Bertil Albrektson was born on 27 September 1929 in Gothenburg. He attended the University of Gothenburg where he received a degree in philosophy in 1951. He then studied theology at the University of Lund, receiving his degree in 1956 after which he was ordained priest in the Church of Sweden (much later he was to resign the position). Marriage followed in 1957, with philosophy graduate Anna Maria Thölén (1934-2015). Bertil continued his studies at Lund where he completed his doctorate in theology in 1963. During this time he was British Council Scholar at Cambridge University (Selwyn College; 1957–58). Later he was Visiting Fellow at Wolfson College, Cambridge (Easter Term 1973).
The academic phase of his life began with his appointment as associate professor of Old Testament exegesis in Lund in 1963. He next moved to become acting professor of Old Testament exegesis at Åbo Akademi University, 1964-67, and then professor of exegesis (Preferably Old Testament), 1967-76. Bible translation occupied him the last quarter of the 20th century: he became a full-time member of the Uppsala Bible Commission Translation Unit, with responsibility for Hebrew philology and textual criticism, 1975-2000. This produced the standard translation of the Church of Sweden Bible.
His academic research led to noteworthy contributions in two areas. One was textual criticism and translation. His doctoral thesis was on the text of Lamentations, with a focus on the Peshitta version. He wrote a number of articles on the subject of text and translation. Many of these were collected into one of the Society for Old Testament Study Monographs: Text, Translation, Theology: Selected Essays on the Hebrew Bible (2010). Perhaps his greatest long-term impact will be his History and the Gods: An Essay on the Idea of Historical Events as Divine Manifestations in the Ancient Near East and in Israel (1967). This unassuming short study challenged a major academic assumption. Although it was not universally welcomed initially, over the years it has heavily influenced scholarly views about the sense of history among ancient Near Eastern peoples.
A number of formal honours were awarded to him. Edinburgh presented him with an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree in 1995. In 1999 the Turku Academy gave him an honorary Doctor of Theology. The British Academy awarded him the Burkitt Medal for Biblical Studies in 2003. He was elected an Honorary Member of the (British and Irish) Society for Old Testament Study in 1983 and attended meetings regularly until near the end of his life. When he became too infirm to travel to the meetings, he sent along some of his delightful drawings to the Secretary for Honorary Members who posted them at the meeting.
(He had participated in Uplands Konstförening’s jury-judged salons for visual arts and even had his own solo exhibitions.) Members of SOTS will remember him for his friendly conversations (in excellent English) and his full participation in the Society’s activities. He died in Uppsala on 16 April 2021.
Lester L. Grabbe
SOTS Secretary for Honorary Members (2012-21)