Yosif Amusin, a famous Jewish philologist and historian of antiquity, was born in 1910. His parents were David Amusin, a fur sorter, and Emma Spits. He learned Hebrew in a cheder. At the age of fifteen, he came to Leningrad, where he worked as an unskilled laborer and attended the School of Economics. At the same time, he also visited a local Hebrew library and read books on Jewish history and culture. In 1928, Amusin was arrested for membership in a Zionist youth group; a special collegium of the OGPU sentenced him to three years' exile in the Tomsk Region (Siberia). After returning to Leningrad in 1935, he enrolled in the Faculty of History of Leningrad State University. In 1938, he was rearrested and sent to the Ussol’lag (a camp of the GULAG system in the Urals) for eight years. In 1939, his case was reconsidered, and he was allowed to return to Leningrad and resume his studies at the University. He passed two years' worth of exams without attending classes, while also working as the secretary of Prof. Solomon Lurie, a specialist in ancient languages. He graduated from the University in 1941.
Amusin fought in the Soviet-German War from the very beginning (July 1941), serving as a medical officer (Junior Lieutenant of the Medical Service) and participating in the battles for Leningrad, for which he was awarded the medal “For the Defense of Leningrad.” Amusin was discharged from the army in 1945.
After returning to Leningrad, he enrolled in the postgraduate courses taught by Prof. Vasily Struve, a major Orientalist and expert in Egyptology and Assyriology. In parallel, he lectured at the Teachers' Training Institute and at Leningrad State University. At that time, he married Lia, the daughter of Rabbi Mendel Gluskin. In 1949, he defended his thesis, “A Letter by Emperor Claudius to the Citizens of Alexandria as a Source on Social and Political History.” During the Anti-Cosmopolitan Campaign of the late Stalinist period (1948-1953), which had a pronounced antisemitic component, he was forced to leave Leningrad for Ulyanovsk, where he taught at the local Teachers' Training Institute from 1951 to 1954. In 1954, after Stalin's death, Amusin returned to Leningrad and began to work as a research assistant at the Institute of Archeology. Later, he moved to the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, where he worked to the end of his days. The last twenty-five years of Amusin's life were a period of intense academic activity. He studied the dominant social and ideological trends in Palestine during the Greco-Roman period, especially among the communities of Qumran. He performed original philological analyses of Biblical texts (e.g., the story of David’s battle with Goliath).
In 1965, Amusin was awarded a doctorate in history for his entire body of work. He authored more than 100 works on the ancient history of the Eastern Mediterranean region, such as The Dead Sea Manuscripts (1960), The Texts of Qumran (1971), and The Qumran Commune (1983). These books were all published in the Soviet Union. However, his manuscript The Problems of the Social Structure of the Societies of the Ancient Near East, which was based on Biblical sources, would not be published until after the dissolution of the USSR, nine years after the death of the author.
Amusin died in 1984, and was buried at the Jewish cemetery in Leningrad.