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Obituary: Brian Moynahan

27 April 2018

Stephen Fay writes:

BRIAN MOYNAHAN was an accomplished journalist on The Sunday Times. He worked mostly as a foreign correspondent, and was among the first reporters to trace the rise of Islam and to identify its potential for terrorism. Having flown, as he liked to calculate, on 78 airlines, he also wrote authoritatively about airports.

But journalism, like a mask, at first obscured his instinct for scholarship, which had been encouraged at school (Sherborne) and university (Corpus Christi, Cambridge), where he took a double first in history. As a scholar, he developed an interest in Russia and religion. His obituary in The Times emphasised his astringent prose, fastidious research, and ironic observation.

Priscilla Moynahan, his widow, describes him as only a sporadic churchgoer, but a passionate advocate of Christianity. As a journalist, he wrote much about the plight of religious minorities, such as the Copts.

He ardently admired William Tyndale for his courage, his conviction, and his prose. His life of Tyndale was titled If God Spare My Life, and the Church Times’s review (Books, 9 August 2002) judged Moyanhan to be at “his vivid best on Tyndale’s English, both soaring and brutally immediate”.

Moynahan’s major work, The Faith: A history of Christianity, also published in 2002, was more ambitious. His Sunday Times colleague Peter Watson recalls Moynahan’s saying that the narrative was the greatest story in the history of world, so far. The review in the Church Times, by the Very Revd David Edwards, noted that this was a late addition to faith books inspired by the Millennium, but went on: “it deserves to be near the top of the pile.” Its great strengths, he suggested, were readability, and research, and “its viewpoint is one that many readers would like.” Dr Edwards concluded: “A good book makes you think. This is a good book.”

Brian Moynahan died on 1 April, aged 77, from a chronic lung infection.

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