Zijlstra, Samme (1953-2001)

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Samme Zijlstra, a leading Dutch scholar of Anabaptist history, was born 23 July 1953 in Haulerwijk, Friesland, Netherlands. He went through the Gymnasium in Drachten and then studied at Jura, followed by the study of history at the University of Groningen and theology in Utrecht. He died through an accident on 10 November 2001 in Leeuwarden, Friesland.

In 1983 Zijlstra completed his PhD under A. F. Mellink at the University of Groningen. His dissertation, Nicolaas Meyndertsz. van Blesdijk. Een bijdrage tot de geschiedenis van het Davidjorisme (Assen, 1983), was a masterpiece of research that reappraised the reputation of not only Blesdijk, but also Blesdijk's father-in-law and teacher, the Anabaptist/spiritualist David Joris. Zijlstra's study broke new ground on several fronts, firmly establishing Joris' standing as the principal Anabaptist leader in the Netherlands between 1535 and the early 1540s. It also revealed many of Blesdijk's motivations for eventually leaving Joris' side and becoming one of his profoundest critics.

Through several influential articles on Joris, Anabaptism, Menno Simons, Mennonites and religious tolerance, Zijlstra enjoyed a growing reputation as an important and productive historian of the Dutch Reformation, epitomized by his position as editor-in-chief of the Doopsgezinde Bijdragen, the major Dutch journal for studies of Anabaptist and Mennonite history. Fittingly, it was Zijlstra who completed the editing job of the seventh volume of the Documenta Anabaptistica Neerlandica, on the later Anabaptist court records of Friesland and Groningen (to 1601), left unfinished at the death of his mentor, Mellink.

A quiet, unassuming person, Samme was ideally suited to the research environment. In 1990 he became a senior researcher with the Fryske Akademy, Leeuwarden, working on various funded research projects, including an impressive book on the history of higher education in Friesland (1380-1650), Het geleerde Friesland—een mythe? (1996). Among projects left unfinished was his part of a national study on Mennonite elites in the Dutch Republic, for which his contribution was to be a study encompassing southwest Friesland.

A suitable tribute to his tragically shortened scholarly career was his last major work, a history of the Anabaptist and Mennonite movements in the Netherlands from 1531 to 1675, Om de ware gemeente en de oude gronden (Hilversum, 2000). Quickly supplanting the older studies by W. J. Kuhler (1932) and N. van der Zijpp (1952), Zijlstra's book interweaved modern interpretations of the "doperse" tradition in the Netherlands with his own impressive research. In this magnum opus Zijlstra tackled all the big questions neatly tracing the developments, ideas and confessional conflicts of the Anabaptist/Mennonite movements both before and after the Münster debacle of 1535. Unlike previous histories, Zijlstra's study gave equal treatment to both conservative and liberal Mennonite wings and examined the influence of both non-dogmatical spiritualism and Calvinism on the Mennonites. Although its readership was restricted to a Dutch-reading audience, Zijlstra's tome greatly impacted the historiography of religious history in the Netherlands. Unfortunately, hopes for a successive volume on later Mennonite history died with him.

Zijlsta was a generous scholar who gladly shared his research findings with others. He was also a fair and thorough editor and critic. He has left behind many who miss him greatly, both as a friend and a scholar.


Bosma, Jelle. “Zijlstra, Samme.” MennLex V. 2013. Web. 17 June 2016. http://www.mennlex.de/doku.php?id=art:zijlstra_samme.

Visser, Piet. “In memoriam Samme Zijlstra (1953-2001). Doopsgezinde Bijdragen 27 (2001): 9-14.

Waite, Gary K. “In Memoriam: Samme Zijlstra, 1953-2001.” Mennonite Quarterly Review 76 (January 2002): 3-4. This GAMEO article is derived, with permission, from the MQR memorial article.

Books by Samme Zijlstra

Zijlstra, S. Nicolaas Meyndertsz. van Blesdijk : een bijdrage tot de geschiedenis van het Davidjorisme. Assen : Van Gorcum, 1983.

Mellink, A. F. and S. Zijlstra, eds. Friesland (1551-1601) and Groningen (1538-1601). (Documenta anabaptistica Neerlandica ; 7). Leiden : E.J. Brill, 1995.

Zijlstra, S. Om de ware gemeente en de oude gronden : geschiedenis van de dopersen in de Nederlanden, 1531-1675. Hilversum : Verloren ; Leeuwarden : Fryske Akademy, 2000.

Author(s) Gary K Waite
Date Published June 2016

Cite This Article

MLA style

Waite, Gary K. "Zijlstra, Samme (1953-2001)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. June 2016. Web. 22 Sep 2020. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Zijlstra,_Samme_(1953-2001)&oldid=135229.

APA style

Waite, Gary K. (June 2016). Zijlstra, Samme (1953-2001). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 22 September 2020, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Zijlstra,_Samme_(1953-2001)&oldid=135229.

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