Bruce J. Malina 1933-2017

Bruce.cmalinaThe sad news reached me today that Prof. Bruce J. Malina died yesterday, Aug. 17, at dawn, US time. Malina was professor emeritus at Creighton University, Omaha, USA.

Prof. Malina will probably be remembered by most as one of those who introduced Social Anthropology, or Cultural Anthropology as he called it, into New Testament studies. His books on The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology (John Knox Press, 1981 and later), his Christian Origins and Cultural Anthropology. Practical Models for Biblical Interpretation (John Knox Press, 1986), and his (together with Jerome H. Neyrey), Portraits of Paul. An Archaeology of Ancient Personality (Westminster John Knox Press, 1996), are great works that made Social Scientific ways of thinking (along cultural anthropology lines) both relevant and common in New Testament studies. Think about it, who, if any, knew and applied the models of Honor and Shame, Dyadic Personality, Limited Good etc in New Testament studies before they read Malina? When at the peak of his strength-and popularity- he published a flow of articles and books on New Testament Issues. He got a lot of followers, and a group focusing on these issues, the Context Group , was formed in 1986, and is still active (see also here). In 2001 he was honored by a Festschrift: John J. Pilch, ed., Social Scientific Models for Interpreting the Bible.  Biblical Interpretation Series, SBL, Atlanta, 2001, and a bibliography 1967-1999 of his works is available here.

As for my own part, I met prof Malina in 1987, when being a Fulbright professor at the University of Oslo, he visited the University of Trondheim to present some of his work there, and to discuss my own work as a research fellow there. There and then he introduced me to the world of Mediterranean Social anthropology, and in particular to the model of ‘establisment violence/vigilantism’ which I later applied in my PhD dissertation. I remember him as very kind, helpful and genuinely interested in my work, but also as very self-conscious about his work.

In his later years he cherished some unconventional ideas about present day Israelis, Israel and the Palestinian problem. To some extent this might also have influenced some views in his scholarly works.

But I cherish the memories of a Bruce Malina as a scholar who did New Testament studies a great service in introducing issues from Mediterranean social anthropology. The study of the social world of the New Testament, and even of the Bible as a whole, received insights through his works that we all now take for granted.




Author: TorreyS


4 thoughts on “Bruce J. Malina 1933-2017”

  1. I just noticed this obituary, it made me so very sad, I had always planned on getting up to Omaha and seeing Bruce and his Wife Diane in person and give them a hug and just talk to them and Thank them for all they did for me when I was only 17 years old , They took me in and loved me as if I was one of their own kids!!

    In fact they treated me so much better than I was ever treated by my own Mom and Step dad!
    Diane was my Religion teacher at Archbishop Ryan High School, and she knew I wasn’t gonna graduate unless she took me in!! They gave me a warm house, lots of guidance and love, and enough confidence to know I could get caught up with my courses at school…. I was very behind
    As I was working every evening after school to pay for my own Catholic tuition! Which I can say I finally paid off, after I graduated!! I missed out on the graduation ceremony, but very proud of my accomplishment of graduating!! And I owe that to Bruce and Diane Malina!!

    They were the kindest, most loving and caring people I’ve ever met, I regret I didn’t get to see and Thank Bruce in person for all his love and support for the year that they took me in!
    May you RIP sweet man, you are truly one of the kindest, sweetest men I’ve ever known!!
    And you were the sweetest Dad I ever had, I just wish we could have had more years together!!
    I loved you a lot Bruce!
    Thanks so much to you and Diane for being there for me at such a difficult time in my life!

    Joan Lavey Kooken

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