Monday, January 09, 2017

Professor John Sailhamer (1946-2017)

Though I can't find any article or source beyond a tweet from Justin Taylor, I read there the sad news that towering OT scholar John Sailhamer has gone to be with the Lord, sometime this year.

I had the great privilege of taking a Hebrew class from John in the late 1970s, and even then he was amazing. Articulate, funny, low-key, utterly unpretentious, easy to talk to, encouraging. I can actually still hear his voice and casual rhythm of speech with memory's ear.

John was a terrific communicator. He had little tricks for understanding and remembering the baffling things Hebrew verbs do from stem to stem. Struggling Hebrew students (as I was!) cling to such helps as to lifelines.

His own academic background was already broad and deep. Once Sailhamer was showing us how to read through the complex entries in the then-standard Brown, Driver and Briggs Hebrew lexicon. In the course, John would unhesitatingly pronounce the suggested roots, written in bizarre characters from obscure cognate languages, such as Ethiopic and what-have-you.

So I asked, in an innocent tone, "Can you actually read those, or are you just faking?" The professor replied, "Oh, I can read them."

Then a pause, and with perfect timing, half-aloud, half to himself, looking down at the book, "—'faking'?" The class erupted in laughter.

Another time Sailhamer mentioned in passing his view that the Angel of Yahweh in the OT was not the preincarnate Christ. The pastor in front of me, a longtime student of Sailhamer's, whispered loudly "Should we ask for his testimony?" Sailhamer smiled.

Professor Sailhamer and I had lunch together once, a wide-ranging talk that I won't forget. I was this kid, maybe all of 22 years old, a Christian for around 5 years, with 4 years of Greek and a wobbly start in Hebrew, and as much reading as I could cram in. Nobody. But he very kindly accepted the lunch invitation.

Mostly I just remember just how easy it was to talk with this incredibly scholarly brother, how utterly unaffected he was, and how graciously encouraging he was. That made a lifelong impression on me, gave me a real-life model to embrace.

Decades later, when I was invited to speak at a conference in England on Messianic prophecy, Sailhamer's work was very insightful and helpful, and I popularized it into my talks. I wish I could have told him. I will, one day.

I also wish I could have followed Sailhamer decades earlier as a student, but we parted ways geographically after that 70s class in Long Beach, California. Beyond John's books, I couldn't keep track of him. I eventually heard he was gravely ill, but could find nothing about it online. Now I hear he's dead, and once again find that no news site has taken note of his passing.

But OT scholars and students all around the world will.

As I do.