Eminent Biblical scholar and rabbi Jacob Milgrom died on June 6 in Jerusalem. He was 87 years old.
A professor emeritus of Near Eastern studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and a member of BAR’s editorial advisory board, Milgrom was best known for his thorough and erudite commentaries on the Torah (the Five Books of Moses), as well as his work with the Dead Sea Scrolls.
His enormous three-volume commentary on Leviticus for the Anchor Bible series explored and explained the intricacies of priestly law—especially dietary and purity restrictions. The first volume alone, which covers only chapters 1–16 of Leviticus, is more than 1,100 pages long. As David Noel Freedman wrote in the preface to a festschrift for Milgrom, Pomegranates and Golden Bells (Eisenbrauns, 1995), soon after the publication of the first volume, “This magisterial undertaking has already established itself as a classic, the standard by which all future works must be judged, and a standing challenge to scholars in coming generations.” Milgrom’s commentary on the Book of Numbers in the Jewish Publication Society’s Torah Commentary contains 77 excursuses. He was also the author of more than 200 scholarly articles.
Born in Brooklyn in 1923, Milgrom (who was known as Jack for much of his life but preferred Jacob in his later years) studied at Brooklyn College and earned advanced degrees at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City. He began teaching at UC Berkeley in 1965 and chaired the Near Eastern Studies department before retiring in 1994. That year he and his wife, Jo, moved to Jerusalem permanently.
Described by numerous colleagues and friends as indefatigable, Milgrom continued working even in his retirement and had just completed his commentary on Ezekiel 38–48 for the Anchor Yale Bible series (forthcoming) when he passed away.