J. Kent '34 | Frederic
Cassidy '30 | Tom
Linehan | William
papyrologist spent career in Berlin
of the world's leading scholars of ancient papyrus fragments,
William Brashear found his passion at Oberlin.
in high school, he wanted nothing more than to become a professional
French horn player. His guidance counselor cautioned him not to
be too hasty in his career choices and suggested that Mr. Brashear
might do well in a vocation that made use of his aptitude for
learning languages. The counselor's statement proved prophetic,
and Mr. Brashear soon began a career as one of the foremost papyrologists
in the world, aided by his knowledge of over two dozen languages.
in Ithaca, New York, it was a love of music that drew Mr. Brashear
to Oberlin, but once there, he discovered a passion in the classics.
He went on to earn MA and PhD degrees at the University of Michigan,
and did graduate work at the Free University of Berlin. In 1971,
he began working at the newly opened Agyptisches (Egyptian) Museum
in Berlin and later became chief papyrologist at that institution.
On several occasions, he was invited by the Chinese government
to serve as a visiting professor of classics.
gifted and dedicated scholar, Mr. Brashear spent nearly 30 years
caring for and studying the museum's collection of ancient papyrus
fragments. He published numerous articles and books on the subject,
including a ground-breaking identification of a fragment that
indicated the presence of the cult of Mithras (a savior/ god worshipped
throughout the Roman world) in Egypt, a presence that had never
before been proven. His most recent work, Wednesday's Child is
Full of Woe (noted in OAM's Spring 2000 issue), is a philological
and iconographical study of the development of the Seven Deadly
Sins from ancient Babylonia to present-day modern art, based upon
a new interpretation of an ancient Greek papyrus text.
Brashear's work brought him a brief brush with fame. In 1997 two
American scholars identified several fragments in the collection
that Mr. Brashear cared for as belonging to a previously unknown
Christian Gospel. A bemused Mr. Brashear found himself besieged
by the German media, and his picture was featured on television
and on the front page of several newspapers. Mr. Brashear dealt
with the media barrage with his characteristic good humor, despite
having to, in his word, "wear a tie to work for the first
time in 25 years."
Brashear died in Berlin on February 2, 2000, at the age of 53.
He is survived by his mother, brother, and sister, and by a body
of work that rivals that of any in his field.