By Robert Orlando
Whenever we hear the phrase “a gentleman and a scholar” we should think of Larry Hurtado. He was a well-respected New Testament author, a rigorous scholar, and a prolific blogger. But to me he was more: a friend who was passionate, articulate, fair, and measured in his delivery. He had a witty humor, and a lightness of touch even when emphatically turning a phrase like “What in God’s name?” or “Who would of thought?”
We were introduced through Alan Segal (another “gentleman & scholar,” who has also passed, in 2011) at Philadelphia SBL just before our 2005 interview for my provocative film on the Apostle Paul: A Polite Bribe.
Larry had a short appearance early in the film and would joke that he barely survived the edit floor, but, oh, what a moment on the big screen! Larry was competing with thirty scholars at the time, most of whom were world renowned Pauline specialists, but few with his expertise in early Christology, as attested to by his numerous books on the subject including the early How On Earth Did Jesus Become a God?: Historical Questions About Earliest Devotion to Jesus and the more recent Destroyer Of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness In the Roman World.
With the success of my film, its value generously recognized by Larry at the British New Testament Society, I would eventually find myself in 2014 on a London Tube, then a train to the University of Edinburgh—the Athens of the North—home to the Scottish Enlightenment, a series of smoky bridges, and formidable architecture.
On a hillside, I found Larry’s office high atop a Harry Potter-like perch, warmed by steam heat and lined with the familiar New Testament works. It was here that Larry revealed to me that some years earlier he had written an article on the same subject of Paul and the collection.
Almost ten years after we first met, we would screen A Polite Bribe and hold a Q&A, for the well-informed and engaging Edinburgh community. The post-screening dinner, shared with the Edinburgh faculty, featured great wine and my first taste of not-so-bad haggis.
The Final Verdict
On November 22nd of the same year Larry and I met for a follow-up screening at the Society of Biblical Literature in San Diego, along with Ben Witherington. It was a lively conversation that probed the questions regarding the role of James in Apostle Paul’s demise, one of the themes in my sequel, The Final Verdict.
At the 2017 San Antonio Society of Biblical Literature, Larry was interviewed for that film, along with many others, and we had a final chance to connect. As The Final Verdict (based on a new book of the same name) is becoming a rough cut, my final interviews were to be completed this past November at SBL, when I received the sad news that leukemia had claimed Larry as he lived out his final days in Scotland.
Ironically, it was the same kind of news I heard when I was reaching out to Alan Segal for a final interview on the first Paul film and to whom I dedicated it. Larry’s passing gave me a further sense of urgency to complete The Final Verdict, and it is to him and his legacy that I will dedicate the film.
I tip my hat to a gentlemen, scholar and friend.
Robert Orlando is an author, filmmaker whose most recent films are Apostle Paul: A Polite Bribe, Silence Patton and The Divine Plan, the story of Reagan, John Paul II, and the Fall of Communism. Presently he is working on a sequel on Paul titled Apostle Paul, The Final Verdict.