By Laura Rigge
Dr. Ben Wright is used to people calling his work interesting. “Usually when I tell people I’m a college professor, they’ll say, ‘That’s interesting,’ and that’s where the discussion ends. But earlier today, I told someone ‘I spend a lot of my time reading 2,000-year-old manuscripts.’ And he got really excited and said, ‘That’s so interesting!’”
Professor Wright will be bringing his expertise to the JCC for a series of lectures on the Second Temple Period (530 BCE - 70 CE), co-sponsored by the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley and the Berman Center for Jewish Studies at Lehigh University. On April 14, he will focus on Jews in Judea; on April 28, he will discuss Jews in Alexandria and the Greek World; and his final lecture on May 12 will delve into the Judaism of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
It’s only fitting that the lecture series will end with the Dead Sea Scrolls, since they were the starting point of his career. Although they were discovered in 1947, scholars were still sifting through their contents 30 years later when Wright started his graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Although he had initially planned on studying early Christianity, his first year in graduate school he joined a project focusing on translating Second Temple texts. Wright eventually wrote his dissertation on translation in Second Temple History. Since then he has focused primarily on Second Temple texts, especially “The Wisdom of Ben Sira,” the work of a Jew in Alexandria during the 2nd century BCE.
Wright isn’t surprised when people aren’t familiar with his particular area of study. “Most people are familiar with the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament, but people don’t realize there’s a whole different period,” he said. Wright hopes that the three topics will reflect the diversity of Jewish thought in the ancient world, from Alexandria to Judea.
“Ancient Judaism had a wide range, and almost nobody knows it,” he said. “What holds them together?”
Above all, Wright wants people to leave his lectures with a greater appreciation of “how diverse and dynamic it was, and how really, really interesting it was during that time period.”
Each lecture will begin at 6 p.m. at the JCC and is free and open to the public.