Ed Parish Sanders FBA (18 April 1937 – 21 November 2022) was an American New Testament scholar and a principal proponent of the “New Perspective on Paul”, along with James Dunn and N T Wright. He was a major scholar in the scholarship on the historical Jesus and contributed to the view that Jesus was part of a renewal movement within Judaism. Sanders identified himself as a “liberal, modern, secularized Protestant” in his book Jesus and Judaism; fellow scholar John P. Meier calls him a postliberal Protestant. He was Arts and Sciences Professor of Religion at Duke University, North Carolina, since 1990. He retired in 2005.
Sanders was a Fellow of the British Academy. In 1966, he received a Doctor of Theology degree from Union Theological Seminary in New York City. In 1990, he received a Doctor of Letters degree from the University of Oxford and a Doctor of Theology degree from the University of Helsinki. He authored, co-authored, or edited 13 books and numerous articles. He received a number of prizes, including the 1990 University of Louisville and Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary Grawemeyer Award for the best book on religion, Jesus and Judaism (Fortress Press, 1985).
I met Ed Sanders when studying Theology at Bristol University in 1976, the year before his trailblazing Paul and Palestinian Judaism was published. Not only was he dating my New Testament lecturer, Meg Pamment, but he was also in regular discussion with my other New Testament lecturer and Pauline Scholar, John Zeisler. As we worked our way through the Greek text of Paul’s letter to the Romans each week, John would often remark “yes, it’s funny that you should read the passage like that, as I was just talking on the phone to Ed Sanders about it, and he sees it like that also.”
Little did I know, as a young Jewish follower of Yeshua, how revolutionary Sanders’ views would be, or how helpful they would be for those of us looking to rediscover the Jewishness of Paul, Paul within Judaism, and Paul as Torah-observant Jew. But Sanders blazed the trail for an important trend in Pauline scholarship, from which the Messianic movement has benefited greatly. Scholars such as Mark Nanos, Daniel Boyarin, Mark Kinzer and David Rudolph are indebted to him.
I remember a conversation some of us had with him in a restaurant in Bristol back in the 1970s. One of the students asked him if he believed Jesus had truly risen from the dead. His answer was “Hmmm, I’ll have to think about that”. It was clear that for him then, with such scholarship and expertise on the New Testament, the issue of Yeshua’s resurrection had not been a guiding factor or key element of his research, although few had gone as deeply into the study of the life of Jesus in his Jewish context. I believe he has the answer now.
Blessing on seeing a scholar
ברוך אתה ה’ אלקינו מלך העולם שחלק מחכמתו לבשר ודם
Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheynu Melech HaOlam shechalak MeChachmato LeBasar VeDam – blessed art Thou O Lord our God who has given wisdom to flesh and blood.
A prayer of Thomas Aquinas
You who are the true source of life and wisdom and the Principle on which everything depends, be so kind as to infuse in my obscure intelligence a ray of your splendor that may take away the darkness of sin and ignorance.
Grant me keenness of understanding, ability to remember, measure and easiness of learning, discernment of what I read, rich grace with words.
Grant me strength to begin well my studies; guide me along the path of my efforts; give them a happy ending.
You who are true God and true Man, Jesus my Savior, who lives and reigns forever.