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In Memorium: Alan F. Segal

February 14, 2011

With great sadness I pass on news just received that my long-time friend, Professor Alan F. Segal, has died after a long illness.   Alan was a marvellous intellect and a great human being.  The memories come easily and tumble out freely.  He repeatedly surprised me with his array of languages, both ancient and modern.  His sense of humor was rich and infectious.  He was interested in practically everything, and had friends from all points on the academic spectrum and from the many subjects in which he took an interest.   It’s too soon for me to try to compose the thoughtful eulogy that he deserves, and this isn’t the place for it.  But I have to acknowledge immediately the passing of this fine man, faithful friend, and remarkable scholar.

Alan made his reputation immediately upon publication of his landmark study, Two Powers in Heaven. Early Rabbinic Reports About Christianity and Gnosticism, SJLA, no. 25 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1977).   In a number of his publications he continued his sensitive and incisive analysis of the traditions that we know as “Judaism” and “Christianity”.   I mention in particular, Rebecca’s Children: Judaism and Christianity in the Roman World (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univesity Press, 1986). and his award-winning study, Paul the Convert:  The Apostasy and Apostolate of Saul of Tarsus (Yale University Press, 1990).  His last book, Life After Death:  A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion (Doubleday, 2004), was a selection of the History Book Club, Book of the Month Club, and Behavioral Science Book Club, and received press notice in the USA and Canada.

But I emphasize here that Alan was my friend, and a friend to many others too.  We had numerous prolonged conversations about big questions of scholarship and life, and I admire enormously his uncloying graciousness and respect for others.  I’m especially glad that in December I was able to visit with him briefly in hospital and join with a large number of his other friends and fans in New York City to celebrate his contributions to people and scholarship on the occasion of his retirement from Barnard College.

I felt doubly honored and surprised to be the  joint-dedicatee with him of a collection of essays:   Israel’s God and Rebecca’s Children: Christology and Community in Early Judaism and Christianity, Essays in Honor of Larry W. Hurtado and Alan F. Segal, eds. David B. Capes et al. (Waco. TX: Baylor University Press, 2007).  I will miss him greatly.

April DeConick (Rice University) has written her own tribute to Alan, reflecting his impact on students and younger scholars:

There’s another moving tribute by a former student, Jared Calaway:

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  1. Very sad. His work will be remembered long after his parting. Thank you for making us aware.

  2. At his funeral today in New Jersey Rabbi Ungar said many nice things about our friend but the one word that stood out for me was when he mentioned simply that Alan was a mensch.

  3. Bert Jan Lietaert Peerbolte permalink

    Thanks, Larry, for this message. I am sorry, too, that Alan is gone. I have met him a couple of times and was as impressed by his personality as I am by his work. We will miss him dearly.

  4. Sad news about an outstanding scholar and a better friend and colleague, even to those he knew only casually. Thanks for sharing this, Larry.

  5. John Stackhouse permalink

    Larry, I’m so sorry to hear of your friend’s long illness and eventual death. I never met Alan, but I remember you speaking of him so often, so fondly, and so admiringly that I very much regret never having that privilege. May Rebecca’s God comfort you and Alan’s family and many other friends,


  6. Kathryn permalink

    Knowing of your long association with him, I was so sorry to hear this.

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