Obituary: James M. Robinson

Professor, visionary

 

James “Jim” McConkey Robinson, founder and director emeritus of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity at Claremont Graduate University, died on March 22, 2016 surrounded by close family members. He was 91. 

Born June 30, 1924, Dr. Robinson was also a professor of religion emeritus at CGU. Once a student of the theologian Karl Barth, he eventually shifted from systematic theology to the study of the New Testament. He was a member of the Jesus Seminar/Westar Institute and is widely known for his pioneering work on the Sayings Gospel Q and Nag Hammadi codices—also known as the Gnostic Gospels.

He was honored as a Fulbright Scholar, American Council of Learned Societies Fellow and American Association of Theological Schools Fellow at the University of Heidelberg and was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Robinson earned degrees from Davidson College, Columbia Theological Seminary, University of Basel, Switzerland and Princeton Theological Seminary. He held honorary degrees from University of Mainz, Germany; Davidson College;  Miami University; Laval University, Quebec, Canada; and the University of Geneva, Switzerland. Prolifically published, he has over 280 books, articles and edited materials to his name.

Of import, he was the editor of The Sayings Gospel Q in Greek and English (2002), The Critical Edition of Q (2000) and author of the 1971 book Trajectories Through Early Christianity (with Helmut Koester) and A New Quest of the Historical Jesus (1959), although he is best known for his work on the Nag Hammadi Codices and as the general editor of The Nag Hammadi Library in English (1977). In his later years, he distilled his scholarship and wrote The Gospel of Jesus, a book intended for a general audiences.

Dr. Robinson has resided in Claremont since the early 1950s, working at the Claremont Graduate School and the Claremont School of Theology and heading international projects for the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity. To the pride of many Claremonters, Dr. Robinson took the central momentum of New Testament inquiry from its stronghold in Europe not just to the New World but to Claremont, California. It was also through his efforts that the International Association for Coptic studies was founded and Claremont became a center for Coptic Studies. The International Association will be holding its Congress in Claremont in July.

For the last several decades Dr. Robinson has resided at Pilgrim Place and was very active teaching at the graduate level, attending Society of Biblical Literature conferences (past president, 1981), travelling with his wife and enjoying Claremont with his children and grandchildren.

Dr. Robinson is survived by his wife Anne, his four children, Francoise, James, Joy and Rosemary, and his six grandchildren, Andrew, Marie, Lana, Christina, Cole and Cade. A memorial service will be held at Pilgrim Place’s Decker Hall on Saturday, April 2 at 3:30 pm. A reception will follow at Napier Center.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to one of the following organizations: Pilgrim Place in designation of the fund for “Residents in Financial Need,” 625 Mayflower Road, Claremont, CA 91711; the Nag Hammadi Processing Project, via Lisa Crane at Lisa_Crane@cuc.claremont.edu; and the Society of Biblical Literature (www.sbl-site.org). 

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