Jerry Murphy-O’Connor (1935–2013)

Father Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, OP, who died peacefully in his sleep after a long illness on November 11, 2013, at age 78, was “Jerry” to all of us. Although he lived for nearly half a century at the École Biblique in Jerusalem, he never lost his Irish brogue. He did not suffer fools gladly, but he could also be patiently helpful.

He was a world-famous Pauline scholar and an expert in Biblical archaeology. His widely used and widely praised The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 went through five editions from 1980 to 2008.

His numerous books on Paul include Paul: His Story; Paul: A Critical Life; Paul the Letter-Writer; and St. Paul’s Corinth: Texts and Archaeology, among others.

I first met Jerry in 1973 in Jerusalem when I was on a self-created sabbatical from my life in the law in Washington. I was a student in American archaeologist Gus Van Beek’s informal pottery-reading group that included, among others, Val and Horatio Vester, owners of the famous American Colony Hotel, and Jerry. When the group met in our apartment, it was Jerry’s first trip to west Jerusalem, although the border between Jewish and Arab Jerusalem had been open for more than five years since the 1967 Six-Day War. He was glad to have the experience.

Jerusalem was a different place in those days. It was a small town. Moving from one place to another was quick and easy—and quiet. The École Biblique was a haven, as it still is, although it has been spruced up a bit—a secluded sanctum of trees, school, church and an absolutely superb library, the best in the city. In the years that followed, when I would visit Jerry at lunchtime, we would eat in the dining hall, which gave me a chance to meet many of his colleagues, now friends.

Our archive lists 18 items by Jerry in BAR and Bible Review. In the past few years when I visited him, he had that plastic fix in his nostrils that fed oxygen and helped him breathe, but we still had good talks. His mind was sharp as a tack. I will miss him.

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