André LaCocque

André LaCocque

Dr. André LaCocque, Emeritus Professor of Hebrew Bible at Chicago Theological Seminary died on Jan. 28, 2022. He was 94. A revered teacher and a groundbreaking biblical scholar, he reconceived faithful study of a shared scripture, undergirded by interfaith dialogue and deep understanding between Jews and Christians. He was the founding Director of Chicago Theological Seminary’s Center of Jewish-Christian Studies, which has since become the InterReligious Institute.

LaCocque’s calling arose at an early age. At the age of 12, André became perplexed by Germany’s efforts to eradicate the Jewish people. His family were friends with Jews and he knew them as kind, peaceful, beautiful people. He could not abide hatred that denied dignity to anyone. Having witnessed the tragedies that hatred inflicts, he dedicated his life to understanding how the Bible and its subsequent interpretation by Jews and Christians can guide us to resist that path.

André’s childhood home served as a safe haven for a Jewish family and a source of relief for many in the town. His father pastored a Reformed Church and his parents’ active engagement to counter anti-Jewish beliefs while leading Bible studies in their home served as models for intellectual rigor and faith-filled service. Among the parish families were the Tournays, who also sheltered a Jewish family. Alfred Tournay was a local leader in the Resistance whose son, Jean, was arrested and sent to a concentration camp, where he died. A daughter, Claire, became André’s close friend. They grieved together, and healed together; they were married after the war in 1949 and remained life partners until her death in 2011.

Claire and André shared a common desire to relieve suffering. At the end of the war, they joined the CIMADE (Intermovement Committee for Aid of Evacuees) in Paris, where Claire taught French and he served as a chaplain; they were later assigned to Ludwigshafen am Rheim, where wartime raids had destroyed 75% of the city. In 1954, the Eglise Chrétienne Missionnaire Belge ordained him as a minister. He became Professor of Hebrew Scriptures at the Faculté Universitaire de Théologie Protestante of Brussels from 1957-1968.

In 1966, Chicago Theological Seminary (CTS) called Dr. LaCocque to teach Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, or what he called the Prime Testament. He stayed for 30 years. He founded The Center of Jewish-Christian Studies, a research center for doctoral candidates that also served the greater good with public conferences furthering interfaith understanding and education. LaCocque subsequently expanded its vision to include Islamic scholars and lectures, organizing the first national conference on women and Islam headlined by Muslima scholars. This reimagined Center for Jewish, Christian and Islamic Studies was one of the first centers dedicated to interreligious understanding among the Abrahamic traditions in the country. Subsequently named the InterReligious Institute, its mission includes scholarship, education, and activism to advance understanding among people of all spiritual life stances.

Dr. LaCocque also invited Rabbi Herman E. Schaalman to teach Jewish Studies at CTS and jointly teach courses with him. Through their shared work, CTS was able to endow the Herman E. Schaalman Chair in Jewish Studies, the first such chair at a self-standing Protestant Seminary. LaCocque lectured at universities and colleges throughout the world, and also frequently taught at synagogues, churches, and interfaith gatherings. In honor of his lifelong commitment to interreligious dialogue, CTS renamed its Spring Lecture in his honor. He received news of the “André LaCocque Interreligious Lecture” shortly before his death.

His scholarship reveals a scholar in dialogue with the Divine; for LaCocque, “the biblical God wants to deal with a free-thinking partner.” The Prime Testament portrays flawed heroes, marginalized voices, and others, illuminating how covenant necessitates dialogue, conversation, question and response — always in pursuit of the Deuteronomic imperative to choose life. LaCocque’s book “But As For Me, The Question of Election for God’s People” demonstrates that election of a people is not exceptionalism, but a call to witness to God’s love in a world torn by hatred. The Feminine Unconventional (Susanna, Judith Esther, and Ruth), offers a compelling counter-narrative to the powerful. His collaboration with good friend Paul Ricoeur, “Thinking Biblically: Exegetical and Hermeneutical Studies” won the prestigious University of Chicago Gordon J. Lainge prize in 1999. Other books include studies of Genesis, Ruth, Daniel, Jonah, and Esther. At his retirement celebration, Chicago Theological Seminary affirmed that LaCocque “has given a contemporary hearing to those voices in the Bible that spoke against parochial visions and angry expressions in disregard of the will of the loving God.”

Retirement from formal teaching did not diminish his intellectual creativity. Seeking to “re-root Christian thinking into its Jewish seed-bed,” he authored “Jesus the Central Jew: His Times and His People.” It draws from biblical and ancient sources to explain Jesus’ self-understanding as a Jew who explicated his faith through Jewish law and tradition to reveal God’s love for all. LaCocque’s last book, “Work and Creativity, A Philosophical Study from Creation to Postmodernity,” was written when he was in his 90s. It explores the Genesis story of God and human working together to address the enduring problem of hatred when we are called to love. When released from hatred’s captivity through work, humans can pursue creativity and fulfillment.

Dr. LaCocque is survived by his sons, Michel (Jeannie Roziak), Pierre-Emmanuel (Victoria Quero), and daughter Elisabeth (Andrew Brunner) and grandchildren, David, Rebecca, Jeremy, Jonathan, Natalie, Daniel, and Anne. A service is planned at Chicago Theological Seminary when all are able to gather again in person.

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