Biblical scholar Krister Stendahl, former dean of Harvard Divinity School and former bishop of Stockholm, died on April 15, 2008. He was 86.
Stendahl’s research spanned the Hebrew Bible and New Testament. He advanced the cause of ecumenicism and championed the rights of minorities, including women, gays, lesbians and African-Americans, particularly in the religious sphere.
Stendahl was born in 1921 in Stockholm, Sweden, where his father worked as a harbor administrator. His family was not very religious; rather, his faith arose during a painful bout with arthritis when he was 16. His illness informed his later reading of religious texts, leading him to identify with and meditate on Jesus’ pain.
Stendahl studied at Uppsala University, where he was ordained in the Church of Sweden (Lutheran) in 1944. He served as a priest and as chaplain at Uppsala until receiving his doctorate there in 1954.
He immediately moved to Harvard Divinity School (HDS), where he was professor of New Testament. Fourteen years later, in 1968, he became dean of the school. During his tenure as dean (until 1979) Stendahl oversaw a dramatic increase in the diversity of students and faculty at HDS, especially in terms of women and racial background.
As bishop of Stockholm in the 1980s, Stendahl facilitated efforts to end Sweden’s state sponsorship of the church.