Well-known professor of Old Testament, John Herbert Sailhamer, 70, died Jan. 9 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease and Lewy Body Dementia. During his career, Sailhamer served a number of institutions, including Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS), where he worked from 1999-2006. Most recently, Sailhamer taught at Gateway Seminary, formerly Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, until he retired in 2012.
John Herbert Sailhamer
Sailhamer’s work at SEBTS was marked by service to students, as he spent much of his time advising master of theology and doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) students through the thesis and dissertation process. During this time he also served as the president of the Evangelical Theological Society in 2000 and wrote his last major publication The Meaning of the Pentateuch in 2009. That work was called his magnum opus and was listed among Amazon.com’s top 100 sellers. He served on the review and editorial teams for the New Living Translation and the Holman Christian Standard Bible.
The SEBTS community remembers Sailhamer for his contributions to Old Testament scholarship and the greatness of his character.
“John Sailhamer was the quintessential Christian scholar. His thoughtful writings will continue to bless the Church for years to come,” said SEBTS President Danny Akin. “His ability in the classroom is truly legendary. I do not choose my words lightly. He was that good and how we will miss him.”
“John Sailhamer was not only a great man but a profoundly good man. He was great in that he was the consummate research scholar and a master classroom instructor who received standing ovations at the end of his courses,” said Provost Bruce Ashford. “But more significantly he was a good man, a humble and loving servant of the Lord who was loved by his peers and students.”
Tracy McKenzie, associate professor of biblical studies, worked closely with Sailhamer as a teaching assistant and Ph.D. student at SEBTS. In a tribute to Sailhamer, McKenzie wrote, “Much could be said of Sailhamer’s career in teaching and publishing … The numbers of his students who now serve in the academy – both inside and outside of evangelicalism – not to mention the pulpit, attest to his profound influence in the field through teaching and supervising Ph.D. students.”
The Library at Southeastern is home to Sailhamer’s personal library, a collection of rare volumes documenting the history of the Old Testament interpretation in post-Reformation Europe. Through this special collection, students have and will continue to benefit from Sailhamer’s work for years to come.
The author of more than 15 books, various articles and essays, his writing centered on reading the Bible, the Pentateuch in particular, as a unified, coherent whole.
Sailhamer earned a bachelor of arts degree in journalism from California State University, Long Beach, and worked as a general assignments reporter for the Dallas Morning News before completing a master of theology degree in Old Testament from Dallas Theological Seminary in 1974, a master of arts degree in Semitic languages from UCLA in 1976, and a doctor of philosophy degree in ancient Near East languages and literature from UCLA in 1981. He was ordained by the Evangelical Free Church of America in 1983.
His 36-year teaching career began in 1975 at Los Angeles Bible College and continued at Biola University, Bethel Seminary, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Western Seminary before starting work at SEBTS.
He is survived by Patty Engdahl Sailhamer, his wife of 45 years; his children, David Sailhamer, Elizabeth Sailhamer Soukup, John Christian Sailhamer and Peter Sailhamer; eight grandchildren; brother, Paul Sailhamer; and sister, Claudette Miller.
A memorial service and celebration of his life will be held Jan. 13, at 4 p.m. at the First Evangelical Free Church of Fullerton, north campus, at 2904 N. Brea Blvd. in Fullerton, Calif. A private burial will take place near Sailhamer’s birthplace of Moline, Ill., at Kingsbury Country Cemetery. Please send donations to the Compassion Fund or Disability Family Fund and the First Evangelical Free Church.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Katherine Chute is director of communications for Gateway Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention.)