Born Ludwig Richard Max Heymann, studied theology in Berlin 1934-36, worked in Sheffield UK and Italy with Mildmay Mission 1937-49, leader of Emmanuel Messianic Congregation, Baltimore, 1950-59, Professor of Old Testament, Columbia Theological Seminary, 1959-1984.
Ludwig R.M. Dewitz, 1916-2000 – Obituary by Davison Philips ’43 President Emeritus, Columbia Seminary, USA
The life of Professor Ludwig Dewitz, who died November 1, 2000, reveals a pattern unlike that of any other faculty member in Columbia Seminary’s history. He not only survived the hazards and demonic forces that threatened his early life, but came to faith and ministry during one of the great crises of the twentieth century. He experienced the tumultuous history of two World Wars, the Holocaust, awesome economic depressions and ecclesiastical changes, yet believed and served the Sovereign God.
Stephania H. Davis, in her Atlanta Journal/Constitution article after his death, wrote, “He was a German, a Christian, and a Jew.” In all the chapters of his extraordinary life in Germany, England, Italy, and the United States, he survived and grew in faith and scholarship. Dewitz used his intellectual and spiritual gifts in teaching the Bible, and particularly the Old Testament. He lived and grew in the nurture of the church and his family and friends throughout the 84 years of his long and faithful life. From a 12-year-old boy in Germany to his major task as Columbia’s professor of Old Testament, he lived out his faith. In retirement, to the applause of his friends, he married his long-time friend, Miriam Brodsky, and they both were important members of the seminary community.
He was born in Danzig, Germany, on April 29, 1916, of Jewish parents, was adopted and grew up in Berlin. He became a Christian at a camp for boys in the Black Forest. A series of amazing events led him to England, Italy, Baltimore, Maryland, and Decatur, Georgia. It was far more than a collection of coincidences: it was in reality the work of God in that young man’s life. It began as he heard a growing flood of alarming statements about Jews, the least of which were those of the notorious minister of Nazi propaganda, Dr. Goebbels, “We shall treat the Jews as we treat flowers, only we shall not give them any water.”
For a time, Dewitz was able to study at a theological college, and later on, at an institution which had Ludwig Richard Max Dezvitz, professor emeritus of Old Testament been called into being by the Confessing Church in opposition to the teaching given at official universities. Then, one morning the Gestapo appeared, warning that further gatherings would have serious consequences. The future seemed nothing but a big continued on page 9 “question mark/’ as Dewitz described it.
In the summer of 1936, Dewitz was unexpectedly invited to a meeting in Germany with the Rev. S. H. Wilkinson, director of the Mildmay Mission to the Jews in England, who offered him a position in London. Providentially, this took place shortly after he learned that his birth mother was Jewish. His adoptive parents were required to provide a birth certificate to the Nazi authorities, and that put his life in serious danger. The following year, he fled to England. As he crossed over the border from Germany to Holland, he felt both joy and sorrow. The joy came from feeling that he would survive and carry on his ministry.
The sorrow was the feeling that he had left his home and might never experience it again. Even in England, as World War II spread across Europe and threatened Great Britain, Dewitz was interned for the duration as a German citizen. In the internment camp he began to teach the Bible, and he continued to do so with enthusiasm and effectiveness all of his life.
He also studied at the University of London by extension courses to qualify for the Bachelor of Divinity degree. Ordained for ministry by the Waldensian Church of Italy in 1949, Dewitz brought little more with him to the United States than these experiences, his degree, and his commitment as a Christian and a minister. While serving as a missionary to the Jews in Baltimore, Maryland, he studied with William F. Albright at Johns Hopkins University and received the Ph.D. in 1960. He was an exceptional linguist, mastering more than 10 languages.
Dewitz came to Columbia Seminary in 1959 as professor of Old Testament. He began an amazing and fruitful career of instruction, pastoral care, and ministry in the Presbyterian Church. After his retirement in 1983, he continued to be in great demand as a Bible teacher and preacher. His former students waited in line to secure a time in his schedule for teaching and preaching in their churches. Professor Dewitz had friends around the world, and wherever he traveled, he received hospitality from a variety of friends in various countries and cultures. Dr. Dewitz made demands on students and was sometimes disappointed in their efforts. He need not have been concerned, for most of his students came to know, respect, and admire him. He not only taught in a traditional way, but often had students sing Hebrew psalms or songs as a teaching method. His teaching beyond the campus embraced a wide variety of settings, such as youth conferences, Sunday school classes, women’s meetings, presbytery and synod programs, clergy seminars, and Young Life leadership training sessions.
One of Dewitz’s most enjoyable extracurricular activities was the regular opera classes which he held in his home. Students and staff were invited to listen to his introduction of the works and then enjoy his treasured recordings or radio broadcasts. He rarely missed Metropolitan Opera performances in Atlanta. Those who knew him often speak of many treasured associations in these varied settings. The truest thing that could be said about Ludwig Dewitz is that in his ministry he faithfully served under the authority of the God who led him through danger and disaster to a useful lifetime of witness and ministry.
Davison Philips ’43 President Emeritus
I was fortunate to meet Ludwig Dewitz in his final years at one of the International Hebrew Christian Alliance Executive Conferences – I think in the UK. I was a very new and junior member of this organisation, and he was a senior citizen and elder statesman. I was struck by his sharp intellect and gracious manner, and I think Harcourt Samuel and others looked to him as one of the finest minds in the Hebrew Christian movement of their day. I reproduce the essay he wrote celebrating the 80th birthday of H L Ellison, as part of a book of tributes to another esteemed biblical scholar and Hebrew Christian. Another point of interest – Dewitz overlapped at Columbia with Walter Brueggemann, another profound Old Testament theologian – and I wonder what influence he may have had on Brueggemann’s own sensitivity to Jewish and post-supersessionist readings of Scripture – a topic for some PhD student somewhere!
Prayer and reflection:
Lord, who would have foreseen the circumstances of Ludwig Dewitz’s life? Yet what an amazing tapestry you wove around the details of his walk of faith, and what a contribution he has made to our understanding of scripture and his witness to the Messiah. Thank you for his testimony, his scholarship and his faith – in Yeshua the Messiah’s name we pray.
1 "The Concept of Balance in the Old Testament" … By Ludwig R. Dewitz The Concept of Balance In The Old Testament Ludwig R. Dewitz If one tried to define a certain trend in recent publications pertaining to the Old Testament field of Biblical studies, it could be said that "balance" is one of the dominating factors. Anderson's panel discussions on The Old Testament and Christian Faith as well as Westermann's collection of Essays on Old Testament Hermeneutics, Barr's books on The Semantics of Biblical Language and Biblical Words for Time, the theologies of Eichrodt, Vriezen and v. Rad, however much they may differ as to method, these books focus attention on all factors involved, thus avoiding a position of imbalance. In this connection it is striking to note that two essays, dealing with Egypt and Mesopotamia respectively, in Frankfort's publication The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man state that the decline of these two cultures might be traced to an inherent imbalance in them. Wilson concludes: "Egypt had not had the opportunity or the capacity to work out the interrelation of man and God in terms satisfactory to both. To put it in a different context, Egypt had not had the opportunity or the capacity to work out the interrelation of the individual and the community in terms of benefit to both." 1 Similarly Jacobsen remarks concerning Mesopotamia: "Divine will and human ethics proved incom- mensurable," and then comments on the "Dialogue of Pessi- mism": "With this denial of all values, denial that a 'good life' existed, we end our survey of Mesopotamian speculative thought." 2 We believe that one of the factors which gave Israel's faith abiding vitality when other cultures died is the factor of balance. Israel's theological thought, religious practice and social structure were balanced in such a way that from its beginning (continues here - https://archive.org/stream/colutheolo5731964colu/colutheolo5731964colu_djvu.txt) Ludwig Dewitz is a graduate of the Universities of London and Johns Hopkins. This paper is the text of his Inaugural Address as Professor of Old Testament Languages, Literature and Exegesis, delivered in the Columbia Presbyterian Church, Decatur, Georgia, on March 18, 1964.
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