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Moshe Greenberg, at 81; influential Bible scholar

Rabbi Greenberg countered those who used the Book of Joshua as a justification for certain forms of violence.
Rabbi Greenberg countered those who used the Book of Joshua as a justification for certain forms of violence.
Associated Press / May 20, 2010

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JERUSALEM — Rabbi Moshe Greenberg, an influential scholar whose work won the first Israel Prize for biblical studies, has died, one of his sons said Monday. He was 81.

Rabbi Greenberg’s award-winning scholarship bridged the gap between the commentary of ancient Jewish sages and modern religious studies, said Israel Knohl, a professor at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a colleague of Mr. Greenberg.

Rabbi Greenberg died Saturday morning at his Jerusalem home, said his son Rafi.

His definitive two-volume commentary on the Book of Ezekiel described, among other things, how the prohibition of murder became an unbreakable taboo with the Abrahamic religions because of the rise of a belief in man’s connection to God, Knohl said.

The Israel Prize is the country’s highest civilian award. Prizes are given in several fields on Israel’s independence day each year.

Born in Philadelphia, Rabbi Greenberg studied Bible and Assyriology at the University of Pennsylvania and earned his doctorate there in 1954, according to the news agency JTA.

He also studied at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, from which he was ordained.

In 1970, he immigrated to Israel and became a prominent voice whose work occasionally touched on political topics. He countered those who used the Book of Joshua as a justification for certain forms of violence in defense of Israel, Knohl said.

In 1994, along with a colleague, he became the first person to win the Israel Prize for Bible research.

He leaves his wife, Evelyn, and three sons.