Jesuit Father Joseph A. Fitzmyer, a leading Catholic biblical scholar, died Dec. 24, 2016, in Philadelphia at age 96.
Fr. Fitzmyer, who was born in Philadelphia in 1920, and he graduated from St. Joseph’s High School in Philadelphia and entered the Society of Jesus at the Novitiate of St. Isaac Jogues in Wernersville, Pa. in 1938. Ordained a Jesuit priest in 1951, Fr. Fitzmyer is well known for his contributions to the Anchor Bible Series and for co-editing “The Jerome Biblical Commentary.”
He earned a doctorate in Semitics from Johns Hopkins University in 1956 and a licentiate in sacred Scripture a year later from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. Fr. Fitzmyer was a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission and also served as president of the U.S. Catholic Biblical Association.
An expert in the Aramaic language spoken by Christ and by many first-century Jews and Christians, the priest was noted for his work on the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Gospel of Luke. He did some of the initial work in the 1950s to prepare a concordance to the scrolls and was one of the first Americans to have direct access to the documents.
Fr. Fitzmyer also worked on the Catholic-Lutheran Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification signed by the two churches in October 1999 after extensive dialogue.
He founded the Institute on Sacred Scripture at Georgetown University, and he taught at a number of schools including the now-closed Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown, the University of Chicago, Fordham University, Boston College and The Catholic University of America.
John Martens, a theology professor at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, described Fr. Fitzmyer to America magazine as “a giant of biblical scholarship. No qualifiers need apply. He was not a giant of Catholic biblical scholarship, not a giant of 20th-century biblical scholarship, just a giant of biblical scholarship.”
He said the priest’s scholarship “was dedicated to understanding the Bible more thoroughly and completely. He has gone to his well-deserved rest, may he rest in peace, but his scholarship will live on because of his precision and dedication to making the Bible come alive for all who encounter it.”