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A Tribute to Professor Hans Peter Ristau

18th June 2005

This last Thursday I had the privilege of attending a retirement party for one of colleagues, Prof. Hans Peter Ristau. What was special about this event is that Prof. Ristau was not only my colleague, but also my former undergraduate professor and a big reason why I followed the career path I did.

Peter Ristau was Professor of Old Testament at North American Baptist College (now Taylor University College) for some 33 years. When I first enrolled at NABC some 20 years ago, I knew little about the Bible, and pretty much nothing about the Old Testament. During my time as a student at NABC I took as many courses from Prof. Ristau as I could. These courses expanded my knowledge of the Old Testament, encouraged me to examine the Hebrew Bible from a number of different perspectives, and — most significantly — instilled in me a deep love of the Old Testament and a desire to make its study my lifelong goal.

I have many fond memories of Prof. Ristau’s courses. His courses were challenging — especially for a generation raised on sound-bites and TV. His tests were fair, though comprehensive (I will forever remember Old Testament personalities such as Shamgar, Abishag, Ehud, Shear-Jashub, and many others). I particularly recall his overheads — they were literally filled with valuable data so there was hardly a space left blank with little or no margins. His courses were definitely not for the faint of heart and they developed quite the reputation. Significantly, in his courses I was introduced to some scholars who would be formative for my early understanding of the Bible such as Brevard S. Childs and John Goldingay.

Outside of the classroom Prof. Ristau was always accessible to students — at least if you came between the hours of 6 am and 3 pm (he was known for his early mornings!). And it seems whenever you came to his office he would be pouring over one of the many books scattered on his desk — but significantly he would put the book down and give you his undivided attention while you were there (see the picture from my 1985-86 yearbook above).

I also appreciated Prof. Ristau’s friendship after I graduated from NABC and moved on to further studies. Whenever I would come back to Edmonton to visit family I would make sure to drop by NABC and visit. It was with some surprise in 1997 when I was contacted by the College and invited to apply for the position of Old Testament professor. It was only then that I heard about Prof. Ristau’s failing health and his decision to go on long-term disability. I ended up getting the position and following in his footsteps as professor of Old Testament at NABC. So for the last eight years we were colleagues and even though Prof. Ristau was not able to teach during those years, we continued to stay in contact. His official retirement occurred this last academic year.

Now that he is retired, Prof. Ristau can actually come back and teach. I am looking forward to this upcoming academic year when he’ll teach an introductory course on the Prophets at Taylor.

I should be quick to add that I am only one of countless students whose lives have been influenced by Peter Ristau. I am also not the only student who Peter has inspired to do further studies in the Old Testament. Dr. Bill Anderson studied with Peter and went on to doctoral studies in Hebrew Bible at University of Glasgow. Dr. John Harvey similarly studied Old Testament at the University of Toronto. I should also mention his son, Ken Ristau, who was one of my students at Taylor and is currently in the midst of doctoral studies in Hebrew Bible at Pennsylvania State University under the supervision of Dr. Gary Knoppers.

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