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Religious historian wins science prize

(Keystone)

Professor Othmar Keel, a religious historian at Fribourg University, is to receive the 2005 Marcel Benoist prize for his work on the Bible's Old Testament.

Considered the Swiss version of the Nobel Prize, it has been awarded annually since 1920 to Swiss or people living in Switzerland for outstanding scientific research.

The distinction, which comes with a prize of SFr100,000 ($77,295), is to recognize the 68-year-old Keel's work on permitting a better understanding of the historic and cultural context of the Old Testament.

The Swiss interior minister, Pascal Couchepin, who is chairman of the Marcel Benoist Foundation, received Keel in Bern on Monday.

As a theologian, Keel is one of a group of pioneers working in Europe, Israel, the United States and South Africa who have revolutionised Bible research.

Common heritage

His work has a particular significance in grasping the common heritage of Jews, Christians and Muslims.

With an interdisciplinary approach to research work, Keel associates the classical tools of text interpretation, such a philology and analysis, with archaeology and art history.

He is a world-renowned expert in analysing Middle East art objects, such as figurines, amulets and scarabs.

The Marcel Benoist Foundation for the promotion of scientific research was founded on November 5, 1920 by the Swiss government to execute the last will and testament of Marcel Benoist.

He was a French national living in Lausanne who had unexpectedly left most of his wealth to the Swiss Confederation under the condition that it be used to fund an annual scientific award.

Keel is to receive the prize from Couchepin at a ceremony at Fribourg University on November 14.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Othmar Keel was born in Einsiedeln, canton Schwyz, in 1934.

He studied theology, religious history, Egyptology and art of the old Middle East in Zurich, Fribourg, Rome, Jerusalem and Chicago.

He taught in Fribourg from 1967 until his retirement in 2002.

The Marcel Benoist Prize, which comes with a cheque for SFr100,000 is the oldest and most prestigious scientific prize in Switzerland.

In 2004 the prize was awarded to Adriano Aguzzi, a professor at Zurich University Hospital's Institute for Neuropathology, for his work on prions.

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