A short academic obituary

(December 2022)

David J.A. Clines, a leading biblical scholar in the UK, was born in Sydney, Australia, in November 1938 and died in December 2022 (funeral, memorial service and memorial symposium details now available). He lived in England from 1961, but remained an Australian citizen. His first degree, at the University of Sydney, was in Greek and Latin (BA 1960). He won a travelling scholarship to continue his studies at St John’s College, Cambridge, where he read the Oriental Tripos in Hebrew, Aramaic and Syriac (BA 1963, MA 1967). In 1964 he was appointed Assistant Lecturer in the Department of Biblical Studies at the University of Sheffield, where he spent the whole of his academic career (apart from a temporary appointment in California in 1974–75), becoming in turn Lecturer, Senior Lecturer and Reader. In 1985 he was appointed Professor of Biblical Studies.

His specialism has always been the Hebrew Bible, and his distinctive contribution has been the introduction of new methods of biblical criticism (e.g. rhetorical criticism, reader-response criticism, deconstruction, feminist criticism). At the same time, he has made significant contributions to traditional forms of study, for example his commentary on Job and his editorship of the Dictionary of Classical Hebrew.

The work of David Clines has centred around six themes:

            1. Commentary on the biblical text. In addition to his commentary on Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther (New Century Bible, 1984), his major work has been a three-volume commentary on the book of Job (Word Biblical Commentary series, 1989–2011), which specializes in establishing the text of the book on linguistic and text-critical grounds, and in an exegesis that has particular regard to the arguments of the speakers in the dialogue and to the relation of the individual sentences of the book to the work as a whole. The final volume includes a bibliography of works on Job that aims to be comprehensive, with special emphasis on the use of the book of Job in literature, art and music.

            2. New methods in biblical criticism. A central thrust of his work has been the promotion of approaches to biblical interpretation that derive from general literary theory and procedures. The first approach to the biblical text, he believes, should be a literary one, rather than an historical or a theological one.

            (a) Clines was one of the first practitioners in the UK of the study of biblical poetics, which came to be known as ‘rhetorical criticism’. His papers, ‘X, X ben Y, ben Y: Personal Names in Hebrew Narrative Style’  (1972), ‘Hosea 2: Structure and Interpretation’ (1978), and ‘The Parallelism of Greater Precision. Notes from Isaiah 40 for a Theory of Hebrew Poetry’ (1987), together with the edited volume, Art and Meaning: Rhetoric in Biblical Literature (ed. David J.A. Clines, David M. Gunn and Alan J. Hauser, 1982), were examples of that work. The volume The New Literary Criticism and the Hebrew Bible (ed. J. Cheryl Exum and David J.A. Clines) was another. 

            (b) Reader-response criticism was represented by ‘What Happens in Genesis’ (1990), ‘A World Founded on Water (Psalm 24): Reader Response, Deconstruction and Bespoke Interpretation’ (1993), and by papers in his What Does Eve Do to Help? and Other Readerly Questions to the Old Testament (1990). 

            (c) Feminist criticism, though he preferred, as a male, to be a supporter of  feminist causes rather than laying claim to that title, is attested inter alia by ‘What Does Eve Do to Help? And Other Irredeemably Androcentric Orientations in Genesis 1–3’ (he claims to have offered the first course on biblical feminist criticism in the UK, in 1975). 

            (d) Deconstruction was represented by his papers ‘Deconstructing the Book of Job’ (1990), ‘Haggai’s Temple, Constructed, Deconstructed and Reconstructed’ (1993),  and ‘Ethics as Deconstruction, and, The Ethics of Deconstruction’ (1995), among others. 

            (e) Ideological criticism was represented by ‘Metacommentating Amos’ (1994), ‘The Ten Commandments, Reading from Left to Right’ (1995), ‘Psalm 2 and the MLF (Moabite Liberation Front)’ (1995), and by the volume of collected essays on the theme, Interested Parties: The Ideology of Writers and Readers of the Hebrew Bible  (1995). 

            (f) In general, all approaches to the Hebrew Bible that could be labelled ‘postmodern’ have attracted his attention, and he entitled a two-volume collection of his papers On the Way to the Postmodern:  Old Testament Essays, 1967–1998.A key paper in that collection was ‘The Pyramid and the Net: The Postmodern Adventure in Biblical Studies’, which he gave as his Presidential Address to the Society for Old Testament Study in 1996.

            (g) Further collections of papers (5 sets in total) will be published posthumously, Joban Papers (2023), Play the Man! (2023), Hebrew Philology, Hebrew Lexicography (2024), In Critique of the Hebrew Bible (2024), On the Text and Translation of the Hebrew Bible (2025).

            3. Masculinity. A key interest, arising from his commitment to feminism,  has been how masculinity is constructed in the biblical texts, and how pervasive masculine thinking is throughout the Bible. Among his writings on this topic are ‘David the Man: The Construction of Masculinity in the Hebrew Bible’ (1995), ‘“Ecce vir’, or, Gendering the Son of Man’ (1998), ‘He-Prophets: Masculinity as a Problem for the Hebrew Prophets and their Interpreters’ (2002), and ‘Paul, the Invisible Man’ (2003). Fourteen papers on this theme have been collected into a volume entitled Play the Man! Biblical Imperatives to Masculinity, which is expected in 2023.

            4. Hebrew language. His formation as a linguistically oriented scholar is no doubt responsible for his lifelong fascination with words and meanings, which has borne fruit in his creation of the nine-volume Dictionary of Classical Hebrew (1993–2011) This dictionary is the first ever published of the ancient Hebrew language as a whole; previous dictionaries have restricted themselves to the evidence of the Hebrew Bible, ignoring the Hebrew of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Ben Sira (Ecclesiasticus) and the ancient Hebrew inscriptions. Every occurrence of every word (apart from some of the most common particles) is cited in highly analytical articles. A pervasive theme of the Dictionary is its concentration on the meanings of words in context: for all nouns, for example, the verbs of which they are the subject or object are noted, and for all verbs, the nouns that are their subjects or objects. Two further innovative features of the Dictionary are its extensive bibliographies and its incorporation of more than 3500 words not previously recorded in Hebrew dictionaries. In addition to the full dictionary, a one-volume version of the Dictionary was published in 2009. All this is also available electronically as a module in two Bible software packages, Accordance and Logos. 
            The subsequent nine-volume Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, Revised (2018–25) continues apace to be prepared for print and software format issue, and once published in entirety will be 25% longer at 5 million words, with 100,000 improvements and a further 2,800 words compared to the original dictionary. This will be accompanied by The Shorter Dictionary of Classical Hebrew Revised (forthcoming 2024) with 1 million words, and the more compact Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew Revised (forthcoming 2025). 

            5. Publishing. David Clines has been engaged since 1976 in academic publishing, in the conviction that academic authors should have control of the means of publication of their research. While acknowledging the benefits that commercial publishing houses have brought to biblical scholarship, he believes there is an important role for scholars to be themselves the disseminators of scholarly research, especially for the sake of the production of scholarly monographs, which are not in general welcomed by the generality of publishers, even those of academic books.

            In 1976 Clines, together with two colleagues in the Department of Biblical Studies in Sheffield (David M. Gunn and Philip R. Davies), founded the Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, the first journal devoted to publishing research articles on the Old Testament in English. It is now one of the leading international journals in Biblical Studies (and published by Sage). In 1978 a monograph series, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplements, commenced, and in 1980 the Journal for the Study of the New Testament, with its own monograph series. By 1979 the name of the publishing house had become JSOT Press. In the mid-1980s the name was changed to Sheffield Academic Press. The Press had become the fifth largest university-related publisher in the UK and was arguably publishing more academic books in Biblical Studies annually than any publisher in the world. Sheffield Academic Press was bought by Continuum in 2001, and David Clines believed it was time to relinquish his role as a publisher.

            However, in 2004, together with two other colleagues, J. Cheryl Exum and Keith W. Whitelam, he founded Sheffield Phoenix Press, a press housed within the Department of Biblical Studies in Sheffield and dedicated to scholarly publishing of international research in the field. By the end of 2022 it has published well over 300 titles, making Sheffield again one of the leading sources of new research for the scholarly community. All is in place for Sheffield Phoenix to continue well into the future to serve the broad community of scholars in biblical criticism and interpretation bringing out 12 to 18 volumes each year, including David’s posthumous volumes.

            6. Developing Biblical Studies. In addition to his research and publishing, David Clines has played a full part in the development of the Department of Biblical Studies (from 1964–2012), editing, with Stephen D. Moore a volume entitled Auguries: The Jubilee Volume of the Sheffield Department of Biblical Studies (1998) and serving as Head of Department from 1994 to 2001, during which time the Department gained the top grade in the RAE (Research Assessment Exercise, 2006) and the Subject Review (Teaching Quality Assessment, 2002). Since 2012 he has been an active member of the Sheffield Centre for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies (SCIBS) which has continued to showcase innovative approaches to the discipline at Sheffield.

            In 1996 he was elected President of the Society for Old Testament Study, the professional society of Old Testament scholars in the United Kingdom and Ireland. In 2001 he was awarded an honorary doctorate of the University of Amsterdam (citation: ‘for unique contributions to biblical criticism and cultural analysis, inspiring teaching, innovative research, and leadership of a scholarly publishing house’). In 2003 he was presented with a Festschrift entitled Reading from Right to Left: Essays on the Hebrew Bible in Honour of David J.A. Clines (ed. J. Cheryl Exum and H.G.M. Williamson). In 2009 he was elected President of the Society of Biblical Literature, the first person from outside North America to serve the Society in that role. In 2013 a second Festschrift was presented, Interested Readers: Essays on the Hebrew Bible in Honor of David J.A. Clines (ed. James K. Aitken, Jeremy M.S. Clines and Christl M. Maier). David won the British Academy’s Burkitt Medal ‘ for his significant contribution to the study of the Hebrew Bible and Hebrew lexicography’ in 2015.
            David continued developing the tradition all the way through his final year of life giving papers in Durham, Nottingham, Salzburg and Zurich in 2022. The realm of Biblical Studies is diminished by his death. David died peacefully at home in Sheffield—8th December—with his wife Heather at his side and family close by. His last weeks were spent at home, conversing, thinking and, until the last, writing.