Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John James Scullion (1925–1990)

by Antony F. Campbell

This article was published:

John James Scullion (1925-1990), clergyman and biblical scholar, was born on 26 February 1925 in Melbourne, son of John William Scullion, bookmaker, and his wife Daisy Sarah, née Sullivan. John was educated at St Joseph’s Christian Brothers’ College, North Melbourne, and at St Kevin’s College, Toorak (1939–41). On 2 February 1942 he entered the Australian Province of the Jesuit Order.

During his novitiate at Watsonia, Scullion was a serious and systematic student. From 1947 he studied philosophy and classics at the University of Melbourne (BA Hons, 1951; MA, 1952). He then moved to Sydney for two years' teaching experience (1952-53) at St Ignatius’ College, Riverview, followed by theological studies (1954–57) at Canisius College, Pymble. He was ordained on 3 January 1957.

Scullion’s scholarly achievements singled him out for higher studies overseas, beginning with a licentiate in sacred scripture (1957-60) at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, where he benefited from his classical Greek and became proficient in biblical Hebrew. During his tertianship (1961) at Münster, Germany, he mastered both German and Swedish. For three years he taught scripture and biblical Greek in Australia before completing a doctorate in theology (1966) at the Institut Catholique de Paris. He studied with Henri Cazelles, then the ‘doyen’ of French Old Testament exegetes, writing a thesis on ‘righteousness’ in Isaiah 56–66 and comparative extra-biblical texts.

In 1967 Scullion returned to Canisius College, but was a key advocate for the move of the Jesuit theologate to Melbourne, and the establishment in 1969 of the Jesuit Theological College, Parkville. Scullion saw the potential for fruitful ecumenical collaboration in Melbourne. With the entry of the college into the United Faculty of Theology (1973), the audience for his teaching widened to include ministerial students from the Anglican and Uniting churches as well as independent students. He also lectured at the Catholic Theological College and from 1981 was scholar in residence at Newman College, University of Melbourne. Scullion travelled extensively, taking sabbaticals in Europe, where he worked closely with the Old Testament scholar Claus Westermann. As Jesuit library director he took a lively interest in the United Faculty of Theology’s Joint Theological Library (later the Dalton McCaughey Library), ensuring that Melbourne had a theological library of world class. His side interests included horse-racing, fine wines, P. G. Wodehouse, and Swedish films.

Scullion’s major contribution was to ensure that the best of European exegetical standards were taken for granted in Australian biblical research. These high standards were exemplified in his lecturing, his translations of significant works, and in his own writing, both articles and books. His works included The Theology of Inspiration (1970) and Isaiah 40–66 (1982). He contributed major articles to David Noel Freedman’s six-volume Anchor Bible Dictionary (1992), and his translation of Westermann’s magisterial three-volume commentary on the book of Genesis (1984-86) has been used by more students across the world than ever read the original German. Scullion’s own commentary on Genesis appeared posthumously in 1992.

Diagnosed with cancer in 1980, Scullion continued his lecturing, editing and research for another decade, while undergoing chemotherapy. He died on 24 November 1990 at Kew and was buried in the Catholic section of Boroondara cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • B. R. Doyle, Biblical Studies in Australia (1990)
  • D. Strong, The Australian Dictionary of Jesuit Biography, 1848-1998 (1999)
  • Age (Melbourne), 27 Nov 1990, p 20
  • Society of Jesus, Australian Province Archives, Hawthorn, Melbourne
  • personal knowledge.

Citation details

Antony F. Campbell, 'Scullion, John James (1925–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 25 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


26 February, 1925
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


24 November, 1990 (aged 65)
Kew, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death

cancer (not specified)

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.