Jesse Rainbow

Honors College alumnus Jesse Rainbow joins the ranks of literary luminaries such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Horatio Alger, and John Updike in being awarded Harvard’s Bowdoin Prize. The award, which has been given since the 18th century and carries a $10,000 prize, honors the best undergraduate and graduate essays and is one of the highest academic awards given by Harvard University.

Rainbow (’99, History) is now a 3rd-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. His essay, entitled “The Loss and Invention of Scripture: Breaking and the Making of God’s Word,” describes “the early histories of sacred texts in several religious traditions, and how many such books underwent a process of textual loss and restoration on their way to becoming ‘scripture.’” Rainbow says, “ The example I often give is the biblical story of the stone tablets, which Moses smashed and then recreated.”

Rainbow says that everything he has written since 1995 has been influenced by the idea—learned in The Honors College—that “reading and writing are not things one does best in the splendid isolation of a library carrel or study.” Human Situation taught him “not only that books talk to each other…but also that the best readers are the ones whose reading is supported by a community of other readers.” Thanks to the community provided by The Honors College, Rainbow is now able “to contribute with my own voice to the conversation that I first overheard as a student in Human Situation.”