Prof. Elie Assis: Man of the Book

With a deep passion for Bible study and teaching, Prof. Elie Assis seeks to convey the beauty and spirit of the "Book of Books" around the globe. The English-born dean of BIU's premier Faculty of Jewish Studies has lectured to hundreds of students in Israel as well as to audiences in China, Korea, Japan, Russia, Belgium, the Netherlands, England, and the US. Chairing Bible studies at the Israeli Ministry of Education, he implements innovative school curricula, which focus on the text as a whole, while looking at the deeper messages and ideology of the Bible. "The Bible is the root of our history, religion, and the formation of our People," accentuates the former head of the Zalman Shamir Bible Department, who has published eight books and over 40 articles on Biblical narrative, poetry and late prophecy, including the Books of Joshua, Judges, Song of Songs, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi and Joel.

"My main interest is to understand the theology and ideology that stands behind the Bible, to expose its key messages, which are as relevant today as they were in antiquity," relays the Hesder yeshiva grad, who served in the IDF infantry, and was a pulpit rabbi in London.  A visiting professor at the Universities of Shandong (China) and Saint Petersburg (Russia), among others, he elucidates that "while little ancient material culture remains, our forefathers' rich spiritual and ethical legacy still fascinates millions around the globe.  That is the true significance of being the 'People of the Book.'  We have bequeathed the Book to the entire enlightened world."

This year he initiated "Open Bible" lectures on campus, which draw hundreds to hear BIU's top scholars.  "BIU, with its high academic standards and the world's largest Jewish studies faculty, has a lot to offer. We are finding ways to connect our scholars with society at large, so that both gain," says Assis, who believes that the Bible can unite most Jewish streams. A case in point: the summer 2014 five-day conference he is organizing to showcase the Faculty's research to the community.

"The Bible's objective is to educate, to shape Jewish and religious identity.  Although it’s an exemplary literary work, it was not written for the sake of creativity or entertainment but rather to transmit values and ideology."

Tracing his love for the Bible to childhood, when his late father – a medieval Jewish history scholar – would intrigue him with bedtime stories of Biblical heroes, Assis imparts that the Bible "uniquely transmits profound and complex ideas in simple language, in story and song, which can reach out and influence the wide public."

He maintains that unlike other universities, which are very rooted in diachronic, or historic, research, "BIU doesn't force you into any particular mold (e.g. critical, conservative), but is very broad in its approaches. That's why I highly recommend BIU," he enthuses, noting that over 20 students from the Far East study Bible on campus.

Assis recalls the generous support he received as a Schupf fellow in 1999. Married and then the father of two, he says "the fellowship gave me a big push to finish my PhD, providing me with recognition and financial assistance during a critical time before I became a university lecturer."

Today, the Faculty Dean reiterates the appeal of the Bible. "The beauty is that the prophets' words resonate in our ears, even after thousands of years. Modern moral ideas are rooted in the Bible and we read ancient texts about the inheritance of the land, which have become even more relevant with the Zionist revival." 
For more on Prof. Assis click here.