You will be saddened to hear that Kingsley Barrett, my predecessor, died last night (6.30 pm, 26.08.11) - aged 94. He was the greatest UK commentator on NT texts since J. B. Lightfoot, and much loved by a wide range of Methodist chapels to which he ministered for about 60 years. He will be much missed, but his commentaries will live on for many years, providing information and insight to future generations of students of the NT."
I was privileged to meet and interact with Professor Barrett on several occasions while I was studying at Durham. Here are a few of my reflections.
Early on in my time in the PhD program I was in need of an article from ZNW from the year 1939. The library at Durham, however, had no issues of that journal from the years 1938 to 1946. I remember thinking "I know there was a war on folks, but that was some time ago!" When I related my frustration to Loren Stuckenbruck, my supervisor, he suggested that perhaps Kingsley Barrett would have a copy. My surprised reply was "He is still living!?" to which Loren replied, "yes, you sat next to him in the New Testament seminar yesterday." I had no idea that this quiet, humble man sitting next to the past few weeks was a titan in New Testament studies. He never felt the need to announce who he was. He merely came to listen and to learn.
The next time I interacted with him was during a lecture day for perspective students at the university. Hoping to have a chance to hear him speak, I slipped into the room where he was lecturing on Acts. He was standing behind a table with a portable podium. I noticed that as he would lean on the podium it would slide across the top of the table. After several minutes, when the podium was now more than halfway off of the table, I quickly got up, apologized for interrupting, and slid the podium back to the center of the table. When professor Barrett realized what I had done he replied: "Oh, I see, I was in danger of depositing myself on to the floor." I still chuckle to myself when I think of his reply.
One of the last times I interacted with him was when we celebrated his 85th birthday. The department of Theology at Durham arranged for a day in his honor. Judith Lieu and Morna Hooker each came and presented papers and we had a reception at the end. It was obvious that professor Barrett thoroughly enjoyed the day.
Over the years I have been consistently impressed with him as both a scholar and a person. His commentaries on John, Acts. Romans, and 1 Corinthians are still "must reads." All of us are forever in his debt for his New Testament Backgrounds: Selected Documents. And his articles and monographs are so numerous it is impossible to list them here.
At the same time, I have met person after person, who relate how when they visited Durham professor Barrett would have them into his home where they would have tea with him and Margaret, and enjoy a pleasant afternoon of conversation. He was a scholar and a gentleman.
The world and the field of New Testament studies is worse off today for having lost such an individual. May there be others like him who take his place.
Ben Witherington, who was one of Barrett's students, has posted some thoughts as well.