Mourning the Loss of David J. A. Clines

We are sad to hear of the death of Professor David J. A. Clines at the age of 84 (1938–2022). David made a sustained contribution to biblical studies over the course of over five decades.

Many biblical scholars, especially Old Testament scholars, will know Clines from his identification with the Biblical Studies department at the University of Sheffield where he rose through the ranks to Professor and head of department, his major three-volume commentary on the book of Job (1989-2011), his adventuresome (for biblical studies) and often playful literary approach to biblical interpretation that included reader-oriented and deconstructive elements, his major Hebrew dictionary project, and his being one of the founders of JSOT Press/Sheffield Academic Press and then Sheffield Phoenix Press (see his detailed obituary here).

There is much that can be said about the above, as well as other, facets of David’s life and career in biblical studies. He certainly was one of the major forces in establishing the Sheffield School of biblical studies (although he disliked this term and what it implied), a school that no longer exists at least in the same way but has left its mark on biblical scholarship worldwide (I admit to being a PhD graduate of Sheffield, and so consciously biased toward the Sheffield mindset). His own scholarly output was prolific once he began actively publishing in the late 1970s. So far as his biblical scholarship is concerned, David will probably be remembered most not for his intentionally provocative literary explorations of the Bible, but for his completion of the comprehensive and detailed Dictionary of Classical Hebrew (1993-2011).

However, I think that David’s most significant contribution was arguably the role that he played in founding and serving as director/publisher of JSOT Press/Sheffield Academic Press and then Sheffield Phoenix Press. The history of JSOT/SAP has been told elsewhere. What David and his Sheffield colleagues did, however, was to form a serious academic press run by scholars for scholars. The freedom of the press from many, if not all, of the constraints of other publishers, including both commercial and academic, allowed JSOT/SAP to concentrate much of its efforts on publishing scholarly monographs—fewer of which are being published by very many publishers these days—at affordable prices (JSOT/SAP often offered its books at a sizeable discount to scholars). The Press began with Old Testament scholarship and then included the New Testament. The result was the Journal for the Study of the Old Testament and then the Journal for the Study of the New Testament and their respective monograph series, followed by a variety of other series and journals. JSOT/SAP may well have become, at one time, the largest publisher of biblical studies scholarship in the world. After JSOT/SAP was sold in 2001, a few years later David with some new partners formed SPP, a similar press with similar aims and ambitions that continues the Sheffield legacy.

Speaking personally, I had the privilege of being hired by David to serve as Senior Academic Editor for JSOT/SAP from 1991-1992, and then of continuing my close association with the Press from 1992 to 2001 as series editor for the JSNT Supplement Series and in other ways. During my time as Senior Academic Editor, I not only learned the publishing industry from the inside but got to see firsthand how David worked, as we developed and launched a number of new series and journals, while also building the existing series. Then, when David founded SPP, he asked me to edit the New Testament Monographs series, which I did from 2004-2016, producing 37 volumes in that series. I appreciated David’s vision for academic publishing that was willing to consider a volume—or even a new idea—simply because it was a worthwhile project, rather than because it would be a commercial success or sell a minimum number of copies or conform to particular sets of opinions or positions, the kinds of criteria that are prevalent in too much of today’s publishing, even by so-called academic presses. David was also a working publisher who took a hands-on approach. To this day, I still have not met anyone who had as excellent a critical proofreading eye as did David—which was no doubt tested to the extreme in his editing the Hebrew dictionary volumes. 

Biblical studies as a discipline has much to thank David Clines for. His vision for independent academic publishing that is more concerned with affordable, excellent scholarship than profit margin is one that serious biblical scholarship could benefit a lot more from.

– Stanley E. Porter

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2 thoughts on “Mourning the Loss of David J. A. Clines

  1. I thoroughly appreciate this blog and some of the personal connections and anecdotes – as an OT scholar, however, I do think that the significance of Cline’s dictionary cannot be underestimated but I concur with your overarching assessment

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    • Thank you Dustin for your response. I agree that Clines’s Hebrew dictionary is very important. But I think that the dictionary was only possible because of Clines’s attitude toward scholarly publishing as exemplified by both JSOT/SAP and SPP. His being publisher of those presses was probably what enabled the dictionary (in multiple volumes published over thirty years!) to come into existence.

      — Stan

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