Valentin Dahlem, one of the leading South German Mennonite preachers in the early nineteenth century, was born 26 December 1754 at Erbesbüdesheim near Alzey. Before he was six years of age he lost his father. Under his stepfather Heinrich Borkholder, who settled in the principality of Nassau-Weilburg with other Mennonite families and in 1773 took over the court estate near Mosbach, he acquired an excellent agricultural education. He was an outstanding farm manager, and was one of the first to introduce scientific use of the soil in the Nassau region. After his marriage with Barbara Hüthwohl of Harxheim he leased the Koppensteiner estate at Wiesbaden and introduced scientific farming there, setting an example for the rural population. With amazement they saw that Dahlem planted potatoes, which were still unknown and were considered poisonous by many, sowed the "rank weed" clover and thus made use of fallow ground, but still always had the best crops.
Duke William offered Dahlem the Koppensteiner estate as a gift in recognition of his contribution to agriculture, but Dahlem was too modest to accept it. His services to agricultural science were also fully honored in a report by the Nassau ministers of State to the regent in June 1808, which states, "The grand theories of other countries are not found here; but in practice there is life and activity. Especially our Anabaptists set a good example—neighbors of the Lower Palatinate—and in competition with them progress is made along every line. Cultivation of clover has been of benefit. Fallow land has been decreased, and animal husbandry is thriving."
By private study Dahlem acquired an amazing general education. He showed great proficiency in ancient languages, especially Latin and Greek; he could also use Hebrew fluently. When a Mennonite congregation was formed near Wiesbaden in 1790, Dahlem was chosen their preacher; he was well qualified for this office by his talents and his knowledge. At first the congregation met on the Borkholder farm at Mosbach, then in Steiner's Mill near Wiesbaden (in the 1950s the house at 32 Walram Street) and in Massenheim. For a time Dahlem also served the church at Neuwied.
Dahlem's influence extended far beyond his own congregation. He devoted his energy to re-establishing strict discipline among the South German Mennonites; moral conditions were dubious in many places as a result of the Napoleonic war. With Peter Weber, the elder at Neuwied, he called a meeting of the leaders of the congregations on the left bank of the Rhine, which was held on 5 June 1803 at Ibersheim near Worms. The conference resolved no longer to tolerate sinful pleasures among die members and to stem the growing influence of fashion on dress.
The value his brethren in office placed on his capability is expressed in the resolution passed by this conference, appointing Dahlem to prepare a handbook for the use of ministers, especially beginners, in church services. Up to this time the South German churches had had no compilation of addresses and prayers for religious observances. Some preachers, of course, used a manuscript translation of the Formular of the Dutch Joannes Deknatel, but it was not in general use. Dahlem worked out a manual which he presented at a second conference at Ibersheim on 5 June 1805. To this conference Dahlem had also invited the leaders of the churches in Baden and Württemberg. The manual was approved by all and was published two years later with the title, Allgemeines und vollständiges Formularbuch für die gottesdienstlichen Handlungen, in denen Taufgesinnten, Evangelisch Mennoniten-Gemeinden benebst Gebetern zum Gebrauch auf alle vorkommenden Fälle beim öffentlichen Gottesdienst wie auch die Formen und Gebetern unsrer Brüder am Neckar (Neuwied, 1807, 336 pp.). It was introduced in the Palatine and Hessian churches and served as a model for later manuals.
In his spare time Dahlem enjoyed writing poetry. "His verses," wrote his great-grandson C. Spielmann (d. 1918) in Wiesbaden, "are simple but have good rhythmic form and thoughtful content, not to be classed with the rhymes of poetasters. He liked to write pastoral poems. It is a pity that his poetry has not been preserved. Spielmann published two of Dahlem's poems as specimens: "Vergiss mein nicht, du Gott voll Güte" and "Noch immer fand ich nicht die Ruh."
The church that he led so long split after his death, which occurred on 23 January 1840. Apparently there had been neglect in ordaining young ministers. Individual members lost connections and moved away or joined other churches. Dahlem's descendants married members of the state church; their children did not adopt the Mennonite faith.
Glasius Barend. Godgeleerd Nederland : Biographisch woordenboek van Nederlandsche godgeleerden. Te ’s Hertogenbosch: Bij Gebr. Muller, 1851-1856: I.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon., 4 v. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. I, 386 f.
Mannhardt, Wilhelm. Die Wehrfreiheit der altpreussischen Mennoniten : Eine geschichtliche Erörterung. Marienburg : Im Selbstverlage der Altpreussischen Mennonitengemeinden : in Commission bei B. Hermann Hemmpels Wwe., 1863: 55.
Mennonitische Blätter (1895): 21, 36; (1914): 35-38, 43-45.
Spielmann, L. Valentin Dahlem, Lebensbild eines nassauischen Mennonitenpredigers. Wiesbaden, ca. 1912.
Cite This Article
Hege, Christian. "Dahlem, Valentin (1754-1840)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1955. Web. 20 Aug 2014. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Dahlem,_Valentin_(1754-1840)&oldid=91534.
Hege, Christian. (1955). Dahlem, Valentin (1754-1840). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 20 August 2014, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Dahlem,_Valentin_(1754-1840)&oldid=91534.
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