Saturday, September 27, 2014

George Caird and Humility

Hubris is is no short supply these days whether we are discussing politicians, athletes, celebrities, and yes, scholars of all stripes.

George B. Caird (1917-1984)
Might we all take a page from George B. Caird (1917-1984), formerly Dean Ireland's Professor of the Exegesis of Holy Scripture at the University of Oxford? Caird was one of the greatest British New Testament scholars of the Twentieth Century along with such luminaries as Barrett, Dodd, Moule, Cranfield, etc. Caird also mentored and supervised such present day luminaries in NT scholarship such as N.T. Wright, the late L.D. Hurst, Marcus Borg, John Muddiman, Jeffrey Gibson and others. So if anyone could have an immense ego, it might well be George Bradford Caird.

That is why I was struck by what Caird writes in the Preface to perhaps the greatest work he produced during his lifetime, The Language and Imagery of the Bible. Consider what Caird says about his efforts in producing this book:

This is a book by an amateur, written for amateurs. Only an amatuer could undertake to write on such a subject, since one lifetime is too short for anyone to become an expert on more than one of the qualifying disciplines. For language is not the concern of the linguist alone, but of the literary critic, the psychologist, the anthropologist, the lawyer, the philosopher and the theologian as well. A prudent expert cultivates his own garden, not wasting time in looking over the fence at what his neighbours are doing. The amateur accepts cuttings from everyone, hoping they will take in his own soil. I have tried to find out what writers in all these fields have been saying, and I have made use of their ideas when they have caught my fancy. But is not my intention to trespass on the grounds of any of them. I am content to leave the Semitic philologist to grapple with the origins and affinities of Hebrew, the psychologist to discourse on the relation of words and mind, and the philosopher to investigate the truth of propositions and the mystical bond between words and the objects they denote. I am, if I may be allowed to adjust my metaphor, a walker on the common out of which they have carved their allotments. I offer to other wayfarers on the same path this guide to the things that they may catch their eye or their ear (Italics mine; vii). 

We would all do well to measure our contributions in such terms. If the great G.B. Caird can be this transparent, what is our excuse?

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