The Sheffield Department of Biblical Studies: An Intellectual Biography

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The Sheffield Department of Biblical Studies: An Intellectual Biography
   T HE S HEFFIELD D EPARTMENT OF B IBLICAL S TUDIES :A  N I  NTELLECTUAL B IOGRAPHY    David J.A. Clines What has been going on in Sheffield in biblical studies these fiftyyears? And what is it about the ideas emanating from here that hasgained it a reputation for being an exciting place to be studying theBible?Although I can write only from a personal perspective, I feel Imust say something, if only because I have been a member of thisDepartment for two-thirds of those fifty years and if I do not knowwhat has been going on all that time how can I expect anyone else to?My explanation of the Sheffield phenomenon is that it is due tothe confluence of several distinctive talents and characteristics thathappened to merge successfully. It has, to be sure, required a certainintellectual esprit de corps and a definite assurance that the scholarlywork of each of its members has been esteemed by all the others. But ithas been above all the combination of personalities with their individual qualities that has made the Sheffield department what it is,and that is why this chapter presents itself as a biography . 1  1. The Early Years When the Sheffield Department was founded in 1947 by F.F. Bruce, itwas called the Department of Biblical History and Literature—whichmeant, in a nutshell, no theology. Bruce has explained in hiscontribution to the Department’s fortieth anniversary volume, The 1 Those who figure in it are the full-time members of the academic staff over thefifty years, 28 in all, excluding, regretfully, research fellows, honorary staff andmost of the part-time staff; the names of all the Department’s staff, however, arelisted at the end of this volume.    The Sheffield Department: An Intellectual Biography 2    Bible in Three Dimensions , 2 that the University authorities, whileresponding to the post-war demand of national education policy for teachers of Bible in state schools, were adamant that the Church shouldgain no foothold in this secular university. If the Bible were to betaught in this institution, it would be in the name of history and of literature, and as objectively and undogmatically as it was possible to be. It was no accident that F.F. Bruce, the first person appointed to theDepartment, who was to become its first professor, was himself, thougha convinced Christian and an active member of the Brethren circle of churches, a layman. He had never undertaken a formal course of studyin biblical criticism, but was educated as a classicist in Aberdeen,Cambridge and Vienna, and was lecturer in classics in the neighbouringuniversity of Leeds when appointed to Sheffield. 3  The Department’s two staff appointments made by Bruce, AileenGuilding, his eventual successor to the chair, and David Payne, whohad been the first student of the Department, were also not ordained. Neither, as it happens, are any of the present full-time teaching staff of the Department. But, whatever the unofficial views of the Universityauthorities may have been, there has never been any animus within theDepartment against the Church and ordained ministers. Two of itsHeads, James Atkinson and John Rogerson, were Anglican clergymen,and the Department has numbered among its staff several Anglican priests, ministers of the Presbyterian Church of England (now part of the United Reformed Church), of the Church of Scotland, and of theMethodist Church. Nevertheless, the Department has been perhapssomewhat unusual among departments in the field of theology inhaving as tenuous a connection with the institutional Church as it does.That does not mean that there is still ‘no theology’. The name of theDepartment was changed in 1968 to Biblical Studies precisely to reflectthe fact that the ideas of the Bible—in addition to its history and its 2 F.F. Bruce, ‘The Department of Biblical Studies: The Early Days’, in David J.A.Clines, Stephen E. Fowl and Stanley E. Porter (eds.), The Bible in Three Dimensions: Essays in Celebration of the Fortieth Anniversary of the Department of Biblical Studies in the University of Sheffield  (Journal for the Study of the OldTestament Supplement Series, 87; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1990), pp. 24-27. 3 He explains in the Preface to his Acts commentary, which occupied him from1939 to 1949, that ‘the writer, who was a teacher of classical Greek at the outset of the work, now finds himself at the end of it a teacher of Biblical studies’ ( The Actsof the Apostles: The Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary [London:Tyndale Press, 1951], p. vii).    The Sheffield Department: An Intellectual Biography 3   literature—are part of the central concern of the Department, even if these days the theology of the Bible is increasingly referred to as itsideology.The Department is glad to be part of a university that numbersamong its statutes a prohibition of religious tests, 4 and it has suited itwell to be located in a Faculty of Arts along with History and Englishand Philosophy and Archaeology and the Modern Languages. 5  Sometimes we have felt it a loss not to have had adjacent departmentsof theology or religion, and we have regretted the absence of colleagues(and library holdings) in those cognate fields. But that has been our lot,and we do not doubt that we have benefited from having no one to talk to except literary critics and philosophers and secular historians et hoc genus omne .Biblical Studies in Sheffield at its beginnings naturally expressedthe scholarly orientation of F.F. Bruce. 6 He had an enormous range andcould write with wit and erudition and above all wonderful clarity onany subject, from the Hittites and the Old Testament 7 to biblicalexegesis in the Qumran texts, 8 to the history of the Church during the 4 Paragraph 23 of its Charter of Incorporation reads: ‘It is a fundamental conditionof the constitution of the University that no religious test shall be imposed uponany person in order to entitle him or her to be admitted as a Member Professor Teacher or Student of the University or to hold office therein or to graduate thereator to hold any advantage or privilege thereof’. 5 A Dutch reviewer of The Bible in Three Dimensions was moved to anexclamation mark by this fact: ‘opgenomen in Letterenfaculteit en niet in die vanTheologie!’ (J.T.A.G.M. van Ruiten,  Bijdragen, tijdschift voor filosofie entheologie 54 [1993], p. 199). 6 To really know the Department, a desideratum is to read the autobiography of Frederick Fyvie Bruce:  In Retrospect: Remembrance of Things Past  (London:Marshall Pickering, 1993). His Festschrift was entitled  Pauline Studies: Essays Presented to Professor F.F. Bruce on his 70th Birthday (ed. Donald A. Hagner andMurray J. Harris; Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1980). His inaugural lecture asProfessor of Biblical Studies, given on 27th February, 1957, was published as  New Horizons in Biblical Studies (Sheffield: University of Sheffield, 1957). 7 F.F. Bruce, The Hittites and the Old Testament  (The Tyndale Old TestamentLecture; London: Tyndale Press, 1947). 8 F.F. Bruce, Second Thoughts on the Dead Sea Scrolls (London: Paternoster Press, 1956); The Teacher of Righteousness in the Qumran Texts (The TyndaleLecture in Biblical Archaeology, 1956; London: Tyndale Press, 1957);  Biblical  Exegesis in the Qumran Texts (Exegetica, 3/1; The Hague: Van Keulen, 1959).    The Sheffield Department: An Intellectual Biography 4   first seven centuries of the Christian era. 9 An outstanding early work,revered by generations of students, was The Books and the Parchments ,in which, taking the title from 2 Tim. 4.13, he gave a masterly accountof the history of the Bible’s transmission. 10 But his talent above all wasas an exegete, and from his Sheffield days onward he produced astream of superb commentaries on the New Testament, the first of which were written in Sheffield, commentaries on Acts 11 and (withE.K. Simpson) on Ephesians and Colossians, 12 evidencing his sober learning and fine judgment, and everywhere supported by his classical background.Aileen Guilding, who had studied at Oxford, carried on Bruce’stradition of precise textual scholarship, 13 but with an added flair for the 9 F.F. Bruce, The Dawn of Christianity (London: Paternoster Press, 1950); TheGrowing Day: The Progress of Christianity from the Fall of Jerusalem to the Accession of Constantine (A.D. 70–313) (London: Paternoster Press, 1951);  Light in the West: The Progress of Christianity from the Accession of Constantine to theConversion of the English (London: Paternoster Press, 1952). The three volumeswere later reissued as a single volume, The Spreading Flame: The Rise and  Progress of Christianity from its First Beginnings to the Conversion of the English  (Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1958). I have recounted elsewhere how it was readingthese books on the train to school in the 1950s that first hooked me on Sheffield,which I thought, from the other side of the world, an ineffably romantic place(‘Frederick Fyvie Bruce 1910–1990. In Memoriam’,  Journal. Christian Brethren Research Fellowship 123 [August, 1991], pp. 53-54). 10 F.F. Bruce, The Books and the Parchments: Some Chapters on the Transmissionof the Bible (London: Pickering & Inglis, 1950). An earlier work, which he hadwritten as a classical historian, was entitled  Are the New Testament Documents Reliable? (London: Inter-Varsity Fellowship of Evangelical Unions, 1943); it wasrepublished as The New Testament Documents (London: Inter-Varsity Press, 1960).Along the same lines had been his The Speeches in the Acts of the Apostles  (Tyndale New Testament Lecture, 1942; London: Tyndale Press, 1942). 11 F.F. Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles: The Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary (London: Tyndale Press, 1951). 12 E.K. Simpson and F.F. Bruce, Commentary on the Epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians: The English Text with Introduction, Exposition and Notes (The New London Commentary on the New Testament; London: Marshall, Morgan &Scott, 1957). 13 Her letter to me of 30th July, 1964, setting out what I would be required to teachin my first year in the Department, included the prescription of a course of 23lectures, to third-year undergraduates, on the Septuagint, ‘Genesis 1–4 and 6–9:19,using Chester Beatty Papyrus IV for chapter 9, and Daniel chapter 7 (cursive 87,Chester Beatty, and Theodotion)’. These students, incidentally, were required as    The Sheffield Department: An Intellectual Biography 5   grand ingenious theory. She looked in others for what she called ‘topspin’ (was it a cricketing or a tennis metaphor?), and she had it herself.She was known for her hugely learned theory that John’s Gospel had been composed to follow the sequence of a Jewish lectionary of thePentateuch, and showed in her  The Fourth Gospel and JewishWorship 14 an intimate knowledge of the sources, rabbinic andSeptuagintal as well as the two Testaments. Her theory found nofollowing, as far as I know, but the scholarship itself was massive andimpeccable. 15  Of the five successful PhDs of this period, two published their theses: Cyril Powell, who was the first PhD of the Department, in 1957, published The Biblical Concept of Power  , 16 and Ronald E. Clements,now recently retired from the Samuel Davidson Chair of Old Testamentat King’s College, London, published his 1961 thesis on the divinedwelling place as God and Temple: The Idea of the Divine Presence in Ancient Israel  . 17  2. The 1960s  When the 1960s opened, there were three members of staff in theDepartment: Aileen Guilding, David Payne and Alan Dunstone.David Payne, who had been appointed in 1959, was a formidablelinguist who learned esoteric languages for pleasure. He was the OldTestament specialist, covering all the aspects of Old Testamentcriticism and history 18 but mainly teaching the languages and the texts. well in their final examination to translate at sight an unprepared text fromanywhere in the Septuagint. 14 A. Guilding, The Fourth Gospel and Jewish Worship: A Study of the Relation   of St John’s Gospel to the Ancient Jewish Lectionary System (Oxford: ClarendonPress, 1960). See also her ‘Some Obscured Rubrics and Lectionary Allusions in thePsalter’,  Journal of Theological Studies    NS 3 (1952), pp. 41-55 15 Her only other publication was ‘The Son of Man and the Ancient of Days’,  Evangelical Quarterly 23 (1951), pp. 210-12. 16 Cyril H. Powell, The Biblical Concept of Power  (London: The Epworth Press,1963). 17 Ronald E. Clements, God and Temple: The Idea of the Divine Presence in Ancient Israel  (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1965). 18 His history of pre-exilic Israel, though it was published much later, was no doubta reflection of his departmental teaching ( The Kingdoms of the Lord: A History of the Hebrew Kingdoms from Saul to the Fall of Jerusalem [Exeter: Paternoster Press, and Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981]).
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