On the Greatness of Joseph Fitzmyer (Skinner)

FitzToday I was reading a student’s exegetical paper on Luke’s “Sermon on the Plain,” and the student in question cited Joe Fitzymer’s Luke commentary (from the Anchor Bible series) numerous times. At one point in the paper the student wrote, “I agree with Fitzmyer that…..,” to which I wrote in all caps in the margin, THAT’S USUALLY A GOOD THING TO DO.” Most of my students are 19 or 20 years old and likely have no idea who Joseph Fitzmyer is or the impact he had on the field of biblical studies for the better part of five decades. Here’s a fun exercise: if you are sitting in an office or in a theological library right now, pick up a few random titles on the New Testament published in the past 50 years, then go to the index. There’s a good chance you will see, “Fitzmyer, J. A.” at least once, probably more than once.

When I was beginning my doctoral studies at Catholic University, Fitzmyer was just about to retire. I had the privilege of interacting with him on a number of occasions and was always impressed by the sharpness of his intellect. Few scholars can boast the range of expertise that Fitzmyer displayed for so many years: Dead Sea Scrolls, Aramaic, Pauline theology, the Gospels, all elements of Roman Catholic biblical studies, and the list could continue.

Sadly, for health reasons Fitzmyer has not been writing over the past 7 to 8 years, and I’m afraid that many students currently pursuing research in our field may not know or appreciate his legacy. I once heard Dale Allison say in a lecture: “Some of the old books are still pretty good, while some of the new books are surprisingly bad.” In the spirit of that quotation, I felt like celebrating a scholar whose work is, “still pretty good.” I’d appreciate it if you’d celebrate along with me.