Scholar was editor of Bible commentary series

Times Staff Writer

David Noel Freedman, a Bible scholar who was the general editor of the Anchor Bible Commentary series, a standard reference in seminary and university libraries that includes updated translations with explanatory notes of each book of the Bible, died April 8. He was 85.

A professor of Hebrew biblical studies at UC San Diego for some years, Freedman died of complications from a heart ailment at the home of his son, David, in Petaluma, north of San Francisco, according to a statement released by the university.

Freedman was named general editor of the Anchor Bible series when it launched in 1956 and held the position until his death.


Close to 90 volumes were published during that period. The project is ongoing.

Top Scripture scholars from the Jewish, Catholic and Protestant traditions have contributed to the series.

Freedman included young scholars as well as better established names and directed them to be unbiased, rather than promote their own religious point of view.

Despite its rigorous academic approach, the Anchor Bible Commentary has always been intended for general readers.

Along with editing, Freedman co-wrote several translations, including of the books of Amos, Hosea and Micah.

He was also editor in chief of the six-volume The Anchor Bible Dictionary and the multi-volume The Anchor Bible Reference Library, with information about biblical geography, archaeology, languages and related topics.

“David Noel Freedman was a scholar of monumental proportion, but the three-pronged Anchor Bible project is his main legacy,” said Astrid Beck, an associate of Freedman on the project. “He knew the Bible inside out, and he was an original thinker.”

Although the Anchor project was his most prominent work, he wrote and/or edited more than 300 scholarly books in all.

“Freedman functioned as the nerve center of American biblical scholarship during his time,” William H.C. Propp, a friend and colleague at UC San Diego, said this week.

Freedman said in interviews that he was raised in a non-religious Jewish household and was strongly influenced by the death of his father when Freedman was young.

“I started to search for my roots, my ancestors. I found them in the Hebrew Bible, and it became a lifetime study,” he said in a 1986 interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Born May 12, 1922, in New York City, Freedman entered college at 13, attending the City College of New York for three years and transferring to UCLA, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in history in 1939.

He attended Princeton Theological Seminary to learn more about the New Testament and then earned a doctorate in Semitic languages at Johns Hopkins University in 1948.

At Johns Hopkins, Freedman became a protege of William F. Albright, a pioneering biblical archaeologist. He invited Freedman to work with him on the Anchor Bible Project. They served together as general editors for some years.

Along with his teaching career at UC San Diego, whose faculty he joined in 1984, Freedman taught at the University of Michigan from 1971 to 1992.

Freedman married Cornelia Anne Pryor in 1944, and they had four children. He is survived by his children, nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren as well as two brothers and one sister. His wife died in 2005.

UC San Diego will hold a memorial symposium in Freedman’s honor next fall.