Dr. Norman Karol Gottwald, renowned pioneer in the use of the social scientific method in biblical studies, age 95, passed away peacefully at his home surrounded by his family on March 11, 2022.
Norman was an original thinker and pioneer in the social critical study of the Hebrew Bible. He taught, traveled, lectured and wrote prolifically over six decades. Norman authored numerous scholarly works that were groundbreaking in their approach to Biblical interpretation. Prominent Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggemann (in his critical essay of May 2022, The Christian Century) hailed Dr. Gottwald as “the most important and influential Old Testament scholar of the 20th century in the United States.”
Norman was born in 1926 to Norman Sr. and Carol Gottwald in Chicago, Illinois. He spent his childhood in Chicago, then moved to Ontario, California, where he graduated high school.
He attended Eastern Baptist Seminary in Philadelphia where he met and married a fellow student, Barbara Wright. In 1949, he received an A.B. from Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary. In 1951, he received an M.Div. from Union Theological Seminary. In 1953, he received a doctorate in biblical literature from Columbia University. He served as pastor at First Baptist church in Englewood, New Jersey, from 1952-1953, then moved to Newton Center, Massachusetts, where he taught at Andover Newton Theological School. Norman and Barbara raised two daughters, Sharon and Lise. In 1966 they moved to Berkeley, California, where Norman was on the faculty of American Baptist Seminary of the West and Graduate Theological Union. In 1977 Norman relocated from Berkeley to teach at New York Theological Seminary where he met and married Laura Lagerquist.
Norman served as President of the Society of Biblical Literature in 1992. In 1996 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by the University of Sheffield in England. He served on the editorial boards of Biblical Interpretation and Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies. He lectured widely in England, Switzerland, Israel, South Africa, New Zealand, Korea, Colombia, Chile, and Brazil as well as throughout Canada and the United States, on the relevance of biblical society, economics and ethics for contemporary life. As South Africa was emerging from apartheid he was visiting professor at the University of Cape Town. He was active in continuing education for clergy and laity. He spent his sabbaticals in Israel, visiting important ancient sites and sharing in cultural exchanges with other scholars.
In his later years, Dr. Gottwald was proud of his work establishing the Library for the Bible and Social Justice located at the Stony Point Conference Center, in Stony Point, New York. Norman’s vision for the library was to connect biblical scholars and social justice activists, through a research library and educational programs, to develop an empowering use of the bible for enacting social justice today. Norman and Laura volunteered and resided at Stony Point Center for several years as members of the Intentional Community of Living Traditions. Norman cherished the close ties of this non-traditional religious community. Norman is survived by his wife of 33 years, Laura, his daughters Lise Teilmann (Gary), Sharon Pillsbury (Roger), seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Dr. Gottwald was known for his intellectual curiosity and sharp mind. His heart for justice led him to encourage, embrace and support people from all segments of society with a special interest in the marginalized.
He considered his greatest accomplishments to be raising his daughters and his contributions to the understanding and study of the Bible as a tool for social justice.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 6. Those who would like information about attending the service (including via Zoom) should e-mail Pastor Nancy Hall at email@example.com.
In leau of flowers, please send donations to: Center and Library for the Bible and Social Justice, 17 Cricketown Rd., Stony Point, NY 10980