April 28 1999

Professor David Daube, biblical and legal scholar, died on February 24 aged 90. He was born on February 8, 1909.

DAVID DAUBE'S 65th birthday was honoured by three Festschrifts, respectively by Roman lawyers, Jewish and Oriental lawyers, and New Testament scholars, reflecting the wide scope of his work.

David Daube was born in Freiburg im Breisgau in Germany, where he went to school and at university took up the study of legal history. He came to England as a Jewish refugee and obtained a position at Cambridge, where in 1935 he was elected a fellow of Gonville and Caius College. During the war he served on committees working for the evacuation of schools and hospitals, and with the return of peace, he became a university lecturer in Roman law.

Always interested in biblical studies, he was attracted by the Cambridge tradition of co-operation between Jews and Christians in the study of Christian origins. His contributions to the New Testament seminar run by Professor C. H. Dodd were erudite, sub- tle and illuminating, as time and again he persuasively questioned old assumptions. In 1947 he published his Studies in Biblical Law.

In 1951 he became the first Professor of Jurisprudence at Aberdeen, where the breadth of his scholarship, his enthusiasm and the gaiety of his personality gained him immense popularity. In 1955 he became Regius Professor of Civil Law at Oxford, where he made a considerable impact on undergraduates, his witty allusions and calculated indiscretions being somehow enhanced by his unusual accent.

In 1970 he moved to the School of Law at the University of California at Berkeley, becoming curator of the Robbins Collection in Jewish and Roman Law. In his years there he became a well-loved figure, and he is remembered by hundreds as the charming eccentric foreign gentleman who strode alone each dawn and dusk, hands clasped behind him and head down, through two miles of the least gentle streets of San Francisco to and from the Berkeley bus; who befriended the student insurgents during the days of the Free Speech Movement and then spent hours in the espresso houses talking and playing chess with students or sitting alone scribbling in a dog-eared notebook.

So great was his appeal to the young that his lectures in Roman law - a subject that had long fallen into desuetude in America - were filled to capacity. And so immediate was his warmth to all that admiring waiters and waitresses periodically fêted him with parties of ice-cream and sweets. During these turbulent years in Berkeley, he turned to themes of contemporary import, as in Civil Disobedience in Antiquity (1972) and his articles on such subjects as "Biblical Landmarks in the Struggle for Women's Rights".

His output was enormous, but sadly dispersed through periodicals and Festschrifts. Invitations to lecture on biblical studies, however, made him organise his material more effectively in, for instance, The New Testament and Rabbinic Judaism (1956). He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1957.

He is survived by his second wife, Helen Smelser, whom he married in 1986, and by three sons from an earlier marriage.