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Malina Remembered as Beloved Creighton Teacher, Game-Changing Biblical Scholar

Bruce Malina, PhD, STD, longtime Creighton University professor of theology and world-renowned biblical scholar and author, had an enormous impact – both on his field of study, as well as on the Creighton community, including the droves of students he taught over a remarkably long and fruitful career.

Malina died at his home on Thursday. He was 84.

Malina, a fixture in the Theology Department since the late 1960s, taught New Testament and early Christianity courses at Creighton, influencing and guiding a vast number of the University’s undergraduates in their studies over the nearly half-century of his tenure.

That influence extended to his Creighton colleagues. Eileen Burke-Sullivan, STD, vice provost for Mission and Ministry, called him “one of the hardest workers in the field you could imagine.”

“As a colleague, I was very aware of the thoroughness of his scholarly message, and I found him to have a deep love for the faith,” she said. “From every measure of biblical scholarship, he really was remarkable. He put Creighton on the map in terms of Scripture scholarship.”

Malina published dozens of books and hundreds of articles over the course of his prolific career. His specialty – New Testament studies – was forever shaped by his pioneering approach to biblical scholarship. His method emphasized interpretation of the texts from the cultural perspectives in which they were written.

“His aim was to approach a given text with a view to illuminating the social context of the first-century eastern Mediterranean world,” said the Rev. Dennis Hamm, SJ, professor emeritus of theology at Creighton. “The point was to access as closely as possible what the human author of a biblical book ‘said and meant to say.’

“Bruce’s contribution was to have been an early exponent of social-science commentary, “ Fr. Hamm added. “In this, he has influenced many Scripture scholars around the world – including me.”

When it came to teaching, Burke-Sullivan said he was a student favorite.

“Very few teachers were as popular as him on campus, and his classes were always packed,” she said. “He knew his students by name. He was a very conscientious teacher, and the students really liked him.”

Malina was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1933, the oldest of nine children. His lengthy education began in a Polish Catholic grade school in Brooklyn, and his high school years were spent in a Franciscan boarding school in Wisconsin, after which he joined the Franciscan Friars. Malina was ordained a Franciscan when he was 27.

His education continued in west Chicago, Rome and Jerusalem, where he received his doctorate in New Testament studies. In 1969, as he began the process of retiring from the priesthood; he was hired by Creighton.

Malina was married to his wife, Diane, for 45 years. In 1984, the couple adopted two Palestinian teenagers from Beirut. Their four brothers, along with the children’s parents, also were welcomed into the family, and later, two grandsons.

Fr. Hamm said Malina has left a lasting – and collaborative – impact on Creighton.

“Bruce’s approach was naturally interdisciplinary, so he was constantly interacting with scholars in other departments, such as economics, history, sociology and anthropology,” he said. “The result is that he not only learned a lot, he also stimulated other people’s research.

“I think he taught a lot of his peers to understand that biblical study is no ‘soft science,’ but calls for disciplined thinking comparable to other academic fields.”

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