Professor Larry Hurtado (1943-2019)

Founder of the Centre for the Study of Christian Origins

Colour head and shoulders image of Professor Larry Hurtado

Larry arrived in Edinburgh in the summer of 1996 to take up the post of Professor of New Testament Language, Literature and Theology. From the first, he impressed staff and students alike with his enthusiasm for the subject and his natural gift for communication. He had an insatiable curiosity and a flair for historical reconstruction that captured the imaginations of those who took his courses. Students would repeat some of his anecdotes and hypothetical discussions of what Paul and Timothy might have said to one another over breakfast – fascinated by the new worlds he was opening up, but slightly worried by his irreverence.

One of the most striking things about Larry was his humility. Despite his glittering academic career, he never forgot his humble roots in Kansas City, Missouri. He earned a BA in Biblical Studies (with highest honours) in 1965 from Central Bible College in Springfield, Missouri. From there he enrolled in Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and earned a M.A. in New Testament (cum laude) in 1967. He continued his studies at Case Western Reserve University (Cleveland, Ohio), receiving his Ph.D. in Religion with an emphasis in New Testament and Christian Origins in 1973. He taught at Regent College, Vancouver, and the Department of Religion at the University of Manitoba, before crossing the Atlantic to take up his position at Edinburgh. Here he served as Head of Department, Postgraduate Director and Dean, besides founding the Centre for the Study of Christian Origins in 1997. At a more national level, his services to the discipline were honoured by a term as President of the British New Testament Society.

Larry belonged to a bygone era of scholars who could turn their hands to almost anything. His first love was text criticism, which he studied under the supervision of Eldon J Epp. He went on to publish a short yet highly insightful commentary on Mark’s Gospel, a book on monotheism, and another on early Christian worship. His ‘magnum opus,’ however, was Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (2003), a distillation of decades of research and discussion with friends and critics of an early, high Christology (ie. the idea that Jesus was worshipped as a God from very early on). Despite its length, the book was listed number two in the Academy of Parish Clergy Top Ten Books of 2004 and among the 'Books every preacher should read in 2004' in Preaching. A more popular and condensed version was published under the classically ‘Larry-esque’ title How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God? (2005). In 2006 he was invited by the Smithsonian to assist in coordinating an effort to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Freer collection, biblical manuscripts of the New Testament and Greek Old Testament dating from the third to fifth centuries CE. His interest in early manuscripts as the earliest Christian artefacts resulted in a further book, and most recently he set himself to explain Christianity’s growth in the ancient world, with yet another eye-catching title, Destroyer of the gods (2016)

Perhaps those closest to Larry were his doctoral students, who came from all over the globe to work with him. Larry was an engaged and exacting supervisor, always excited by new ideas, ready to stretch his students, and to champion them once they were finished. Although no one could ever read his written comments, Larry could spend hours discussing the finer points of early high Christology over a pint and a toastie in the Jolly Judge, or a cigar in the quad. When his illness was first diagnosed, he was hugely touched by the outpouring of love from his students, many of whom came back specially to see him one last time.

Technically, Larry retired in August 2011, though it didn’t seem to make much difference to him. He was still a permanent feature of New College, continuing to supervise students and offering insightful contributions at seminars. He was a regular visitor to the staff common room, regaling colleagues with his latest discovery. Over the last decade he has found a new audience through his blog ( Larry was a natural blogger – clear and engaging, combative at times, yet always ready to enter into discussion. His followers would hardly be surprised to learn that it recently reached two million page views. Yet retirement did provide Larry with more time to spend with his beloved wife, Shannon, whom he leaves behind, along with his three children.

Larry was a man of strong personal faith, and this sustained him through his final illness. Those of us who knew him are privileged to have shared in something of his zest for life and learning. We’ll raise a glass of malt whisky in memory of his friendship, knowing that he’ll be sorely missed. [Helen Bond]

Professor Larry W. Hurtado, 29 December 1943 - 25 November 2019.

Select publications

Text-Critical Methodology and the Pre-Caesarean Text: Codex W in the Gospel of Mark. Studies and Documents vol. 43. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981.

Mark: New International Biblical Commentary. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1989.

One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988; British edition by SCM Press; Second edition, Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1998; reprint edition, London: T&T Clark (Continuum), 2003.

At the Origins of Christian Worship: The Context and Character of Earliest Christian Devotion. The 1999 Didsbury Lectures; Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 1999; US edition, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000.

Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003.

How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God? Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005.

The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006.

(Editor) The Freer Biblical Manuscripts: Fresh Studies of an American Treasure Trove. Decatur, GA.: Society of Biblical Literature, 2006.

Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World. Baylor, 2016.


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