The Rev Professor Douglas Jones

Old Testament scholar and churchman


Douglas Rawlinson Jones, Old Testament scholar and priest: born Bristol 11 November 1919; ordained deacon 1942, priest 1943; Curate, St Michael and All Angels, Windmill Hill, Bristol 1942-45; Lecturer, Wycliffe Hall, Oxford 1945-50; Chaplain, Wadham College, Oxford 1945-50, Lecturer in Divinity 1948-50; Lecturer, Durham University 1951-63, Senior Lecturer 1963-64, Lightfoot Professor of Divinity 1964-85 (Emeritus); Residentiary Canon of Durham Cathedral 1964-85 (Emeritus); married 1946 Hazel Passmore (died 2005; three sons, two daughters); died Edinburgh 24 November 2005.

Douglas Jones was a prominent churchman and scholar who influenced both the teaching of theology at Durham University and the liturgical practice of the Church of England.

Born in 1919, he attended Queen Elizabeth Hospital School in Bristol and won a scholarship to St Edmund Hall, Oxford, graduating in theology in 1941. Wycliffe Hall and ordination led to a curacy at Windmill Hill in the Bristol diocese from 1942-45 after which he returned to Oxford, where he lectured at Wycliffe Hall and was Chaplain of Wadham College until 1950.

In 1951 he went to Durham University as Lecturer in Theology, later, in 1964, gaining the Lightfoot Chair of Divinity, which was attached to a Residentiary Canonry of Durham Cathedral. He remained in Durham until his retirement in 1985, when he removed to the outskirts of Edinburgh to be close to members of his family.

Jones's time as lecturer and senior lecturer in Durham was his most productive as a scholar and saw a steady stream of articles and essays, including a pioneering article on the circle in which the prophet Isaiah's sayings were transmitted, and contributions to Peake's Commentary on the Bible, The Cambridge History of the Bible and the Torch Bible Commentary Series. The centre of his research was the prophetic traditions of the Old Testament, but he had wide theological interests and was an appreciative student of Barth's Church Dogmatics. Nineteen sixty-five saw the publication of a small gem of a book on Christian unity entitled Instrument of Peace.

In 1967 Jones was the driving force behind changes to the syllabus in Durham which led to the introduction of systematic theology as a core option. This could only be done by ceasing to require all students in theology to learn Hebrew, a bold step which was later more than compensated for by the introduction of an MA by examination and dissertation in advanced Hebrew studies and Old Testament exegesis. Today, master's courses by examination are a commonplace in universities, but it was a bold move in the conservative ethos of Durham 35 years ago and an instance of Jones's forward-looking approach.

The introduction of systematic theology eased the way for Ushaw College, the local Roman Catholic seminary, to become affiliated to the university in 1968 and to send some of its seminarians to take courses in the theology department. For several years Jones hosted meetings between members of staff at Ushaw and some of the Anglican members of the department, thereby cementing the relationship with Ushaw and providing a forum for ecumenical theological discussion. Along with his efforts to reform the syllabus, Jones was instrumental in gaining a worthy location for the Department of Theology in 1978, in the form of its present site, Abbey House, in the shadow of the cathedral.

The demands of university politics, involvement in the Cathedral and membership of the General Synod of the Church of England afforded Jones less time for his academic work from the late 1960s, apart from the occasional article or essay. When the scholarly J.R.H. Moorman retired as Bishop of Ripon in 1975, there were those who expected Jones to succeed him and to continue the tradition of scholarly bishops in that diocese. Jones felt strongly that he could best contribute to theology and church by remaining where he was.

However, although he was able in retirement to publish the impressive commentary on Jeremiah which had occupied him for much of his academic life (Jeremiah, 1992), a projected introduction to the books of the Old Testament never saw the light of day and the same fate befell the Old Testament theology, an outline of which was the theme of his address as President of the Society for Old Testament Study in 1976.

For much of the period from 1970 until his retirement, Jones represented the universities of Durham and Newcastle on the General Synod of the Church of England, also serving as a member of its Liturgical Commission, of which he was chairman from 1981 until 1986. The Lambeth degree of Doctor of Divinity was conferred upon him in recognition of this work in 1985.

Some of his colleagues in the field of Old Testament studies regretted that Jones's energies were diverted away from scholarship to ecclesiastical matters, because he possessed a theological sense rare among his peers in the field, which they hoped would gain full expression in substantial publications. He was also sensitive to new developments and possibilities in the field and gave full encouragement to younger scholars to break new ground.

J.W. Rogerson

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