Géza Vermes (Hungarian pronunciation: [ˈvɛrmɛʃ ˈɡeːzɒ]; 22 June 1924 – 8 May 2013) was a British scholar of Jewish Hungarian origin—one who also served as a Catholic priest in his youth—and writer on religious history, particularly Jewish and Christian. He wrote about the Dead Sea Scrolls and ancient works in Aramaic such as the Targums, and on the life and religion of Jesus. He was one of the most important voices in contemporary Jesus research, and he has been described as the greatest Jesus scholar of his time. Vermes' written work on Jesus focuses principally on Jesus the Jew, as seen in the broader context of the narrative scope of Jewish history and theology, while questioning the basis of some Christian teachings on Jesus.
Vermes was born in Makó, Hungary, in 1924 to parents of Jewish descent, schoolteacher Terézia (Riesz) and liberal journalist Ernő Vermes, (His family, however, had not practised Judaism since the early 19th century.) All three were baptised as Roman Catholics when he was seven. His mother and father nonetheless died in the Holocaust.
Vermes attended a Catholic seminary. When he was eligible for college, in 1942, Jews were not accepted into Hungarian universities.
After the Second World War, he became a Roman Catholic priest, but was not admitted into the Jesuit or Dominican orders because of his Jewish ancestry. Vermes was accepted into the Order of the Fathers of Notre-Dame de Sion, a French/Belgian order founded by Jewish converts which prayed for Jews.
He studied first in Budapest and then at the College St Albert and the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, where he read Oriental history and languages. In 1953 obtained a doctorate in theology with the first dissertation written on the Dead Sea Scrolls and its historical framework.
After researching the scrolls in Paris for several years, on a visit to Britain he met the scholar and poet Pamela Hobson Curle, a married woman. The two fell in love in 1955 and would later marry in 1958. Vermes left the Catholic Church in 1957 and reasserted his Jewish identity; however, he "insisted he had not converted, just 'grew out of' Christianity." He took up a teaching post at what is now the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. In 1965 he joined the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Oxford University, rising to become the first professor of Jewish Studies before his retirement in 1991. In 1970 he became a member of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue of London. After the death of his first wife in 1993, he married Margaret Unarska in 1996 and adopted her son, Ian.
Vermes died on 8 May 2013 after a recurrence of cancer.
Vermes was one of the first scholars to examine the Dead Sea Scrolls after their discovery in 1947, and is the author of the standard translation into English of the Dead Sea Scrolls: The Dead Sea Scrolls in English (1962). He is one of the leading scholars in the field of the study of the historical Jesus (see Selected Publications, below) and together with Fergus Millar and Martin Goodman, Vermes was responsible for substantially revising Emil Schurer's three-volume work, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ, His An Introduction to the Complete Dead Sea Scrolls, revised edition (2000), is a study of the collection at Qumran.
Until his death, he was a Professor Emeritus of Jewish Studies and Emeritus Fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford, but continued to teach at the Oriental Institute in Oxford. He had edited the Journal of Jewish Studies from 1971 to his death, and from 1991 he had been director of the Oxford Forum for Qumran Research at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. He inspired the creation of the British Association for Jewish Studies (BAJS) in 1975 and of the European Association for Jewish Studies (EAJS) in 1981 and acted as founding president for both.
Vermes was a Fellow of the British Academy; a Fellow of the European Academy of Arts, Sciences and Humanities; holder of an Oxford D. Litt. (1988) and of honorary doctorates from the University of Edinburgh (1989), University of Durham (1990), University of Sheffield (1994) and the Central European University of Budapest (2008). He was awarded the Wilhelm Bacher Memorial Medal by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (1996), the Memorial Medal of the city of Makó, his place of birth (2008) and the keys of the cities of Monroe LA and Natchez MI (2009). He received a vote of congratulation from the US House of Representatives, proposed by the Representative of Louisiana on 17 September 2009.
In the course of a lecture tour in the United States in September 2009, Vermes spoke at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, at Duke University in Durham NC, at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore MD, and at the University of Louisiana at Monroe and at Baton Rouge.
On 23 January 2012 Penguin Books celebrated at Wolfson College, Oxford, the golden jubilee of Vermes's The Dead Sea Scrolls in English, which has sold an estimated half-a-million copies worldwide. A "Fiftieth anniversary" edition has been issued in the Penguin Classics series.
Vermes was a prominent scholar in the contemporary field of historical Jesus research. The contemporary approach, known as the "third quest," emphasizes Jesus' Jewish identity and context. It portrays Jesus as founding a renewal movement within Judaism.
Vermes described Jesus as a 1st-century Jewish holy man, a commonplace view in academia but novel to the public when Vermes began publishing. Contrary to certain other scholars (such as E. P. Sanders), Vermes concludes that Jesus did not reach out to non-Jews. For example, he attributes positive references to Samaritans in the gospels not to Jesus himself but to early Christian editing. He suggests that, properly understood, the historical Jesus is a figure that Jews should find familiar and attractive. This historical Jesus, however, is so different from the Christ of faith that Christians, says Vermes, may well want to rethink the fundamentals of their faith.
Important works on this topic include Jesus the Jew (1973), which describes Jesus as a thoroughly Jewish Galilean charismatic, The Gospel of Jesus the Jew (1981), which examines Jewish parallels to Jesus' teaching and Christian Beginnings (2012), which traces the evolution of the figure of Jesus from Jewish charismatic in the synoptic gospels to equality with God in the Council of Nicea (325 AD).
Vermes believed it is possible "to retrieve the authentic Gospel of Jesus, his first-hand message to his original followers."
The historical Jesus can be retrieved only within the context of first-century Galilean Judaism. The Gospel image must therefore be inserted into the historical canvas of Palestine in the first century CE, with the help of the works of Flavius Josephus, the Dead Sea Scrolls and early rabbinic literature. Against this background, what kind of picture of Jesus emerges from the Gospels? That of a rural holy man, initially a follower of the movement of repentance launched by another holy man, John the Baptist. In the hamlets and villages of Lower Galilee and the lakeside, Jesus set out to preach the coming of the Kingdom of God within the lifetime of his generation and outlined the religious duties his simple listeners were to perform to prepare themselves for the great event.
- Scripture and Tradition in Judaism: Haggadic studies (Studia post-biblica), Brill, Leiden 1961 ISBN 90-04-03626-1
- Jesus the Jew: A Historian's Reading of the Gospels, Minneapolis, Fortress Press 1973 ISBN 0-8006-1443-7
- Post-Biblical Jewish Studies, Brill, Leiden, 1975 ISBN 90-04-04160-5
- The Dead Sea Scrolls: Qumran in Perspective, Minneapolis, Fortress Press 1977 ISBN 0-8006-1435-6
- Jesus and the World of Judaism, Minneapolis, Fortress Press 1983 ISBN 0-8006-1784-3
- The Essenes According to the Classical Sources (with Martin Goodman), Sheffield Academic Press 1989 ISBN 1-85075-139-0
- The Religion of Jesus the Jew, Minneapolis, Fortress Press 1993 ISBN 0-8006-2797-0
- The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English, Penguin 1997 ISBN 978-0-14-044952-5 (2004 ed.) (Fiftieth anniversary ed. 2011 ISBN 978-0-141-19731-9)
- The Changing Faces of Jesus, London, Penguin 2001 ISBN 0-14-026524-4
- Jesus in his Jewish Context, Minneapolis, Fortress Press 2003 ISBN 0-8006-3623-6
- The Authentic Gospel of Jesus, London, Penguin 2004 ISBN 0-14-100360-X
- The Passion, London, Penguin 2005 ISBN 0-14-102132-2.
- Who's Who in the Age of Jesus, London, Penguin 2005 ISBN 0-14-051565-8
- The Nativity: History and Legend, London, Penguin 2006 ISBN 0-14-102446-1
- The Resurrection: History and Myth, Doubleday Books 2008 ISBN 0-385-52242-8.
- Searching for the Real Jesus, London, SCM Press 2010 ISBN 978-0-334-04358-4
- The Story of the Scrolls: The Miraculous Discovery and True Significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls, London, Penguin 2010 ISBN 978-0-14-104615-0
- Jesus: Nativity – Passion – Resurrection, London, Penguin 2010 ISBN 978-0-14-104622-8
- Jesus in the Jewish World, London, SCM Press 2010 ISBN 978-0-334-04379-9
- Christian Beginnings. From Nazareth to Nicaea, AD 30-325, London, Allen Lane 2012 ISBN 978-1-846-14150-8
- The True Herod, London, Bloomsbury, 2014 ISBN 978-0-567-57544-9
- Theissen, Gerd and Annette Merz. The historical Jesus: a comprehensive guide. Fortress Press. 1998. translated from German (1996 edition). Chapter 1. Quest of the historical Jesus. p. 1-16
- Crace, John (18 March 2008). "Geza Vermes: Questions arising". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 19 March 2008.; G. Richard Wheatcroft review of The Authentic Gospel of Jesus.
- Harrington, Daniel J. (24 March 2008). "No Evidence? The Resurrection by Geza Vermes". America. Retrieved 19 December 2008.
- Yardley, William (16 May 2013). "Geza Vermes, Dead Sea Scrolls Scholar, Dies at 88". The New York Times.
- Who's who in Biblical Studies and Archaeology – Google Books
- Geza Vermes, Hungarian Bible Scholar Who Returned to Jewish Roots, Dies at 88 – Forward.com
- 1924: The priest who noticed Jesus had been Jewish is born in Haaretz. Access 6/30/2016.
- Geza The Jew By Hershel Shanks in Biblical Archeological Society. June 1999. Access 6/30/2016
- Geza Vermes: Geza Vermes, a Jew, ex-priest and translator of the Dead Sea Scrolls, died on May 8th aged 88
- Geza Vermes, Hungarian Bible Scholar Who Returned to Jewish Roots, Dies at 88 – Forward.com
- Alexander, Philip (14 May 2013). "Geza Vermes obituary: Expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls, the historical Jesus and the origins of Christianity". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 March 2014.
- Géza Vermès, Providential Accidents: An autobiography, Rowman & Littlefield, 1998, ISBN 0-8476-9340-6, p. 170.
- PaleoJudaica.com: 05/05/2013 – 05/12/2013
- , re-issued in London by Penguin Classics, as The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English, 2004, ISBN 0-14-044952-3.
- Edinburgh, T. & T. Clark, 1973, ISBN 0-567-02242-0, 1979, ISBN 0-567-02243-9, 1986–87. ISBN 0-567-02244-7, ISBN 0-567-09373-5.
- "Jesus Christ." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 8 November 2010 .
- JJS Online Journal of Jewish Studies.
- Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies.
- Vermes, Geza. The authentic gospel of Jesus. London, Penguin Books. 2004. Epilogue. p. 398-417.
- Sanders, E. P. The historical figure of Jesus. Penguin, 1993.
- Géza Vermes, "The great Da Vinci Code distraction", in The Times, 6 May 2006. Article reproduced in Vermes, Searching for the Real Jesus: Jesus, The Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Religious Themes (SCM Press, 2009). ISBN 978-0334043584
- Vermes, Geza (2010). The Real Jesus: Then and Now. Augsburg Fortress, Publishers. pp. 54–55. ISBN 978-1-4514-0882-9.
The historical Jesus can be retrieved only within the context of first-century Galilean Judaism. The Gospel image must therefore be inserted into the historical canvas of Palestine in the first century CE, with the help of the works of Flavius Josephus, the Dead Sea Scrolls and early rabbinic literature. Against this background, what kind of picture of Jesus emerges from the Gospels? That of a rural holy man, initially a follower of the movement of repentance launched by another holy man, John the Baptist. In the hamlets and villages of Lower Galilee and the lakeside, Jesus set out to preach the coming of the Kingdom of God within the lifetime of his generation and outlined the religious duties his simple listeners were to perform to prepare themselves for the great event. [...] The reliability of Josephus’s notice about Jesus was rejected by many in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but it has been judged partly genuine and partly falsified by the majority of more recent critics. The Jesus portrait of Josephus, drawn by an uninvolved witness, stands halfway between the fully sympathetic picture of early Christianity and the wholly antipathetic image of the magician of Talmudic and post-Talmudic Jewish literature.