Of great Davids I am acquainted with three. The first is King David, Israel’s second monarch whom I knew from the Biblical texts and whose life, sacred and naughty, I followed with interest.
The second David was David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister. I attended one of his lectures in Jerusalem in 1951 at the Terra Sancta building. I was impressed with his words but less impressed with his accented Hebrew.
The third David is Professor Dr. David Owen who was once a student of mine in 1962. He is the most amazing and outstanding David who I know very well. Of the more than 3,000 students at the university who took my classes in Hebrew language and Biblical literature, it was this David who excelled more than anyone else. He was a brilliant young student and was destined for a great history.
He was very interested in archeology, land and water. As a student he explored the depths of ruins in Greece and Turkey, Italy, Cyprus and of course, in Israel from 1961 to 1988.
David became a scholar of cuneiform writing and ultimately taught courses in ancient Sumerian and Akkadian languages.
Due to international recognition of his academic knowledge and skillful achievements he was offered a professorship at Cornell University, one of the very prestigious Ivy League universities in the United States.
He has published more than 150 articles and reviews in cuneiform studies and has written seven volumes of cuneiform texts and studies. One of his first published writings was on “Studies on the Civilization and Culture of Nuzi and the Hurrians”, as founding editor of the series on those studies. He is also the founding editor-in-chief of the Cornell University Studies in Assyriology and Sumerology which has already published more than 30 volumes of cuneiform texts.
Professor Dr. David Owen, world renowned scholar of ancient Semitic languages and texts, was ultimately promoted to be Cornell University’s Chair of the Department of Ancient Near Eastern Studies and Judaic Studies. He retired from this position only a short time ago and in retirement he continues to write and to publish.
He and his wife are eternal travelers… China, Singapore (where his son lives), the Korean peninsula, many of the Arab countries, and much of western and eastern Europe. But on occasion, they find some time to relax in the American mountains and sea-sides. Perhaps David will locate some ancient hieroglyphic or Sumerian texts in the sands of the Carolinas or Massachusetts.
When David first entered my classes in 1962 at the prime age of eighteen, he had been a graduate of the Maimonides Yeshiva, a school which he despised and which caused him to question the Jewish faith. Nevertheless, he remains a practicing Jew, devoted to the State of Israel, and concerned for its future.
From the first week in my classes, he shone and his brilliance was an inspiration to me. It is rare that a professor can point to one particular student out of the thousands he has taught, but I can point with immense pride in David’s accomplishments. I hope my teaching had some influence upon him but the student became greater than the professor.
When I was studying for my Ph.D. in Biblical Studies I took a class in Ugaritic, an ancient language that has a relationship to Hebrew. I did not excel in my studies. But reminiscing, I am astounded at Professor Dr. David Owen’s mastery of so many ancient Near Eastern languages.
His classes at Cornell University in addition to Sumerian and Akkadian included Hebrew, Near Eastern and Biblical history as well as his passion for archaeology.
I am very blessed to have been one of his early professors. He and I maintain a frequent e-mail correspondence. His interests never fail to astound and to impress me.
Of the three Davids I refer to, David Owen, Ph.D., renowned scholar, is the greatest of them all.