Greek, Egyptian, Mesopotamian)–even if some of his ideas were quite luney. Also, he graduated many, many great PhD students, including H. Hoffner of U. Chicago.

  8. Charles,
    You’re right of course about Kaufmann being ignored, and I don’t buy his reconstruction myself. But, his students (and those of the Israeli school in general) have made some fine contributions. Heck, they were some of the only ones actually working on ritual texts for most of the 20th century. You’ve got all these folks doing narrative, poetry and archaeology on the list. We ritual scholars need to represent ! ;-)

    Jake,
    Glad to see you landed at Johns Hopkins. I think their program is amazing right now. As far as Gordon goes, I’ll only say that his ideas on the Bible haven’t held up as well as those scholars on Charles’ list.

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  10. Charles,

    I’m none too happy with your list, for reasons I state on my blog. Some of the people you list belong here; others, no disrespect intended, do not (Gottwald, Thompson, Van Seters, and Dever). Maybe the real problem is that a top ten list is too short to be useful.

    All the best just the same.

    http://www.ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com

  11. John,
    I tried to leave this comment on your blog, but there was a message saying that it was temporarily unavailable. So, here it is:

    Your critique of the predominantly WASP nature of the list is justified. I thought long and hard about purposefully making the list more inclusive with respect to gender and geography/ethnicity. However, in the end I chose this list fully aware of its limitations. No doubt there are many Israeli scholars who are top notch, however a lot of their scholarship has been done in Modern Hebrew which has limited the circulation of their ideas–Stephen Kaufman has written about this as we will see in the coming days in my series, The Kaufman School. Also, there are many others who deserve to be on a “top scholars” list and ten people is quite arbitrary. My list was intended to produce reflection and discussion which I’m glad it did.

  12. by Ray Timmermans

    David Noel Freedman would certainly deserve an honorable mention.

  13. I’d have left out Van Seters and Thompson and included Brueggemann. Also, where is Westermann?

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  15. by janet schatten

    I think Richard Elliot Friedman should be included.

  16. Pingback: >Top Ten Old Testament Scholars | Claude Mariottini - Professor of Old Testament

  17. by David Arghir

    I am very intrested to develop a spiritual relationship going deep into the NES languages so I would like to get more resources about these areas.

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