Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Larry W. Hurtado (29 Dec. 1943–25 Nov. 2019): A Guest Post by Eldon Jay Epp

The following guest post is written by Larry Hurtado’s Doktorvater, Eldon Jay Epp. We invite readers to share their favourite memories of Larry in the comments.

To hear that Larry W. Hurtado is no longer with us is an occasion of great loss and profound sorrow, for he will be missed and long remembered by family, of course, but also by numerous colleagues, students, and friends. Larry was a scholars’ scholar, presenting significant publications replete with data for the scholarly grist mills of New Testament experts, but also publishing thorough and complete studies ready for consideration at the highest academic levels.

My first conversation with him was an interview for his admission to Ph.D. studies in the newly invigorated Ph.D. program at Case Western Reserve University. I recall little about that meeting, though now I noticed in an old file that his score on the Graduate Record Examination was in the 97th percentile. Moreover, our graduate faculty members and I were highly impressed by the written material in his application and especially by his obvious brilliance and commitment to advanced degree studies. Both characteristics, enhanced by serious-mindedness and enthusiasm, were borne out as he began his course-work in 1969 and put on a doctoral gown in 1973. We have had a close relationship as Doktorvater and student, but much longer and deeper as colleagues and friends. The brief comments that follow will be devoted to an appreciation of both his significant scholarship and contributions to manuscript studies and textual criticism, but also to his remarkable personal characteristics – though any assessment, I am sure, will fall far short of the full story of his life and accomplishments.

Larry’s revised and augmented dissertation, with its Preface dated 1979, appeared in 1981 due to the publisher’s unexplained delay. Regardless of how textual critics now view “text-types,” I feel fully justified in stating that Larry’s slight volume made text-critical history because he demonstrated that no “Caesarean” text existed as held up to that time, namely, a “Pre-Caesarean text” (P45 W f1 f13 etc.) followed by the “Caesarean proper” (Θ 500 700 Origen(part) Eusebius Cyril-Jerusalem).” Rather, he made a strong case that the manuscripts in these two presumed stages had no significant relationship – that there was no continuity of the P45-W line of text with the Θ-line of text. The effect of Larry’s scholarship can be seen dramatically by comparing Bruce Metzger’s two editions of his Textual Commentary of the Greek New Testament. The 1971 edition dutifully lists the four standard “types of text”: Alexandrian, Western, Caesarean, Byzantine, but, behold!, in the 1994 edition there are only three: Alexandrian, Western, Byzantine – the Caesarean has disappeared! Was Metzger referring to Larry’s work concerning this disappearance? Clearly, for on p. 7*, where Metzger discusses – in a mere nine lines – the “formerly called” Caesarean text, he references a three-page summary of Larry’s view in a 1974 JBL article of mine as evidence.

Larry was one of those rare graduate students for whom a mentor simply opens the door to scholarship and the student does the rest. He never asked what might be a worthy dissertation topic. Rather, as I advised my doctoral students, he found an inviting one on his own. As his distinguished career attests, his inquiring mind and critical skills hastened his development into a highly productive and distinguished scholar of serious purpose and, above all, of intellectual integrity. Few pleasures are more satisfying than following one’s student on such a path of accomplishment and lasting contribution.

Larry’s own doctoral students present another story of high quality works like his own, which is of special interest to me. First, Bart Ehrman and I have had the pleasure of publishing six revised University of Edinburgh dissertations in our series, New Testament Tools, Studies and Documents, for three of which Larry was the primary Ph.D. supervisor and secondary supervisor for the other three. These and additional doctoral students of his, who, I may say, are my “academic grandchildren,” have enhanced Larry’s legacy of careful, worthy, and pertinent scholarship.

Where does one begin to describe another’s personal character and characteristics? The paragraphs above offer much in general terms, but permit me to be more specific. In his innumerable appearances in panels, meetings, and conferences, frequently when a presenter opened a question period, Larry was the first to rise with a comment or question. Always his approach was mature and civil, never demeaning, but rather calmly, yet passionately constructive, seeking to engage the speaker in a productive dialogue. More important, all would agree, were his qualities of high moral character, led by his honesty, personal integrity, fairness, and respect for others – traits these days in the United States, if I may say so, that are disintegrating at the highest levels.

Larry and I never discussed theology, which was not relevant for my view of him as a highly accomplished scholar in the main-line academic world of biblical studies and early Christianity, and I think he viewed me in the same manner. Interestingly, when asked in 1988 for a letter of recommendation, I found this elegant statement in his résumé:
Like many others in Biblical Studies, my religious origins and initial studies were in a conservative Protestant setting, but a much wider spectrum of thought has shaped me as a scholar and my Christian faith has been enriched by other influences as well... I have always sought to learn from all quarters and to develop an independent critical judgment that is neither in reaction against nor bound by my religious and educational origins. It is obviously for others to decide the merit of my work over the years and my success in combining Christian faith with academic rigor.
I must leave it to those “others” to assess his widely recognized work in Christology and related areas, for I have been devoted exclusively to manuscript studies and textual criticism during the past two decades of my retirement. It is in these disciplines that I have kept up with his work, sharing publications and maintaining our career-long friendship. Larry’s loss is difficult to comprehend, for how can one accommodate the sudden disappearance of all of his knowledge, his academic rigor, his insightful inquiry, and his wisdom, leadership, and camaraderie? There has never been an answer except to express our gratitude to have known him, worked with him, and enjoyed his presence – and to acknowledge that his life has been a blessing to us and many others, obligating us, in turn, to carry on his endeavors and emulate his abundantly admirable qualities.

In my case, I have lost an “academic son,” and, as said in actual family relationships, a parent should not lose a child – it should be the other way around. My loss, therefore, is all the greater.

Eldon Jay Epp


  1. Thank you, Dr. Epp, for that wonderful testimony; heartfelt yet full of the clarity and precision, it was an excellent tribute. I hope it finds wide readership, and inspires many.

    I'm sure that many like me, who didn't even know Larry as well, are still feeling the loss, and I enjoyed reading that immensely.

  2. Beautifully written, Dr. Epp. Dr. Hurtado only knew me by occasional email. He always took my questions seriously and answered them gracefully. I’m very grateful for his work and legacy and his wonderful attitude toward people. May God grace us with more like him.

  3. There has never been an answer except to express our gratitude to have known him, worked with him, and enjoyed his presence – and to acknowledge that his life has been a blessing to us and many others, obligating us, in turn, to carry on his endeavors and emulate his abundantly admirable qualities.

    Very well said. I am grateful to be one of those "academic grandchildren" mentioned above and will miss Larry.