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Meet Louise van der Vlugt, Co-winner of the 'Best Thesis in Jewish Studies' Award

In December 2023, Louise van der Vlugt was announced as Co-Winner of the 'Best Thesis in Jewish Studies' Award. She sat down to answer some questions about her prize-winning BA Thesis.

What did you write your thesis on and why did you become interested in that topic?

Since I study both Hebrew & Aramaic and Greek & Latin, I am interested in the countless ways in which those fields overlap and intersect. For my thesis, I landed on the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible – actually a rather obvious choice when it comes to the intersection of Hebrew and the Classics. Next to nothing is known about the individuals who produced this translation, especially when it comes to the non-Pentateuchal books, and what we do know we have to glean from the translations themselves. That raises a methodologically complex question: what do translation choices reveal about the translator and the socio-cultural context in which he (assuming that it is a he) worked? In my thesis, I zoomed in on the military vocabulary of the Septuagint book of Joshua to reflect on conclusions about the translator that had previously been drawn in scholarship. Thanks to my dual training, I was able to compare the translator’s Greek choice of words both with the Hebrew source text and with contemporary Greek literature, a step that is not often taken in Septuagint scholarship, and I managed to somewhat nuance our image of the Joshua-translator. It proved to be a fascinating challenge to try and get as close a possible to the individual behind a text from some 2,250 years ago.

What was the most important lesson you take away from the experience of writing this thesis?

At times the thesis was a good lesson in perseverance, especially with Covid sticking its head around the corner every now and again. But in the end I suppose the project benefited a lot from the extra time that I had to take for it. It taught me that ideas simply take time to develop and that writing and rewriting and rewriting again really is the only way to do it. Of course, I thank that insight too to my supervisor Prof. Jürgen Zangenberg, who put so much trust in me and kept me going through the rough times.

What was your reaction when you found out that your thesis had won this prize?

I was having a slow Monday morning in the University Library when I suddenly saw the email come in. Needless to say, I didn’t get much studying done that morning! I still feel incredibly grateful and honoured to be awarded this prize. I had never expected it.

Why is it important for Jewish Studies to have a collective presence at Leiden?

Graduation ceremony Louise van der Vlugt

I remember reading Judith Frishman’s interview in Leids Universitair Weekblad Mare a few years ago, when she retired as Professor of Judaism at this university. She argued that we need the study of Judaism not only to understand Jewish culture for its own sake, but also to understand European and Dutch history, our modern society and the ongoing problem of racism and discrimination, not just against Jews, but against Muslims and people of colour as well. With the political sentiment in Europe swinging further and further to the right, I fear her words have only gained in urgency, yet the University seems to have put Jewish Studies on the back burner. In the face of this, I think the LJSA is doing a crucially important and admirable job of putting Jewish Studies on the map at Leiden, bridging the gaps in our fragmented field and strengthening the connections between everyone who is engaged in the study of Judaism.

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