Nahum Sarna, a biblical scholar who did notable translations of Scripture for modern readers, notably his work on the Jewish Publication Society's "Torah (New Translation)," died on Thursday at his home in Boca Raton, Fla. He was 82, and a former resident of Newton, Mass.
The death was announced by Brandeis University, where he was the Dora Golding Professor emeritus of Biblical studies. The announcement said that he died after a long illness.
Dr. Sarna's writings, commentaries and translations sought to bring the meaning of ancient texts closer to today's lay reader. Some of his most important contributions were made through the Jewish Publication Society, based in Philadelphia, for which he was principal translator and editor of "Torah (New Translation)." First published in 1985, it remains in print.
Some of his other books published by the society were "Genesis: The Traditional Hebrew Text with New JPS Translation" (1989); "JPS: The Americanization of Jewish Culture 1888-1988" (1989); "Exodus: The Traditional Hebrew Text With the New JPS Translation" (1991); and "Studies in Biblical Interpretation" (2000).
Dr. Sarna's work reflected a 19th-century movement devoted to the scientific study of Jewish civilization and a more accessible, modern approach to the Hebrew Bible. His commentaries sought to shed light on the narrative, give meaning to archeological finds, add historical and cultural background and present the Bible's teachings in a spiritual and moral context.
His studies focused on Genesis, Exodus, Psalms and Job. He advanced the concept of inner-biblical interpretation, or the idea that later biblical texts interpret earlier ones.
Two more of his books in that vein, published by Schocken Books and in print, are "On the Book of Psalms: Exploring the Prayers of Ancient Israel" (1993), and "Exploring Exodus: The Origins of Biblical Israel" (1996).
Dr. Sarna was also a contributing author with Cyrus H. Gordon to "Genesis: World of Myths and Patriarchs" (N.Y.U. Press, 1996).
Nahum Mattathias Sarna was born in London on March 27, 1923, and received his bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of London in 1944 and 1946.
He was ordained as a rabbi at Jews College, also in London, in 1947, came to the United States in 1951, and earned a doctorate in biblical studies and Semitic languages at what was then Dropsie College in Philadelphia.
He joined the Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis in 1965 and was its chairman for seven years.
In 1969, he joined a handful of senior scholars at Brandeis to found the Association for Jewish Studies, currently in Manhattan. After retiring from Brandeis in 1985, he taught at Columbia, Yale and, most recently, Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.
Dr. Sarna is survived by his wife of 58 years, the former Helen Horowitz; two sons, Prof. Jonathan, of West Newton, and David, of Teaneck, N.J.; and five grandchildren.
Corrections: For the Record
An obituary on June 25 about Nahum Sarna, a biblical scholar, misstated his role in the Jewish Publication Society's translation of the Hebrew Bible. He was a principal translator of the third section of the Bible, known as the Writings - not the principal translator and editor of the Torah, the first section. (The Torah was translated by another committee, headed by Harry Orlinsky, and the second section, the Prophets, by a committee headed by H. L. Ginsberg.)
The obituary also credited Dr. Sarna erroneously with one work. "J.P.S.: The Americanization of Jewish Culture 1888-1988" is by Jonathan Sarna, his son.