Fr Jerome Murphy-O’Connor OP, who died in the early hours of November 11 in Jerusalem, has been described as a “colossus” in biblical scholarship.
The Cork-native spent more than 45 years working and researching in the Holy Land. Born in 1935, he was acknowledged as one of the foremost New Testament scholars in the world, particularly on the writings of St Paul.
After primary and secondary education at Christian Brothers College, Cork, and Castleknock College, Dublin, he entered the Irish Province of the Dominican Order in September 1953, and was ordained a priest on July 10, 1960.
Born James, perhaps an early indication of his biblical scholarship, he chose ‘Jerome’ as his name in religion, an apt choice since St Jerome is the patron of students of the Bible. Provincial of the Irish Dominican Friars Fr Gregory Carroll OP this week described Prof. Murphy-O’Connor an “a colossus” in the world of the Scripture study, particularly with regard to the writings of St Paul.
He told The Irish Catholic that Fr Murphy-O’Connor had made a “significant contribution” to biblical scholarship. However, despite his global reputation, “he never forgot his roots,” Fr Carroll said.
“He loved nothing more than coming back to West Cork to spend time with his family and always made sure to visit his Dominican brothers while he was in Ireland too.”
Fr Murphy-O’Connor received his doctorate in 1962 and a year later began researching the Dead Sea Scrolls at the University of Heidelberg and the University of Tübingen, Germany. From there he went to Jerusalem to the École Biblique, which was to become his religious, scholarly and personal home for the rest of his life. He was appointed Professor of New Testament at the École Biblique in 1967.
He wrote a highly-acclaimed guide to the Holy Land which was first published in 1980 and translated into numerous languages. As comfortable in the lecture theatre as he was leading a group of pilgrims around the Holy Land, visitors to Jerusalem were always given a warm welcome.
He enjoyed entertaining guests at the École Biblique in the heart of Arab East Jerusalem or at the nearby American Colony. His love for the Holy Land and its people – Jews, Muslims and Christians – was evident as he came alive exploring biblical episodes as if he had been an eyewitness.
Biblical scholars have paid tribute to Fr Murphy-O’Connor’s great scholarship. Mark Goodacre, Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Duke University said “not only was he a fine scholar, but he was also a kind-spirited, sweet-natured and generous human being, who always had time for people.
“Jerome Murphy-O’Connor was a gifted writer, whose prose was always lucid and lively. His scholarly insights were fascinating, even surprising (like his suggestion that St Paul’s wife died in a house-fire, or that the Galatians may well have had extraordinarily large moustaches),” Prof. Goddacre said.
The author of more than 20 books and 150 scholarly articles, Fr Murphy-O’Connor was frequently in demand as a guest lecturer. However, he never lost the sense that the Scriptures should be accessible to all and revelled in contributing articles to newspapers, magazines as well as being a panellist on radio and television programmes. He was a regular contributor to the Marian Finucane Programme on RTÉ Radio One.
Fr Jerome’s brother, Archdeacon Kerry Murphy-O’Connor, is a priest of the Diocese of Cork & Ross in Ireland and his cousin is Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Archbishop Emeritus of Westminster, England.
Fittingly, Fr Murphy-O’Connor was laid to rest in the Holy Land, the land where Jesus walked, after Requiem Mass on November 13 at the Monastery of St Stephen in Jerusalem.
“He was one of those people who made a tremendous contribution not just to his order but to the whole Church. He will be sadly missed,” Fr Gregory Carroll OP told The Irish Catholic.