By Dot Bergin
Dr. James D. Purvis, retired Boston University Professor of Religion and long-time volunteer with the Friends of the Bedford Library, recently received a medal and citation from the Samaritan Medal Foundation for his scholarly research on this sect. Although he wasn’t able to go to Washington in person to receive the medal, Dr. Purvis’ grandson Christopher Purvis accepted it for him in November 2013.
If you remember the Biblical story of the “Good Samaritan,” who came to the aid of a distressed traveler when all others were passing him by, that reference is to the Samaritan sect.
In a recent interview with Dr. Purvis, who is known more familiarly as Jim to his fellow co-workers on the Friends’ book sales, the Citizen learned some fascinating history about a sect whose numbers have now declined to some 700 people. Half now live in Israel and half in the Palestinian Authority. Although their numbers are small, the sect is beginning to enlarge, as marriages are now happening between Samaritan men and Jewish women. Jim first became involved in Samaritan studies more than 50 years ago, as a doctoral student in theology at Harvard. His dissertation, “The Origin of the Samaritan Sect” was later expanded and published as volume two in the Harvard Semitic Monographs. (To read more about modern-day Samaritans, click https://www.samaritanmedalfoundation.org/samaritans.html).
Although he is noted for his research and publications in Samaritan studies, Jim’s scholarly activities include many other areas, such as biblical and post-biblical literature and the history and archaeology of Jerusalem. He had the opportunity to take part in archeological field-work in Israel and Cyprus and made many visits to the Middle East during his long career. Of all these activities, Jim says, “I have the fondest memories of my involvement in Samaritan studies and the friends I met through these associations.”
In 2000, Jim donated his extensive collection of Samaritana to the School of Theology Library at Boston University, where it is now housed in the Archives Collection. This collection includes more than 150 research materials, dating from 1848 to 2000, which Jim collected over his many years of study and travel in the Middle East.
Jim Purvis’s career spanned more than 35 years; he joined BU in 1966 as Chairman of the Religion Department, having taught for five years at Connecticut College. In 1986 he won the BU Metcalf Award for Excellence in Teaching. He retired in 1997. Before moving to Bedford with his wife Adele several years ago, he was a long time resident of Lexington.
When Friends’ stalwart Kaye Spofford learned that a distinguished retired professor might be interested in helping with the Friends’ book sales, she immediately recruited him. And as Kaye says, his contributions are invaluable. “He is knowledgeable in so many areas when it comes to assessing the value of books contributed to the sale, said Kaye, “and not only that, he loves jazz, has wonderful stories to tell, and is great fun to work with.” Both Kaye and Jim served for many years on the Board of the Friends of the Library, retiring in 2013. Although not on the Board these days, Jim continues to come to the Library several days a week to help evaluate and sort books for the Friends’ sales.
Wonderfully written. Dr. Purvis is a great personality. May he and his lovely wife Adel and their families will stay happy for good.