Crawford Howell Toy

  • Hancock Professor of Hebrew and Other Oriental Languages, 1880-1909

Crawford Howell Toy

Born on March 23, 1836, in Norfolk, Virginia, Crawford Howell Toy enjoyed a privileged upbringing. His mother, Amelia Ann (Rogers) Toy, was a granddaughter of a Revolutionary officer. Toy's father, Thomas Dallam Toy, was a respected pharmacist.

After graduating from the University of Virginia in 1856, Toy taught at the Albermarle Female Institute in Charlottesville, Virginia. Following this, Toy began studying at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Greenville, South Carolina, a move that started his long association with the first Southern Baptist seminary in the country.

Toy's studies were interrupted by the Civil War, where he first served as an infantryman and then as a chaplain. In 1863, a friend of Toy's provided information on Toy's tenure with the Confederate army: "He is chaplain in the 53d Georgia Regiment.... Is looking very well and seems to be enjoying himself. His Syriac books are in Norfolk and he has, therefore, been compelled to fall back on German for amusement." At one point during the conflict, Toy was captured and held at Fort McHenry. David Gordon Lyon described Toy's time at McHenry in his 1920 eulogy to Toy in the Harvard Theological Review: "The tedium of this confinement was relieved by the glee club, the daily mock dress parade with tin pans for drums, and the class in Italian, organized and taught by him."

Following his release, Toy began teaching at the University of Alabama (a Confederate training school), where he remained until the close of the war in 1865. Following the war, Toy taught Greek at the University of Virginia for a year and then traveled to Germany to study theology, Sanskrit, and Semitic languages. After studying in Berlin for two years, Toy accepted an offer from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, thus returning to the school at which he had studied ten years earlier.

While at the Seminary, Toy spent ten years teaching Old Testament interpretation and Semitic languages. He was a well-respected member of the faculty and of the larger community. Toward the end of his tenure, however, Toy came into conflict with the Seminary's administration and Southern Baptist orthodoxy by raising questions about the doctrine of the divine inspiration of the Bible. Toy resigned, and the Seminary accepted his resignation in 1879.

In September of 1880, Toy began teaching at Harvard as the Hancock Professor of Hebrew and Other Oriental Languages and Dexter Lecturer on Biblical Literature. Toy taught many languages at the Divinity School, including Arabic, Ethiopic and Hebrew. W. W. Fenn remembered him this way: "I do not believe he ever made a student feel cheap at having asked a silly question or given a stupid answer. Dr. Toy would receive his question with the utmost graciousness, stroke his beard reflectively as if it were an inquiry calling for serious deliberation, restate it, put it in a slightly different form, relate it to other matters, and finally after much manipulation the question would come out one of the most significant problems in the entire realm of O.T. criticism and a student would pat himself on the back for his penetration." While at Harvard, Toy wrote Judaism and Christianity: A Sketch of the Progress of Thought from Old Testament to New Testament (1890), A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Proverbs (1899), and Introduction to the History of Religions (1913). After eight years at Harvard, Toy joined First Parish Unitarian Church in Cambridge, leaving the Southern Baptist tradition of his youth and early career. He died May 12, 1919.


Additional sources of information:

Dictionary of American Biography. New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1928-1958.
Lyon, David G. "Crawford Howell Toy," Harvard Theological Review, v. 13, no. 1  (Jan.-Oct. 1920), p. 1-22.
"Notice of the Death of Professor Crawford Howell Toy," American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures, v. 36, no. 1 (Oct. 1919)