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On October 20, 2023, the Reverend David Keith Louder, a Lutheran pastor, died at the age of fifty-six in Windber, a small town in southwestern Pennsylvania. He had suffered from ALS for four years—and his family had, of course, suffered with him.

On December 4, while updating my CV, my eye caught happy sight of Dave’s name. In the middle of the night, unable to sleep, I googled him. It had been perhaps a dozen years since we’d been in touch, and I intended to write in the morning to see how he was doing. And thus it was that I discovered that he was no more and, indeed, that a memorial service would be taking place three days later.

The timing was both providential and painful: a warning, I think, that just missing the tolling of the bell can be especially hard to bear. I wish I had thought to look Dave up three months earlier, or three years.

A quarter of a century ago, Dave was a student in New Testament Studies at Princeton Theological Seminary when I was a young faculty member in the Classics department at Princeton University. Though next to each other, the two institutions are unaffiliated and seem to belong to different worlds. I hadn’t been inside a PTS building or even walked across the campus more than a couple of times before I met Dave. After all, I had no particular interest in theology and wasn’t a Christian.

I did, however, know Ancient Greek, and Dave, who had been an undergraduate Classics and Religious Studies major at the University of Pennsylvania, showed up for a graduate seminar in Greek linguistics that I was offering. We hit it off immediately; he wrote an outstanding paper on the rhetoric of the Gospel of Mark; and a year or two later, I agreed to join his dissertation committee, which was headed by the Marcan scholar C. Clifton Black, with assistance from J. Ross Wagner, who would later move from PTS to Duke Divinity School.

In his dissertation, completed in 2005, Dave studied the poetics and interpretation of Mark 15:16–26. The topic is narrow (no doubt about it), but Dave probed every sound, every syllable, every word of Mark’s description of how the soldiers mocked Jesus and then crucified him. The gospel is in prose, but some passages, perhaps most famously in the Pauline corpus, are arguably in what is sometimes known as rhythmic prose, with a host of attendant tropes like parallelism and alliteration. To this same genre, Louder convincingly argued, belong these eleven verses of Mark, which he called a “poem of the passion.”

Together, Dave and I discussed books and articles on ancient prose style by such great classicists as Eduard Norden, Sir Kenneth Dover, and my own Doktorvater, Calvert Watkins; looked at examples of poetic prose across the Mediterranean from the centuries before the birth of Christ; and considered questions of possible Semitic influence on Greek. These activities were under my direction. But the teacher was also a student. It was thanks to Dave that I read the New Testament in Greek for the first time; learned something of what good theological scholarship is all about; and began to appreciate in a new, visceral way how a death in Calvary almost two thousand years earlier could alter the course of Western civilization.

Many of my happiest memories of Dave involve bonding with him over our shared interest in (of all things) the powerful rhetorical potential of monosyllabic and other short words: conjunctions, prepositions, and discourse particles. I’ll never forget our long conversations about the rhetorical and Christological implications of the fact that, in Greek, Mark 15:25—unlike verses 17–24, 26, and beyond—does not begin with the conjunction kai (“and”)‚ something no one would know from the King James Version or Luther’s Bible. In context, the Greek clause ēn de hōra tritē (first word: ēn, “it was”) is far more powerful than “And it was the third hour” or “Und es war die dritte Stunde,” where the initial conjunction in the translations suggests that this latest development—the crucifixion—is no different in kind from what preceded it or what will follow.

In his final years, Dave worked with one of his daughters, Anna, to create a documentary on Windber, titled Berwindland. I have not seen it, but I remember well Dave’s attachment to Pennsylvania, his native state, and am not entirely surprised that he turned his mind to local history as well as to a world two thousand years and six thousand miles away. In any case, I imagine he would have been more surprised to discover that I was baptized, married to the granddaughter of a Lutheran pastor, and write now and again for First Things. Or could it be that he expected this? Dave’s pastoral ability allowed him to understand people better than they sometimes understood themselves.

Anapausou en eirēnēi. Rest in peace, Dave.

Joshua T. Katz is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. 

Image by Mediatus/Kopie eines Originalbriefes; Kopist unbekannt licensed via Creative Commons. Image cropped. 

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