In Memory: James A. Sanders


James A. Sanders

James A. Sanders
Image courtesy of Robert Howe and Bloy House, THe Episcopal Theological School at Los Angeles

James Alvin Sanders, Professor Emeritus of Intertestamental and Biblical Literature at the Claremont School of Theology, passed away in his home on October 1, 2020. His son, Robin, and daughter-in-law, Dawn, were with him. He is also survived by grandsons, Robin, Jr., and Alex. His wife, Dora Geil Cargille Sanders, predeceased him in 2016.

Jim was born on November 28, 1927, to Robert E. and Sue Black Sanders in Memphis, Tennessee. Staying in Tennessee, he began his studies at Vanderbilt University, earning the B.A. degree magna cum laude in 1948 and the B.D. degree with distinction in 1951. As part of his divinity program, he also studied in 1951 at the Faculté libre de théologie protestante de Paris and the University of Paris (the Sorbonne).

Jim and Dora married following his graduation from divinity school. They moved to Cincinnati, where Jim commenced his Ph.D. program at the Hebrew Union College—Jewish Institute of Religion. In 1955, he completed his dissertation, Suffering as Divine Discipline in the Old Testament and Post-Biblical Judaism, written under the direction of Samuel Sandmel and Sheldon Blank.1

During his illustrious career in biblical studies, Jim earned honorary doctoral degrees from Acadia University (1973), Glasgow University (1975), Coe College (1988), Hebrew Union College—Jewish Institute for Religion (1988), Hastings College (1996), and California Lutheran University (2007).

In 1954, Jim joined the faculty of the Colgate Rochester Divinity School, where he ultimately served as Professor of Old Testament Interpretation. A decade later, in 1965, he moved to the Union Theological Seminary in New York as Auburn Professor of Biblical Studies with a courtesy appointment as Professor of Religion at Columbia University. In 1977, he moved across the U.S. to the Claremont School of Theology as Professor of Intertestamental and Biblical Studies with a courtesy appointment as Professor of Religion at the Claremont Graduate School, later known as the Claremont Graduate University. He became Professor Emeritus in 1997, but he continued to teach as a visiting professor at various institutions.

Jim founded the Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center for Preservation and Research, located on the campus of the Claremont School of Theology. The center was a microform and photographic archive that provided qualified researchers with state-of-the-art copies of all biblical and related manuscripts, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, Masoretic, Samaritan, Septuagint, Targumic, Peshiṭta, Tafsir (Judeo-Arabic), Vulgate, Ethiopic (Ge’ez), Armenian, and other extant traditions of the Bible.

Jim’s research focused on canonical criticism, particularly the formation and function of the various forms of the biblical canon in the communities in which it was read. Notably, he also served as an editor of the Dead Sea Scrolls.2Yet his engagement extended beyond academic circles as well. He frequently preached, taught, and lectured in church contexts and wrote books for nonacademic audiences.

Jim was a renowned scholar and teacher. May his memory be a blessing.

1. The work was published as a special issue in the Colgate Divinity School Bulletin 28 (1955).

2. His publications include The Psalms Scroll of Qumrân Cave 11 (11QPsa) (DJD 4; Oxford Univ. Press, 1965), Torah and Canon (Fortress, 1972), Canon and Community (Fortress, 1984), From Sacred Story to Sacred Text (Fortress, 1987), The Rebirth of a Born-Again Christian (Cascade, 2017), and Scripture in Its Historical Contexts (2 vols.; FAT 118, 126; Mohr Siebeck, 2018, 2019).

Marvin A. Sweeney is Professor of Hebrew Bible at Claremont School of Theology. He specializes in prophetic literature, biblical theology, and the relationship between religion and politics.

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