Folklore and Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations professor Dan Ben-Amos dies at 88

Photo of Dan Ben-Amos

Professor of Folklore and Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations Dan Ben-Amos died at the age of 88 on March 26.

Ben-Amos began teaching at Penn in 1967. He was a Professor of African, Jewish, and Middle Eastern Folklore in the Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations Department. He also served as professor and chairman of the Department of Folklore and Folklife

This semester, he taught classes on Jewish Folklore and Jewish Humor just until a week before spring break. 

“Your students were inspired and excited to be on the leading edge of their discipline. You were certainly one of its brightest stars, a prime mover and shaker,” Herminia Meñez Coben, 1973 Ph.D. graduate and one of Ben-Amos’ first doctoral students at Penn, wrote in an article addressed to Ben-Amos.

Trained in the comparativist tradition, Ben-Amos was a world-renowned specialist in folklore and folklife. He edited many translations of folklore classics by European scholars and received the American Folklore Society Lifetime Scholarly Achievement Award in 2014. 

“His signature, pivotal contributions to the field are legion, but it is the chance of running into Dan in a corridor at Penn or an AFS meeting, and the ensuing exchange – both jocular and erudite – that I grieve and want to celebrate,” Mary Hufford, President of the AFS Fellows program, wrote in a press release on Ben-Amos’ death. 

Born in Tel Aviv in 1934, Ben-Amos studied Hebrew and English Literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He received his Ph.D. in Folklore from Indiana University Bloomington in 1967 and began teaching at Penn that very year. 

Ben-Amos published a number of books and articles on Jewish Folklore. In 2006, his edited volume, “Folktales of the Jews. Volume 1: Tales from the Sephardic Dispersion,” won the National Jewish Book Award’s Sephardic Culture category. 

“I have admired the fact that, despite Dan’s status as a giant in the field, he always welcomed pushback from his students, allowing them to make their own way,” Leah Lowthorp, 2013 Ph.D. graduate and another one of Ben-Amos’ former students, wrote in an article addressed to Ben-Amos.

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