Friday, July 03, 2009

Death of Martin Hengel

I was sad to see on Jim West's blog that Martin Hengel has died. What a wonderful and enjoyable man he was! He was a model of a person with warm hearted faith who nevertheless didn't play games with the evidence. What is it about the European evangelical community that is free of the quasi-fundamentalist politics of the ETS scene?

Aside from his always painstaking and ever thorough scholarship, I think most of his work, first, on Judaism and Hellenism. It was his work more than any other that put to death the absolute distinction people used to make between Hebrew and Greek thought. Good grief, Palestine had been hellenized for over 300 years before Jesus was even born.

Then there was his work on John, The Johannine Question. While this book has not commanded as much attention as Raymond Brown's, it made consummate sense to me when I first read it. It's on my top five list of books on John you need to read.

Hengel would not have known me, but I have delightful memories of four brief intersections with his person. One was while I was a teaching fellow at Asbury and we went to see him in Louisville (that was before Albert Mohler destroyed Louisville Southern Baptist Seminary, a place I wouldn't recommend now to my pet rat, if I had one). My good friend Bill Patrick still teases me that I answered "Yes" when Hengel asked me if I was German. As it turns out, I was born in America (and in the meantime, I now know that my great grandfather was from Holland).

A second is a delightful memory of sitting on the steps of the Stiftskirche in Tübingen during a semester of research there. (The kebabs in Tübingen are sehr ausgezeichnet, and there was a lovely little hole in the wall that sold them right next to the church) As I sat there thinking mediocre thoughts, Martin Hengel wandered across the cobbled stones in front, looking absent mindedly at something or another. Cool, I thought to myself. What a privileged life I lead.

A third was during a symposium at Durham where I was privileged to sit on the sidelines while the big dogs gave papers that would be eventually published as Paul and the Mosaic Law, a must read, indeed a good starting place on the topic of Paul and the Jewish Law. I remember Hengel coming up to a table where I was sitting at supper and interrupting a conversation with Dunn, I believe and a few other notables. Gushing forth with the topic obsessing him, he blurted out something about Luke breaking up the Sermon on the Mount--"I can't imagine that he would be able to break up such a masterpiece" or something like that. I believe he was working at that time on The Four Gospels and the One Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Hengel would always say that he got a late start on the study of the Bible, since it had been his second career. He had started out as a businessman. So he would say he had to work doubly hard to make up for lost time. Of course he did more of scholarly worth in his first five years than I'll do my entire life.

His wife went along with him on most of his ventures and even participated in discussions every once and a while. She clearly engaged his every thought and was a true partner. My greatest sympathies to her, as she has no doubt lost a more than best friend. She was with him the last time I was in a room where he was, at a conference in Chicago. My wife Angie and I drove up to the University of Chicago to hear him and others speak. She was sad to hear of his death.

I've almost given up on engaging in that world. My life has taken a different direction. But I mourn with the scholarly world today.

1 comment:

Bob MacDonald said...

Thanks for the lovely tribute - I had a pet rat in the 90s - a special gift of God during our most trying times with a disabled son. She made us laugh every day for a year and a half or more. Certainly for a lifetime.

Hengel has always appealed to me in everything of his that I have read.