Theology Professor Wins Distinguished Alumni Award

April 11, 2013 • Chris Milazzo

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James C. VanderKam, the John A. O’Brien professor of Hebrew Scriptures in Notre Dame’s College of Arts and Letters, has been selected as a distinguished alumnus by his alma mater, Calvin College.

The Distinguished Alumni Award is given to “alumni who have made significant contributions to their field of endeavor and manifest a Christian commitment.” VanderKam will be presented with the 2013 award during Calvin’s May commencement weekend, where he will briefly address the graduating class.

“Dr. VanderKam was chosen because of his outstanding contributions to the study of the Old Testament, Second Temple Judaism, and the Dead Sea Scrolls,” says Michael J. Van Denend, executive director of the Calvin Alumni Association. “We received letters of support from Notre Dame, Yale, and many other places, including officials at the Israel Museum and the Head of the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem.”

VanderKam says he was incredibly honored by his selection.

“The award is especially meaningful because it comes from a college that I consider to be an impressive academic institution and one that had a formative influence on me,” he says.

World-Renowned Scholar

VanderKam specializes in the history and literature of early Judaism and the Hebrew scriptures. For the past 20 years, he has focused on the Dead Sea Scrolls and related literature. He has edited 13 volumes in the series Discoveries in the Judaean Desert, is one of two editors-in-chief of Enyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and is the author of award-winning The Dead Sea Scrolls Today.

“Beyond being one of the great scholars of our time in the field of Second Temple Judaism, and especially of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Professor VanderKam is also a man of notable modesty and pleasant demeanor,” says one Israeli nominator, who praised his “dedication, scholastic rigor, and professionalism.”

VanderKam received his B.A. from Calvin College in 1968, and his B.D. from Calvin Theological Seminary in 1971. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1976 and joined the Notre Dame faculty in 1991.

During his time here, VanderKam has distinguished himself as a premier theological mind, says J. Matthew Ashley, associate professor and chair of Notre Dame’s Department of Theology.

Award-Winning Teacher

In addition to his ambitious research agenda, VanderKam “teaches—and teaches well,” at all levels of the department’s curriculum, including the introductory Foundations of Theology course, Ashley notes.

But while VanderKam is a popular undergraduate teacher, Ashley says, “perhaps his greatest mark has come in our graduate program. It is there, too, that he is making a lasting impact on theological scholarship.”

In May 2012, Notre Dame’s Graduate School honored VanderKam with its James A. Burns, C.S.C., Award “for distinction in graduate teaching or other exemplary contributions to graduate education.”

VanderKam’s current scholarly project is a commentary of the Book of Jubilees. “Fragmentary remains of 14 copies of Jubilees have been identified among the Dead Sea Scrolls,” he says, “and its author retells and interprets the stories in the book of Genesis and the first half of the book of Exodus to help his contemporaries understand their true meaning.”

VanderKam is the second Notre Dame professor to have been selected for the Calvin College Distinguished Alumni Award; the other was Alvin Plantinga, John A. O’Brien Professor of Philosophy emeritus, in 1986.

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