Nahum Norbert Glatzer was born on March 25, 1903 in Lemberg in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He received his early education in Lemburg, Brod, and Bodenbach. Glatzer originally planned to pursue rabbinical studies and moved to Frankfurt where he studied rabbinic literature from 1920 to 1922. This plan changed when he made the acquaintance of Franz Rosenzweig at a Talmud class and quickly became a disciple of the noted Jewish philosopher. Glatzer went on to become an active member of Rosenzweig's Lehrhaus and chose to pursue a career in academia, receiving his PhD from the University of Frankfurt in 1931.
It was at the University of Frankfurt-am-Main that Glatzer also began working under the tutelage of the philosopher Martin Buber. Buber was very impressed with the young scholar and nominated Glatzer to be his successor at the University of Frankfurt. In 1932, Glatzer was appointed lecturer of Jewish Religious History and Ethics. However, the changing political climate in Germany ensured that this would be a short-lived teaching position, and in 1933 Glatzer moved to Palestine (later Israel), where he took a position teaching Bible and Jewish History at the Bet Sefer Reali Gymnasium in Haifa. After four years in Haifa, Glatzer immigrated to the United States in 1938 and became a naturalized citizen in 1944.
Glatzer's teaching career continued in America. From 1938 to 1943 he taught Bible at the College of Jewish Studies in Chicago. This was followed by four years of teaching Rabbinic literature at the Hebrew Teachers College in Boston and later a two-year post as a visiting professor of history at Yeshiva University in New York. In 1951, Glatzer, who had visited Brandeis in its early days and watched its development with great interest, accepted a position as an associate professor of Jewish History in the university's Near Eastern and Judaic Studies Department (NEJS). Glatzer would go on to serve as the Philip W. Lown Professor of Jewish Thought and as Chairman of NEJS from 1957 to 1969, playing a vital role in the shaping and development of the department. In 1973, rules regarding mandatory retirements forced Glatzer, then 70, to leave his fulltime position. He spent the remainder of his professional life as University Professor at Boston University, giving only the occasional lecture at Brandeis.
In addition to his long and active teaching career, Glatzer was a prolific author and editor, publishing over 60 books and articles and contributing to the fields of Jewish philosophy and history. He acted as editor-in-chief and then as a consulting editor of Schocken Books for over forty years, worked as a contributing editor for Judaism: A Quarterly, and served on the publication committee of the Jewish Publication Society. Glatzer also became an authoritative biographer and editor of the works of Rosenzweig, Buber, and Franz Kafka. Glatzer was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1959-1960, which he used to edit a collection of letters by Leopold and Adelheid Zunz and their friends. Among his many prominent works are "History of the Talmudic Era" (1937); "The Language of Faith" (1947); "Jerusalem and Rome: The Writings of Josephus" (1960); "Franz Rosenzweig: His Life and Thought" (1961); "Faith and Knowledge" (1962); "The Dimensions of Job" (1969); "I Am a Memory Come Alive: Autobiographical Writings" (Kafka's writings edited by Glatzer, 1974); and "The Loves of Franz Kafka" (1986).
Glatzer was a fellow of the American Academy for Jewish Research, a fellow and member of the board of directors for the Leo Baeck Institute, and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. As well as receiving the Guggenheim Fellowship, Glatzer received seven honorary doctorates, including from Brandeis, the University of Southern California, the University of Florida, and Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion. In 1973 he also received the B'nai B'rith Prize for Literary Excellence.
Nahum Glatzer was married to Anne Stiebel, a teacher, and had two children, Daniel and Judith. Daniel, trained as a linguist, worked as a civilian in the army. Judith Wechsler pursued an academic career, becoming a professor of Art History.
Nahum Glatzer remained an active educator, publisher, translator, editor, and author until his death on February 27, 1990.