David Daube, famous Biblical law scholar and professor emeritus of law at UC Berkeley, has died

By Janet Gilmore, Public Affairs

BERKELEY--David Daube, a world renowned Biblical law scholar who charmed generations of students while teaching at the University of California, Berkeley's law school, died on Wednesday (Feb. 24) from pneumonia. He was 90.

Daube, a Berkeley resident, died at Oak Park Convalescent Hospital in Pleasant Hill.

He first came to UC Berkeley's School of Law (Boalt Hall) in 1970 and taught through 1993. Law students enjoyed his thoughtful and entertaining classroom lectures, while scholars hailed his important research on Roman law, Biblical law, Hebraic Law and ethics.

"David was one of the greatest legal scholars in the world, and that is no exaggeration," said Robert Cole, a professor emeritus of law at UC Berkeley. "His Biblical interpretations are just stunningly creative and meticulously researched and carefully analyzed. There's just nothing like it. I don't think there's anyone else like him."

Daube was born on Feb. 8, 1909, in Freiburg, Germany. He was the second of two sons in an Orthodox Jewish family. In 1933, knowing German, French, Latin, Ancient Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic but not English, he left Germany for England to escape the Nazis.

He received his initial degrees from the University of Freiburg and the University of Göttingen in 1932. In 1936, he received a doctorate from Cambridge University and, in 1955, a Master's degree from Oxford University. Many additional degrees would follow.

In England, he quickly rose to the top levels of academia in the fields of Roman and Biblical law.

From 1955-1970, he was a fellow at All Souls College at Oxford, and he was royally appointed to the position of Regius Professor of Civil Law at Oxford.

Daube first became a visiting professor at UC Berkeley in the 1960s, joining the faculty in 1970. During a newspaper interview in 1986, one law student, Jeff Baird, described Daube's lectures this way:

"One of his key themes is that the ancients were as much sneaky liars, losers, failures, successes, generous, grandiose, colorful people as we are today," the law student told the Oakland Tribune. "Daube's class is about who we are today. And how do we know what we're like? By looking at the way we were 2,000 years ago."

Daube produced dozens of books and published more than 150 articles in scholarly journals. His work ranged from such matters as the origins of detective novels, which he traced to ancient times, to wine in the Bible, to research on individual Biblical characters.

His books include the 1953 publication, "The New Testament and Rabbinic Judaism;" the 1959 publication, "Studies in the Roman Law of Sale;" and, in 1972, "Civil Disobedience in Antiquity." Between 1974 and 1993, four collections of essays were written by scholars in his honor.

At one point in his life, every academic chair in Roman law and ancient history in Britain was held by one of his former students.

During his lifetime, Daube obtained numerous academic degrees, including honorary degrees, from some of the world's finest colleges and universities. He especially was proud of an honorary degree from the Sorbonne University in Paris.

In addition to UC Berkeley, he taught at Cambridge, Yale University, Catholic University in Washington, D.C., the University of Edinburgh and the University of Aberdeen, both in Scotland, and the University of Konstanz in Germany.

Despite his lofty works and accomplishments, Daube's circle of friends was vast, ranging from international scholars to local bus drivers.

Said emeritus law professor Cole, "He was just the most marvelous human being and colleague. He was charming, attentive. He was an amazing friend."

Daube is survived by his wife, Helen Smelser Daube; and his children from a previous marriage: Jonathan Daube of Manchester, Connecticut; Benjamin Daube of Toronto; and Michael Daube of Perth, Australia. He also is survived by stepchildren from his marriage to Helen - Tina Smelser and Eric Smelser of San Francisco - and six grandchildren.

Funeral services will take place at 10 a.m. on Monday, March 1, at Congregation B'nai Tikvah in Walnut Creek. The law school is planning a memorial service for him.

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