Well, it’s Thanksgiving Day, 2021. And there’s much to be thankful for this year, like any other year. But, I want to take a moment to remember my friend, mentor and Doktorvater, Larry W. Hurtado. After all, today marks the two-year anniversary of his passing (Nov 25th, 2019).
While most of the readers of this blog will be familiar with Larry and his scholarship, just a quick word for those who are not. Larry retired in 2011 from his post as Professor of New Testament, Language, Literature, and Theology at the University of Edinburgh (where he had served since 1996). Prior to that time, he was a professor in the department of religion at the University of Manitoba (Winnipeg). He was known primarily for his work in Christology (early Christ-devotion), and Textual Criticism (particularly manuscripts as our earliest Christian artifacts).
One of his final publications, however, was not focused on either of these matters (at least not directly). Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World (Baylor, 2016), was among my favorite books by Larry. Therein, he took the reader on a fascinating journey into the early Christian movement and how it found itself to be so peculiar in the eyes of the surrounding culture.
I read this particular volume with keen interest, because it was released just prior to my own volume on Christianity in the second century: Christianity at the Crossroads: How the Second Century Shaped the Future of the Church (SPCK/IVP Academic, 2017).
If you want to understand Larry’s long-term interests, then there are two books that are must reads. First, his Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (Eerdmans, 2003) is a wonderful summary of his Christological views, and regarded by many as his magnum opus. The book has a special place in my own mind because I can remember discussing it with Larry as he was writing it (I was his Ph.D. student at the time). We would sit in the Jolly Judge pub in Edinburgh mulling over various aspects of what he was working on.
The other volume, of course, is The Earliest Christian Artefacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins (Eerdmans, 2006). All who knew Larry, knew of his love for the physical book of the earliest Christians, including the distinctive (and perplexing) role of the codex, and the fascinating scribal conventions of the nomina sacra and the staurogram.
But on this Thanksgiving Day I am grateful for Larry for other reasons beyond his excellent scholarship.
On a personal level, Larry was incredibly generous and kind with his time. He was always happy to meet, eager to process complex academic issues, and was quite willing to push me to do better at every turn. He was all that a Ph.D. student could wish for in a Doktorvater.
That pattern continued for many years after I completed my Ph.D. It was tradition for Larry’s former students to gather for lunch with him at each SBL meeting, just to catch up and discuss various writing projects and scholarly issues. Those were such enjoyable times.
I am also thankful for Larry’s example of what a biblical scholar can and should be. He was a rare breed of scholar who commanded respect from all sides (whether they agreed or disagreed), was even-handed and fair with his historical analysis, and was even willing to push back against some more strident versions of critical scholarship. In world where everything seems so polarized, Larry was always very balanced.
Two final thoughts. For those who want to learn more about Larry, makes sure to check out his Festschrift, edited by Chris Keith and Dieter Roth, Mark, Manuscripts, and Monotheism (T&T Clark, 2015). I was honored to contribute to that volume, along with many other former students and colleagues of Larry’s. It’s a wonderful picture of the impact that he had on so many.
Also, for those who want to honor Larry’s memory, please consider giving to the Larry Hurtado Scholarship Fund, designed for PhD students at the University of Edinburgh who are studying in the field of Christian Origins. That would be a great way to express gratitude for Larry’s life and scholarship.