From Soviet Jew to Academic Bible Scholar

May 6, 2015 | Serge Frolov
About the author:

Born, raised, and educated in the Soviet Union, Serge Frolov left Russia for Israel in the 1990s. Now he teaches Bible and Jewish studies at Southern Methodist University. In an interview with David Steinberg, he speaks about his Jewish identity, his education, and his scholarship:

My parents were brought up in the Soviet Union, and my family was not at all religious. Nevertheless, we were conscious of our Jewish identity and read Sholem Aleichem. I received my first Bible at the age of fifteen. Even getting a Bible was complicated. In Russia at the time, you couldn’t just buy a Bible in a bookstore, but the Russian Orthodox Church was allowed to sell them.

The Bible they sold was the authorized translation into Russian from the mid-19th century; interestingly, the main translator was a converted Jew. Of course, this Bible included both Old and New Testaments. Intellectually, I knew that the New Testament was something else, and represented another religion, but I didn’t really feel or understand the difference. Moreover, I didn’t really relate to the Bible—even the Old Testament—as “our heritage” but as a “global heritage.” . . .

Reading the Bible was a kind of escape from Russia, a window into a world that was completely different from my experience in every way. The ideas it expressed about the human condition and about God were never taught anywhere in Russia. It was exotic. I didn’t know anybody else reading the Bible, so my doing so was a strictly personal indulgence.