Renowned biblical scholar Frank Moore Cross dies at 91

One of Maryville College’s most famous and recognized graduates, Frank Moore Cross, passed away on October 17 at the age of 91. Cross was a longtime Hancock Professor of Hebrew and Other Oriental Languages Emeritus at Harvard University, with his career at Harvard spanning from 1957 until his retirement in 1992.

According to family members, Cross died from complications of pneumonia. Most notably known in the public sphere for his work with the Dead Sea Scrolls, Cross lent valuable research and scholarship, contributing to the modern understanding of Biblical texts. His work with the Dead Sea Scrolls, originally published in 1958, remains the single, fundamental resource of reference for dating and comprehensive analysis of these documents.

Recognized throughout the academic community as an authority on the Hebrew Bible and ancient Semitic languages, Cross was regularly recognized as a discerning scholar whose insight was sought after by scholars from all over the world, concerning a vast variety of topics.

“[Cross’] passing marks an end to an era of Biblical studies,” said Dr. Phillip Sherman, professor of religion at MC. “He was such a master of his field and had such a broad range of knowledge of so many languages—I don’t think that another Cross will come along again. Wherever we go now will be ‘post-Crossian,’ in a sense. He was a brilliant Biblical scholar who had such a far-reaching impact on his field,” Sherman, who specializes in Hebrew and Hebrew Biblical studies, could not say enough about the impact that Cross had on the scholarly community and how much his career speaks to the utility of the MC liberal arts education.

Sometimes referred to as the father of modern biblical archaeology, Cross began his academic career at MC, where he studied philosophy and chemistry. In addition to his academic pursuits, Cross was a competitive swimmer, diver and track star at MC, for which he earned a position on the College’s Wall of Fame for studentathletes in 1981.

The liberal arts education was perfectly illustrated by Cross and his diverse set of interests at MC. Following MC, Cross continued his education at McCormick Theological Seminary and received his doctorate from Johns Hopkins University in 1950. At Johns Hopkins, Cross studied under the prominent Near Eastern scholar, William Albright. Cross became one of Albright’s most important students and was mentored by Albright during his time there. After holding various teaching positions from 1950 to 1957, Cross became a professor at Harvard University in 1957.

It was from this position that Cross would gain world-wide recognition for his excellence in study. While teaching at Harvard, Cross was continually recognized for his excellence as a professor, researcher and scholar in the field. Cross received seven honorary doctorates from universities in the United States, Canada and Israel. He was exceptional in his abilities as an epigrapher and was sought after by scholars from all over the world for his insight into ancient inscriptions.

The tradition of distinctive scholarship that Cross exemplified is embodied in the award that bears his name. The Frank Moore Cross Award is given annually to the author or editor of the most substantial volume related to ancient Near Eastern and Eastern Mediterranean epigraphy, text and/or tradition.

This award illustrates the esteem of the award’s namesake, and speaks to the excellence of his scholarly legacy. However, despite all his accolades, Cross’s most impressive achievements are found in his ability to combine scholarship with teaching and his ability to passionately excel in each.

“Most of what I know about [Cross], I know through the rich oral tradition of his students,” Sherman said. They still talk about the times when, ‘Cross said this,’ or, ‘Cross did that.’ He was scary smart.”

This speaks strongly to the lasting impact Cross had on the academic community and each one of his pupils. In fact, Cross served as the primary director of over 100 doctoral dissertations over his 35-year career, sometimes residing over three or four at a time, which Sherman points out as being completely unheard of and absolutely remarkable. Cross exemplified the value that lies in a liberal arts education.

“He had such broad-ranging competencies in the field,” Sherman said. “Maybe we lost something of that as we moved towards more narrow specialization.” As an alumnus of MC, Cross epitomized what the college is all about. It is an honor that Cross is a part of the MC legacy and his contributions to academia will live on.

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