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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University May 17, 2004 | Vol. 33 No. 35
Obituary: Samuel Iwry, 93, Preeminent Scholar of the Dead Sea Scrolls

Samuel Irwy, in an undated photo.

Samuel Iwry, a pre-eminent scholar of the Dead Sea Scrolls and a Near Eastern Studies professor emeritus at Johns Hopkins, died of a stroke at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore on May 8. He was 93.

Iwry joined the faculty in 1951, the year he earned his doctorate from the university and taught here part time until his retirement in 1991, while also teaching full time at Baltimore Hebrew University from 1948 to 1985. He pursued a range of scholarly endeavors in ancient Near Eastern studies, biblical archaeology, the history of the Hebrew language, Jewish civilization and modern Hebrew literature.

Iwry was a member of the team led by his mentor at Johns Hopkins, William Foxwell Albright, who first authenticated the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1991.

In the late 1940s, Iwry was writing a paper at a seminar at Johns Hopkins in which he theorized that the Dead Sea Scrolls were written more than 2,000 years ago based on his study of the ancient writing and a close reading of the internal evidence, but no proof existed until 1947, when the scrolls were discovered in Judea.

He completed his doctorate in 1951 with the presentation of the first dissertation about the Dead Sea Scrolls. Iwry believed they were written between the second century B.C. and the middle of the first century A.D. Some scholars remained skeptical until 1991, when a new, less destructive method of carbon dating was used on the scrolls. The test confirmed Iwry's hypothesis. The long-awaited news was announced in April 1991, the same month Iwry retired to emeritus status.

In addition to his professorship at JHU, Iwry was distinguished professor of literature and dean at the Baltimore Hebrew University. While most scholars focus on either ancient or modern Hebrew, Iwry was well-versed in both, teaching the critical study of the biblical Hebrew texts, classical Aramaic language and modern Hebrew literature.

The Blum-Iwry Professorship in Near Eastern Studies was established at Hopkins in 2002 with a commitment by the family of alumni Alvin and Mildred Blum. A 1986 endowment from the Blums established the Samuel Iwry Lectureship in Hebraic Studies, which brings a distinguished scholar to the department for two weeks each year.

Born in Bialystok, Poland, on Dec. 25, 1910, Iwry earned a diploma from the Vilno Teachers Seminary in 1931 and a master's diploma in 1937 from the Higher Institute for Judaic Studies in Warsaw. Two years later, the Nazis invaded, and Iwry fled to Moscow, then Tokyo and finally to Shanghai. "After helping other refugees escape and emigrate to Palestine, he was imprisoned in Shanghai by the Japanese occupying forces and tortured for his activities," his son, J. Mark Iwry, told The Sun.

Iwry then met his future wife, Nina Rochman, a hospital administrator who persuaded authorities to release Iwry to a hospital, where he regained his health. His wife survives him, along with their son and a grandson.

In August, Samuel Iwry's oral history of his life — To Wear the Dust of War: From Warsaw to Shanghai to the Promised Land — will be published by Palgrave Macmillan.


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