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2014 Gifford Lecture Series: University of Edinburgh

What is Caesar’s? Adjudicating Faith in Modern Constitutional Democracies to be held on Monday 19 May 2014. [More…]

2014 Gifford Lecture Series: University of Glasgow

Givenness and Revelation begins Tuesday 20 May 2014. [More…]

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Arthur Darby Nock

1902 - 1963

Frothingham Professor of History of Religion, Harvard University



For centuries, Christian scholars have debated Paul’s Hellenistic influences. ‘Paul didn’t know enough about Hellenism to pass the mid-term exam in my under-graduate course,’ Arthur Darby Nock responded (as recalled by one of his students, Edgar Krentz). Born in the south of England in 1902 and trained as a classicist at Cambridge where he won a scholarship, Nock was known to have three attributes: he was an eminent scholar and was said to have been ‘charmingly eccentric even in a world of eccentrics’. He was also one who did not pull his punches. ‘I am left in a terminological fog,’ he wrote, as he began a devastating critique on an opponent.
As an undergraduate, he showed ‘a kind of genius with a prodigious memory and unerring linguistic skills’ (Crane Brinton). At the ‘unheard-of age’ (ibid.) of twenty, before receiving his BA, he became the annual reviewer of Latin literature in The Year’s Work in Classical Studies. In 1926, the year he was awarded an MA, he was asked to introduce and translate Sallustius’s text. His edition was ‘extraordinary’. In the next few years he produced a flood of articles on almost every branch of classical learning, but with a particular emphasis on early Christianity and its Hellenistic background. Already in his mid-twenties, he was an international figure.
At the age of twenty-seven he was invited to teach at Harvard as a visiting lecturer; the following year he was offered a professorship in the History of Religion. Moving into Eliot House, he became a permanent fixture on Harvard’s campus and in Harvard’s student newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, until his death in 1963. The Crimson once reported that needing to cross a busy street on his way from home to lecture hall, he would march into the street brandishing his umbrella in a threatening way at approaching vehicles.
Nock continued to make his presence known at Harvard and abroad. He taught history, classics and theology and advised the University’s library. In 1930, he embarked on a thirty-three year editorship of the Harvard Theological Review, helping to make it a leading international journal. In 1937, he became a senior fellow. The fourteen volumes of the Cambridge Ancient History, primarily published during the 1930s, contains two chapters by Nock. They are said to be ‘small masterpieces of exposition’. Two imaginative and exacting studies, Conversion and St. Paul, were published, as well as a formidable number of articles, reviews and essays. In 1939 and again in 1946, Nock returned to Britain to deliver the Gifford Lectures at Aberdeen.
With three honorary doctorates, membership in eight foreign academies, and an associate editorship at Oxford, Nock’s erudition was recognized. Perhaps most remarkable, while still at the peak of his intellectual powers he began to put his talents at the disposal of others. Arthur Darby Nock extended friendship and mentorship and collaboration to three generations. Upon his death, The Crimson wrote, ‘His death is a family loss. One of the last members of a vigorous and humane tradition, he never used high learning to shut out the rest of the world.’
David Kahan
University of Glasgow
Templeton Press