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<< Return to SBL Forum Archive C.F.D. Moule 1908-2007

Who has had the most influence on your life, family excepted? For me, the answer is easy: the Rev Professor C.F.D. Moule who died on 30 September, just a couple of months short of his 99th birthday.

In 1964 I was faced with a difficult decision. Under whose supervision should I apply to work on a Ph.D. thesis? Further studies in my field were not then possible in New Zealand. I sought the advice of the only New Zealander I knew in Cambridge. He confirmed what I already knew: Professor Charlie Moule was an outstanding scholar. He then painted a brief pen picture: a gentle, kind and genuinely humble person who was held in the highest regard by everyone who knew him.

I was very anxious about my ability to climb to what was perceived to be two divisions above the level of scholarship I had experienced in my home University. So my friend's comments provided the reassurance I was looking for.

It wasn't long before I discovered for myself just how accurate that pen portrait was. I soon began to pass on similar comments to others who wanted to know what it was like to work under Charlie Moule's guidance. He encouraged us to develop our immature and not very well informed insights. On one occasion he glossed over an appalling error I made over the title of a book in German.

His Ph D students regularly came away from supervisions warmly encouraged, even if their most recent written work amounted to very little. His concern for us didn't finish on the day we graduated. Throughout our careers he took a kindly interest in our research and teaching. When we sent him a copy of our books or articles, he always read them carefully and sent back comments and suggestions.

In 1951 he was appointed to the Lady Margaret's Professorship of Divinity. At that time he hadn't completed a single book! The electors gambled on promise, and their judgement was soon vindicated by the appearance of An Idiom-Book of New Testament Greek. On the foundation of his work at Emmanuel for the Classics Tripos he was able to explore the distinctive features of the Greek of the New Testament writers. This remarkable book is still in print 55 years later! Charlie Moule became Dean of Clare College and a University assistant lecturer in 1944. He quickly became 'a College man' and prominent in the Faculty of Divinity. He sometimes spoke about the austerity of the early post-war years, quickly adding that life in College was 'disgracefully luxurious' in comparison with hardships faced by others. As soon as the Clare Fellows' Garden was restored he walked there very early every morning and said his prayers. His routine of daily personal prayer and meditation included reading the Hebrew text of one chapter of the Old Testament, and the Greek of one chapter of the New Testament. He played a major role in the translation of the New English Bible.

Professor Moule was a Fellow of Clare for 32 years, and then a Life Fellow. He took a keen interest in all aspects of College life. Even in his 90s he sometimes commented on Governing Body minutes and gently pointed out stylistic infelicities! Although he followed the convention of the time that Professors did not supervise undergraduates, he welcomed Clare students and students from other Colleges to weekly open-ended evening discussions in his College rooms. On that basis firm friendships were built which lasted for many decades.

His international reputation grew steadily following the publication in 1962 of The Birth of the New Testament. This wide-ranging book adopts an unconventional approach. It probes with great skill the various facets of the life and faith of the communities behind the New Testament writings.

Charlie Moule is known and respected for two themes that emerged from his concern with the precise exegesis and interpretation of the New Testament writings. He insisted that the New Testament does not see judgement and punishment as retribution, but as restoration. His views sparked off lively discussion in a wide range of groups concerned with criminal justice. Forgiveness and Reconciliation, the title of his final book, published on his 90th birthday, sums up this concern.

Over against some of the fashions of the day, he insisted that the Gospels do provide us with sharply drawn portraits of Jesus of Nazareth which are at the very heart of Christian faith. While 'history' cannot compel faith, it is the solid foundation on which faith rests.

Many honours were showered down on this self-effacing scholar. A FBA in 1966, he became President of the International Society of New Testament scholars in 1967-68. He received honorary D.D.s from St Andrews and Cambridge, and was made CBE in 1985.

He was equally at home with the great and the good as with College staff and folk in the village near Eastbourne to which he retired. He preached regularly in his parish church until well into his 90s. He retained his puckish sense of humour even when weighed down by physical weakness and frustrating deafness. In his 95th year I offered to mow his lawns. He declined my offer, insisting that he was deeply attached to his 'Tony Blair motorised zimmer frame.'

Charlie Moule did not write the blockbusters which seem to dominate his field today. Perhaps his personal legacy of genuine humility and courtesy will outlast even his finest publications. Generations of scholars and students have cause to be thankful for what may turn out to be his finest achievement: the thousands of letters of encouragement in his distinctive hand he sent all over the world.

A memorial service will be held in Great St Mary's University Church on Saturday 9th February 2008 at 2 p.m.

Graham Stanton, Emeritus Lady Margaret's Professor of Divinity

Citation: Graham Stanton, " C.F.D. Moule 1908-2007," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited Jan 2008]. Online:http://sbl-site.org/Article.aspx?ArticleID=738

 
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