Religious studies profs honour former grad student

Religious studies faculty members are helping to publish a book of essays that will honour the memory of former student Susan Haber, who died of cancer in 2006.

“She was such a wonderful person and so brilliant academically that, if she would have lived, she could have done so much,” says Dr. Anders Runesson. “We are publishing this book as friends and colleagues.”

According to a biography on Susan that will appear in the book Purity, Holiness, and Identity in Judaism and Christianity: Essays in Memory of Susan Haber, Haber, at the age of 40, enrolled as a student in York University’s Department of Religious Studies to gain, under the guidance of Professor Carl Ehrlich, a further understanding of the history and origins of Judaism. As a student in the honours program, from which she graduated summa cum laude in 2000, Haber published her first scholarly article on God, Israel and Covenant: Unity in the Book of Deuteronomy.

The mother of three children then went on to earn her master’s degree from McMaster University in 2004. While completing her master’s degree, Haber was awarded the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies’ Jeremias Prize in recognition of her essay From Priestly Torah to Christ Cultus: The Re-Vision of Covenant and Cult in Hebrews. The study was later published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Her area of interest moved to notions of ritual and moral purity in the second temple period with concentrations on Early Judaism and Christianity and the relationship of women to purity as she began her PhD studies at McMaster under the supervision of Professors Eileen Schuller, Anders Runesson, and Stephen Westerholm. Haber’s field of specialization was the Dead Sea Scrolls, but she also studied, and contributed peer-reviewed articles to the field of New Testament studies.

“That’s the academic part, which in itself is quite remarkable. But, in addition to that, as a person, she was very kind, professional, and open minded,” says Dr. Runesson. “That combination makes for a star scholar.”

“I think that was part of the shock. A brilliant mind and a genuinely decent person, she could have contributed so much to the scholarly community.”

Haber’s PhD research, which was supported by a fellowship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Harry Lyman Hooker Senior Fellowship, ended in 2006 as she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

A lung infection eventually prevented her from undergoing further chemotherapy treatments and, just seven weeks after being diagnosed with cancer, Haber passed away at the age of 48.

Following her death, Dr. Adele Reinhartz, an alumna of McMaster University and now a professor of religious studies at the University of Ottawa, published a collection of Haber’s essays under the title They Shall Purify Themselves: Essays on Purity in Early Judaism (2008).

The book Purity, Holiness, and Identity in Judaism and Christianity: Essays in Memory of Susan Haber, however, is a collection of essays written by scholars who study the same wide-ranging areas Haber focused on. The book is edited by Dr. Ehrlich of York University, and Dr. Runesson and Dr. Schuller of McMaster University.

“I don’t know of a book that has been edited in memory of a graduate student,” says Dr. Runesson. “If there should be a first of this kind, she would be the one.”

Purity, Holiness, and Identity in Judaism and Christianity: Essays in Memory of Susan Haber will be published this month by Mohr Siebeck. An official launch of the book will be held at York University from 1-3 p.m. on September 29. All are welcome to the launch.