A Gentle Hawk
My wife and I deeply regret that we cannot be with you to honour the memory of
David Daube and to express our deepest sympathy with his family. We are with you in
The first time I saw David Daube was in the Lightfoot Room of the Old Divinity
School, Cambridge: it was at the famous New Testament Seminar conducted by
Professor C.H. Dodd. The year was 1942 when I was beginning research on Paul under
Dodd’s supervision. He had invited me to join the Seminar – a great honour. I was not
allowed to sit at the table along with the faculty members, but obscurely at the side of the
room, on a solitary chair. At the far end of the table, I almost immediately noticed one
member more animated and articulate than the others, who were more elderly, rather
reserved, austere and taciturn. This member stood out. He had jet-black hair and, in
particular, hawklike eyes, which burned with fiery intensity: it was David Daube. Ever
since, that first impression of him as a hawk always recurs: he was nothing if not intense.
He was intense as a supervisor. For many years he supervised my research. He
never once failed to return on time each chapter I submitted. His range of reference to
primary texts and secondary literature in many languages was extraordinary and yet,
somehow, he did not overwhelm and numb one by his brilliance, but, as the Mishnah puts
it, he was not only a sponge but also a sifter who made things intelligible. He ferreted out
the meaning of ancient texts to bring out treasures old and new. Similarly his
conscientiousness in reading, scrutinizing and commenting on what I wrote was not only
very humbling but always stimulating and illuminating. In all his work, written and oral,
ever since, over almost sixty years, I found the same meticulous, scrupulous,
conscientious intense attention to detail and creativity in interpretation.
His intensity invaded his religious life. When I first knew him, his Orthodoxy
was unmistakable and even extreme. In later years, he explained that in the forties, when
we first met; he had quite deliberately and publicly emphasized his Orthodoxy
to indicate his solidarity with the Jews who were suffering under Hitler – no half
measures for him. He was proud that he was on Hitler’s notorious Black list. He
identified himself wholly with his own people.
But intensely Orthodox as he was, he seldom allowed his religious
beliefs to impinge on our academic discussions. Only on two occasions did this happen.
He once asked me what I considered to be the absolutely essential belief in both Judaism
and Christianity without which they both could not exist and persist and we agreed that is
the belief in the Reality of God. The other occasion was when we discussed the
Eucharist in St. Paul’s 1 Corinthians and I suggested that the language of the Eucharist
might be taken to imply the universalism of the Christian Gospel. At this point he
abruptly and sharply stopped the discussion – the matter was of such intense sensitivity
This almost violent rejection of my suggestion points to another paradoxical
aspect of his intensity – his great largesse and anxiety that Jews and Christians and others
should be open to each other in real dialogue. His intensity was not exclusive but
wrapped in an extraordinary sensitivity – warmth and often whimsical humour that
made him accessible to all. His generous entertainment of all sorts of people was
fabulous and became proverbial.
No where have I seen it recorded that in the early 1940’s, when the Second
World war was still raging, he tried to establish a regular dialogue between Jews and
Christians in the Synagogue at Cambridge. It was to be a Dialogue, not a Disputation
after the medieval manner, -- a genuine dialogue. In the first meeting David spoke on
Judaism and I on Christianity. It was said that it was the first such meeting at Cambridge
since the Middle Ages, but circumstances proved too much for the Dialogue to continue.
Here the image of the hawk breaks down: it must be qualified by a paradoxical
gentleness. It is the complexity in David that made him so magical. It is not
surprising then that it was this most Jewish of scholars, who taught us that Christianity, is
a New Testament Judaism -- a strikingly pregnant phrase that he invented and which
sums up best perhaps his legacy and the near revolution that he introduced into New
Finally, I quote for David from his beloved Jewish Prayer Book, a short prayer
entitled: "On seeing a sage distinguished for his Knowledge of the Torah:
Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God,
King of the Universe, who hast imparted
Of this wisdom [the love of the Torah] to those that revere thee
And the following prayer entitled:
"On seeing Wise Men distinguished for their knowledge"
"Blessed are thou, Oh Lord our God, King of the Universe,
who hast given thy wisdom to mortals."
David Daube knew Torah and Wisdom, Piety and Knowledge. In this he was
blessed of God, and remains blessed in our memories.
Emeritus Professor, Duke University