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The Revd Professor John Emerton, 1928-2015

The Revd Professor John Emerton FBA, Emeritus Regius Professor of Hebrew at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of St John’s College, has died at the age of 87.

Born in London, Professor Emerton studied at Corpus Christi College in Oxford where he was awarded a first class honours degree in Theology in 1950 and an MA in 1954, which was incorporated the following year in Cambridge. He was awarded a BD (Bachelor of Divinity) from Corpus Christi College, Cambridge in 1960, and a DD (Doctor of Divinity) from St John’s College, Cambridge in 1973. In 1977 Edinburgh University awarded him an Honorary DD.

Following Ordination training at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, in 1952, Professor Emerton became a deacon, and was ordained a priest the following year. Having been Curate at St Phillip’s Cathedral, Birmingham, and Assistant Lecturer in Theology at Birmingham University, he took up the position of Lecturer in Hebrew and Aramaic at Durham University in 1953. He was a Lecturer in Divinity at the University of Cambridge from 1955 to 1962, and then returned to Oxford to become Reader in Semitic Philology and take up a Fellowship at St Peter’s College. In 1968 he moved back to Cambridge to take up the Regius Professorship of Hebrew, and he became a Fellow at St John’s College in 1970.

Other notable posts included membership of the Editorial Board of Vetus Testamentum for over twenty five years; serving as Secretary and later President of the International Organization for the Study of the Old Testament; serving as President of the Society for Old Testament Study in 1979; being Honorary Canon of St George's Cathedral, Jerusalem since 1984, and a number of visiting professorships around the world. He was granted Permission to Officiate in the Diocese of Ely in 1998. Awards received during his career included the Burkitt Medal for Biblical Studies from the British Academy in 1991.  

An outstanding scholar in Hebrew and the Old Testament, Professor Emerton made significant contributions to the topic of wisdom in the Old Testament, the Apocrypha, and the ancient near east, notably in his edition of The Peshitta of the Wisdom of Solomon, published in 1959. He wrote on a wide range of subjects concerning the language and literature of the Old and New Testaments, such as in his publication The Old Testament in Syriac: Song of Songs in 1966, and contributed enormously to Ugaritic literature and Semitic philosophy.

Professor Emerton died peacefully at home on Saturday 12 September and is survived by his wife, Dr Norma Emerton, and three children.

The funeral will take place in St Mark’s Church, Barton Road, Newnham, Cambridge, at 2pm on Tuesday 6 October.