Contact Information

Office: Semitic Museum, 6 Divinity Ave., Room 209

Office Hours: Fall 2024 Office Hours TBA By appointment



David Stern

Harry Starr Professor of Classical and Modern Jewish and Hebrew Literature

Professor of Comparative Literature

Research Fields: Classical and Modern Hebrew Literature; History of Biblical Interpretation, Jewish and Christian; Intersection of contemporary literary theory and hermeneutics with ancient and medieval exegesis; ancient and medieval Judaism; History of the book, with special interest in the Jewish book.  Current research includes a history of the Jewish book from antiquity to the present day; a cultural biography of the Talmud and its place in the Western canon; and a poetics of Talmudic narrative.

Education: B.A. 1972, Columbia College; Ph.D. (Comparative Literature) 1980, Harvard University.

Works: Parables in Midrash: Narrative and Exegesis in Rabbinic Literature (1991); co-editor, Rabbinic Fantasies: Imaginative Narratives from Classical Hebrew Literature (1990); Midrash and Theory: Ancient Jewish Exegesis and Contemporary Literary Studies (1996); editor, The Anthology in Jewish Literature (2004); co-editor, Jewish Biblical Interpretation and Exchange: Comparative Exegesis in Context (2008); co-editor, The Washington Haggadah by Joel ben Simeon: A Fifteenth Century Manuscript from The Library of Congress (2011); co-editor, The Monk’s Haggadah: A Fifteenth Century Illuminated Codex from the Monastery of Tegernsee with a Prologue by the Friar Erhard von Pappenheim (2015); Jewish Literary Cultures I: The Ancient Period (2015); Jewish Literary Cultures II: The Medieval and Early Modern Periods (2019); and The Jewish Bible: A Material History (2017). Stern also curated and wrote the catalogue for Chosen: Philadelphia’s Great Hebraica (Rosenbach Museum & Library, 2011), and produced “A Tour Through the Jewish Book” (   He is currently completing a MOOC for HarvardX on The Jewish Bible.

Stern joined the Harvard faculty in July 2015, after teaching at the University of Pennsylvania for many years. He has also been the recipient of many fellowships and awards including a junior fellowship in Harvard’s Society of Fellows and a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute, and grants from the ACLS, the NEH, and the Guggenheim Foundation. He has also been a visiting professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Princeton University, the University of Washington, and Nanjing University.

The main topic of Stern’s scholarship is the nature of Jewish literary creativity within its larger historical and cultural contexts, and he has written articles, essays, and books on virtually every period of Jewish literary history from the early post-Biblical to the contemporary. The brunt of his work has focused on two areas. The first of these is Classical Rabbinic and Medieval Hebrew literature with a special interest in Biblical interpretation (Rabbinic midrash in particular) and its intersection with contemporary literary theory. The second field is the history of the Jewish book as a material object, and specifically the histories of the four classics works of Jewish literary and religious tradition: The Hebrew Bible, the Babylonian Talmud, the Prayerbook, and the Passover Haggadah.

Stern’s teaching focuses on the reading of primary sources, whether in the original language or in translation. Among the former are seminars on foundational Jewish texts like Midrash and Talmud. The translation courses include several that span the entire length of Jewish literary history, from the Bible to the present (e.g. “Catastrophe and Continuity in Jewish Literature;” “Child Sacrifice Pros and Cons: The Binding of Isaac in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam;” “Comparative Love: The Song of Songs from the Bible to Today”) while others (“Great Books of Judaism”) focus on specific works or directly deal with comparative subjects (“Ancient Jewish and Christian Biblical Interpreters”). In many of these courses, Stern incorporates the history of the material book into the study of the text.   Stern also teaches a Freshman Seminar in Houghton Library called “Harvard’s Greatest Hits: The Most Important, Rarest, and Most Valuable Books in Houghton Library,” which uses Houghton’s collection to teach the history of the book from papyrus fragments to contemporary artist’s books.  He is also preparing to teach a new General Education this spring semester entitled “What is a Book?  From the Oral Epic to the Kindle.”

The Jewish Bible – A Material History

David Stern

September 2017