In Memoriam Prof. Donald Wiseman (1918-2010)
Donald Wiseman died last week – and with his passing, a giant of archaeological and biblical scholarship has gone. But what a legacy! I only met him a handful of times when I was a very green curate in Sheffield (one of his daughters was a member of the congregation). I’ll never forget the first occasion…
I think I’d been recklessly pontificating in a sermon with blind authority on one of the paragraphs of Romans 1, explaining how Paul had been shaped by an Old Testament worldview and in particular the early chapters of Genesis, and how this could be seen in Romans. On the whole, it’s easy to pull the wool over people’s eyes when you do it with confidence (and such confidence comes easily to ministers in their twenties) – but I could only make such claims as a result of second, fourth and tenth hand research and learning. What did I know about such things… really? We all stand on the shoulders of giants – but few acknowledge it…
Then after the service, I was introduced to Professor Wiseman – OT scholar, archaeologist, and faithful gospel teacher. Most will have encountered him through his work as OT editor for the wonderfully accessible, useful but still scholarly Tyndale Commentaries or the various editions of IVP’s New Bible Dictionary. My mind raced at light speed through my talk – and then realised that I’d actually said some things based on his own writing (which is perhaps inevitable when one speaks on the OT). But as it was from quotes of quotes etc, I’d obviously not attributed it. However, he was graciousness personified, of course, and couldn’t have been friendlier or more encouraging.
Now, I realise that you can’t attribute all the time in talks because very often that will obscure the message – but my problem was that it had not even crossed my mind that I should where possible. I learned valuable lessons that morning – despite the fact that I still forget them.
Always attribute where you can and never claim as your own what others have discovered; never claim to know more than you do (whether by subtle hint or blatant assertion)!!
In case you’ve not come across this, here is a fuller obit and appreciation, all of which is quoted from a recent mailing from Tyndale House. For example, I’d certainly no idea about his wartime exploits. A remarkable man.
It is with a real sense of loss that I bring to you news of the homecalling on Tuesday of Professor Donald Wiseman (1918-2010) OBE DLit FBA FKC FSA, who played a vital role in the early development of the Tyndale House and Tyndale Fellowship and made a massive contribution to our work, to biblical scholarship, and to the study of the ancient Near East. There will be a private funeral, but we anticipate that a public memorial service will be arranged later in the year. Below you will find a tribute by Professor Alan Millard, followed by some highlights I found in his autobiography. Professor Wiseman was predeceased by his dear wife Mary and is survived by three daughters Gillian, Mary and Jane. He will be much missed.
In Christ’s service,
Warden, Tyndale House
Professor Donald Wiseman (1918-2010)
The passing of Donald Wiseman on 2nd February, 2010, marks the end of an era in the story of Tyndale House and the Tyndale Fellowship. After a year reading history at King’s College, London, W. J. Martin persuaded him that study of the biblical world and its languages would be more valuable to the church and biblical studies, so he turned to Hebrew and Assyriology. Martin had been the major stimulus in the creation of Tyndale House and Donald Wiseman saw its strategic potential. He gave much time and thought to the affairs of the House, serving as Chairman of the Biblical Research Committee, which had the initial responsibility and of the Tyndale House Council, which inherited it, from 1957 to 1986. As Chairman of that and other committees, he guided discussion with wisdom, patience and humour, ensuring sensible decisions were made. When there were doubts in UCCF (then IVF) circles about continuing financial support, he insisted that the House was providing a service which no other evangelical institution offered and had potential for much more. When problems of space for the Library arose, it was Donald who suggested the annexe which was built as The Hexagon in 1984.
He saw the priority for Tyndale House lay in biblical research, supplying positive information and arguments to oppose widely taught liberal views about Scripture. His vision was well expressed by John Stott in 1992, ‘We shall never capture the church for the truth of the gospel unless and until we can re-establish biblical scholarship, hold (and not lose) the best theological minds in every generation, and overthrow the enemies of the gospel by confronting them at their own level of scholarship’ (Quoted by Tom Noble, Tyndale House and Fellowship, 239).
Like Martin, Donald Wiseman was a great enthusiast and encourager of others, in Britain and abroad. He chaired the Tyndale Old Testament Study Group from 1951 to 1981, taking time and trouble to find young scholars whom he could introduce to the Group so that they would know there were others who could support them in their often lonely research. The Bible is a product of the ancient Near East, so he recognized that it should be read and assessed in the light of knowledge about that world. With that in mind, aware of the value of the archaeological contexts of ancient artefacts, he set up the Tyndale Biblical Archaeology Study Group in 1958, which, although not functioning regularly in recent years, brought together linguists and archaeologists to evaluate and apply new and old discoveries to biblical studies. On his initiative papers were brought together as Notes on Some Problems in the Book of Daniel (1965) and Essays on the Patriarchal Narratives (1980) and he stimulated other publications by fellows of Tyndale House (e.g. David Tsumura, The Earth and the Waters in Genesis 1 and 2, 1989). A volume of essays by members of the Old Testament Study Group was dedicated to him in gratitude for his many years of devotion (R. S. Hess, G. J. Wenham. P. Satterthwaite, eds., He Swore an Oath (1994).
His experience and knowledge marked Donald as a major contributor to, and Editor of, the New Bible Dictionary (1962, 1982, 1996) and The Illustrated Bible Dictionary (1980). For many years he was Editor for Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries and gave his skills to a variety of other Christian publications.
Donald was always ready to help a cause he thought would be fruitful in the service of his Saviour, preaching and teaching and holding informal groups for Bible Study. The number who faced the claims of the Gospel through meeting him cannot be told, neither can the number whose lives and careers he has influenced or guided.
As one of the latter, I give thanks for his life, his service and his fellowship.
Select gleanings from the privately published book Donald J. Wiseman, Life Above and Below: Memoirs (2003). Donald Wiseman led an extremely active and full life and it is not possible to summarize all of this. However, I thought that I would at least pick out a few of many highlights from his autobiography relating to his service in the Second World War:
- PA to Air Vice-Marshal Keith Park, who was in charge of the Fighter Group responsible for the defence of S.E. Britain during the battle of Britain, and often finding himself on the phone to Winston Churchill
- trusted to handle large amounts of information from the Ultra Secret source known as Enigma
- chosen to carry maps and plans for first fighters to fly in to Algiers in Operation Torch
- plane crash in Sicily in which he temporarily lost the use of both legs
- recovery to play significant role enforcing German surrender in N. Italy
Here is the text of his citation for the USA Bronze Star Medal:
Donald J. Wiseman, O.B.E., Wing Commander, Royal Air Force, Headquarters Mediterranean Allied Tactical Air Force, for meritorious achievement in connection with military operations in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations from 1 March 1943 to 22 June 1944. As Chief Intelligence Officer, Mediterranean Allied Tactical Air Force, Wing Commander Wiseman displaying a rare analytical and organizational genius was responsible for the creation and development of an Intelligence Force headquarters in the Mediterranean Theater. Upon the Intelligence material gathered through his selfless and earnest work, this Headquarters was able to plan and launch the air operations which brought victory to the Allied Armies in Italy. His brilliancy in collecting and evaluating the necessary operational Intelligence data, his ability to work smoothly with an integrated American and British staff, and his unstinting fulfillment of duty reflect the highest credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of the Allied Nations.