Jack Lundbom’s Magnum Opus

by Craig E. Anderson

At the end of last year Doubleday published the final volume, Jeremiah 37-52, of Dr. Jack R. Lundbom’s magisterial three volume commentary on the Book of Jeremiah. Volume one, Jeremiah 1-20, came out in 1999 and volume two, Jeremiah 21-36, was published in early 2004. The three books (more than 2200 pages in all) are a part of the prestigious Anchor Bible Commentary Series edited by the late William Foxwell Albright and David Noel Freedman. They represent a monumental achievement in biblical scholarship by one of the sons of the Covenant Church. Dr. Lundbom’s work replaces the 1965 one-volume Anchor Bible Commentary on Jeremiah written by Dr. John Bright. The three volume commentary includes the author’s new translation of Jeremiah as well as introductions and commentary on the text.

I met Jack at a junior camp at Covenant Harbor back in the early fifties. Bob Lindman and I, from Bethesda Covenant in Rockford, were assigned to a cabin group with a bunch of guys from North Park Covenant Church in Chicago. Among them were Jack Lundbom, Jim and Paul Erickson, and Dave Hanson. Our cabin softball team won the camp championship that week, something that perhaps eclipsed the sermons of Rev. Harry Ekstam (bless him), the Camp Pastor. The boys from North Park Church could sure play ball. The oversized softball that was standard equipment in Chicago (and Covenant Harbor) was an enigma to the guys from Rockford. Jack’s outgoing personality and sense of humor attracted me, as did his ability to hit that big softball a country mile. It would never have occurred to me at the time that he was on a trajectory to international recognition as a biblical scholar. During at least one evening service that week, he clearly dozed off as Harry expounded the Word.

A few years later, Jack and I were roommates in Burgh Hall as freshmen at North Park. By then he was driving a beautiful black 1938 Buick that he pampered like a spoiled child. I don’t recall whether it helped his dating life, but it sure was a nice-looking car. After a couple years at North Park, we both went off to state universities (Jack to Michigan State and I to Ohio University). I don’t believe it ever crossed our minds that we would again be classmates. In the mystery of God’s providence, however, we were brought together again at North Park Seminary in 1962.

Jack has deep roots in the Covenant and in the North Park community. He was baptized and confirmed at North Park Covenant Church, and following confirmation, joined the Church of his boyhood. He attended North Park Academy in addition to the College and Seminary. While a seminary student, he met and fell in love with Linda—one of the Larson twins from Berkeley. After a year of internship in Ogden, Iowa, they trekked off to Beirut, Lebanon where Jack did a year of his B.D. work at the Near East School of Theology (NEST). During that year, Jack’s love for the Old Testament, which had been stimulated by Dr. Fred Holmgren at North Park, was further encouraged by Dr. William Holliday, the distinguished Old Testament scholar who was on the faculty at NEST at the time. This began a close friendship that has continued over the years.

Several of us began seminary without the requisite one year of Greek. So in our first year, Ed Newton, Jack and I enrolled in a class in Homeric Greek in the college taught by a young Ph.D. candidate named Walt Elwell who later became the Dean of the Graduate School in Theology at Wheaton. Jack was a whiz at languages and I was the opposite. Jack suffered with patience and grace as he helped me memorize my verb forms, something I’m afraid I never mastered. After dipping into the waters of biblical Greek, Jack thirsted for more of the ancient languages. So, he enrolled in Holmgren’s Hebrew class, his initiation to the language he would later master.

We might have guessed that Jack was headed for bigger things the day he walked into Henry Gustafson’s New Testament class and announced his disappointment with an assigned book on the Apostle Paul by Schoepps because the author’s Hebrew was without vowel points. While the rest of us were struggling with the English text, Jack was critiquing the author’s Hebrew. Although we chortled at the time, we were actually pretty impressed.

During our seminary years, Jack’s dad (whom everyone called “Yutch”) passed away. It was an enormous loss for Jack. He dedicated Volume Two of his Jeremiah commentary “To the memory of My Father, Carl Russell Lundbom, who did justice and righteousness.” It is a fitting tribute to the Father he so loved and admired.

After Jack received his B.D. from North Park (1967), he sensed God’s call to further graduate studies and perhaps a career in teaching. So as most of us headed off to our first churches, Jack and Linda set off for California where he began studies leading to a Ph.D. in Old Testament at San Francisco Theological Seminary and the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. There he studied under Dr. James Muilenburg and Dr. David Noel Freedman. During those years he developed a close personal bond with both of these distinguished scholars. When Muilenburg died, he left Jack many of his valuable files, essays, and books. And later on, when Freedman was looking for a scholar to write a new commentary on Jeremiah for the Anchor Bible Series, he turned to Jack, one of his former students.

Today, Jack is an internationally respected authority on Jeremiah. His many publications include: Jeremiah: A Study in Ancient Hebrew Rhetoric and The Early Career of the Prophet of Jeremiah. He has contributed numerous essays to scholarly publications including: The Harvard Theological Review, Journal of Biblical Literature, Journal of Jewish Studies, Vetus Testamentum, Catholic Biblical Quarterly, and the Journal for the Study of the Old Testament. He wrote major sections on Jeremiah, the man and the book, for The Anchor Bible Dictionary and an essay on Hebrew Rhetoric in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Rhetoric. In 1999, Mercer University Press published Master Painter: Warner E. Sallman, Lundbom’s carefully researched biography of the Covenant’s most famous religious painter.

Jack is currently Visiting Distinguished Scholar at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg in Pennsylvania. He has held visiting appointments at Andover Newton Theological School, Yale Divinity School, the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, and Uppsala University in Sweden. He is a Life Member of Clare Hall, Cambridge University.

He has traveled and lectured widely in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and the United States. He has twice been a Fulbright Professor in Germany and three times a National Endowment of the Humanities Fellow and Albright Fellow at the Albright Institute in Jerusalem. This past summer he taught at the Lutheran Theological College in Chennai (Madras), India.

Much of Jack’s scholarly work has been in rhetorical criticism. In that he has followed in the tradition of North Park’s Dr. Nils Lund. “I have introduced Lund’s work to many scholars and students of the Bible,” Lundbom says. “Lund was a man ahead of his time. Many Covenanters do not realize how highly respected his work is among biblical scholars today.”

I could say the same about my friend, Jack. Many Covenanters are not aware of the high regard that this ordained Covenant minister enjoys among biblical scholars throughout the world.