Obituary: Dr Michael Weitzman

Members of the Tyndale Society were among very many people who were grieved to learn of the death of Michael Weitzman on 21 March, at the age of 51, after a thrombosis.

Michael was a great admirer of Tyndale as a translator of Hebrew and Greek, and an especially good friend of the Society. He was known personally to many of us. At the first Oxford International Tyndale Conference in September 1994, he was one of a panel of speakers on translating Scripture. On 14 June 1995, he gave for the Society, with Professor Morna Hooker of Cambridge, an outstanding morning seminar on the same subject. He was the second annual Hertford College Tyndale Lecturer, in October 1995, concentrating particularly on Tyndale as a Hebraist: we are fortunate that lecture appeared in Reformation 1, 1996. Though he and I spoke at length on the phone, the last time I saw him was in July 1997 at a small private colloquium hosted by Sir Rowland Whitehead as President of the Institute of Translators and Interpreters, to thrash out some basic principles of Scripture translating. It is hoped that the edited tapes of that occasion will reach print before too long.

Michael was astonishing, as those who read the full obituaries of him in the press will have noticed. Having already, by the age of 12, shown himself a remarkable Hebraist, and then, at 16, winning an open scholarship to St John's College Cambridge, he took Firsts (and University prizes) in Hebrew and Classics in 1967. What almost nobody knew, however, was that he was simultaneously reading for an external London BSc in Mathematics, gaining another First in 1968: as well as everything else in the next three decades, he contributed to mathematical journals from time to time. He firmly demolished the ridiculous 'bible codes' theories about modern events. He was fluent in French, German, Italian and Spanish as well as Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Aramaic and Syriac. He was a consultant etymologist to the Oxford English Dictionaries.

As Tyndale has it in Hebrews 11, 'The time would be too short for me to tell' of all Michael's pioneering scholarship in Jewish studies, a good deal of it from computer analysis. I single out his mastery of the previously unstudied cuneiform language Eblaite, and his book on the discoveries at Ebla in Syria. His magnum opus, coming from Cambridge University press in October, is his edition of the Syriac form of the Aramaic versions of Scripture. Syriac, virtually extinct for 2,000 years, has to be reconstructed in vocabulary, grammar and syntax from clues, and yet it is the original tongue of the New Testament. Michael's work is of huge importance for two great faiths. One of my own vivid memories of Michael is being one morning in his untidy office in the Hebrew Studies department at University College London when he took a telephone call from a College official asking about some 'essential' documents on a departmental matter. Michael was courteous, as always, but put the phone down and said with endearing exasperation 'I am discovering why Jews became Christians, and they bother me about yellow forms !'

Michael was greatly loved at UCL -- he was one of those rarest of people who achieve the highest scholarship and yet seem to have endless time for colleagues and students. He was a wonderful teacher. My own close relationship with him goes back a dozen years, from the time when he gave so much time to Tyndale, and to me, when I was first preparing my Tyndale Bible volumes. We would sit at my desk in the English Department at UCL with Tyndale's New Testament, and then Old Testament, in front of us. Again and again, Michael would look at a Tyndale line and glow with pleasure: he would quote another relevant verse or two of the Hebrew Scriptures from memory, flicking the pages of the Hebrew text to check, and explaining in a few lucid words what was going on. His admiration of Tyndale as a translator was very great indeed: and when not just somebody with some Hebrew but a leading Hebrew scholar says emphatically, with his finger on the page, again and again, that Tyndale's understanding of Hebrew was far ahead of his time, and that his translation was little short of genius, then we must take notice.

Two other personal memories: I was bothered by getting the balance right in understanding Paul's Scripture quotations, and knowing what else beside the Septuagint was behind them. On a summer morning, Michael said we should be outside. We sat on a bench in the front quad of UCL. Michael took out his pocket Greek NT, and turned up passages in Romans and elsewhere, and quoted and translated the Hebrew behind them, and the Greek of the Septuagint, and the later Latin of the Vulgate, all from memory -- and with excellent shots, from memory, of Tyndale's translations. And it was all done with total modesty, as if this were something that anyone could do, and he just happened to be passing.

The other memory is of his presence, after dinner, late in that October evening in 1975, in the delightful Senior Common Room of Hertford College. He had given his lecture, to acclaim. Over coffee he was content to be with appreciative Fellows and friends. The door opened, and his wife Anita slipped in, having just put the children, Gail and Alex, to bed in a guest room opposite. She murmured to Michael that they were too excited to sleep yet, but would. Michael's happiness at his wife's presence and his children's nearness was, visibly, now complete. So many people learned from his erudition, and received his warmth and generosity. Everyone felt better after being in his company. He is already very greatly missed.

David Daniell

Joan Lupton
We have to announce with sadness the death of our member Joan Lupton on 2 July 1998, aged 87. She was the widow of Lewis Lupton.

John Barnett
We are saddened to announce the death of John Barnett, of North Nibley, Gloucestershire, who was the author of the The Ploughboy's Story which was performed at North Nibley in September 1994 as part of the Tyndale quincentenary celebrations. He was a staunch member of the Society and will be missed by many.

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