Born in Ethiopia where he got his early education, Dr. Isaac holds a BA degree in Philosophy, Chemistry, & Music (Concordia College); an M. Div. (Harvard Divinity School); a PhD in Near Eastern Languages (Harvard University); and D.H.L. (honorary, John Jay /CUNY). He was Professor at Harvard (1968 -1977). The first professor hired in Afro-American Studies at Harvard, he was voted the best teacher each year by the students and the Department.
In addition to Harvard (that endowed the Ephraim Isaac Prize in African Studies in 1998), Dr. Isaac has lectured at Hebrew U (Ancient Semitic Languages), Princeton U (Near Eastern Studies, Religion; V. Prof. (Religion & African American Studies 1995-01) & U of Pennsylvania (Religion, Semitic Languages), Howard U (Divinity School), Lehigh U (Religion), Bard College (Religion, History), and other institutions of higher learning.
His subjects range from those mentioned above to Biblical Hebrew, Rabbinic Literature, Ethiopian History, Concept and History of Slavery and Ancient African Civilizations. He has been a Fellow, National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute for Advanced Studies. He has received many awards and honors including an honorary D. H. L. (John Jay College, CUNY), the 2002 Peacemaker Award of the Rabbi Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding.
Dr. Isaac is author of numerous articles and books on (Late Second Temple) Jewish and (Ancient Ethiopic) Ge’ez literatures. Three of his recent works pertain to the oldest known manuscripts of The Book of Enoch (Doubleday, 1983) and An Ethiopic History of Joseph (Sheffield Press, 1990), and Proceedings of Second International Congress of Yemenite Jewish Studies (ISS & Univ. of Haifa, 1999). An expanded definitive version of his The Ethiopian Orthodox Church is in press (Africa World Press, 2001.) He is currently working on a new edition of the Dead Sea Scrolls Fragments of The Book of Enoch (Princeton Theological Seminary); A History of Religions in Africa; and Cultural History of Ethiopian Jews. He is on editorial boards of two international scholarly journals on Afroasiatic Languages and Second Temple Jewish Literature respectively.
Dr. Isaac has diverse accomplishments. He knows seventeen languages. He is the first translator of Handel’s Messiah into Amharic, Ethiopian official language. He is widely known in Ethiopia as founder of the National Literacy Campaign that made millions literate in the late sixties. He is currently the international Chair of the Horn of Africa Board of Peace and Development Organization (Addis Ababa, Asmara) and the President of The Yemenite Jewish Federation of America. He is on the board of many charitable and educational organizations. Sought after nationally and internationally, he is widely acclaimed as a public lecturer on religion, literature, ancient history, peace and conflict resolution, and various other subjects listed above.