Our friend and colleague, John Moles, passed away suddenly on Sunday 4th October, while working in the library. He was a Professor of Latin at Newcastle University, but he lived in Durham and participated regularly in our New Testament Research Seminar, where he could always be relied upon to be provocative, challenging, insightful, witty, warm and self-deprecating.
If John was in the audience, we could look forward to his “pagan” comments (as he called them), prodding us to reconsider familiar things in unfamiliar ways. Two themes that he never tired of were puns and Dionysus. No one who had been to a few seminars with him could forget that “Jesus” in Greek is punned with the verb of healing (Iesous/iaomai), and “Christ” with “grace” as well as “anointing” (Christos/charis/chrisma). Dionysus and his cult were often spotted by John in the motifs and language of the New Testament. He would draw attention to Richard Seaford’s article from 1984 on Dionysiac echoes in Paul’s imagery of seeing Christ “through a glass darkly”, and might add, modestly, that he too had written a piece on Dionysus in Acts. While it is not uncommon for scholars to try to cross the lines between Classics and New Testament Studies, it is a rare pearl to find one who combines the depth and breadth of Classical learning that John had, with such professional commitment to New Testament study. Perhaps there were times when some of us thought he pushed the Classical connections too far, but we could only be grateful for being made think in ways we couldn’t or didn’t without our “pagan” friend. And indeed, the prominence in the church fathers of both punning on Iesous and Christos, and of connections between Dionysiac and Christian imagery, lend strong support to some of John’s instincts in reading the New Testament texts. Continue reading