Cross-Cultural, Urban, Reformed, Ecumenical

Earle Hilgert, Professor Emeritus of New Testament

01-06-2021 by

Dr. Ken Sawyer

News of the death on December 22 of Earle Hilgert, Professor Emeritus of New Testament, long time faculty and member of the JKM Library staff. He was 97 years old. All who knew Earle will remember his kindness, advocacy, and care. Earle blended the depth and integrity of his Adventist upbringing and formation with the breadth and acceptance he found among the Reformed and Presbyterian. Born in Portland, Oregon, he trained at Laurelwood Academy, where he studied languages with the remarkable Adventist scholar Leona Glidden Running (1916-2014). Earle obtained the A.B. from Walla Walla College (now University), serving as president of the student association there in 1943-1944. He earned the B.Th. from Walla Walla College School of Theology, then went for advanced studies at the Adventist Theological Seminary in Takoma Park, Maryland, where he completed the MA in Church History in 1946. He and Elvire Roth (1925-2011) married in 1946, and the two would combine teaching, administration, and scholarly librarianship over the next decades. After four years teaching in Manila and a year in California, the Hilgerts joined the Adventist Theological Seminary community in Maryland, as Earle taught while obtaining the BD degree (1955), and Elvire served on the library staff and was appointed Associate Librarian in 1959. In the late 1950s they studied at the University of Basel, and in 1960 they moved with the Adventist Seminary to its new campus in Berrien Springs, Michigan.

Earle’s Basel doctorate in New Testament (1962) prepared him for academic service as Professor of New Testament, as one of the organizing editors of Andrews University Seminary Studies (first issue in 1963),  and by the late 1960s as Vice President for Academic Administration. In addition, Earle completed an MA in Library Science from the University of Chicago in 1970.

A new chapter opened when Elvire joined the McCormick Seminary Library staff in 1965, where she served until retirement in 1990. After Earle joined McCormick as Reference Librarian and Lecturer in New Testament Greek during the 1970-71 academic year, for the next two decades both Hilgerts served McCormick in and beyond the library. In those years McCormick’s McGaw Library was led by Calvin Schmitt, with staff Charmain Kuhr at Circulation, Janet Davidson in library processing, and Getrude “Trudy” Priester at the Ecumenical Parish Resource Center (EPRC). When McCormick Seminary moved from Lincoln Park to Hyde Park in 1975, the blending of the collections and staffs of three schools (McCormick, the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, and the Jesuit School of Theology at Chicago) formed a great interfiled and intershelved composite collection: the Jesuit-Krauss-McCormick Library. The JKM Library remains an example of interconfessional and interinstitutional collaboration. For some years Earle served as Head of Public Services at the JKM Library, and after the retirement of Calvin Schmitt, in 1980 and 1981 Earle served as JKM Acting Director. One who joined that JKM staff in 1980 remains in service to the McCormick and LSTC communities: respected Librarian Emilie Pulver.

Earle played various roles in two decades of active service to McCormick: Reference Librarian, Lecturer in New Testament Greek, Acting Dean of the Seminary in the 1972-1973 academic year, Professor of Bibliography, Director of Studies for the Seminary, Professor of Bibliography and New Testament, visiting Professor at the Pacific Theological College in Suva, Fiji Islands, Interim Dean of Doctoral Studies, retiring as Professor Emeritus of New Testament in 1990. Earle blended his interests in New Testament and Hellenistic era scholarship with commitments to effective student-centered librarianship. His writing shows a chastened Christian Humanism in close textual studies, studies of manuscript transmission and early printing, early modern biblical scholarship, and the history of libraries. He took care to bring materials he worked with to a larger audience. See, for example, this trio from his extensive publications: his 1967 essay, “Two Unpublished Letters Regarding Tregelles’ Canon Muratorianus,” drew attention to materials he knew well at the James White Library at Andrews University;  his 1971 essay, “Johan Froben and the Basel University Scholars, 1513-1523,” was based in part from research during his own student days in Basel; and his 1980 essay, “Calvin Ellis Stowe: Pioneer Librarian of the Old West,” was drawn from materials on site at McCormick. Among his first projects at McCormick was joining with Robert G. Hamerton-Kelly and others in organizing the Philo Institute in 1971, first efforts continued by Studia Philonica. He collaborated with colleagues, contributed as editor and reader, and supported cooperative consortia agreements among libraries serving theological schools. In addition to his extensive editing and teaching responsibilities, he co-edited a festschrift for Calvin Schmitt, Essays on Theological Librarianship (1980), coauthored with Carl Dudley, New Testament Tensions and the Contemporary Church (1987), and coauthored with Lib Caldwell, Horizons Bible Study for Presbyterian Women, Prayers of the Bible for a Faithful Journey (1993-94).

In 1991 colleagues published a festschrift for Earle, with McCormick faculty colleagues Carl Dudley and Margaret Mitchell contributing, “Earle Hilgert: Scholar, Teacher, Librarian, Administrator and Colleague,” in Heirs of the Septuagint: Philo, Hellenistic Judaism and early Christianity: Festschrift for Earle Hilgert. Edited by David T. Runia, David M. Hay, David Winston. [Studia Philonica Annual vo. 3 (1991)]. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1991.

Margaret Mitchell and spouse Rick Rosengarten and their daughters Nora and Katie remained very close to the Hilgerts in their retirement years at Westminster Canterbury, Charlottesville, Virginia.

So much to rejoice in his life and work and witness.

On a personal note: I celebrate Earle's life and I mourn his passing. He hired, trained, and encouraged me, and so much of what I have been able to do has been rooted in opportunities he provided. In my career as librarian and as historian I sought to do what I saw him do! His genuinely bright and personable ways were particularly well suited to the needs of students. He brought generations of students forward, whether directly in the library in working personally with each one, or indirectly in his classroom teaching in bringing a new generation into a good connection with resources and perspectives. His collaborative work as an editor and committeeman was very important, since he brought projects and people forward, and along the way he encouraged a wide circle of people to join in and to connect in the hard and joyful work of scholarship. - Ken