Our dear friend and colleague Marvin Meyer, Ph.D., Griset Chair in Bible and Christian Studies, passed away on Thursday, August 16 at the age of 64, of complications from melanoma. As some of you know, he had battled an earlier occurrence of the disease a few years ago; successfully, it was believed. But just last month the cancer was found to have recurred. In typical Marv style, he maintained his optimism, asking just two weeks ago for leave from teaching and his other duties so that he could devote all of his considerable strength to what he – and we – knew was to be a titanic battle. It was with great shock and sadness that we learned Thursday that he had lost that battle.
Marv was a remarkable teacher, a gifted translator and scholar, and a pillar of the Chapman community. Serving as director of the Albert Schweitzer Center and Chair of the Religious Studies Department, he did so much more for the University, taking on at one point or another nearly every position of faculty leadership and service in his 27 years at Chapman. Yet though he reached levels of fame as a scholar that few do – as a frequent on-camera commentator on History and Discovery Channel documentaries, as one of the National Geographic team of scholars who translated the famous Gospel of Judas – he was always there with a smile, his laugher infectious, engaging his colleagues in discussions of their research work or teaching or travels and offering encouragement to any and everyone. And he was always ready with a story or “magic spell,” whether it be at convocation, commencement and graduation activities, or as our first president of the Faculty Senate.
Marv brought the ancient world alive in his lucid and poetic translations and in his teaching both inside and outside the classroom, not only for students and colleagues but also for others around the globe. Beloved by his students, he was extremely generous with his time, working individually with them, taking groups to Egypt and teaching Greek and Coptic on top of his regular courses, and challenging students to think deeply about life’s meaning and purpose in his Schweitzer and Freshman Foundations courses. He was a true leader in challenging times and situations on campus, with a talent for putting people at ease and moderating between diverse constituencies, and he never shied away from such challenges.
What many of us will always remember is Marv’s deep love of the Gnostic authors whose writings he helped bring out from the darkness, where they had long been dismissed as heretical. He invested decades in learning the languages so he could enable their ideas to speak in a way both fresh and true. Marv never sought fame, although it deservedly came to him — but he sought to bring ideas hidden by history into the open. If anyone ever loved learning for learning’s sake—utterly and unabashedly so–it was Marv Meyer. And he loved even more opening this astonishing world of ideas to his students who had never thought there was a gospel beyond the canonical four. Marv helped his students to see the world with different eyes, to see how exciting and fun it could be, and always, always to think about the ethical dimension of ideas.