Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Davidson, Andrew Bruce

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DAVIDSON, ANDREW BRUCE (1831–1902), Hebraist and theologian, born in 1831 at Ellon, North Aberdeenshire, was son of Andrew Davidson, a sturdy farmer who was keenly interested in the pending controversy respecting church government; his mother, Helen Bruce, was strongly attracted by the evangelical revival of the day. At his mother's wish he was sent in 1845 to the grammar school of Aberdeen, where James Melvin [q. v.] was headmaster; and in 1846 he gained a small bursary in what was then the Marischal University, Aberdeen. There in 1849 he graduated M.A. From 1849 to 1852 he was teacher at the Free church school in Ellon, and during those three years mastered not only Hebrew but various modern languages. In 1852 he entered the Divinity Hall of the Free church in Edinburgh, called the New College; and at the end of the four years' course was licensed in 1856 to become a preacher, but did little preaching or other parochial work. In 1858 he was appointed assistant to John Duncan (1796–1870) [q. v.], professor of Hebrew at the New College, who exerted upon him a stimulating influence. In 1863 he became Duncan's successor in the chair of Hebrew and Oriental languages, and held the post until Ms death, exerting from the first, partly by Ms writings, but chiefly by his personality, a commanding influence. Of a small and spare figure, quiet and unpretending in speech and manner, retiring in disposition, he riveted in the lecture-room the admiration and affection of his pupils. 'Easy mastery of Ms subject, lucid and attractive discourse, the faculty of training men in scientific method, the power of making them think out things for themselves, were united in him with the capacity of holding their minds, quickening their ideas, and commanding their imaginations.' He had a keen sense of humour, and a power of quiet but effective sarcasm.

He preached rarely, but Mhis sermons show freshness, independence, religious sympathy, and penetration. He was an influential member of the Old Testament revision company (1870–1884), and was made hon. LL.D. of Aberdeen (1868), hon. D.D. of Edinburgh (1868) and Glasgow, and hon. Litt.D. of Cambridge (1900). He died unmarried at Edinburgh on 20 Jan. 1902. Davidson devoted Ms life to the study of the Old Testament, its language, its exegesis, its theology. Whatever aspect of it he touched, his treatment was always masterly, sympathetic, and judicial. In his exegetical works one feels that, whatever opinion he puts forth upon a difficult subject, it is the result of long and mature study and represents the best conclusion which the circumstances of the case permit, and he excelled in the analysis of moral feeling and in the delineation of character.

At the time when he began to lecture, the Old Testament was mostly studied uncritically and superficially, and solely with a view to the dogmatic statements to be found in it. Davidson taught his pupils to realise its historical significance, to understand what its different writings meant to those who first heard them uttered, or road them, to trace the historical progress of religious ideas, to cultivate, in a word historical exegesis. Some of his pupils have left on record, what a revelation it was to them to find that the prophets, for instance, were men of flesh and blood like themselves, interested in the political and social movements of their times, eager to influence for good their own contemporaries. Davidson initiated in this country that historical view of the Old Testament which was afterwards more fully developed by his pupil William Robertson Smith [q. v.], and is now generally accepted among scholars. Davidson also gave valuable help in other directions. He was the power which lay behind W. R. Smith; and though he took hardly any personal part in the struggle of 1876-82 for liberty of biblical criticism, he by his moral weight was recognised as the real author of the victory which, at the cost of his own chair, Smith won for Scotland. Davidson supplied influence and guidance at a time when opinions which had come to be regarded by many as axiomatic were being rudely disturbed. He was equally alive to the historical and the religious importance of the Old Testament; and he was the first leader of thought in this country who taught successfully the reality of both. Apart from numerous articles in theological periodicals and in Hastings' 'Dictionary of the Bible,' Davidson's chief publications were:

  1. A grammatical and exegetical 'Commentary on Job,' 1862, unhappily never completed.
  2. 'An Introductory Hebrew Grammar,' 1874; 9th edit. 1888, very largely used as a class-book (now in its 18th edit.).
  3. 'A Hebrew Syntax,' 1894, intended for more advanced students, and remarkably thorough and complete.
  4. Commentaries on the 'Epistle to the Hebrews,' 1882.
  5. 'Job,' 1884;
  6. 'Ezekiel,' 1892;
  7. 'Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah,' 1896: the last three in the 'Cambridge Bible.'

There were published posthumously 'Biblical and Literary Essays' (1902); two volumes of sermons, 'The Called of God' (1902) and 'Waiting upon God' (1904); and two volumes based upon his lectures, 'Old Testament Prophecy' (1903) and 'The Theology of the Old Testament' (1904). There is a portrait by Sir George Reid in the New College, Edinburgh.

[British Weekly, 30 Jan. 1902; Expositor, Jan. 1888, p. 29 ff. (with portrait); Expos. Times, July 1897, p. 441 ff. (with portrait the best); Biblical World (Chicago), Sept. 1902, pp. 167 seq., and Oct. 1902, pp. 288 seq. (by G. A. Smith); Introd. to The Called of God (with portrait), pp. 3-58; complete list of publications in Expos. Times, July 1904, pp. 450 seq.]

S. R. D.