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Go>View a live webcast of the memorial service for Brevard S. Childs from Marquand Chapel at 5:30pm EST on Tuesday, September 25th.

 

Brevard S. Childs, an iconic figure in biblical scholarship, dies at 83

Brevard S. Childs Brevard S. Childs, one of the most influential Old Testament scholars of the 20 th century, died Saturday, June 23 in New Haven, CT. He was 83 and died after a long illness.

"I can think of no person who made a greater contribution to the work of unifying the Bible, theology and church life together in a very serious way, not in a flimsy or a pious way," said Christopher Seitz, a Biblical scholar at the University of Toronto who was Childs's student, colleague and friend. "I think of him as a sort of Isaiah figure who was given a very hard job to preach and teach but never complained. He just went about his business in a hopeful way."

As an Old Testament professor at Yale Divinity School from 1958 to 1999, Childs shaped several generations of students and helped define new approaches to post-war biblical scholarship. With at least eight of his books in print in three languages and a manuscript for a new book completed shortly before his death, Childs was a prolific author who did not shrink from fully engaging the academic debates of his day.

"His major contribution to the field was his insistence on the importance of the canonical shape and location of all the biblical books," said Yale Divinity School Dean Harold Attridge. "Taking this perspective enabled him to recover the ways in which scripture has been read as a larger whole, with an integral witness to the God of Israel and of Jesus Christ."

Born in 1923 in Columbia, South Carolina, Bard, as friends and family knew him, moved as a child to Queens, New York. During World War II, he served in the U.S. military, attaining the rank of sergeant. Childs then attended the University of Michigan, graduating with a B.A. and an M.A. Later, in 1950, he earned a B.D. at Princeton Theological Seminary, and finally, in 1955, a Th.D. from the University of Basel. There, in Basel, Childs met his wife, Ann, while in a seminar conducted by Swiss theologian Karl Barth. Throughout his career, Barth remained one of Childs's defining influences and one of his few equals.

As Walter Brueggemann, a retired Old Testament professor at Columbia Theological Seminary, noted in a 1993 review of Childs's work, "With almost no conversation partners in the twentieth century whom he regards as consistently reliable or worthy of consideration (with the decisive exception of Barth), Childs has staked out a position and vocation for biblical theology that is sure to reshape our common work and that will require intense engagement by any who dare take up the task."

Childs's abilities as a teacher and sheer longevity at YDS - 41 years - helped his ideas and approaches resonate deeply through the guild of Biblical scholars and gain a faithful audience outside the English-speaking world, particularly Germany. One measure of his talents in the classroom was Yale's decision in 1992 to name him a Sterling professor, the highest academic honor given by the University to its professors. Another measure is the high praise of his former students, who twice - in 1988 and 1998 - took part in festschrifts for Childs.

Ellen Davis, now a professor of Bible and practical theology at Duke Divinity School, recalled Childs's generosity and flexibility as she worked on a Ph.D. at Yale from 1983 to 1987. Said Davis, "His scholarship was very fully integrated into his character, it would be very difficult to separate those two. He was a Christian. His work was a form of discipleship."

Davis continued, "Bard was the kind of teacher and colleague he was because he was a person of genuine humility - not a common thing in the academic life altogether. I remember Bard saying that in order to teach OT, "you just need to get out of the way," because the text itself is so compelling and interesting. Many academics don't know how to get out of the way - of the text, of their own students - and let something interesting happen around them. Bard did. That is what made him so approachable, and so enjoyable to think with."

One result of this humility is that the Internet is largely silent on Childs. Daniel Driver, a Ph.D. student in divinity at Scotland's University of St. Andrew's who maintains the most extensive repository of Childs-related information, said, " Childs had never been an online person. He never sent e-mail. No one ever put up a web page."

Driver's blog may be found at http://homepage.mac.com/dnadriver/research/bschilds.html , where, according to Driver, he has witnessed hundreds of additional hits daily since Childs's Saturday death.

Childs retired in 1999 but continued publishing, most recently in 2004 with The Struggle To Understand Isaiah As Christian Scripture. Shortly before his death, Childs completed a manuscript analyzing Paul's letters, according to Seitz, who said the book is set for publication before year's end. Childs's other noted works include Myth and Reality, Memory and Tradition, Isaiah and the Assyrian Crisis, Biblical Theology in Crisis, Old Testament Theology in Canonical Context, and Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments.

A longtime resident of Bethany, Childs is survived by his wife, Ann, and their children, Kathy and John.

"As a colleague dedicated to the highest ideals of rigorous scholarship and engaged theological reflection on Scripture, he will be long remembered and revered at Yale Divinity School," noted Attridge.

On Sept. 25, a memorial service will be held at Yale Divinity School in Marquand Chapel at 5:30 p.m., followed by a reception in the Common Room. This service will be broadcast live via the YDS webcast service.In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Yale Divinity School Library. Cards and notes may be sent to:

Ann Childs
508 Amity Road
Bethany, CT 06524-3015

 

Last updated: September 25, 2007


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