Abraham Johannes Malherbe

abraham malherbe
Abraham J. Malherbe, the Buckingham Professor of New Testament Criticism and Literature Emeritus at Yale Divinity School, died suddenly and unexpectedly from an apparent heart attack on Friday afternoon, September 28. Abe was born in Pretoria, South Africa, on May 15, 1930. After graduating from high school he spent several years working as a surveyor and then a draftsperson in the Electrical Supply Commission of South Africa. He came to the United States in 1951 to attend Abilene Christian University where he received his bachelor's degree magna cum laude in 1954. While he was at ACU he met and married Phyllis Melton. They had three children: Selina, Cornelia, and Jan. From Abilene Abe went to Harvard where he earned both an S.T.B. in 1957 and a Th.D. in 1963 under the supervision first of Arthur Darby Nock and then of Helmut Koester following Nock's death. He also spent a year at the University of Utrecht working on the Corpus Hellenisticum project with W. C. van Unnik (1960-61). In 1957 Abe and Pat Harrell co-founded The Restoration Quarterly, a scholarly journal associated with Churches of Christ. The journal has not only survived but has also become the standard scholarly venue for Abe's religious tradition. Abe returned to Abilene Christian University where he held a faculty position in the New Testament and Early Christianity (1963-69). He went back to Harvard as a visiting scholar in 1967-68 and then left Abilene for Dartmouth (1969-70). During his first year at Dartmouth, Abe attracted the attention of Nils Dahl who was instrumental in bringing him to Yale Divinity School in 1970. In 1981 he succeeded Dahl in the Buckingham professorship and served on the faculty with distinction until his retirement in 1994. Abe was a prolific author and made major contributions in several areas. He is best known for his work in relating early Christianity, especially the Pauline tradition, to the Graeco-Roman world. He made contributions both to Hellenistic moral philosophy and to the ways in which early Christians were influenced by it. His work on The Cynic Epistles: A Study Edition (1977) and Moral Exhortation: A Graeco-Roman Sourcebook (1986) made a number of important texts available to the wider range of scholars. His justly famous 'Hellenistic Moralists and the New Testament' (ANRW) may hold the distinction for being the most cited forthcoming article in the history of NT studies. Both before and after its appearance, this article provided a framework for scholars to think about how to appropriate Hellenistic moral philosophy. Abe did this in detail in several of his own books, especially Paul and the Thessalonians: The Philosophical Tradition of Pastoral Care (1987), Paul and the Popular Philosophers (1989), and his Anchor Bible Commentary, The Letters to the Thessalonians (2000). He was working on a commentary on the Pastorals for Hermeneia when he died. One of Abe's special interests was ancient Cynicism as a comparative resource for understanding Paul. This research led him to edit Ancient Epistolary Theorists (1988), a valuable resource for students of epistolography and rhetoric. He was one of the first to call attention to the importance of social history in his Social Aspects of Early Christianity (1997, 1983). Some of his earliest scholarly work was in patristics, including several articles in the 1960s from his dissertation on Athenagoras. In 1978 he and Everett Ferguson published Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Moses: Translation, Introduction, and Notes. Abe's collected essays spanning fifty years are scheduled to appear next year in Brill's Novum Testamentum Supplements. Abe's remarkable range of scholarship and depth of learning are powerfully evident in these essays. The esteem in which he is held as a scholar is evident in two Festschriften: Greeks, Romans, and Christians (1990) and Early Christianity and Classical Culture (2003). Besides being a prolific publishing scholar, Abe was a beloved teacher and mentor. Through his passion for the learned ministry and his instinctive pastoral gifts, he exercised enormous influence on hundreds of ministerial students over the years. His students have gone on to a wide range of successful careers. Especially interested in nurturing the professional development of numerous young scholars, he was unfailingly generous with his time in reading and critiquing their work and introducing them to other scholars with similar interests. There are multiple scholarships in his name, a testimony to the personal friendships that many had with him. He and Phyllis dedicated a great deal of their time and resources to support the Whitney Avenue Church of Christ, as well as a number of other churches in the area, including the First Baptist Church in New Haven where Abe and Phyllis attended in recent years. In addition to his wife Phyllis, he is survived by his daughters, Selina Malherbe Brooks of Charlotte, NC, Cornelia Malherbe Kleman and her husband Glenn of Sudan, TX, a son Abraham J. 'Jan' Malherbe of Charlotte, NC, a sister Lettie Greyling and two brothers Claude and Chris Malherbe of South Africa. Grandfather of Bryce Robert Kleman, Preston Jacob Kleman and Meredith Malherbe Brooks. He is also survived by numerous nieces and nephews. Friends and colleagues are invited to attend a Memorial Service on Saturday, Oct. 27 at 10 am at the Marquand Chapel, Yale Divinity School. Arrangements in care of BEECHER & BENNETT, 2300 WHITNEY AVE, HAMDEN. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Abraham J. Malherbe Scholarship or the Abraham Johannes Malherbe Fellowship, c/o The Development Office, Yale Divinity School, 409 Prospect St., New Haven, CT 06511.

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  1. Dear Phyllis, My thoughts and prayers are with you and the children. You are a very special friend and so was Abe. He will be greatly missed. Love, Rachel

  2. Dear Phyllis and family, We will be thinking of you. His death is a great loss to all of us. So many memories. Love and prayers,

  3. Sorry to see such a fine scholar and amazing character leave us. He had a wonderful sense of humor and was an avid story teller. Glad to have worshipped with him on several occasions and taken a class at church on Thessalonians from him! It was an honor!

  4. Joy and I loved and admired Abe so much, and were so grateful for the affection you both showed us for so many years. Phyllis, we hold you and your family in our prayers.

  5. You are in my thoughts and prayers. Gob bless all of you. I hope you find some comfort in the ones who love you.

  6. Dear Mrs. Malherbe, I am so sorry for your loss. I was one of Mr. Malherbe’s students. I will never forget what I learned in his class on First Corinthians. I am sure that he influenced countless others in the same way. The church and the world are diminished by his passing. In Christ, Bevan Stanley

  7. I’m so sorry for your loss. I still remember playing Animal Twister at your house instead of the regular Twister. Fun times. Great memories. He will be missed, but definitely remembered.

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