San Jose Mercury News
Published: Tuesday, March 2, 1999
Edition: Morning Final
Section: Local
Page: 5B

Source: BY MICHELLE QUINN, Mercury News Staff Writer

David Daube, a world-renowned biblical law scholar at the University of California-Berkeley law school, has died of
pneumonia at age 90.

A Berkeley resident, Mr. Daube died Wednesday at Oak Park Convalescent Hospital in Pleasant Hill.

Mr. Daube first came to UC-Berkeley's School of Law in 1970; he retired in 1994.

He entertained generations of law students with lectures on Roman law, biblical law, Hebraic law and ethics.

''David was one of the greatest legal scholars in the world, and that is no exaggeration,'' said Robert Cole, a professor
emeritus of law at UC-Berkeley.

Mr. Daube was born Feb. 8, 1909, in Freiburg, Germany, the second of two sons in an Orthodox Jewish family. In 1933, he left Germany for England to escape the Nazis. At the time, he knew German, French, Latin, ancient Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic but not English.

Mr. Daube said one of his greatest achievements was getting his wife, her parents and especially his brother, Benjamin, who suffered from tuberculosis, out of Germany.

A Talmudic scholar, Mr. Daube was one of the first to study the Bible's New Testament. He received a doctorate from Cambridge University in 1936 and a master's degree from Oxford University in 1955. From 1955 to 1970, he was a fellow at All Souls College at Oxford, and he was appointed to the position of Regius professor of civil law at Oxford.

Mr. Daube was a visiting professor at UC-Berkeley in the 1960s before joining the faculty in 1970.

During a newspaper interview in 1986, one law student described Mr. Daube's lectures this way: ''One of his key themes is that the ancients were as much sneaky liars, losers, failures, successes, generous, grandiose, colorful people as we are today.''

''Daube's class is about who we are today,'' student Jeff Baird told the Oakland Tribune. ''And how do we know what we're like? By looking at the way we were 2,000 years ago.''

Mr. Daube also wrote on topics ranging from the origins of the detective novel to the use of wine in the Bible. His books include ''The New Testament and Rabbinic Judaism,'' ''Studies in the Roman Law of Sale'' and ''Civil Disobedience in Antiquity.''

''He believed in order to understand the truth of anything, you had to go down a black hole and be brave,'' said Kathleen Vanden Heuvel, a former Daube student and the deputy director of the law school's library.

Those who knew Mr. Daube said he had a wide range of friends and acquaintances.

''He was able to switch between royalty and the homeless and have significant relationships with those people,'' said his grandson, Matthew Daube, a graduate student at Smith College. ''The only way I can figure that out is that he connected with people at the roots of their souls.''

Mr. Daube is survived by his wife, Helen Smelser Daube, and his children from a previous marriage: Jonathan Daube of Manchester, Conn., Benjamin Daube of Toronto and Michael Daube of Perth, Australia. He also is survived by stepchildren from his marriage to Helen Smelser -- Tina Smelser and Eric Smelser of San Francisco -- and six grandchildren.

Funeral services took place Monday. The law school is planning a memorial service for April.