Joseph Blenkinsopp, the John A. O'Brien Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies at the University of Notre Dame, died March 26 in South Bend. He was 94.
Born in County Durham, England, Blenkinsopp earned a bachelor’s degree in history at the University of London. He went on to earn a Licentiate in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and a doctoral degree in Biblical studies from Oxford University.
Blenkinsopp taught at Heythrop College in London, Vanderbilt University, the Chicago Theological Seminary and the Hartford Seminary Foundation before joining the Notre Dame faculty in 1970.
As one of the foremost scholars of his generation in the field of Hebrew Bible studies, Blenkinsopp authored more than 25 books, including “A History of Prophecy in Israel” and “The Pentateuch,” as well as a three-volume Anchor Bible commentary on the Book of Isaiah. Although he retired from Notre Dame in 1999, he continued to pursue academic research until nearly the end of his life. His last book, “Luke’s Jesus: Between Incarnation and Crucifixion,” was published in October 2021.
He was also a voracious reader, said Gerald McKenny, the Walter Professor of Theology at Notre Dame, who offered Blenkinsopp’s eulogy. But among all books, Blenkinsopp had an especially deep love of the Bible.
“He may have been the only contemporary scholar who wrote on all three parts of the Old Testament — the Torah, the prophets and the writings — with manifest expertise in each area, and who also acquired expertise in the New Testament,” McKenny said in his eulogy. “His high regard for Scripture was expressed in his advice to first-year doctoral students to spend less time reading biblical scholarship and more time reading the Bible itself, and in his frequent admonition to scholarly readers of the Bible to let the text talk back to them.”
Blenkinsopp served as rector at Notre Dame’s Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem in 1978. He was president of the Catholic Biblical Association of American in 1988–89 and president of the Society for the Study of the Old Testament from 1999 to 2000. He also served as a guest professor at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome in 1997-98.
Among his colleagues in the Department of Theology, he was known for his vision, his kindness — and for his legendary facility with languages.
“Early in his career, Joe was assigned to teach in a seminary in Guatemala. He boarded the ship not knowing a word of Spanish, yet within two months he was teaching Old Testament to Salesian religious in Spanish,” McKenny said. “Just how many languages Joe knew was something of a mystery. But for a period of time he would read a major work each year by a renowned modern author in a foreign language. One year it was Umberto Eco in Italian. Another year it was Thomas Mann in German. And in what must have been a particularly grueling year it was Proust — yes, Proust — in French.”
Outside of academia, Blenkinsopp also loved gardening, opera, art, poetry and travel. He is remembered for his love of conversation and as someone whose office door was always open.
“But above all, Joe loved his family,” McKenny said. “Given his dedication to the scholarly task and his prodigious output, one might expect him to have been a recluse who locked himself in his study. But this was far from the case. He found his deepest happiness in his family, and he was a devoted father and a caring, attentive and affectionate husband right up to the last days of his life.”
He is survived by his wife, Jean Porter, the John A. O'Brien Professor of Theology at Notre Dame, as well as sons David Blenkinsopp and Martin Blenkinsopp (Ann Robinson) from a previous marriage and grandson Graham Blenkinsopp.
A visitation and a Catholic funeral service were held Saturday (April 2) at Kaniewski Funeral Home in South Bend, followed by burial in Notre Dame’s Cedar Grove Cemetery.
Memorial contributions may be made to Catholic Charities USA, Hope Rescue Mission or South Bend’s Center for the Homeless.