George Richardson Lecture 2021

Tolstoy or Kierkegaard? Dilemmas of Quaker Biblical Interpretation by Hugh S. Pyper

The eminent critic George Steiner entitled his first book Tolstoy or Dostoevsky. In it he explores the fundamental differences between these two great writers which contribute to their radically different approaches to interpreting the New Testament.

In this lecture, Hugh S. Pyper will draw on Steiner’s insights while substituting for Dostoevsky, a figure whose writings are often compared to his: the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard. This is because both Kierkegaard and Tolstoy have strong connections to Quakers. By exploring the Quaker interest in the two thinkers, Hugh hopes to uncover some common roots but also to suggest that a necessary tension may have been obscured. Tolstoy seems to have triumphed, but at a cost. The Quaker tradition of biblical reading contains elements that chime with both of these approaches and the lecture concludes by suggesting ways in which the balance could be regained.

Hugh S. Pyper has recently retired as Professor of Biblical Interpretation at the University of Sheffield and now lives in Orkney. Born and brought up in Edinburgh, his early career was as a school biology teacher and it was not until his 30s that he embarked on the academic study of the Bible, subsequently teaching at the University of Leeds before moving to Sheffield. He has been appointed as the next president of the Society for Old Testament Study in the UK and Ireland.

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