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Meet Prof. dr. Jürgen K. Zangenberg, LJSA Co-Initiator and Member

Prof. Zangenberg came to Leiden in 2006 as Professor for New Testament and Early Christian Literature and is now Chair for the History and Culture of Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity.

As a scholar of New Testament and Early Christianity ancient and modern Judaism have been at the center of my studies, research and teaching from early on. Already as a student, the Hebrew Bible and its cultural historical context and Second Temple Judaism belonged to the standard program of my curricula. During my university years I took additional classes at the Jüdische Hochschule in Heidelberg, studied Qumran scrolls, texts from Ugarit and a bit of rabbinic Judaism in Erlangen and Edinburgh. But what really influenced me deeply were four excavation seasons as a PhD student at Sepphoris, a large Jewish-Roman city in the Galilee with an excavation team from Duke University. Here, for the first time, I understood how a city worked as a socio-cultural body “on the ground”, what religion played in how people interacted with each other and that “culture” is at least 50% “material”.

Jürgen Zangenberg giving instructions to his students excavating the ancient synagogue at Horvat Kur in Galilee ((c) Kinneret Regional Project)

All that helped me when I came to Leiden where I encountered a much more competitive environment and a much broader, “Mediterranean” perspective. It was mind-boggling how much expertise in texts, languages and forms of Judaism there was and still is, but at the same time people often did not know what his or her neighbor did and how far cooperation would open up new horizons in the study and understanding of Judaism. So I myself had to learn how to building bridges and connecting my expertise to that of others regardless of programs and institutes. In many ways, establishing contacts and building bridges is much easier now than it used to be when I came here. The Faculty actively stimulates and facilitates cooperation with expertise and money, and many colleagues are more than willing to go beyond the confines of their field to discover new research and teaching opportunities. I am therefore very grateful that Sarah Cramsey immediately after her arrival at Leiden responded very enthusiastically to the idea to join hands and “do something”. What has also been very important is that students are much better now in expressing what they wanted in terms of classes and thesis topics. This tremendously helps teachers to diversify and experiment in developing their teaching program which often enough includes Judaism and Early Christianity – both religions which to many students sound exotic at best.

The Leiden Jewish Studies Association is a fruit of such innovative cooperation, and I hope it will help many colleagues, students and members of the wider public here in Leiden and beyond to connect, widen their horizon and discover many new aspects of the age-old and brand-new culture and history of Judaism. To me, LJSA will continue to provide a valuable platform for developing Leiden University’s public and professional profile even after the initial financial stimulus has expired at the end of this year. Let us all help together that LJSA grows as a network and a market place for stimulating research and teaching on Jews and Judaism through the ages.

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