UCL News


Spotlight on Helen Jacobus

3 July 2013

This week the spotlight is on Dr Helen R. Jacobus, Honorary Research Associate in the Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies.


What is your role and what does it involve?

I am an honorary research associate, meaning that my research area borders on the research interests of some faculty members of the Dept of Hebrew and Jewish Studies (in particular Professor Sacha Stern and Professor Mark Geller) and that they are kindly providing me with an intellectual home. My research is published under my UCL affiliation.

A multi-contributor volume that I edited with Anne-Katrine de Hemmer Gudme and Philippe Guillaume, Studies on Magic and Divination in the Biblical World, has just been published this June.

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?

Two years. I completed my PhD in 2011 at the University of Manchester on the subject of ancient Jewish calendars and the zodiac in relation to two of the Dead Sea Scrolls and a medieval Hebrew text. Since then, I have been working on revising my dissertation for publication as well as some articles and other publications.

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?

My PhD, for which I studied part-time while working. I hope the revised thesis will be published next year. It was 10 years’ worth of work.

Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list

Currently, I’m researching the calendars used in first- and second-century Jewish legal documents that have been found in caves bordering the Dead Sea. I’m presenting my preliminary findings at the International Society of Biblical Literature this summer.

Although this material is historical, not biblical, it comes under the umbrella of Biblical Studies because it is research into the early Jewish calendar, therefore early Judaism.

What is your favourite album, film and novel?

All these change according to how I feel when asked. Having said that, if I were to float above all my moods and choose, my favourite album is probably Big Science by the avant-garde New York musician Laurie Anderson. It was way ahead of its time, or any other time, for that matter, when it was released in 1982. Whenever I listen to it, I still feel amazed.

My favourite film, which is more of its time, yet timeless in its artistry in Marcel Carné’s Les Enfants du Paradis (1945). Filmed during the Nazi occupation of France, it’s more than three hours long, but each time I’ve seen it I don’t want it to end.

My novel would be The King David Report by Stefan Heym (1973). This is also very much of its time and place, Communist-era East Germany, but way way beyond it, too. No comment as I wouldn’t want to spoil it in any way, but everyone should read it.

I’d like to add, if I may, that I recently read Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, right through in one sitting. It’s a page-turner. I take my hat off to any author who can achieve that.

What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?

I’m not very good at telling jokes, and probably even worse at writing them down!

Who would be your dream dinner guests?

Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Patti Smith, Grayson Perry and Lindsay Anderson (if he were still alive). All brilliantly original in their creativity (plus that sneaks in a few more albums and a film).

What advice would you give your younger self?

“Better to light a brief candle than to curse the darkness” (It’s a variation on seeing a half-full cup, rather than a half-empty one).

What would it surprise people to know about you?

I used to write drama and screenplays and had a West End agent.

What is your favourite place?

The Negev desert at sunset. A breath-taking sight. I was being taken on a bus to dig on an archaeological site in the desert. I’ve never forgotten how the mountains and the sand suddenly turned blood-red.