Notre Dame scholar of Dead Sea Scrolls elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Author: Josh Weinhold

James Vanderkam
James VanderKam

Notre Dame theologian James VanderKam, a renowned scholar of the Dead Sea Scrolls, has been elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, one of the nation’s oldest learned societies and independent policy research centers.

VanderKam, the John A. O’Brien Professor Emeritus of Hebrew Scriptures in the Department of Theology, was among the 261 members in the newest AAAS class, which includes actor Glenn Close, novelist Salman Rushdie, painter Sam Gilliam, New York Times critic Wesley Morris, and mRNA technology pioneers Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman.

“I feel deeply honored and grateful to be elected to membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences,” he said. “It is so gratifying to have one's work be recognized by this esteemed Academy and to be able to join its distinguished membership. The circumstances at Notre Dame, with strong support from the university, outstanding colleagues, and excellent students have contributed in a large way to my efforts in scholarship.”

VanderKam, who joined the Notre Dame faculty in 1991 from North Carolina State University, has spent more than 30 years researching and translating the Dead Sea Scrolls and was a member of the editorial committee that prepared the scrolls for publication. He spent significant time working with the original Hebrew text of the Book of Jubilees, translating it from the original texts and editing fragmentary remains of several manuscripts. His commentary on the Book of Jubilees was published in 2018.   

He has edited 13 volumes in the official series Discoveries in the Judaean Desert and is one of the two editors-in-chief of the Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls. He is the author of prize-winning books including The Dead Sea Scrolls Today, The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls, An Introduction to Early Judaism, and The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible.

Since its founding during the American Revolution by John Adams, James Bowdoin, John Hancock, and other scholar-patriots, the academy has elected leading “thinkers and doers” from each generation, including George Washington and Benjamin Franklin in the 18th century, Daniel Webster and Ralph Waldo Emerson in the 19th, and Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill in the 20th.

VanderKam joins 27 other AAAS fellows at Notre Dame, 25 of whom are affiliated with the College of Arts & Letters. Recent elections include Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.; Karl Ameriks, the McMahon-Hank Professor of Philosophy Emeritus; R. Scott Appleby, the Marilyn Keough Dean of the Keough School of Global Affairs; Robert Audi, the John A. O’Brien Professor of Philosophy; Declan Kiberd, the Donald and Marilyn Keough Professor of Irish Studies; Scott Mainwaring, the Eugene and Helen Conley Professor of Political Science; George Marsden, the Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History Emeritus; Dianne Pinderhughes, professor of political science; Jean Porter, the John A. O’Brien Professor of Theology; and Peter van Inwagen, the John Cardinal O’Hara Professor of Philosophy.

“One of the most pleasant results of the announcement of the election was hearing from so many colleagues and friends, including ones from Notre Dame who are already members of the academy, welcoming me into the group,” he said.

Since retiring in 2016, VanderKam has remained active as a scholar, serving as president of the Society of Biblical Literature in 2021 and delivered the presidential address at the SBL annual meeting in November in San Antonio, Texas.

His next book, R.H. Charles: A Biography, will be published soon by Oxford University Press. Charles, a 19th- and 20th-century Irish biblical scholar who worked extensively on the Book of Jubilees, is one of VanderKam’s academic heroes.