Barr’s most influential work was The Semantics of Biblical Language (1961), in which he exposed serious problems with the linguistic theories and exegetical methods prevalent in the Biblical scholarship of his day, such as interpreting Hebrew based on questionable etymologies or theological views. Beyond his philological work, he also criticized the Christian fundamentalist approach to Biblical interpretation as irresponsible. He later explored the question of natural theology, concluding that, according to the Bible, God is knowable to humans through the created world.
Born in Glasgow, Scotland, Barr did his undergraduate studies at the University of Edinburgh and earned a doctorate from the University of Oxford. After a two-year stint as a Church of Scotland minister, Barr became a professor, and throughout the course of his career he held professorships at Presbyterian College (Montreal), Edinburgh, Princeton Theological Seminary, Manchester, Oxford and Vanderbilt, where he retired in 1998 as distinguished professor (emeritus) of Hebrew Bible.
Upon his retirement from Vanderbilt in 1998, he moved with his wife to Claremont, California.
James Barr will be remembered by colleagues and friends as a gracious man and a scholar and teacher of the utmost intellect.—D.D.R.
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