Karel van der Toorn (1956) is Faculty Professor of Religion and Society in the Faculty of Humanities. After a career as professor of ancient religions in the Universities of Utrecht and Leiden (1985-1998), van der Toorn served as dean of the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Amsterdam (1998-2004). From 2006-2011 he was president of the University of Amsterdam and the University of Applied Sciences of Amsterdam.
Throughout his academic career Karel van der Toorn has combined teaching and research, on the one hand, and high-level administration, on the other. His long-standing interest in the ancient Near East, with a focus on the Hebrew Bible in its cultural context, has led to such books as Family Religion in Babylonia, Syria, and Israel (1996) and Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible (2007). Since 2011 his research has shifted to religion in the contemporary world, all the while maintaining a strong presence in the field of Oriental Studies. He is currently working on a monograph on religion in the modern democracy, with special attention for India, Turkey, France, and the US.
Van der Toorn was recipient of the Kluwer Prize for his books Sin and Sanction in Israel and Mesopotamia (1985) and From Her Cradle to Her Grave: Religion in the Life of the Babylonian and the Israelite Woman (1989). The Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (1995, 2nd edition 1998), for which he acted as managing editor, was acclaimed as "best book of the year" by Choice . As author of Scribal Culture (2007), van der Toorn was a finalist of the Independent Publisher Book Awards. The Society of Biblical Archaelogy awarded him its 2008 prize for the best publication of the year in the field of ancient Israel.
Van der Toorn is member of the North American Biblical Colloquium . In 2012 he was distinguished as Commandeur dans l'Ordre du Mérite by the French president.
Current administrative activities
President of the board of the Stichting Frans Nederlandse Academie
President of the board SIOO (Stichting Interuniversitair centrum voor Organisatie- en Veranderkunde)
Curator of NINO/NIT (Netherlands Institute for the Near East)
Member of the board Stichting leerstoel Geschiedenis van de Hermetische Filosofie en verwante stromingen
Member of the Jury of the NWO programme Religie in the moderne samenleving
- van der Toorn, K. (in press). Papyrus Amherst 63. (Alter Orient und Altes Testament; Vol. 448). Münster: Ugarit-Verlag.
- van der Toorn, K. (2017). Family Religion in Babylonia, Syria and Israel. Atlanta, Ga.: Society of Biblical Literature.
- van der Toorn, K. (2017). Celebrating the New Year with the Israelites: Three Extrabiblical Psalms from Papyrus Amherst 63. Journal of Biblical Literature, 136, 657-673.
- van der Toorn, K. (2017). Ezra in Egypt? The Significancee of Hananyah's Mission. Vetus Testamentum, 602-610.
- van der Toorn, K. (2017). Psalm 20 and Amherst Papyrus 63, XII, 11-19: A Case Study of a Text in Transit. In Le-maᴄan Ziony: Esays in Honor of Ziony Zevit (pp. 244-259). Eugene, Ore: Cascade Books.
- van der Toorn, K. (2016). Eshem-Bethel and Herem-Bethel: New Evidence from Amherst Papyrus 63. Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, 128(4), 668-680. DOI: 10.1515/zaw-2016-0037
- van der Toorn, K. (2016). Ethnicity at Elephantine: Jews, Arameans, Caspians. Tel Aviv, 43(2), 151-168. DOI: 10.1080/03344355.2016.1215532
- van der Toorn, K. (2015). Speaking of Gods: Dimensions of the Divine in the Ancient Near East. In M. Korpel, & L. Grabbe (Eds.), Open-Mindedness in the Bible and Beyond: A Volume of Studies in Honour of Bob Becking (pp. 273-285). London: T. and T. Clark.
- van der Toorn, K. (2014). Dead That Are Slow to Depart: Evidence for Ancestor Rituals in Mesopotamia. In V. Rimmer Hermann, & D. Schloen (Eds.), In Remembrance of Me: Feasting with the Dead in the Ancient Middle East (pp. 81-84). (Oriental Institute Museum Publication; Vol. 37). Chicago: The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.
- van der Toorn, K. (2007). Scribal culture and the making of the Hebrew Bible. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. [details]
- van der Toorn, K. (2017). Herodotus, Elephantine en de lange arm van Artaxerxes. Phoenix, 63, 61-75.
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- Stichting Frans Nederlandse Academie
President of the board
President of the board
- NINO/The NIT
- Stichting leerstoel GHF
Member of the board
- NWO Religie in de moderne samenleving
Member of the jury
We think of the Hebrew Bible as the Book--and yet it was produced by a largely nonliterate culture in which writing, editing, copying, interpretation, and public reading were the work of a professional elite. The scribes of ancient Israel are indeed the main figures behind the Hebrew Bible, and in this book Karel van der Toorn tells their story for the first time. His book considers the Bible in very specific historical terms, as the output of the scribal workshop of the Second Temple active in the period 500-200 BCE. Drawing comparisons with the scribal practices of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, van der Toorn clearly details the methods, the assumptions, and the material means of production that gave rise to biblical texts; then he brings his observations to bear on two important texts, Deuteronomy and Jeremiah.
Traditionally seen as the copycats of antiquity, the scribes emerge here as the literate elite who held the key to the production as well as the transmission of texts. Van der Toorn's account of scribal culture opens a new perspective on the origins of the Hebrew Bible, revealing how the individual books of the Bible and the authors associated with them were products of the social and intellectual world of the scribes. By taking us inside that world, this book yields a new and arresting appreciation of the Hebrew Scriptures.