Obituary: The Very Rev Professor Robert Davidson. MA, BD, DD, FRSE

The Very Rev Robert Davidson
The Very Rev Robert Davidson
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Born: 30 March, 1927, in Markinch. Died: 22 September, 2012 in Glasgow, aged 85.

PROFESSOR Robert Davidson was a distinguished Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1990 and an acclaimed teacher and scholar, especially of the Old Testament. He had the distinction of teaching in all four of the older Scottish universities and is remembered by students as an articulate and learned lecturer. He wrote widely and, for example, his Courage to Doubt was hugely influential both with ministers and parishioners.

Davidson was the founding chairman of the Scottish Palestinian Forum, and gave balanced leadership in this complex political issue. He was held in great affection throughout the area and was a powerful advocate for justice for Palestinians. As Moderator he visited the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, Israel and the West Bank and was tear-gassed: an experience he viewed with his customary equanimity.

Robert Davidson attended Bell Baxter School in Cupar, Fife, and in 1945 read classics at St Andrews University, being awarded a first class honours MA. Davidson then read divinity at St Mary’s College from where, in 1952, he graduated BD with distinction.

The following year he was appointed assistant lecturer and then lecturer in Biblical Studies at Aberdeen University. In 1960, he returned to St Andrews as lecturer in Hebrew and Old Testament Studies until 1966. In that year, Davidson was appointed to the prestigious post of lecturer in Old Testament Studies at New College, part of Edinburgh University.

Within two years, he was appointed to the chair of Old Testament Language and Literature at Glasgow University. Davidson’s rise through theological academia had been rapid, but it reflected the esteem in which he was held at the four universities and in the Church of Scotland. One former student, now a minister in the Kirk, said: “Robert was a kindly and most gracious man. Generous of his time with students and a pillar of the Kirk throughout his eminent career.”

It could not have been more appropriate that Davidson’s year as Moderator coincided with Glasgow’s year as European City of Culture. Davidson played a significant part in a film made by the Glasgow Presbytery, The Spirit of Glasgow, which celebrated the Year of Culture and captured more than 600 local events on film, including Davidson talking about the city and of his expectations for the ensuing year.

As Moderator, Davidson ensured that debates in the Assembly Hall were lively and purposeful, overseeing them with an amiable firmness. He was, throughout his life, a courteous and genial man and these qualities were much in evidence at the many official functions a Moderator, and his wife, have to attend. Many recall the kindness and generous nature the Davidsons demonstrated while visiting local or national events.

Davidson sat on many influential Church of Scotland committees. The first, in 1985, deliberated on the position of Freemasonry in the Church and he wrote a learned addendum entitled The Use of the Bible in Freemasonry. He served on the Kirk’s Selection Schools for aspiring ministers and brought a keen authority and concern to its deliberations.

In the late 1990s, Davidson sat on a forward-looking committee, Aids, sex and the Scottish churches. The commission discussed the plight of people diagnosed with Aids in Scotland and how the Church should react. Davidson in his paper succinctly suggested: “Statistics can be impersonal and conveniently filed away. People can’t.”

Davidson was involved in 2003 in a controversial plan to create a “super church” by uniting the four main branches of Protestantism in Scotland. He was of the opinion that traditional members of the Kirk, “may not be convinced by some of the plans, particularly the suggestion that there should be bishops. I think there could be a division within the Church of Scotland”.

But it was his teaching that many ministers remember. His lectures were a central part of the Theology Faculty in Glasgow and his deep knowledge and understanding of the Bible brought him a deserved international reputation. This good-natured and immensely respected man was given evidence of that widespread affection when his former pupils produced a tribute to him (“Remembering a wonderful teacher” one wrote), Words at Work, in 1994.

Likewise, his books were read widely. Such publications as The Bible in Religious Education, Wisdom and Worship and A Beginner’s Guide to the Old Testament were all well-received, as were the numerous papers he wrote in learned theological magazines, notably the Scottish Journal of Theology.

Davidson retired to Bearsden, where he remained in close touch with the Church and had time to further his love of gardening and listening to music.

He is survived by his wife Elizabeth, whom he married in 1952, four sons and three daughters.