A PROFESSOR, described by many as one the greatest Jesus scholars, has died at the age of 88.

Geza Vermes, above, who lived in Boars Hill, translated the first English version of the Dead Sea Scrolls which had been lost for thousands of years.

He was also known around the world for his books about Jesus’ Jewish background.

The Hungarian-born scholar lived in Oxford for more than 40 years and became the first professor of Jewish studies at Oxford University.

In 1962 Mr Vermes published the first English translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls – a collection of 800 to 900 documents, many containing ancient Biblical texts.

They are the earliest surviving sources for the Hebrew Bible by almost a thousand years, dating back to 150BC. They had been hidden in caves at the Dead Sea from an advancing Roman army.

Mr Vermes’ English translations ultimately brought the documents to thousands of people.

The title of his first book – Jesus the Jew – had in 1973 been enough to shock conservative Christians.

After his retirement in 1991 he directed the Oxford Forum for Qumran Research at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies.

Though he joined a liberal synagogue, he preferred the garden of his Oxford home to religious ceremonies.

Mr Vermes’ wife Pamela died in 1993. He is survived by his second wife, Margaret.

David Ariel, president of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, said Mr Vermes died on Wednesday.