Y Parchedig Athro Gwilym Henry Jones

Elected: 2011

Area(s): Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences

Specialist Subject(s): Ethics, Theology

Professor Gwilym H. Jones was born in Rhos-fawr on the Llŷn peninsula in 1930. Gwilym H. – as he was known by many – enjoyed a brilliant academic career. In 1950, after completing his education at Pwllheli Grammar School, he studied at Bangor University, graduating with a First Class degree in Hebrew. From there he went on to Jesus College Oxford to read for a degree in Theology, and then the MA. After completing his theological training, he accepted a call to serve as minister in Presbyterian churches in Anglesey and Rhuthun.

But his time as a minister was comparatively short, as he was appointed to a lectureship at the Theological College in Aberystwyth in 1961, and within five years was appointed lecturer in the Old Testament in his old department at Bangor University. This is where he spent the remainder of his academic career, and was in time appointed Head of Department and awarded a Personal Chair.

I was his student in the early 70s, and as a tutor he was always prepared to help and concerned for the students in his care. His classes were exemplars of patience and generosity with remarkable enthusiasm for his subject. When I returned to Bangor in the late seventies as a young lecturer, we collaborated happily for eighteen years, and when Gwilym was appointed Head of Department he was wise enough to change the structure of the courses and added several new ones to make the degree more contemporary and relevant. The Bible Studies Department later became the Department of Theology and Religious Studies. The Bible, of course, remained central, but there were opportunities for students to broaden their interest in religion. No wonder that the number of students in the Department increased substantially during his time in charge.

Gwilym was a polished preacher, his message always concise, contemporary and relevant. Fifteen of his sermons were published by Gwasg Pantycelyn in the volume O Sgrepan Teithiwr [From the Bag of a Traveller] (2001) – the title reflecting the fact that experiences that he had on his travels, be that on holiday or working, inspired many of the sermons in the volume. His frequent contributions over the years to ‘Munud i Feddwl’ [Thought for the Day] on Radio Cymru were also testament to his ability to present a message in a concise and memorable way.

Gwilym was highly respected among Bible scholars across Britain, and one sign of this was that he was elected President of the Society for Old Testament Study, the leading British society in the field, in 1995; the greatest honour that could be awarded to a scholar of the Old Testament. He gained his PhD for work on the oracles of the prophets in 1970, and in due course was awarded a Doctorate in Theology by the University of Wales for his published scholarly work on the Old Testament. The fact that he was also honoured with a DLitt, and elected a Fellow of the Learned Society, is further testament to the depth and breadth of his scholarship.

Gwilym was a remarkably productive scholar throughout the years. He was always aware of the need to publish scholarly works in Welsh as well as in English, and would take pride in the fact that the Department in Bangor was the first in the University (apart from the Department of Welsh) to enable students to pursue a complete course and sit their exams in their mother tongue. He published a great many articles in Welsh in Y Traethodydd and Diwinyddiaeth, and in English in the journals Vetus Testamentum and Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft. He was also the author of many volumes, including explanations in Welsh on the book of Isiah and the Psalms, and two substantial volumes of explanation in English on the books of Kings in the standard The New Century Bible series. His volume Arweiniad i’r Hen Destament appeared in 1966, and proved an useful aide for school and college students who were keen to know about the latest trends in critical studies of the Old Testament.

In 1974 The University of Wales Guild of Graduates Theology Section decided to promote a series of Welsh handbooks for students studying Biblical and religious subjects, and ‘Cyfres Beibl a Chrefydd’ was established, published by the University of Wales Press. The first volume to appear in the new series was Gramadeg Hebraeg y Beibl [Bible Hebrew Grammar] jointly produced by Gwilym and his friend in the department, Dafydd R. Ap-Thomas. The two taught the language of the Old Testament to their students in Welsh and English for many years, and both were convinced that there were substantial advantages for the Welsh to learn Hebrew through the medium of their own language. Gwilym was also responsible for the fourth volume in the series, Diwinyddiaeth yr Hen Destament [Theology of the Old Testament], that appeared in 1979. This was a ground-breaking work in Welsh at the time as the author considered the main conclusions in other branches in the field, be those linguistic, archaeological, historical or literary studies.

Gwilym also provided a masterful discussion of stories about the prophet Nathan in his volume The Nathan Narratives, published in 1990, and succeeded in skilfully summarizing the findings of recent scholars on the Chronicle books in his volume 1 & 2 Chronicles which appeared in the Sheffield Academic Press Old Testament Guides series in 1993. The works that Gwilym produced over the years show that he did not restrict his talents to specialist publications; he was keen to share the fruit of his labours with lay people and the intelligent public.

I was privileged to be a member of the same panel as Gwilym charged with preparing the Welsh translation of the Old Testament for the New Welsh Bible, and his tremendous work over a quarter of a century to ensure that the translation saw the light of day must be recognised. In every panel meeting Gwilym could find the exact Welsh word that would express the meaning of the original Hebrew text.

Upon retiring, he was presented with a volume in his honour, Cenadwri a Chyfamod, edited by Gareth Lloyd Jones, which was an opportunity for colleagues to show their appreciation of his untiring contribution to Bible scholarship. His many admirers will remember him as a brilliant theologian, an inspired lecturer and a first rate Biblical scholar. After retiring from the Department in 1995, Gwilym’s entertaining company was missed, as was his strong and no-nonsense leadership, and his inexhaustible learning which he shared so generously. The loss to Old Testament scholarship is great.

Prepared by Professor Eryl Wynn Davies DD FLSW