Douglas Templeton

The Scotsman, September 7, 2017 | Go to article overview

Douglas Templeton


Douglas Alan Templeton, theologian: Born, 27 May 1935, in Glasgow. Died, 22 August 2017, in Edinburgh, aged 82 The theologian Dr Douglas Templeton is affectionately remembered by his students as much for his crumpled kilt and his golden Labrador, Donald, as for the erudite content of his lectures on the New Testament.

A teacher at New College, Edinburgh University's Faculty of Divinity, on the Mound, he was for many undergraduates on the New Testament Honours course the spirit of 1960s Edinburgh, entertaining them to a crate of beer at his flat in Rose Street while discussing the Biblical insights of abstruse German philosophers. Donald the dog's favourite place was Templeton's office in college, where visitors would offer him their biscuits.

Templeton's style was ruminative: soft-spoken, he would pace the room, never too quick to criticise someone's contribution to the debate. He was, one former student said, "studiously eccentric".

Templeton kept his hair long all his life, and was sometimes mistaken for, as a friend put it, "some kind of suspicious character". In later years he had another golden Labrador, Ossian. A gentle sort, brimming with sympathy for people's feelings, Templeton served for a time early in his career as assistant minister in the parish of Richmond Craigmillar, at Niddrie, southeast Edinburgh.

He published, in 1999, a book, "The New Testament as True Fiction: Literature, Literary Criticism, Aesthetics" , which has been described as "an intertextual tour de force" and "an extended meditation" on imaginative truth and how this may differ from the truth of history.

Among the strongest influences on his thinking were the German Lutheran theologian Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976), who contended that what mattered was that Jesus Christ had existed, rather than any particular fact about Christ's life; and the British philosopher and archaeologist Robin George Collingwood (1889-1943), an Anglican Oxford classicist whose father had happened to be private secretary to the Victorian aesthete John Ruskin. Templeton's reading covered a vast range, from Hegel, Spinoza, Wittgenstein and Aristotle, to Goethe, Coleridge, Walter Scott, and P G Wodehouse. He would read James Joyce in bed, and could quote from TS Eliot, Wallace Stevens, and the poetry of the medieval Provencal troubadour Bernart de Ventadour, as well as enjoying Spike Milligan, the Monty Python comedies and JK Rowling's Harry Potter.

Described as "a superb teacher", he had studied in Germany, in Baden-Wurttemberg at the university of Tubingen under another German Lutheran theologian, the New Testament scholar Professor Ernst Kasemann, as well as at Gottingen University in Lower Saxony, and at Jena - Jena being at that time separated from the West in the then Communist German Democratic Republic. He visited Bultmann, who was then Professor of New Testament theology at the University of Marburg, in Hesse.

Templeton for his first degree had studied classics at Cambridge University, and, as well as Greek and Latin, knew Hebrew, German and French. …

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