Southeastern students know about the tremendous resources that our library has in general circulation and available for check out. However, many do not know about the additional resources that we have available for viewing in the archives. In this post I want to highlight what for me is the most interesting collection in our archives: the John Sailhamer papers.
Sailhamer was a brilliant Old Testament scholar who taught at Southeastern from 1999 to 2006. He was as an expert in Biblical Hebrew and had an incredible knowledge of Old Testament scholarship. He was known for his efforts to show that the plain, literal intention of the Old Testament authors was to speak about the hope of the coming Messiah in the last days. He did this in a way that was unique, fresh, and academically rigorous. He opened the eyes of many to underappreciated literary features of the text, particularly to the strategic structuring of biblical books and complex webs of cross-referencing. He has greatly impacted a generation of his students and readers, including some of our own professors and Tim Mackie, co-founder of the popular “The Bible Project” animation studio. My own reading of Scripture has been influenced by his books more than anyone else, and in some ways he is the reason that I am pursuing an M.A. in Old Testament at SEBTS. All that to say, if you aren’t familiar with him already, you’re missing out.
So what do we have in the archives that you can’t simply get by reading Sailhamer’s fantastic books? Only 15 large boxes full of his personal papers, donated to Southeastern prior to his passing last year. There are numerous materials of interest to students and researchers in these papers. Kevin Chen, a former student of his, has written a terrific article in the latest Southeastern Theological Review summarizing the contents of these papers, and I aim to supplement his article by pointing to some specific items that stood out to me.
To begin with, there are several writings that were intended for publication but never made it to the printing press. His final book, the 600+ page “Meaning of the Pentateuch,” was shortened by 300 pages before its publication, and those longer draft pages are in our archives. There is a pre-manuscript titled “Is the Old Testament Reliable?” for a book meant to be written with his esteemed friend Walter Kaiser. There are also three lengthy bound language handouts that would be used for class, the first of which at least he had wanted to publish: A Grammar of Biblical (Tanak) Hebrew, Notes on Biblical Aramaic Syntax, and Notes on Biblical Hebrew Syntax.
Sailhamer was known as a captivating teacher by those fortunate enough to take his classes. His class notes for a large variety of courses show how he organized his lessons. These notes cover more topics and go into more detail (sometimes with greater clarity) than his publications, and sometimes reveal progression of his thought. Many are general introduction classes, but there are also notes on classes such as “Christ in the Old Testament,” “The Old Testament Use of the Old Testament,” and “The Septuagint and the New Testament.” Of particular interest are his notes on Isaiah, the Psalms, Daniel, and Habakkuk which reveal more of his exegetical insights in those books. As Chen pointed out, his notes on hermeneutics also merit further study. Finally, one could look at some unpublished diagrams expressing his ideas and even a student’s typed notes on an entire introductory course with him.
One of my favorite finds was a BTS Department Study Paper on Isaiah 7:14. This is where to go if you want to see his most extended discussion on why this text prophecies about an individual in the last days, and he even mentions John Piper (who was also on the Bethel faculty at the time)! There are some lectures, one being a more popular level series called “The Christian and the Old Testament” that distils his perspective remarkably well. There are copies of two devotional essays that he wrote of which I was previously unaware, published in Tabletalk and Moody Magazine. We also have some correspondence in the collection, including a response to concerns about his hermeneutical approach held by Walter Kaiser, with Kaiser’s own responses annotated in the margins. Another item of interest to me was Sailhamer’s notes on the margins of a critique paper he presented at ETS on the grammatical-historical method.
Students’ access to Sailhamer’s thought at Southeastern is not limited to his personal papers however. We have also acquired his impressive personal library, stored in the Sailhamer Room on the second floor of the library. This contains many books (some of them quite old and rare) relating to the history of biblical interpretation, the Hebrew language, Old Testament Theology, and more. His thoughts can be found written in the margins of some of these books. When viewing the book in the ALCOTT Catalog, click on the “description” tab to find out whether he has written in it. One such example is “The Lord’s Anointed: Interpretation of Old Testament Messianic Texts.”
The Sailhamer papers and books in the Sailhamer room are open to everyone. They may be accessed via the Archives Research Room on the second floor of the library. A list of the items in the Sailhamer papers is viewable on the SEBTS library page by clicking on the “Archives” tab at the top, then finding the Sailhamer papers under the “Finding Aid” tab. Feel free to browse through the contents before you come or to browse through the papers in person. I hope others interested in Sailhamer, the Old Testament, and Hermeneutics will take advantage of the unique access SEBTS has to these resources.
Jonathan Shelton, Archives Assistant & SEBTS MA in Old Testament Student