Stephen Pfann (5/08)

Blogger of the Month for May 2008

Jim West Interviews Stephen Pfann

Editorial Note: Stephen Pfann authors The View from Jerusalem blog at

JW: Stephen, if I may be so familiar, tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up, go to school, and become interested in Biblical Studies?

SP: Born and raised in San Francisco Bay Area (Redwood City and Cupertino). Sold newspapers in front of Church. Lynbrook High School (San Jose); De Anza College, Cupertino (A.A., Biology/General Studies); Bethany College, Scotts Valley/Santa Cruz (B.S., Bible/Theology, Preseminary); Graduate Theological Union/Franciscan School of Theology, Berkeley (M.A., Old Testament, specializing in ancient texts: Greek, Coptic, Hebrew, Ugariitic, Aramaic, Syriac); Hebrew University, Jerusalem (Ph.D., Departments of Ancient Semitic Languages and Jewish Thought, with Professors Moshe Goshen-Gottstein, Jonas Greenfield and Michael Stone. My dissertation was “The Manuscripts Written in Esoteric Scripts and Their Implications for the Early History of the Essene Movement”. I no longer sell newspapers although I appear in them now and then.

JW: What got you interested in archaeological studies?

SP: I became interested in archaeological studies and ancient languages because I wanted to “see for myself”. I had professors in my college days who helped me to see the importance of both disciplines as independent and valuable tools for understanding and illuminating ancient texts, history and the Bible, if applied carefully and judiciously.

JW: And how is it that you came to be interested in the Dead Sea Scrolls?

SP: During my undergraduate years, I saw a picture of scholars surrounding the Scrolls on a table in the Rockefeller and was struck by the thought that it would be good to see them someday. I found the dual challenges of palaeography manuscript-reconstruction intriguing. Obviously, much more has transpired and now the Scrolls are an additional, essential tool for understanding ancient texts, history and the Bible

JW: Do you adhere to the so called ‘Essene Hypothesis” concerning Qumran? And if not, what do you think the site was originally used for?

SP: I believe the “Essene Hypothesis” is appropriate for three of the ten phases of the history of the site of Qumran and for six of the eleven “Scroll Caves” discovered in the site’s vicinity. Other caves and other phases were not associated with the Essenes. (You can see details in the February and March blogs of “The View from Jerusalem” and in my article “Qumran” in the revisedEncyclopedia Judaica.)

JW: Tell us if you will about the University of the Holy Land.

SP: UHL (and its subsidiary The Center for the Study of Early Christianity) was developed by a group of Christian Hebrew University doctoral students in consultation with both Christian and Jewish educators in Jerusalem and from abroad. This came about because there was burden among the group to provide an educational environment, where the individual could more effectively explore the backgrounds of the Christian faith in the setting where it originated. I took up the task of directing the programs and became the director/president.

UHL is a narrow-framework graduate school, with a cooperative program with the Rothberg International School of the Hebrew University. We offer degrees in subjects best studied in the context of the Holy Land: Culture and History of Ancient Israel, Inter-testamental Studies, New Testament and Early Christianity, Archaeology, Cultural Anthropology, and Judaic Studies.

The student body is international and interdenominational. English is the language of instruction

JW: Do you offer scholarships?

SP: We offer scholarships, work-study opportunities, and very reasonable prices, generally.

JW: Do you have visiting Professors?

SP: Yes, please come.

JW: Turning to another topic, how did you come to be interested in blogging?

SP: The flurry of news media that invaded our lives a year ago over the Talpiot tomb made us look for a means toward being able to present in our own unaltered words, the way we, as scholars, saw the event. The web and blogosphere seemed to be the most immediate and effective way to achieve that.

JW: What do you consider the purpose of your blog?

SP: To inform, educate and document the way a number of us see things from Jerusalem.

JW: What do you think the future of biblical studies blogging looks like?

SP: Biblical studies will draw on whatever sources are available and necessary to satisfy the tremendous thirst to better understand the Bible which persists worldwide. Blogging is presently an imperfect yet effective machine to achieve this, at least in part. As a tool, it is still a work in progress that will definitely evolve, in time, to fit the needs and character of its future audience.

JW: Do you think that group blogs have advantages over individual blogs?

SP: Both types fulfill a specific need. One is like a podium/soap box. The other is a community of bloggers that provide a sort of peer review (but must endeavor to control the exchange among its participants and provide a consistent platform).

JW: Which blogs do you find most engaging?

SP: For me, unfortunately I have to say my own blog consumes most of my blogging time and thus I have little time to devote to any others consistently. However, that being said, I do enjoy spending a certain amount of time checking the pulse of this phenomenon by looking at those that deal with a not-too-narrow field of view including J. West, the Carnival, Our Blogosphere, and A. Lombati, among others.

JW: Tell us, if you don’t mind, a little about your family.

SP: My wife, Claire, besides being a scholar and teacher (Ph.D. cand. at HU under Michael Stone) plays a key role in my life and in the lives of our three children. She also plays a central role in the administration of UHL and as a teacher.

JW: I met your son in San Diego at the SBL meeting and he was a very nice young man. Do your other children share your interests? (If, of course, you have other children)

SP: Stephen Jr. has finished his B.A and is working on his M.A. at Hebrew University’s Rothberg International School. His subjects have ranged from Political Science and Sociology/Anthropology (B.A.) to Community Leadership and Philanthropy (M.A.). He is quite a computer wiz, however, and is responsible for the 3D-VR photography and computer imaging which you can see on our website (connected with our 2nd Temple Period Educational Suite).

Susanna (Shoshie) has followed in her father’s footsteps and has enrolled in a Biology degree at HU. She is also very capable in languages and is participating in our Second Temple/Qumran Concordance project. She has also supervised the building of our school’s pressed plant collection.

Michael is enrolled in the tenth grade in a technological High School where he majors in Bio-technology.

Our small ferret YumYum and our meter-long iguana GiGi round out the family.

JW: What do you do in your spare time?

SP: Like most of us, I sleep if I can get the time. Actually, beyond that I love spending time with my family and friends. In our less serious moments we might be found playing computer games together (and designing our own). Presently we are making some limited, do-it-yourself renovations on a home to which we will be moving soon (hopefully).

JW: Tell us something about yourself, if you don’t mind, that we would be surprised to hear. For instance, are you a ballet dancer? Or do you make balloon figures at parties to entertain your guests?

SP: Our daughter actually is taking ballet lessons and son Michael loves to make balloon figures at parties. Natural history is one of my passions. As a youth, I created a sizable butterfly and insect collection. I hope to create another one here in Jerusalem. (I started on one once before but the collection was destroyed by small bugs). I also very interested in and teach natural history, drawing on my biology background. Soils, geology, phytogeographic zones, plants, animals, are all fascinating to me, a fascination I hope to pass on to my children and my students.

JW: Finally, why do you think Chris Tilling is the anti-christ?

SP: Thanks for asking but, no comment.

JW: Thank you, Stephen, for subjecting yourself to our inquisition. We now leave you to enjoy your comfy chair.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s