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Peter Schäfer

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Peter Schäfer

Peter Schäfer (born 29 June 1943, Mülheim an der Ruhr, North Rhine-Westphalia) is a prolific German scholar of ancient religious studies, who has made contributions to the field of ancient Judaism and early Christianity through monographs, co-edited volumes, numerous articles, and his trademark synoptic editions. He was a Professor of Religion and the Ronald O. Perelman Professor of Judaic Studies at Princeton University from 1998 to 2013.

He was the director of the Jewish Museum of Berlin until June 2019 when he resigned amid criticism after a museum spokesperson issued a tweet critical of a Bundestag resolution that said the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement had an anti-semitic character.[1][2] Subsequently, he received letters of support from 95 museum directors and curators, 445 Jewish studies scholars and 45 Talmudists.[1][3]

From 1983 to 2008 he was Professor for Jewish Studies at Freie Universität Berlin. Since 1993, he has been co-editor of Jewish Studies Quarterly. Schäfer's research interests include Jewish history in late antiquity, the religion and literature of Rabbinic Judaism, Jewish mysticism, 19th- and 20th-century Wissenschaft des Judentums and Jewish magic. He is a member of both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences[4] and the American Philosophical Society.[5] He won the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Distinguished Achievement Award in December 2006.[6] In 2014 he was awarded the Dr. Leopold Lucas Prize by the Protestant Faculty of the University of Tübingen,[7] and in 2021 the Pour le Mérite for Sciences and Arts.[8]

Schäfer is Catholic.[9]


Schäfer contends that Philo's logos was likely derived from his understanding of the "postbiblical Wisdom literature, in particular the Wisdom of Solomon."[10]

In 2018 Schäfer was criticized for inviting a Palestinian scholar to give a lecture at the museum and giving a personal tour to the cultural director of the Iranian embassy.[11] Iran is regularly criticized for antisemitic statements [12][13]

Schäfer became a target for anti-BDS activists when Berlin's Jewish Museum presented an exhibition "Welcome to Jerusalem", which included a Muslim narrative as part of its depiction of Jerusalem. The criticism reached a peak when the museum's spokesperson issued a tweet critical of a May 2019 Bundestag resolution that said the BDS movement had an anti-semitic character. Schäfer resigned as director of the museum in June 2019 to protect it from further attacks. Regarding the criticism, he said: "The accusation of antisemitism is a club that allows one to deal a very rapid death blow, and political elements who have an interest in this used and are using it, without a doubt".[1]

Major books[edit]

Schäfer's books contribute to the understanding of classical Judaism as well as ancient Jewish and Christian relations:

  • Judeophobia: Attitudes toward the Jews in the Ancient World, Harvard University Press, 1998. This has been translated into several languages.
  • Mirror of His Beauty: Feminine Images of God From the Bible to the Early Kabbalah, Princeton University Press, 2002.
  • The History of the Jews in the Greco-Roman World, Routledge, 2003.
  • Jesus in the Talmud, Princeton University Press, 2007.
  • The Origins of Jewish Mysticism, Princeton University Press, 2009.
  • The Jewish Jesus: How Judaism and Christianity shaped each other, Princeton University Press, 2012.

Landmark synoptic editions[edit]

Schäfer has encouraged the study of esoteric subjects in early Judaism through the publication of synoptic editions of ancient texts. These editions collate multiple manuscripts in large-format books that allow for line by line comparison of ancient Hebrew and Aramaic texts.

  • Hekhalot literature: Synopse zur Hekhalot-Literatur. Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1981.
  • Jerusalem Talmud: Peter Schäfer and H.-J. Becker. Synopse zum Talmud Yerushalmi. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1991.
  • Sefer Ha-Razim: Peter Schäfer and B. Rebiger. Sefer ha-Razim. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2009.
  • Toledot Yeshu: Peter Schäfer and Michael Meerson with the collaboration of Yaacov Deutsch, David Grossberg, Avigail Manekin, and Adina Yoffie. Toledot Yeshu: the Life Story of Jesus. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014.

Other works[edit]

  • Peter Schäfer, Die Vorstellung vom heiligen Geist in der rabbinischen Literatur, Munich 1972
  • Peter Schäfer, Rivalität zwischen Engeln und Menschen : Untersuchungen zur rabbinischen Engelvorstellung. Berlin de Gru.75.
  • Peter Schäfer, Geschichte der Juden in der Antike. Die Juden Palästinas von Alexander dem Großen bis zur arabischen Eroberung, Catholic Publishers, Stuttgart, 1983 in: Journal for the Study of Judaism, Volume 14, Number 2, 1983, pp. 221–224(4)
  • Peter Schäfer, Irina Wandrey: Reuchlin und seine Erben : Forscher, Denker, Ideologen und Spinner, Thorbecke 2005, ISBN 3-7995-5981-7
  • Peter Schäfer and Elisabeth Müller-Luckner: Wege mystischer Gotteserfahrung: Judentum, Christentum und Islam, Oldenbourg Munich 2006, ISBN 978-3-486-58006-8
  • Peter Schäfer: Jesus im Talmud, Mohr Siebeck Tübingen 2007, ISBN 978-3-16-149462-8, translated Barbara Schäfer: Jesus in the Talmud, Princeton University Press 2007, ISBN 978-0-691-12926-6
  • The Bar Kokhba War Reconsidered: Archaeological, Historical, and Literary Perspectives on the Second Jewish Revolt against Rome, Tuebingen 2003
  • Der Triumph der reinen Geistigkeit. Sigmund Freuds "Der Mann Moses und die monotheistische Religion", Berlin and Vienna 2003.


  1. ^ a b c Mashiach, Itay (10 December 2020). "In Germany, a witch hunt is raging against critics of Israel. Cultural leaders have had enough". Haaretz.com. Retrieved 16 December 2020.
  2. ^ "Berlin Jewish Museum director resigns over tweet endorsing antisemitic BDS". The Jerusalem Post.
  3. ^ "45 Jewish scholars sign unprecedented letter supporting Berlin Jewish Museum director who resigned under pressure". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. 18 June 2019. Retrieved 7 September 2019.
  4. ^ "Peter Schafer". American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Retrieved 10 December 2021.
  5. ^ "APS Member History". search.amphilsoc.org. Retrieved 10 December 2021.
  6. ^ "Renommierter US-Preis für Wissenschaftler der Freien Universität". Freie Universität Berlin (in German). 30 June 2021. Retrieved 30 June 2021.
  7. ^ "Der Judaist Peter Schäfer erhält den Dr. Leopold Lucas-Preis 2014". Universität Tübingen (in German). 20 April 2021. Retrieved 30 June 2021.
  8. ^ "PETER SCHÄFER". ORDEN POUR LE MÉRITE (in German). Retrieved 30 June 2021.
  9. ^ "How the Jewish Museum Berlin fell out with Jews". The Economist. 27 July 2019.
  10. ^ Schäfer, Peter (24 January 2011). The Origins of Jewish Mysticism. Princeton University Press. p. 159. ISBN 978-0-691-14215-9. It is more than likely that Philo knew the postbiblical Wisdom literature, in particular the Wisdom of Solomon, and was influenced by it. The obvious identification of Logos and Wisdom in the Wisdom of Solomon is a case in point. Wisdom (Greek sophia) plays a prominent role in Philo as well and is yet another power among the divine powers that acts as an agent of creation. Whereas the Logos, as we have seen, is responsible for the intelligible world, Wisdom would seem to be responsible for the world perceived by the senses.
  11. ^ Eddy, Melissa (14 June 2019). "Director of Berlin's Jewish Museum Quits After Spat Over B.D.S." The New York Times – via NYTimes.com.
  12. ^ "Holocaust a myth, says Iranian president". the Guardian. Associated Press. 14 December 2005.
  13. ^ "Ayatollah Khamenei Issues Poster Calling for 'Final Solution' Against Israel". Jewish Journal. 19 May 2020.

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