Professor Robert Peter Carroll, professor of Hebrew and Semitic studies; born January 18, 1941, died May 12, 2000

SON of a Dublin compositor, Robert Carroll occasionally recounted that he was ''the grandson of a man who used to trek round the Wicklow mountains on a donkey looking for work''. He was born and reared in Dublin in a family mixed in the Catholic/ Protestant sense, but brought up in an evangelical and low-church Anglican environment in a Church of Ireland parish.

He disowned this church tradition, although retaining its proclamatory spirit, and he never lost his love of choral evensong and so for religious aesthetic.

Robert was educated at Dublin High School and at Trinity College Dublin, where, under the notable Hebrew grammarian Jacob Weingreen, he gained an MA in Hebrew and Semitic languages.

Moving to Edinburgh University, in 1966 he obtained a PhD in Old Testament studies under George W Anderson, to whom in 1993 in an otherwise unremarkable Festschrift Robert offered a memorable contribution where Anderson achieves the rare distinction of being described as ''a truly Christian scholar''.

At Edinburgh, in a college largely concerned with the education of candidates for the Presbyterian ministry, he found much to enhance and accelerate his frequently misunderstood distaste for institutional Christianity as well as for mind-numbing theological orthodoxies and many other ideologies and dogmas. He broadened his substantive theological education by attending courses in the history of doctrine and religio- philosophical thought. This qualified him to rebut charges of mere iconoclasm, uninformed prejudice, and even ''atheism''.

In time, Robert was to fit wholly inappropriately into the ancient and traditional paradigm invoked for radical dissidents, non-conformists, and freethinkers, namely, that as ''heretics'' they are subversive enemies of God and of humanity.

In 1968 Robert began a remarkable 32-year association with Glasgow and the West of Scotland when he was appointed as an assistant lecturer in Semitic Languages at the dual institution of Trinity College and the Faculty of Divinity in the University of Glasgow.

Moving up the academic ladder over the years, Robert Carroll became Professor of Hebrew and Semitic Studies in 1991. This was a deserved if belated reward for outstandingly fresh work in the field of Old Testament Studies achieved throughout the eighties. His main research interest was biblical prophecy and Jeremiah in particular, as revealed in his seminal major publications.

His work on Jeremiah reopened interest and debate in an area that for decades had become bogged down with individualistic studies of minutiae.

From 1991-1994 he was Dean of the Divinity Faculty. He then became a member of the University Senate, and from 1996 till his death he was Senate Assessor in the University Court, involving duties and responsibilities far exceeding normal work in teaching and research. Latterly, he was also president of the Society for Old Testament Studies.

Robert Carroll, characteristically, never abandoned the humbler aspects of his work and interest - for 20 years he devoted 11 evenings each winter to teaching the university's access course on religion and theology. He offered regular and timeous contributions to the Trinity College Bulletin and was a committed member of Trinity College Senate. In the nineties he published several eye-catching works, as editor, co-editor, or sole author.

In addition to all this, there have been dozens of specialist studies, book reviews, and review articles in various journals.

Perhaps unconsciously, Robert was an inheritor of the classical Judeo-Christian Humanist tradition whereby life has priority over dogma, humanity over ideology, practical ethics and morality over high-sounding mission statements etc. His main aim in life was to encourage folk to think, to raise them up, help them to look beyond the narrow confines of their often entrenched positions. This, of course, raised up detractors, nowhere more strident than within parts of the ecclesia who branded him a blasphemer. This generated serious debate, as one of Robert's favourite passages in the Gospels was the twenty-third Chapter of Matthew! It is true that he ploughed a lonely furrow at times but he never deviated from the challenge as he perceived it - to liberate the Bible from ''the chimera of Bible Christianity''.

Robert Carroll was also a bon vivant, he loved the arts - theatre, cinema, the written word, and he had huge range of appreciation of music, which he shared with his family - his pride and joy. Robert P Carroll is survived by his sister Anne, his wife Mary Anne, and their children Finn, Alice, and Saul.