With Humboldt Fellowship, religion professor will travel to Germany in search of ancient giants

Matthew Goff, an associate professor of religion in Florida State's College of Arts and Sciences.

With the support of one of Germany’s most prestigious academic foundations, a professor in Florida State University’s College of Arts and Sciences is preparing to spend a year conducting research and writing in that country. His mission: to complete a book analyzing 2,000-year-old passages contained in the Dead Sea Scrolls that differ significantly from the biblical book of Genesis and its account of the cataclysmic Flood.

Matthew Goff, an associate professor in the college’s Department of Religion, is the recipient of a Humboldt Research Fellowship for Experienced Researchers. The $65,000 fellowship, provided by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, will enable him to live in Munich for a year and serve as a visiting scholar at Ludwig-Maximilians University. He will leave for Germany in August.

“My field is the Hebrew Bible and ancient Judaism, and I work a great deal on the Dead Sea Scrolls,” Goff said. “In a nutshell, this project is on a couple of Dead Sea Scrolls texts that reinterpret the biblical account of the Flood in Genesis. Basically, what they do is retell the story in such a way that the Flood did not happen because of the rise of wickedness of people but rather because there were monstrous, deformed, cannibalistic giants who roamed the earth and terrorized people. And that is the reason for the Flood — to destroy these wicked giants.”

The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of nearly 1,000 texts discovered between 1946 and 1956 on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea. The scrolls are of great historical, religious and linguistic significance because they include the earliest known surviving manuscripts of works later included in the Hebrew Bible canon, as well as “extra-biblical” manuscripts that preserve evidence of the diversity of religious thought in late Second Temple Judaism, which ended around 70 A.D.

Goff will be paying particular attention to the texts of two of the Dead Sea Scrolls, one known as the Book of Enoch and the other as the Book of Giants.

“The Book of Giants is of particular interest,” Goff said, “because it was first published in the year 2000 after researchers had spent years piecing it together, so not a great deal of academic study has been completed on it thus far.”

As its name suggests, the Book of Giants focuses primarily on the giant beings who roamed the Earth, committing murder and other crimes. The Book of Giants offers a rationale for the Flood, and a description of the giants themselves, that won’t be found in Genesis.

“As with Genesis, the Book of Giants states that the Flood story is about the rise of evil on the Earth,” Goff said. “But it attributes this evil to angelic, not human, freewill. This is a radically different take on the origin of sin that most of us are familiar with from the canonical Bible.”

So far, Goff has completed about 200 pages of a book to be titled “When Giants Walked the Earth: Warriors, Cannibals and Other Primordial Creatures in Ancient Jewish Literature,” which he plans to complete by late 2014. A German publisher, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, will release the book sometime in 2015. It will be published in English.

While at Ludwig-Maximilians University, Goff will have the opportunity to interact with German researchers, including one of the world’s top experts in his field, Professor Loren Stuckenbruck.

Scholars from outside of Germany who have earned their doctorates within the past 12 years are eligible to apply for a prestigious Humboldt Fellowship for Experienced Researchers. The fellowship allows them the opportunity to spend an extended research period in Germany studying, writing and collaborating with German scholars.

“The faculty and staff of the Department of Religion are very pleased that one of our colleagues has received this honor,” said John Kelsay, the Richard L. Rubenstein Professor of Religion and Bristol Distinguished Professor of Ethics, who also serves as chairman of the department. “Matthew Goff is an exceptionally productive faculty member, and the Humboldt research fellowship provides international recognition of the excellence of his research.”

A faculty member in the Department of Religion since 2005, Goff teaches courses on the religions of Western antiquity with a particular focus on ancient Jewish apocalyptic literature. He also teaches biblical Hebrew, Aramaic and ancient Ethiopic, among many other topics. Far from being an esoteric field of study, Goff says that such scholarly work actually helps us develop a better understanding of the modern world.

“It’s good for us as a society to understand the heritage of ancient Judaism,” he said. “By doing so, we develop a better understanding not only of ancient Judaism, but of the Judaism that produced Christianity.”