Religion historian Jonathan Z. Smith from a video series. Images courtesy of YouTube

(RNS) — Jonathan Z. Smith, a historian and theorist of religion widely admired for his  analytic rigor in comparing religions, has died. He was 79.

Smith, who died Saturday (Dec. 30), was the author of numerous books and served as the editor of “The HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion.” He spent his entire career at the University of Chicago. Though trained in Second Temple Judaism and early Christianity, he amassed formidable knowledge on such issues as ritual, Hellenistic religions, Māori cults and the mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana.

He was also an eccentric scholar

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