Thursday, October 01, 2015

Dietmar Neufeld (1949-2015)

I was so sorry to hear of the death of Dietmar Neufeld on September 9. Dietmar Neufeld was professor in the Department of Classical, Near Eastern & Religious Studies at the University of British Columbia. Although I did not know Prof. Neufeld well, I had a high opinion of his work and I'd like to add some reflections here.

Neufeld has made important contributions to several areas of scholarship on the New Testament and Christian origins, as well as reaching out into several related areas. His reputation in the field was established through his membership of the Context Group, but he also became well known by those working on the Johannine epistles. His first authored book, Reconceiving Texts as Speech Acts: An Analysis of 1 John (Leiden: Brill, 1994) was well received. When he offered the manuscript of his second authored book, Mockery and Secretism in the Social World of Mark’s Gospel, to the Library of New Testament Studies book series (published by Bloombsbury / T & T Clark in April 2014), we enthusiastically accepted it for publication in the series.

In many respects, this is his most impressive work. In it, he tackles one of the most vexed issues in New Testament scholarship: how do we make sense of the elements of secrecy in Mark’s Gospel?  He brings his social-scientific perspective to the work and engages in a detailed study of mockery in the Graeco-Roman world, and uses these insights to reinterpret the characterization of Jesus and his disciples in Mark’s Gospel.  I thought it an original, stimulating take on the subject.  I also found  valuable his nuanced, critical discussion of recent trends in the study of orality and literacy in the ancient world, in which he resists some of the emerging over-simplifications and clich├ęs in scholarship in this area.

One of the values of Neufeld’s work was its scope. Where so many in the field are so narrowly focused, Neufeld's interests ranged widely, covering the Synoptic Gospels (especially Mark), Paul, Revelation, the Johannine epistles, the apocryphal Life of Adam and Eve, and more. Further, Neufeld talked and wrote about issues in education, pedagogy and translation.

He will be greatly missed.