John William Wevers was a cautious, meticulous scholar who held his students to the highest academic standards. If you wrote a paper for him, and he thought the paper had merit, he kept you at it until it was fit to publish. Born on June 4, 1919 in little Baldwin, Wisconsin to Bernard Wevers and Willemina (Te Grootenhuis), he graduated from the local high school at the age of 16, and managed to escape the family farm the year after. He graduated from Calvin College in Grand Rapids Michigan in 1940 and went on to Princeton Theological Seminary. He would reminisce about his Princeton days when teaching Hebrew at the University of Toronto, what is was like to be a classmate of David Noel Freedman (he thought of him as a whipper-snapper who knew less than he thought he did) and to study under the great Henry Snyder Gehman.
John Wevers benefited from growing up in a Christian Reformed environment which nurtured his spirit and intellect. In a class on the Psalms at the University of Toronto, I remember asking him if he remembered his Dutch. He promptly recited the Lord’s Prayer in what was, I suspect, the language of Sunday worship in his youth, and perhaps also of the home. In an understated style that suits Wevers well, the Globe and Mail obituary notes his active involvement in the Rosedale Presbyterian Church in Toronto from 1951 forward, where he served as Elder and Clerk of Session for many years.
Wevers would have liked to write a theology of the Old Testament. He was painfully aware of how many commonplaces in scholarship are built on the flimsiest of foundations, and he wanted to settle a few scores in that sense.
But it was not to be. He was too good of a text critic. He dedicated his scholarly career to the Septuagint and the production of a critical edition thereof. Anyone who studied under Wevers knows well that the Septuagint strictly speaking is the translation of the Pentateuch to be dated to the 3rd century bce, the original text of which is reconstructible – against Kahle and with Lagarde - with a reasonable degree of certainty in a majority of cases.
For many years Wevers fulfilled his duties as chair of the Near Eastern Studies Department at the University of Toronto with great dependability. This was before the current century in which research and faculty positions in the humanities, even at Toronto, are subject to budget cuts and the demoralizing effects of massive restructuring in the name of fiscal responsibility. Who will resist these trends in an intelligent and effective manner? One thing is certain: those who do so will be honoring the memory of this scholar’s scholar who put basic research and the production of critical editions before the games others like to play.