Bibliophilia, Orientalism, and the Making of Liberal Protestantism in the Manuscripts of George Ehlhardt at Duke University

Nathan Tilley, the head of this project, will examine the shifting meaning of George Brinkmann Ehlhardt’s manuscripts in the context of his construction of Protestant identity and institutions in the mid-20th century. One of the older Syriac manuscripts in the collection of the Rubenstein Library is MS.Duke Syriac1, a highly-damaged Syrian Orthodox manuscript of the gospels [10th or 11th c], which was given to Duke in 1952 by George Brinkmann Ehlhardt. Ehlhardt received a theological degree from Duke Divinity School in 1946 and served as Divinity registrar and librarian from 1949 to 1950.

Ehlhardt was not only a rare book collector, but also a scholar, student, and librarian in the Duke community. Because Duke possesses so much of his personal library beyond the manuscripts, we can better outline the ways of knowing and constructing religious, political, and economic identity that were central to Ehlhardt and perhaps also to Duke Divinity School and even Duke University during his time. Based on his library, his own writings, and other archival documents, we can follow the shifting meanings of our manuscripts in the development of Ehlhardt’s Christian identity and his construction of religious others. Further, by tracing the history by which MS. Duke Syriac 1 and the other manuscripts reached Ehlhardt, Tilley will illuminate the role of 20th century economies and colonial systems in structuring Ehlhardt’s access to material culture from ancient Christianity and other religions. In this, we may see also the role of these institutions in the continued structuring of knowledge in the Duke Library manuscript collection.

Update: There are four aspects to this story: the man (George B. Ehlhardt), the library (Duke University and Divinity Libraries), the library and the man, and the manuscripts (Duke Syriac MS 1, Greek MS 22, Greek MS 72). George B. Ehlhardt came to Duke University as a B.D. student (B.D. is a Bachelor of Divinity), received his degree in 1945, and then left Duke for Brevard College in 1950. 

Duke University Library was dedicated in 1930. The Association of Duke Library was also formed in 1930. This group became the Friends of Duke University Library in 1935. There was limited library activity from 1935-1940. However, in 1943, Benjamin E. Powell was appointed as the University Librarian and received a gift of the Walt Whitman collection which was the catalyst for the Rare Book Collection. In 1945, George Ehlhardt took over the program committee of the “Friends” and wanted to professionalize, streamline, and develop the collection. 

Duke Syriac MS 1 contains Matthew 18.4-Luke 6.32 and is probably an 10th or 11th century document. It was damaged by fire and contains decorative borders. Ehlhardt possibly purchased this from Magg Bros. in May 1952 and donated it to Duke on May 7, 1952. Duke Greek MS 22 is a single leaf of parchment from a Gospel book containing Matthew 22.31–33.10. It is probably an early 11th century item that originated in Mt. Athos. Dr. Erich Junkelmann possibly purchased the entire MS, but now parts of the MS reside in Berlin, Bern, Durham, Princeton, and New York. Ehlhardt gave it to Duke in 1954 in honor of J.M. Ormond. Duke Greek MS 72 is a leaf of liturgy for Good Friday from around the 16th century. The origin of this item is unsure, but Ehlhardt donated it to Duke in 1979.