Biblical Scholarship Loses a Bright Light

When I was a grad student, I wrote to a couple of different biblical scholars for some additional information on pieces they had written. One–whose name I won’t mention– responded with a dismissive one-sentence reply, as if he could hardly be bothered to spend another second dealing with someone as unimportant as me. The second was John J. Pilch, who responded most graciously and helpfully. His response showed not only a willingness to lend a hand to a poor, beleaguered grad student that he didn’t know from Adam, but an enthusiasm for helping other people in the guild understand the work into which he had poured his life. I later met Pilch in person, but through the years I really only knew him through his work. Last week I received the sad news that he had died on July 22. You can read his obituary here.

Pilch wrote some of the more significant works in the field of social-scientific criticism of the Bible. In particular, he wrote a number of very helpful pieces related to the ancient Mediterranean values of honor and shame in the New Testament. Without Pilch’s work and that of several other members of the Context Group, I could never have written my dissertation or the book that followed from it, Honor Among Christians: The Cultural Key to the Messianic Secret.

As I think about Pilch’s contributions, I’m reminded that, as scholars, we all stand on the shoulders of people who came before us. We all draw upon their countless hours of study, contemplation, debate, writing, rewriting, and perhaps prayer. God willing, and with years upon years of dedication and effort, we who carry on their work might also produce something meaningful for those who will come after us.


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