George Emery Mendenhall

September 13, 1916August 5, 2016

Mendenhall, George 8/13/1916 - 8/5/2016 Ann Arbor George Emery Mendenhall, age 99, from Ann Arbor, Michigan, died Friday, August 5, 2016 at home George Emery Mendenhall was born August 13, 1916, the third of six children to George Newton and Mary Johnson Mendenhall in Muscatine, Iowa. He graduated from Fremont High School in Fremont Nebraska at the age of 15 in 1932 and received his BA from Midland College in 1936. He then attended Western Theological Seminary, also in Fremont, followed by studies at Gettysburg Lutheran Seminary where he received a Bachelor of Divinity in 1938. He began studies for his PhD at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore that year, but interrupted his academic career to study Japanese in Boulder, Colorado, and later serve as a Naval Intelligence analyst in the Pacific during World War II. He married Eathel Tidrick in 1943, having met her at Yellowstone Park when he worked summers there at a photo-finishing plant, while she was working at Canyon Lodge. He was shipped to the South Pacific in 1944 and was part of the post-war occupation force in Japan. In December 1945 he returned to the US to be reunited with his wife and son David, who was born in February of that year. George received his PhD from John Hopkins under the renowned biblical scholar William F. Albright in 1947, and then began teaching at Hamma Divinity School in Springfield Ohio. In 1952, the family moved to Ypsilanti, after George was invited to teach at the Department of Near Eastern Studies at the University of Michigan. In the 1955-1956 academic year, George was offered a research fellowship at the American School of Oriental Research in Jerusalem, Jordan. He and his wife and four sons, ages 3-10, took a ship to Le Havre France from Montreal in the summer of 1955, and then drove in their 1955 Nash Rambler all the way to Jerusalem, a 2500-mile trek through most of Europe, Turkey, and Syria. Back in Ann Arbor, George's career blossomed, first with the 1954 publication of "Law and Covenant." He argued that the Ten Commandments in the book of Exodus had the same form and structure as the contemporary international Hittite treaties, persuading the intensely partisan Biblical scholars to look at alternative sources to explain the Biblical narratives. Just as those treaties constituted the rule of Hittite kings, so did the covenant at Mount Sinai constitute the Hebrew God as Israel's "king." In 1962, he published the "Hebrew Conquest of Palestine" arguing that the genocide depicted in the book of Joshua was largely a later fiction created for purposes of political propaganda. Instead he argued that the appearance of Israel in Palestine at the time of Joshua was largely a matter of the indigenous villages and tribes of Palestine "becoming Israelite" when they rejected their old gods and pledged themselves to the Hebrew God and covenant ethic described by the Ten Commandments. In 1973, George published The Tenth Generation, a collection of essays on the origins of the biblical tradition. That same year, the University of Michigan conferred the Henry Russel lectureship on him, the highest accolade that the University can confer on a faculty member. George returned to Jerusalem as director of the American School of Oriental Research in 1965, and then director of the American Center of Oriental Research in Amman, Jordan in 1975. He also lectured and taught at Leeds (England), Rome, Durban (South Africa), Saudia Arabia, Yemen, and St. Catherine's monastery in the Egyptian Sinai, among other locations. After his mandatory retirement from the University of Michigan in 1986, he took up teaching in Irbid, Jordan, at Yarmouk University continuing his interest training students in the history of Arabic and Semitic languages. George and his wife of 71 years, Eathel, would make numerous trips to the Middle East and around the world, both for professional and personal reasons in his post retirement years. Eathel, an avid painter and gardener, preceded him in death in November of 2015. He is survived by sister Helen Mendenhall of Sugarland Texas, sons David (Ying Dong) of Pamona, New York, Lauri, Stanley (Robin Wilt), Gordon (Nihal Riad), and Stephen, all of the Ann Arbor area, grandchildren Catherine Brownstein (John) of Boston, and George Stuart Mendenhall of Pittsburgh, and great-grandchildren Jackson and Caroline. A funeral service will take place at Trinity Lutheran Church on Stadium Boulevard in Ann Arbor, at 11:00am on Saturday, August 13, 2016. In lieu of flowers, family has requested well-wishers to contribute to a charity of their choice . .



  • Memorial Service Saturday, August 13, 2016


  • George Was Laid To Rest In A Private Family Service

George Emery Mendenhall

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Stefan Ehrenkreutz

September 28, 2016

I remain deeply grateful to your parents for the warm and generous hospitality extended to my family in the fifties when we arrived in A2 basically as refugees from war-torn Europe and my father became a member of the same department at the U of M as your Dad. Please accept my sympathies.

David Hays

August 19, 2016

Dear Mendenhall Family:
Please accept my deepest condolences on the loss of Professor Mendenhall. He graduated from the US Navy Japanese Language School at the University of Colorado in 1944. He was one of many of the school's graduates who developed illustrious careers in religion or religious studies.
I direct the US Navy Japanese Language School Archival Project at Special Collections and Archives, University of Colorado Boulder Libraries. I have had the honor of working to preserve the historical legacy of the WWII-era USN JLS/OLS, and the contributions made by the sensei, attendees and graduates of the school to war and peace. Over the past 16 years I have had the distinct pleasure to contact, meet, converse and correspond with over 650 sensei and veterans and found them to be, by turns: distinguished, fascinating, humble, accomplished, wry, gentle, humorous, crusty and engaging. The only drawback to the project has been the sad duty to write such messages as this one.
Please let us know if we can be of service to your family.

David Harris

August 17, 2016

Very sad to hear this news. We have lost an outstanding scholar. May his influence always be felt.

August 11, 2016

David all the rest of you,

We marvel with thanksgiving for the life of your father. He was an important person in my life as well as many others. I still frequently quote him in discussions,
mostly now in Fountain Hills, AZ. No doubt, I will continue to do so.

We will give a memorial in his memory to New Journey Lutheran Church, Fountain Hills, AZ,

David, I expect you are aware that David Kenny died in 2015. He was a long-time friend.

God's blessings to all,

Beulah and Roger Westland

August 9, 2016

God bless his soul! What an interesting life.

Gisèle Farah

Dale Turner

August 7, 2016

I had the pleasure to know both George and Eathel, not well, but enough to greatly admire and be in awe of them, their accomplishments and their life. They both are greatly missed.

Jerry Parker

August 6, 2016

A true pioneer and giant in the world of Biblical scholarship, in my opinion. I am saddened to hear of his passing.