Bard News & Events

Press Release

Bard College Professor and Renowned Scholar of Judaism Jacob Neusner Meets with Pope in Vatican

Darren O'Sullivan

ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y.— Bard College theology professor and internationally renowned scholar of religion Jacob Neusner, and his wife, Suzanne, met with Pope Benedict XVI in the pontiff’s office at the Vatican on January 18, the day after the pope’s historic visit to Rome’s main synagogue. Neusner and his wife attended that visit—only the second time in history a pope has entered a Jewish house of worship (the first was Pope John Paul II’s visit to the same synagogue in 1986)—and then met with the pope in his office for 25 minutes the following morning. Neusner’s book A Rabbi Talks with Jesus was praised by Pope Benedict, who quoted Neusner often in his book Jesus of Nazareth. The two had met once before, in Washington, D.C., in 2008.

“A visit to the pope in his office in the Vatican…brings about an awesome visual experience in an elegant museum,” Neusner said. “The walk in the papal apartments leads through five long rooms, richly decorated in antiques and hangings and paved with marble. The windows in the room adjacent to the pope’s office overlook St. Peter’s Square and from the window right outside to the pope’s office you look out and see what the pope sees when he blesses the city and the world.” Neusner said that, during their 25-minute meeting, he and the pope discussed their writing and scholarship, and that the pope asked him about his students and told Suzanne how A Rabbi Talks with Jesus gave him comfort when his sister died. Before leaving, Neusner presented the pope with a copy of his new book introducing the Talmud, The Talmud: What Is It? What Does It Say? published recently in Italian, and the German translation of A Rabbi Talks with Jesus.

Regarding the pope’s visit to the Rome synagogue, Neusner said, “I leave it to others to speak for the Jewish people in the coming negotiations that will engage us over issues of common concern between Judaism and Catholic Christianity.” Of the pontiff, he said, “I left with a vivid picture of a humble and good-natured man wholly devoted to the service of God. With his bright blue eyes, he looks you square in the eye and looks back when you respond. He is generous in his appreciation of others and does not take for granted the appreciation of others. I cherish the memory of the man I met in Rome.”

Jacob Neusner is Distinguished Service Professor of the History and Theology of Judaism, a senior scholar at the Institute of Advanced Theology at Bard College, and a Bard Center Fellow. He has written or edited hundreds of books, including Theology of the Oral Torah (1998) and Theology of the Halakhah (2001). Awards include nine honorary degrees, 14 academic medals and prizes, and fellowships from the Fulbright Foundation, Guggenheim Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, and American Council of Learned Societies. He is a member, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton (1990– ); life member, Clare Hall, Cambridge University.

# # #



back to top

This event was last updated on 02-05-2010