The Guardian - March 12th 1999

New testaments from old laws

Professor David Daube By David Patterson

Friday March 12 1999

The Guardian

David Daube, who has died aged 90, was one of the major academic lawyers of this century. He combined a familiarity with many legal traditions, particularly Roman law and biblical law, with an expertise in Greek, Roman, Jewish and Christian literature and used literary, religious and legal texts to illuminate each other.

Born in Freiburg and educated at the Berthold-Gymnasium, he was a product of Orthodox German Jewry and soon mastered Greek and Latin as well as the Talmud. He studied literature and music in Paris, and took a doctorate in jurisprudence at Freiburg and Gottingen, where he was introduced to Old Testament criticism.

Invited to Cambridge as a refugee scholar, he became a fellow of Caius College from 1938 to 1946 and a law lecturer at the university from 1946 to 1951, when he was appointed professor of jurisprudence at Aberdeen University.

From 1955 until 1970, he was regius professor of civil law at Oxford and a fellow of All Souls' College. In 1970, he became professor in residence at Berkeley School of Law in the University of California as well as director of the Robbins Hebraic and Roman law collections from 1970 until 1981. From 1966 to 1978 he was also a visiting professor of history at the University of Constance. His honours and posts in learned societies were wide-ranging.

Daube's publications indicate the diversity of his concerns and include Studies In Biblical Law, New Testament And Rabbinic Judaism, Collaboration With Tyranny And Rabbinic Law, Civil Disobedience In Antiquity, Wine In The Bible and Die Geburt Der Detektivgeschichte (The Birth Of The Detective Story).

Of all his contributions to scholarship, Daube's most insightful contributions may well be in the field of New Testament scholarship. He maintained an extraordinary openness to the non-Jewish world to an extent that is very rare among Rabbinic scholars and liberated both Jews and gentiles from prejudice and misconceptions.

In the light of Daube's work, it would be misleading for anyone not to regard New Testament literature as Jewish literature of the first century of the Christian era. He always lamented the pettiness of Jewish scholars who excluded the New Testament from their studies, and Christian scholars who carried on a tradition of what he termed 'theological anti-semitism'. Although in middle age he loosened his adherence to a strictly observant Jewish life, his interest in the questions raised by religions remained intense. He was convinced that most important matters were beyond human comprehension, and that only the fringes could be explored.

Daube was also concerned with current issues, examining how they had been handled in the past and trying to demonstrate some relevance for modern life. He is survived by his first wife Herta (the marriage was dissolved in 1964) and their three sons, and by his second wife, Helen Smeiser, whom he married in 1986.

David Daube, academic lawyer, born February 8, 1909; died February 24, 1999.

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