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Harold W. Attridge appointed first Henry L. Slack Dean of Yale Divinity School

The Yale Corporation at its April 2009 meeting confirmed the appointment of Harold W. Attridge as the first Reverend Henry L. Slack Dean of Yale Divinity School. The new endowed deanship was created through a gift from Robert L. McNeil Jr. ’36 B.S., honoring his grandfather, an 1877 graduate of the Divinity School.

Henry Levi Slack is remembered as an influential minister in Connecticut and a leader of the Congregational Church. He served as pastor of the First Congregational Church at Bethel, Connecticut, for twenty-two years. The endowment of the deanship will link the Slack name to the Divinity School’s top post in perpetuity.

In acknowledging the donor’s generosity, Yale President Richard C. Levin said creation of theHenry L. Slack Deanship will ensure “the continuity of strong leadership at the School, for now and for future generations” and will underscore the “commitment to core principles of scholarship that have guided Yale Divinity School from its very inception.”

AttridgeIn a letter to Attridge, who is currently serving his second term as dean, University President Richard C. Levin said, “As you know, endowed chairs and deanships are awarded to those whose scholarship has brought distinction to the University, and I am delighted to convey our pleasure in your accomplishments.”

Attridge also expressed gratitude for the gift. “Mr. McNeil’s extraordinary gift comes at a critical time in the life of Yale Divinity School,” said Attridge.  “Endowing the deanship will enable YDS to continue to recruit excellent leadership for the School.

“Naming the deanship in memory of Mr. McNeil’s grandfather, the Reverend Henry L. Slack, who devoted his life to pastoral ministry, reminds us of the core mission of the School, to educate the dedicated pastors who will lead the church in the next generation. We are enormously grateful to Mr. McNeil and to the confidence in YDS that his gift expresses.”
 McNeil’s gift makes a substantial contribution to the success of the School’s capital campaign.  John Lindner, director of external relations at YDS, said, “From the beginning of the Divinity Tomorrow capital campaign, we have focused on two primary goals: supporting faculty and increasing financial aid for students.  This gift stands as a major achievement in meeting the first of our primary goals. With this gift we will pass the $25 million mark in the campaign, leaving $12 million to raise—the primary focus of which will be to boost financial aid resources for our students.”

Attridge is a distinguished New Testament scholar with expertise in New Testament exegesis, the study of Hellenistic Judaism, and the history of the early church. He has been an editorial board member of Catholic Biblical Quarterly, the Harvard Theological Review, the Journal of Biblical Literature, and the Hermenia Commentary Series. He is active in the Society of Biblical Literature and previously served as its president. He earned his B.A. at Boston College; an M.A. at Cambridge University (Marshall Scholar); and his Ph.D. at Harvard University (Junior Fellow, Society of Fellows).

His publications include Hebrews: A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, First-Century Cynicism in the Epistles of Heraclitus, The Interpretation of Biblical History in the Antiquitates Judaicae of Flavius Josephus, and Nag Hammadi Codex I: The Jung Codex, as well as numerous book chapters and articles in scholarly journals. He has edited twelve books including, most recently, with Dale Martin and Jürgen Zangenberg, Religion, Identity and Ethnicity in Ancient Galilee. He is also the general editor of the revised edition of The HarperCollins Study Bible, 2006.

Reverend Slack was pastor of the First Congregational Church at Bethel, Connecticut, from 1883 until his death in 1905. From 1884 to 1889 he was registrar of the Fairfield East Consociation of Congregational Churches, and he served twice as a delegate to the National Congregational Council, in 1893 and 1902. In 1896 Slack was chair of the Ministers’ Association of Fairfield County, and he served as chair of Bethel’s school board for a number of years beginning in 1884. Slack earned his undergraduate degree from Dartmouth College—at one point he was president of the Dartmouth College Alumni Association of Connecticut—and spent one year at Harvard Divinity School before entering YDS.  His bachelor of divinity thesis topic at YDS was “Evidence, from the conversion of Paul, of the supernatural origin of Christianity.”  He was ordained and installed at the Congregational Church of Chester, Vermont, which he served for six years. Slack was the author of numerous articles for the religious press.

Slack was born in Plymouth, Vermont in 1847, the son of John Spofford Slack and Elvira Lake. Before entering Dartmouth, he attended the common school of Bridgewater, Vermont, then Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, New Hampshire. For a short period he was principle of Springfield High School in Springfield, Vermont. He was married to Fannie Phelps of Chester, Vermont, and they had four children: Elvira Jennie, John Phelps, Helen Louise, and Grace Fannie.