Among the Last of the Titans: Aspects of Professor Anson Rainey’s Life and Legacy (1930-2011)
The contours of the life of Professor Anson Rainey are significant, well known, and well documented. He was a force of nature, and he was beloved, respected, revered, and (on occasion) feared. Within the field, he was a polymath. He was among the most capable and authoritative scholars of the Northwest Semitic languages. Indeed, he was as comfortable in Ugaritic, Phoenician, and Aramaic as he was in Old Hebrew. Moabite and Ammonite were subjects of great interest for him and he knew the preserved texts in these languages so very well. In addition, he was also a most capable scholar of Egyptian and Coptic. Moreover, he was also a formidable scholar in various fields and subfields of Assyriology, and his contributions to the Amarna Letters are substantive, diverse, and legion; arguably these are some of his most enduring contributions. Of course, among his greatest passions was historical geography, and it is my opinion that he had no peers in this field. Furthermore, he had also spent many seasons excavating, and he knew the archaeology of much of the ancient Near East so very well. Of course, in addition to his fluency in several European languages, he was also fluent in both modern Hebrew and also modern Arabic. I know of no one who was so capable in so many things. With his death, we are witnessing the loss of one of the last of the polymath “titans” of the field.
Of course, throughout much of his career, he was an institution at Tel Aviv University, first teaching full-time there in 1964 and continuing at Tel Aviv until his retirement from full-time teaching there in 1998. He was also a professor, and in many ways an institution, at the American Institute of Holy Land Studies (now Jerusalem University College), something about which he was always very proud. Ultimately, research was really the bone and marrow of life for Anson. That is, his institutional affiliations and his travels revolved around his publication projects. And few can claim to have been as productive as he. He authored more than a dozen volumes, translated nearly that many more, he authored in excess of two hundred scholarly articles, wrote numerous reviews, and presented more than eighty conference papers. Not so very long ago, he told me that many students that were with him at Brandeis University (his doctoral alma mater, 1962) had earned their degrees and they were never heard from again. He considered this to be an utter waste of a good education. Anson published and presented papers and he believed this was the best course of action. One could say that Anson practiced what he preached. That is, Anson was a most assiduous, productive scholar.
Philologists are often given to Wanderlust, and this was certainly the case for Professor Anson Rainey. For example, he traveled to Berlin and collated at the Vorderasiatisches Museum and to Cairo to collate at the Cairo National Museum. Moreover, he collated texts in Jordan, and he collated at both the British Museum and the Ashmolean Museum. Within the United States, he collated at the Metropolitan Museum (New York) and the University of Chicago. He was also a visiting scholar at various institutions, including Harvard University (1976-77), the University of Pennsylvania (1983-84; 1988-89; 1995-96), the University of California Los Angeles (2001), Konkuk University in Seoul, Korea (2002), and the University of Melbourne, Australia (2002).
During the course of his life, Anson’s relationships with people were always of great importance to him. He would often mention his great respect, even admiration, for the work and person of W. Moran (of Harvard). In fact, in many ways, he considered himself to be a student of Moran and he understood himself to be building on the work and legacy of Moran. Moreover, he often spoke with pride about his tutelage at the feet of H. J. Polotsky (of Hebrew University) in Egyptian. Furthermore, Anson’s colleagues and students always loomed large in his worldview. He reminisced about Y. Aharoni with nostalgia so profound that I have rarely seen it equaled. And he would note the accomplishments of his own students with pride, touting them often. Through the years, many, including me, have felt that Anson was among the most accessible, kind, supportive scholars in the field. He was always available for conversation, dialogue, and I have long treasured the things that I learned from him. Many have long said that they felt similarly. Of course, Anson also seemed to take it rather personally if someone close to him differed with him about something he considered to be all too clear. And he was consistently candid about such things. But I suppose that this is a reflection of the fact that he genuinely cared deeply about the field and about the people in it. The field was important to Anson, paramount even. He wanted the field to get it “right.”
Life is often a pilgrimage and this was the case for Professor Anson Rainey. The scholarship he produced is among the most original, substantive in the field. The personal and religious trajectory of his life is fascinating in and of itself. As I reflect on him, and his death on February 19th, it is not primarily Anson the productive scholar that I shall miss, though I shall miss this. Rather, it is the departure of Anson the mentor, friend, and colleague that is most difficult.
[…] Rollstone has a short piece on Professor Rainey here. Prof. Anson […]
Thank you Chris for your heartfelt tribute. It will help us all remember a clearer portrait of Anson, giant and human.
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We plan a memorial piece with interviews on Prof Rainey on this week’s LandMinds program, Wednesday 5-7 Israel time, 10am-12noon EST. http://www.israelnationalradio.com.
Thanks for the note, Barnea. I will plan to try to listen to it then. Thanks again. Sincerely, Chris Rollston
Thanks for the memorial. Professor Rainey was truly inpirational.
Extremely well-written tribute. Thank you for sharing your insight into the contributions of this admirable scholar. What a tremendous loss this will be.
I was among the one of last groups to hear Anson lecture last fall at Trinity in Chicago. Although I was hoping to study under him at JUC next year, I am just happy to have met him and briefly felt the impact of such an incredible man and scholar.
Chandler, I studied under him at JUC back in 1996/97, and it was an amazing experience. You were really given a wonderful opportunity to meet him and hear him speak.He was a great person.
Back in the 1980’s I was an archaeology student at Tel Aviv University. Rainey taught a class on ancient Hebrew and a friend and I, both Americans were having difficulty with the grammar. He had his wife Tzippy help us out. It was so kind of them. The most important thing was that we succeed in learning the language. I also worked at Tel Gerisa and he was always the nicest guy. Condolences to his family
I had Anson for class at JUC a decade ago and continued a cordial friendship with over the years. He is really one of the last of his kind and we will miss him greatly!
I am so very sad to learn of Anson Rainey’s death. He visited my home in Dallas Thanksgiving weekend (2010)as he did every Thanksgiving when he came to the states for the ASOR conference. And – as always – he was the magnetic center of attention, entertaining a houseful of friends he has made here through the years. Anne Bavarian and I met Prof. Rainey at Tel Aviv University in 1981. We were there to begin preliminary research on a planned non-fiction book about current archaeology in the Holy Land. We were referred to Prof. Rainey, a native Dallasite. He graciously took off work, and with Tzipi, took us to Lachish, Tel Beersheba, and Tel Gerisah(before work began there), and other points of interest. He became a lifelong friend, introducing me to many of archaeology’s most revered scholars,including Prof. Shelley Wachsman. Anson became a member of our family, hosting my son Randy on the first summer of the Gerisah dig and graciously editing my articles about archaeology, keeping me honest and my work authentic. We loved him dearly and will miss him terribly.
Dr. Rainey’s class was truly an inspiration. I studied under him at JUC in the mid 90’s. His class was one of those classes in which I sat in awe of not only the depth of knowledge, but kindness of the professor as well. He was always so helpful, and after the course was over, offered any assistance that we might desire in future endeavors. He will truly be missed. My deepest condolences to his family.
Christopher: Thanks as well for your sincere tribute to one of the great Semitic scholars of the past 50 years. Our relationship dated to the 1974 Beersheba excavations and developed in connection with the Holy Land Institute. The I learned historical geography from the master teacher. IN recent years I enjoyed escorting him from his house to our excavations at Tel Gezer, and while hosting him I probed him continuously on some of the enigmatic Biblical historical geography questions. Most recently at the ASOR/SBL meetings in New Orleans, we enjoyed some great seafood together as well as stimulating conversation as well. Those conversation will be sorely miswsed. As so many have commented, he lived to dialogue with his students. He was proud of his students who are worldwide in pursuit of truth and knowledge.