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History professor part of German-language encyclopedia update

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – A Bethel College professor is part of an ambitious project to revise and update the first Mennonite encyclopedia.

Mark Jantzen, associate professor of history, is the North American representative for the fifth volume of the Mennonitisches Lexikon (Mennonite Encyclopedia). Begun in the early years of the 20th century in Germany and interrupted by two World Wars, the project inspired Harold S. Bender’s North American, English-language Mennonite encyclopedia project in the late 1950s.

The Mennonite Encyclopedia came out in four volumes, published between 1955 and 1959. Thirty years later came Volume 5 of the Mennonite Encyclopedia, edited by C.J. Dyck, which updated and added to the material in the previous volumes.

Meanwhile, the huge historical endeavor that Christian Neff and Christian Hege launched at Weierhof in 1913 did not make it to print in its entirety – also in four volumes, though much slimmer than the Mennonite Encyclopedia – until 1967.

Just as the Mennonitisches Lexikon provided much of the inspiration (and a significant amount of material for translation) for the Mennonite Encyclopedia, so did Volume 5 inspire Hans-Jürgen Goertz, professor emeritus at the University of Hamburg, a widely respected scholar of 16th-century Anabaptism, and a Mennonite, to initiate a fifth volume of the Mennonitisches Lexikon. He is working under the auspices of the Mennonitischer Geschichtsverein (German Mennonite Historical Association).

“The project is at the point where a website has been created,” Jantzen says. The fifth volume is being done in three sections, the first one consisting of biographical entries and now online at www.mennlex.de.

“I authored three of the articles and coordinated about 25 more, with authors in the United States and Canada,” Jantzen added. Among those 25 authors are Bethel emeritus faculty Duane Friesen and James Juhnke, former faculty member Reinhild Kauenhoven Janzen, and Bethel history graduates Mary Sprunger and Rachel Waltner Goossen, who teach history at Eastern Mennonite College, Harrisonburg, Va., and Washburn University, Topeka, respectively.

Jantzen’s three entries in Part 1 include articles on Johann Janzen, Ernst Regehr and Wilhelm Mannhardt.

Janzen was “a World War I flying ace in the German armed forces and a member in good standing of the Danzig [Prussia] Mennonite Church,” Jantzen says. He was a squadron leader under the command of Manfred von Richthoven, better known as “the Red Baron.”

Regehr was a Mennonite leader from the Vistula Delta (also in Prussia) who went to Uruguay after World War II and became a leader of Mennonites there. Mannhardt, a 19th-century historian, was “the first German Mennonite I know of to get a Ph.D. and stay in the church,” says Jantzen. “He was an important researcher in German folklore and mythology. He met the Grimm Brothers – he was much younger than they were – and continued their work.”

Goertz began work on Volume 5, Part 1, of the Mennonitisches Lexikon in 2007. Part 2 will deal with themes of history and theology and Part 3 with the geographical and institutional growth of the global Mennonite church. Jantzen says no timeline has yet been set for their completion.

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2010-11 Forbes.com analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States, and is in the first tier in its category in the U.S. News & World Report annual ranking of “America’s Top Colleges.” The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.

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