The Rev Professor John Gray, MA, BD, PhD, DD,

Professor of Hebrew

& Semitic Languages, Aberdeen University;

born June 9, 1913, died

April 1, 2000

JOHN GRAY was born and brought up in Kirk Yetholm, high in the Cheviots, the older son of a master tailor. He had that particular quality of Scottish patriotism that only one reared so near the Border could possess.

From his childhood and youth in those rural surroundings he imbibed those virtues of a countryman's independence and self-sufficiency that marked him to the end of his days: the skilled fisherman that could tie his own flies and had that intuitive knowledge of weather and light and water conditions to go out of an evening and, as he would put it, ''fill a basket''; the beekeeper (on his retirement from Aberdeen he transported his hives in the removal van back to his native Kelso and received from the enraged bees 150 stings for his pains); the gardener, and, really, in his early days, small-holder and crofter, who, when in his isolated manse in Arran he was snowed up for six weeks, was perfectly able to support himself and his growing family; the piper and fiddler, devotee of Scott Skinner.

He often said that if he had not become a minister and then an academic he would have been a Border shepherd.

But he was quickly marked out as the proverbial Scottish ''lad o' pairts''. Proceeding to Edinburgh University, he took a First in Classics, followed by a BD with Distinction in Old Testament. En route, he took time to study Arabic with Richard Bell, the renowned interpreter of the Koran; as Blackie Scholar, he spent a year travelling in Greece and the Holy Land.

It was on that journey that in the famed Dominican Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem he had, as he would say, the newly discovered Ras Shamra texts put in his hands, which were to stand in the forefront of his research in a life-time of academic endeavour. Ordained as a missionary to Haifa with the Church of Scotland in the fateful year of 1939, he returned to the Holy Land for two-and-a-half years as Chaplain to the Palestine Police. This experience gave him opportunity to travel the length and breadth of the Land, to accumulate an unrivalled knowledge of its landscape and topography and an intimate acquaintance with the life and manners of its inhabitants, especially the Arabs. He would, like the true countryman he was, ''disappear for days into the desert with the Bedouin''. Thus he acquired at first hand those anthropological observations that he would later effectively deploy in his writings,

for that experience too he had prepared while still a Divinity student by study at Greifswald under the Palestinian anthropologist Gustav Dalman.

He returned to Scotland at the end of 1941 by Norwegian ship. Gifted linguist that he was, Gray did not let the opportunity slip of learning Norwegian, an unbelievable feat, even if the return route was by the Cape, but confirmed when many years later he was, to his profound satisfaction, invited to give two lectures founded in memory of his most admired mentor, Sigmund Mowinckel, in Oslo. Gray determined to deliver his lectures in Norwegian. He had his manuscript checked by the Head of the Scandinavian Studies Department in the University of Aberdeen, who pronounced the Norwegian excellent, if somewhat marred by nautical slang.

Back in Scotland, he was inducted in 1942 to the Parish of Kilmory on the island of Arran. In that remote setting, he set himself to prepare for a life in academe. The Ugaritic texts he had first met in Ecole Biblique, and which were still in the early days of interpretation, he subjected to fundamental study; in their elucidation he found in Arabic ''the golden key'' (during that period he also read through the whole of the Koran in Arabic).

An opening in Semitic Languages in Manchester under the redoubtable H H Rowley offered itself in 1947: there he once again found himself in the company not just of Old Testament scholars but of Arabists and anthropologists. Half-a-dozen years later a lectureship in Hebrew & Semitic Languages became available in Aberdeen and to Aberdeen he came, where he was to spend the rest of his active academic life, first as Lecturer (1953-62), then as Professor (1962-80).

While Gray was willing to take his share of administrative duties (he served as Dean of the Faculty of Divinity for a three-year period), his first love was undoubtedly research. He wrote voluminously in several areas. On Ugaritic, he produced an edition of the Keret Text (1955), a comprehensive study of the then known corpus of texts in The Legacy of Canaan (1957), both published by the prestigious academic house Brill, and, at a more popular level, The Canaanites (1964) and Near Eastern Mythology (1969).

In archaeology, he wrote a volume Archaeology and the Old Testament World (1962) and a History of Jerusalem (1969). On the Old Testament he published commentaries on the ''historical'' books, Joshua, Judges and Ruth (1967), and on Kings (1964). But in Old Testament studies his first love was Psalms: there he sought to complement Mowinckel's ''cult functional'' approach developed in the 1920's with the insights newly garnered from the Ugaritic texts: this work came to fruition in his theological study, The Biblical Doctrine of the Reign of God (1979). In this busy and productive academic career he took only one year off, to be visiting Professor at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, in 1972. Public recognition of his scholarly contribution was given through the conferment on him of the honorary degree of DD by the University of St Andrews in 1977. Throughout his retirement Gray continued

to work on another poetic corpus, the book of Job (which he had once rendered in the Doric, ''Job in a Cheviot plaid''), returning again to Arabic and Ugaritic as principal means of elucidating its obscurities.

A colleague in another university once referred to him as ''an old-fashioned Scottish professor''. That is indeed a compliment that well sums up John Gray: the immense erudition, the single-minded dedication to long hours in the study, the impact of that learning and industry on his students, and the response of affection and respect that he elicited from them by his transparent quality and utter genuineness as a scholar and as a personality. It is indeed hard to see how his like can be produced again.