John J. Collins celebrated with festschrift

By Sean McAvoy ’11 M.A.R.

Friends, colleagues, and students past and present of John J. Collins, Holmes Professor of Old Testament Criticism and Interpretation, gathered at Yale Divinity School on Feb. 28 in a celebration of Collins’s distinguished teaching career.

The occasion was an opportunity to present Collins with a festschrift, a volume containing original contributions of colleagues in an honored scholar’s particular field.  Harold Attridge, dean of Yale Divinity School and Lillian Claus Professor of New Testament, said, “The practice of honoring senior scholars with a ‘festschrift’ is a long established academic tradition.  John Collins, one of the leading scholars of the Old Testament in North America, richly deserves the honor he was given.”  Four of Collins’s former students edited the book, titled The “Other” in Second Temple Judaism: Essays in Honor of John J. Collins, and all were on hand to present it to him.

Editor Daniel C. Harlow, professor of biblical and early Jewish studies at Calvin College, called Collins “a brilliant scholar and a lovely human being,” adding that the festschrift represents the collective effort of 27 scholars.  Fordham University Assistant Professor of Theology Karina Martin Hogan recalled her days as a doctoral student under Collins at the University of Chicago and said, “I don’t know of any other scholar who has had the impact of John Collins,” adding, “He taught me to think about the big picture, think about the big questions, and venture far outside the area of my expertise.”  Florida State University Associate Professor of Religion Matthew Goff drew laughs when he recalled how Collins had cautioned him to “say less, better” when supervising Goff’s dissertation years before.  Each spoke of Collins’s generosity and capacity to inspire, and Joel Kaminksy, professor of religion at Smith College, offered up a heartfelt tribute when he remarked, “Whenever possible, I will reach out to help other young scholars in the spirit of John Collins.”

Collins returned his students’ affections in kind by expressing his gratitude and appreciation for the work of the editors and contributors, noting, “The joy of this profession, the thing that makes teaching worth doing, is the students…I have been blessed by having wonderful students.  It makes it all worthwhile.”

The festschrift’s essays are organized into five parts, all centered around the role of ‘othering’ in identity formation: The Hebrew Bible and its Reception; Wisdom; Apocalypticism; The Dead Sea Scrolls; and Jews Among Greeks and Romans.  “Over the past few decades,” writes Harlow in the book’s Introduction, “the issue of identity has become a major focus of attention in scholarly discourse on a wide range of social, cultural, political, and religious phenomena. . . This general fact of human existence receives striking confirmation when one examines sources for the experience of Jews living in Palestine and in the Diaspora during the Greco-Roman age.”

Townes and CollinsAttridge said Collins “has fostered the scholarly careers of many biblical specialists, and they returned thanks for his work with an impressive volume of essays.”  The packed room and number of current and former students in attendance at the event were a testimony to the genuine fondness and high regard for Collins, a man described by Kaminsky as “a sage in his own right.”

“I would like to thank Dean Attridge and the YDS Community for a lovely celebration,” Collins said.  “It was especially gratifying to me that the festschrift was organized and edited by former students, and that approximately half the 27 contributors are former students.”

Collins’s most recent book is Beyond the Qumran Community: The Sectarian Movement of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  He has edited more than 15 books and written in excess of 200 articles.  He served as president of the Society of Biblical Literature in 2002-03.  He holds a B.A. and M.A. from University College Dublin, a Ph.D. in Near Eastern languages and literatures from Harvard University, and an honorary doctorate from University College Dublin, awarded in 2009.  Collins has taught at Yale Divinity School since 2000.

Posted: 03/07/2011