“Giants Walked the Earth”: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
I learned over the weekend of the death of Jimmy Dunn at the age of 80. A friend and colleague, James D. G. Dunn, was one of the leading New Testament scholars of our time. The author of twenty-six books and numerous journal articles, he also served as President of Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas, the premier association for New Testament studies. In 2006, he became a Fellow of the British Academy. From his early work on ‘Jesus and the Spirit’ (1975) to his much later examination of ‘The Oral Gospel Tradition’ (2013) Jimmy brought an informed and educated imagination to the task of New Testament interpretation.
More than all of this, however, Jimmy Dunn was a kind and decent man who lived his faith. Aligned with both the Church of Scotland and the Methodist Church in England, the Bible was more to Dunn than simply an object of study. It was central to what, and who, he was as a human being.
I arrived in Durham to pursue my doctoral work at the same time that Dunn had been appointed professor of divinity in the theology department. During the first year, our paths seldom crossed apart from pleasantries. As I began to write my thesis, however, he became a fount of helpful advice on structure and style. When I ran into any strange Greek constructions, his door was always open, his expertise was freely given… and always appreciated. When at last it came time for the oral defense of my thesis, Dunn took it upon himself to make all of the arrangements and, upon its successful outcome, was there at the door to congratulate me. When I returned some years later to lecture in the department, Dunn had been named the Lightfoot Professor of Divinity and was head of the department. His kindness, generosity and friendship in that time was an incalculable gift.
It is perhaps only in remembering Dunn and viewing his massive scholarly contribution over the course of four decades that we can take his true measure. Yet, even in this, we cannot forget the hundreds that he taught in lecture halls and seminar rooms, much less all those he supervised for advanced degrees. He was a towering figure, who will cast a shadow far into the future.
Yet, like so many others, he’s gone and those of us who knew him are left with memories.
At one time, as a doctoral candidate, I was the president of a student theological society that invited in guest speakers for our meetings. Through various means, we enlisted a remarkable roster during the year of my incumbency. As interesting as the speakers, would be those who came to listen. On one occasion we had the privilege of hosting a presentation from C.F.D. Moule. Now, “Charlie” Moule was a legend. He produced two main written works: ‘The Birth of the New Testament’ first published in 1962, which explores the context in which the New Testament was written, and ‘The Origin of Christology’ published in 1977, which proposed that the church’s understanding of Jesus had not evolved but rather developed and simply matured over the centuries. He also contributed to the translations of the Apocrypha and the New Testament in the New English Bible, among a host of other standard works.
Following a private dinner with Prof. Moule, a perfectly brilliant lecture and a discussion time, people began to break into informal conversations. It was then that I turned and was fortunate enough to take a picture of C.F.D. Moule talking with Jimmy Dunn and Prof. C.K. Barrett (‘The Gospel of John’). It was a half century of New Testament scholarship gathered in one place at one time. They were friends and colleagues. They were churchmen and, yes, they were scholars. This was the day of film and this was my last shot, so I missed the next picture when Prof. Stephen Sykes and +Michael Ramsey (‘The Gospel and the Catholic Church’ and sometime Archbishop of Canterbury) joined the group… all in one place at one time.
This is how I imagine that I will remember James Dunn, as a friend, as a colleague, as a churchman, but most of all, as a scholar among scholars.
Truly, giants walked the earth… and their shadows are cast forward…
“Rest eternal grant unto them O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon them.”