Friday, October 20, 2006

James Barr dies

The distinguished Old Testament scholar James Barr has died. Mark Goodacre's notice here. Times obituary here.

His writings ranged across a number of areas, and touched often on matters text-critical. He also supervised and examined important works within textual criticism.

His Comparative Philology and the Text of the Old Testament (first published 1968) is his most obvious contribution to textual criticism. However, his Typology of Literalism (1979) is a very important study of the development and categorisation of so-called 'literal' translation. I enjoyed reading his Semantics of Biblical Language, Fundamentalism, Variable Spellings of the Hebrew Bible and His History and Ideology in the Old Testament. His Escaping from Fundamentalism book was, as he said in the preface, not aimed at my type, and consequently less enjoyable or edifying.

Thus though I only met Barr once (and was surprised to find that already back in 1998 he had read something I had written), his writings had a deep effect on me and on my outlook on evangelical scholarship, though perhaps not the effect that Barr himself would have wanted. His Variable Spellings further inspired my interest in spelling in scripture and its importance, but the book that I found the most helpful was Fundamentalism. Now Barr did have a tendency to apply the term 'Fundamentalist' to anyone who had a view of scripture remotely approaching historic views of verbal inspiration found across Christendom and then to wonder why people objected to this use of the term. But that matter aside, his book Fundamentalism is important for its critique of how those who hold to the verbal inspiration or infallibility of scripture and then try to defend this view so often insist on 'changing the text'. He shows cogently how those who keep the text are showing more respect for the scriptures than those who in the name of respect for the scriptures change it. It is a lesson well worth heeding and I must say that they were in my thoughts as I wrote a piece on 'inerrancy' for this blog.

I am thus grateful to God that he used the writings of James Barr to increase my respect for his word. I hope that his life directly or indirectly will have the same effect on many others.


Peter M. Head said...

Yes, I confess to a somewhat similar reaction to his Fundamentalism. Mostly, as I recall, in relation to basically naturalistic explanations of various biblical miracles.