S10 – Towards a History of Assyriology


  1. Felipe Rojas (Brown University)
  2. Eva Cancik-Kirschbaum (Freie Universität Berlin)
  3. Stefania Ermidoro (Newcastle University)
  4. Silvia Alaura and Marco Bonechi (Istituto di Studi sul Mediterraneo Antico (ISMA), CNR, Roma)
  5. Peeter Espak and Vladimir Sazonov (Tartu Ülikool = University of Tartu)
  6. Nicole Brisch (Københavns Universitet = University of Copenhagen)
  7. Ludger Hiepel (Universität Münster)
  8. Reiko Maejima (Universität Wien)
  9. Thomas L. Gertzen (Moses Mendelssohn Zentrum für europäisch-jüdische Studien, Potsdam)
  10. Luděk Vacín (Univerzita Hradec Králové)
  11. Peter Machinist (Harvard University)
  12. Abraham Winitzer (University of Notre Dame)
  13. Ann K. Guinan (Penn Museum)
  14. Vladimir Emelianov (St Petersburg University)
  15. Agnès Garcia-Ventura and Jordi Vidal (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona)
  16. Netanel Anor (Freie Universität Berlin)
  17. Hans Neumann (Universität Münster)

Paper Titles and Abstracts

To view the abstracts, please click on the titles:

Assyriology before Assyriology
Felipe Rojas (Brown University)

Disciplinary histories are invented traditions. Many modern academic disciplines, including Assyriology (but also archaeology), trace back their roots to the early modern period, specifically to the mid 19th century AD. This paper concentrates on a period in the history of Assyriology that is usually neglected or treated only summarily by disciplinary historians: namely, that between the end of the cuneiform tradition and the re-decipherment of cuneiform by European intellectuals. My principal purpose is to question how pre-modern and non-European engagements with cuneiform texts, monumental reliefs, and inscribed ruins should contribute (or not) in a more expansive and inclusive history of the discipline, one in which the sources of intellectual achievement concerning ancient Mesopotamia are not only Europe and America. Through short-case studies I aim to challenge traditional monogenetic accounts of Assyriology. I shed light on both the intensity and the diversity of ancient and medieval interests in Mesopotamian realia as well as on how local communities on the ground at different times incorporated such artifacts into their own local histories. I argue that the history of Assyriology may profitably look to moments before the nineteenth century AD and to places other than Europe and America in an effort to understand how people around the world have understood and explained the rich material and textual legacy of Mesopotamia and neighboring regions.

Oriental Despotism: A Concept and its Consequences for Research on Ancient Near Eastern Societies
Eva Cancik-Kirschbaum (Freie Universität Berlin)

In both past and present-day research on the origin, structure and effectiveness of political configurations, Near Eastern forms of rule are usually presented as the prime examples of precursors to autocratic rule. These pre-existing categories and narratives are then presupposed as an interpretive framework in the face of the overwhelming complexity of the textual and archaeological record, leaving the potential of these materials for an innovative, longue durée comparative approach unfulfilled.
An example to the point is the concept of Oriental Despotism that had considerable effect and influence on the study of Ancient Near Eastern societies, especially in the 19th and 20th centuries CE. The paper will trace the historical origins of the concept and show under which conditions and to what effect the negative image associated with the concept of despotism was put in place. In a second step the paper will discuss the consequences of its implementation as a socio-economic model in Assyriology in terms of history of science.

The Origin of a Discipline: Layard and the First Assyriologists
Stefania Ermidoro (Newcastle University)

This paper sets out to explore A.H. Layard’s role in the rediscovery of the Assyrian material culture and cultural history, through a study of archival documents. Thanks to his ability to copy cuneiform inscriptions, the invaluable possibility to get first-hand material at Nineveh and Nimrud, and his intuition in understanding many cultural aspects of the ancient Assyrian civilisation that he discovered, Layard became a pivotal figure in the rising discipline. During and after his years in the Near East, he was also able to create a broad international network of Assyriologists and philologists of ancient languages, who considered him an influential colleague. My paper will present several unpublished manuscripts that attest Layard’s contribution to the deciphering process of the cuneiform script, particularly in the light of his connections with Botta, Rawlinson and Hincks. Layard’s role in the development of the Assyriological discipline will also be proved through an overview of the letters that reached him from scholars all over Europe. Archival documents, moreover, show that Layard contributed to disseminating the knowledge of the ancient Assyrian culture among non-scholars, particularly through the gifts of inscriptions and copies of cuneiform texts to members of his family, friends and public institutions. In my presentation, I will show not only manuscripts from the well-known Layard Papers currently kept at the British Library in London, but also documents from the “Layard Collection” of the Newcastle University. This archive, still unpublished, is the object of the research project that I am carrying out thanks to a British Academy fellowship.

Dreaming of an International Discipline: Archibald H. Sayce, Cosmopolitanism and Assyriology at Oxford
Silvia Alaura and Marco Bonechi (Istituto di Studi sul Mediterraneo Antico (ISMA), CNR, Roma)

A recent study of the unpublished papers of Archibald H. Sayce kept at The Queen’s College and other Oxford institutions has disclosed an impressive collection of documents which, inter alia, illustrates his cosmopolitan attitude towards Assyriological studies during the late Victorian and Edwardian era. Of particular interest in his correspondence are the letters that Sayce received from prominent German colleagues such as Friedrich Delitzsch, Fritz Hommel, Paul Haupt and Eduard Meyer before and after his appointment to the first Oxford chair of Assyriology in 1891. The aim of this paper is to highlight some of the main topics dealt with in these letters, against the background of the changing relationships between the British and German orientalist milieux before the First World War.

The Origin of Estonian Ancient Near Eastern Studies (19th century and first Half of 20th Century)
Peeter Espak and Vladimir Sazonov (Tartu Ülikool = University of Tartu)

Although Estonia is a small European country with a population of only 1.3 million, there is a long tradition of Oriental Studies at the University of Tartu. When in 1632 the first Estonian university was estab¬lished in Tartu (Dorpat) in the Swedish province of Livonia, which was called Academia Gustaviana (in German, Universität Dorpat, today’s University of Tartu), then already Hebrew was initially taught there, followed by Arabic, Aramaic, Sanskrit and other Oriental languages. Estonian Assyriology has its roots in late 19th century when orientalists and scholars in the field Old Testament started teaching Akkadian and Aramaic languages at the University of Tartu. In the 19th century, several Baltic Germans who lived in Estonia showed their interest for cultural Legacy of Ancient Near East - especially Egypt, but also Persia, Syria, etc. One of the first was Otto Friedrich von Richter (1791-1816). Despite his short life (he sadly died at the age of 24) von Richter can be considered to have been an important researcher in Oriental studies, especially in Egyptology and Nubian studies. In 1814 von Richter began his famous voyage to the Middle East where he gathered an impressive collection of Oriental manuscripts, hieroglyphic texts and artefacts (including some Egyptian mummies, statuettes and scarabs). He also kept his diary. Together with another traveler, Sven Fredrik Lidman, von Richter hoped to present the results of their joint research to the public in Europe and Russia upon their return. Unfortunately, on the 31st August 1816 von Richter fell victim to a serious disease, most likely dysentery or cholera and died.
Alexander von Bulmerincq (1868-1938) and Otto Emil Seesemann (1866-1945) were the fist in Tartu who taught Akkadian language and also dealt with research in the field of Ancient Near Eastern Studies. The most prominent Orien¬talist in Estonia in the field of Ancient Near Eastern studies in the 20th century were theologians Arthur Võõbus (1909-1988) and Uku Masing (1909-1985). Masing taught Ancient Near Eastern History, Religion, but also Akkadian, Hebrew, Sumerian and other languages in Tartu in the 30ies. In 1940 when the of Soviet occupation of Estonia started, the Theological Faculty of the University of Tartu was closed as a remnant of kulak and capitalist criminal way of thinking which should have no place in the new social system liberated from the chains of religion and exploitation. After the Soviet army reoccupied Estonia in 1944, A. Võõbus managed to escape to Germany, and after to the USA where he became the foremost authority in Syriac studies in Chicago. Collection of manuscripts photographed by him in the Middle East are still studied and systematized up to this date. Masing remained in occupied Estonia and was prohibited to teach or conduct any public activities during the Soviet period.
However, he managed to send out to the west several of his scholarly works in German and English published in Germany, France, USA, Czechoslovakia, etc. His topics published in international journals included the Old Testament, comparative religion, folklore, comparative linguistics, and even the religion of Çatal Hüyük.

The History of Assyriology in Denmark
Nicole Brisch (Københavns Universitet = University of Copenhagen)

Assyriology in Denmark has a long and illustrious tradition. We commonly trace the history of the discipline back to Valdemar Schmidt, who began teaching courses in Akkadian and Egyptian at the University of Copenhagen in 1883. The first MA program in Assyriology was introduced in 1926, with Thorkild Jacobsen as the first person to graduate with an MA in Assyriology from Copenhagen in 1927. But Danish interests in cuneiform culture can be traced back even further: during the Royal Danish Arabian Expedition (1761-1767, under the tutelage of the Danish king Frederik V), the German cartographer and mathematician Carsten Niebuhr was able to produce the first reliable copies of cuneiform inscriptions in Persepolis, which later aided, among others, Bishop Friedrich Münter and the German high school teacher Georg Friedrich Grotefend in deciphering cuneiform. This paper will offer an overview of Assyriology in Denmark until today.

Die Institutionalisierung der Altorientalistik an der Universität Münster: Die Berufung von Hubert Grimme, die Gründung des Orientalischen Seminars und die Ausdifferenzierung in selbständige Seminare und Institute
Ludger Hiepel (Universität Münster)

HUBERT GRIMME (1864-1942) vertrat 1911-1929 als erster Professor für Semitische Philologie und Altorientalische Geschichte an der Westfälischen Wilhelms-Universität in Münster den Alten Orient in Lehre und Forschung. Auf seine Initiative hin konnte zum 1. April 1913 das Orientalische Seminar gegründet werden, das bereits 1919 drei Abteilungen umfasste: A. Alter und islamischer Orient, B. Christlicher Orient und C. Indo-iranischer Orient. Mit der Ernennung von FRIEDRICH SCHMIDTKE (1891-1969) zum planmäßigen außerordentlichen Professor wurde eine neue Abteilung für Geschichte und Kultur des Alten Orients geschaffen. Im Oktober 1963 – mittlerweile war WOLFRAM FREIHERR VON SODEN (1908-1996) zum ordentlicher Professor in Münster berufen worden – wurden die vormals mittlerweile fünf Abteilungen des Orientalischen Seminars selbständige Seminare: das Ägyptologische Seminar, das Altorientalische Seminar, das Seminar für Arabistik und Islamwissenschaft und das Seminar für Indologie. Bereits 1962 war das eigenständige Seminar für Ostasienkunde eingerichtet worden.
Im Vortrag sollen diese Entwicklungen und ihr wissenschaftshistorischer Rahmen beleuchtet werden, wobei ein Schwerpunkt auf den Beginn der Institutionalisierung gelegt wird. Eine besondere Rolle spielt zudem auch das Verhältnis zur Katholisch-Theologischen Fakultät in Münster, da es die Professoren dieser Fakultät waren, die vor Einrichtung der genannten Professur für Semitische Philologie und Altorientalische Geschichte in der Philosophischen und Naturwissen-schaftlichen Fakultät die orientalischen Sprachen in ihrer Fakultät gelehrt hatten. Mit FRIEDRICH SCHMIDTKE war ferner ein katholischer Priester berufen worden, der mit seinem Buch „Einwanderung Israels in Kanaan“ 1934 auf den vatikanischen Index der verbotenen Bücher gekommen war.

Keigo Harada and the Babylon Society in Japan in the early Years of the 20th Century
Reiko Maejima (Universität Wien)

The birth of Assyriology in Japan took place at the beginning of the twentieth century. The Babylon Society organized by Keigo Harada was the biggest Assyriological association before World War II and had a pivotal role in the history of Assyriology in Japan. The Babylon Society was an absolutely private organization. Keigo Harada was a lawyer, he did not belong to any academic institution, like universities or museums, and most of the members were also lawyers or politicians. The Babylon Society was funded privately. Moreover, Keigo Harada put forward his own theory of the origin of Japanese, which was “Japanese came from Babylon”. This association was clearly accounted for by the modernization and the international relations around Japan. However, no previous study has investigated the background of the private association and its own theory.
This paper analyses the relationship between the purpose of Babylon Society by Keigo Harada and Japanese political and social situation in the early years of the twentieth century. First it gives a brief overview of the history of Babylon Society. The second part deals with Keigo Harada’s theory of the origin of Japanese. Finally it will demonstrate that the international relation with European countries brought a feeling of inferiority to some elite groups of Japanese and Harada’s theory and Babylon Society arise from this feeling.

The Babel-Bible Controversy and “Wissenschaft des Judentums”
Thomas L. Gertzen (Moses Mendelssohn Zentrum für europäisch-jüdische Studien, Potsdam)

At the beginning of the 20th century, Berlin witnessed a conflict between the representatives of the young discipline of Assyriology on the one hand and, on the other, of Protestant theology and clergy. In several lectures addressed to the wider public Friedrich Delitzsch postulated that the study of cuneiform texts would marginalize the importance of biblical sources and scholarship, since many Old Testament texts could be traced back to Babylonian precursors. He was initially supported by Emperor Wilhelm II – who was himself extremely interested in ancient cultures – which rendered the controversy political. This confrontation and challenge to established beliefs must be understood primarily as an attempt by Delitzsch – a “furious orientalist” (SUZANNE MARCHAND) – to promote Oriental studies to the detriment of theology.
The Babel-Bible Controversy has been dealt with extensively, but some aspects, however, remain to be scrutinized more closely – for example the reactions of German Jewry, particularly considering the parallel development of “Wissenschaft des Judentums” and the denominational background of scholars within German (oriental) academia. In this context, Delitzsch’s anti-Semitic publications, beginning in the 1920s, must be considered in contrast to the relative indifference of (some) scholars with a Jewish background towards the controversy.
The lecture is going to explore this particular field of research outlining future perspectives for a conference, sponsored jointly by the Moses Mendelssohn Center for European-Jewish Studies, Potsdam, the Berliner Antike-Kolleg, and the Institute of Ancient Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the Free University, Berlin in 2019.

BL contra Delitzsch: On B. Landsberger's Cultural Background, Motivation for the Study of Assyriology, and the Personal Roots of His “Eigenbegrifflichkeit"
Luděk Vacin (Univerzita Hradec Králové)

"Seit Beginn meiner Studien entschlossen meine Lebensarbeit der Assyriologie zu widmen, habe ich mich in alle Zweige der Keilschriftphilologie eingearbeitet…" How did it happen that a graduate from a grammar school in Austrian Silesia wanted to become an Assyriologist from the start? What kind of cultural background, early education, and intellectual influences drove him to devote his life to the research on the cuneiform cultures? Why did he choose Heinrich Zimmern as his mentor straight away? Does the still very influential and controversial climax of his early work, the inaugural lecture on the "conceptual autonomy of the Babylonian world," have anything to do with his cultural identity and the incentives behind his decision to study Ancient Mesopotamia? Actually, what was the decisive impulse? Those are some of the questions that remained unanswered in all works on the life and career of one of the most brilliant Assyriologists. Using various barely accessible materials from the first half of his life, it is now possible to offer insights into the making of the "scholar of a stature rarely encountered," whose achievements remain as fundamental for the discipline half a century after his death as they were in his lifetime.

Paul Haupt: Between Two Worlds: Assyriology and Biblical Studies
Peter Machinist (Harvard University)

Paul Haupt was one of the leading voices in the early history of Assyriology in Germany, and while he continued his Assyriological interests after his permanent move to the United States and Johns Hopkins University, his focus shifted to the study of the Hebrew Bible as well as to a myriad of concerns for education, scholarly organizations, and even international politics. This paper will look at Haupt's work before and after his move to Johns Hopkins, inquiring into the significance of his Assyriological contributions and the reasons for and consequences of his shift in focus to biblical and related work.

Toward Leo Oppenheim’s Dead Civilization and Stream of Tradition
Abraham Winitzer (University of Notre Dame)

The history of the study of ancient Mesopotamia has understandably turned first to the consideration of the earliest phases of that discipline, especially those devoted to the modern decipherment of its languages and literatures, and next to the deliberations that followed, concerning Mesopotamia’s connection to or independence from related subjects and areas in the ancient Near East. But the story does not end there. For the era that ultimately conceded “a conceptual autonomy” to this world saw further developments in terms of this world’s modern historiography, which prove no less fundamental to its current conception. The voice most responsible for these developments was that of A. Leo Oppenheim, who insisted to portray Mesopotamia as a “dead civilization,” essentially severed from all proximate and later traditions, and who urged Mesopotamia’s definition according to the metaphor of a “stream of tradition,” an image conveying an impersonal transmission of this civilization’s literary expression.
In this paper I will revisit Oppenheim’s thinking about these matters and consider their coherence and merit. In so doing I will pay special attention to a notable evolution in this regard, and entertain ideas about what may account for it. This contextual reading of Oppenheim, I will suggest, serves as a valuable corrective not only of the understanding of Oppenheim himself but also of the manner by which his ideas are evoked in framing current historical analysis and debates.

Syphilography, Sexology, and Assyriology
Ann K. Guinan (Penn Museum)

In his 1891 translation, Alfred Jeremias claims that Izdubar (Gilgamesh) is suffering from leprosy when he arrives at the ocean at the end of the world. Before he returns to Uruk the ferryman is directed to take him to a place where he can be magically cleansed and cured. Jeremias’ translation of the cleansing in Tablet XI (Jeremias, p. 28; George, p. 718-720, lines 247-272) triggered the interest of Viennese Dermatologist and Syphilographer, J.K. Proksch. Writing in the May 1, 1891 edition of Monatshefte für Praktische Dermatologie, Die Syphilis bei den alten Babyloniern und Assyriern: eine historische Skizze, Proksch surmises that the “painful and revolting” disease Izdubar was suffering from was not leprosy, but syphilis. In the initial stages leprosy looks like syphilis and syphilis was the plague of the time. Not only did Proksch reinterpret Jeremias’ translations, he re- read the epic for sexual content and extracted the key passages. Proksch introduced the sexual passages of the epic to two fields of 19th century sexual research. His work was disseminated to American and French Syphilographers, on the one hand, and to German and Austrian Sexologists, on the other.
The possibility that Gilgamesh had syphilis, of course, has no modern validity and Syphilography no longer exists as a distinct academic discipline. Nevertheless, the connection between Gilgamesh and syphilis is more than an odd piece of historical miscellany. Early Sexologists saw an irresistible vehicle for social commentary and incorporated the passages into a discourse on ancient Near Eastern sexuality that continued well into the 20th century.

Woldemar Georg Schileico: Unknown and Unpublished Works of a Russian Sumerologist
Vladimir Emelianov (St Petersburg University)

The paper is devoted to the unpublished works by W.G. Schileico, as well as to his Russian works published during the I World War and still unknown to colleagues outside Russia. It also deals with the big corpus of letters of Western colleagues to Schileico (1911-1929). The articles on the amulet against Lamashtu and on the letter of the Assyrians to the supporters of Shamash-shumukin were found in the archive of the Academy of Sciences. An article about Lu-Enna’s letter to Enentarzi was found at the Department of Manuscripts of the Russian National Library. The paper will be accompanied by scholarly comments and illustrated with photographs from the archives. Also we'll trace some problems in Schileico's publications before the I World War (some corrections and additions to Old Sumerian texts from Russian collections).

Strengthening Ties: assessing the Presence of Spanish Scholars in international Conferences devoted to Ancient Near Eastern Studies (1945‐1983)
Agnès Garcia and Jordi Vidal (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona)

The end of the Second World War in May 1945 was a turning point for Spanish foreign policy. Indeed, if between 1940 and 1945 Franco’s Spain had cultivated international relations with Italy and Germany, from 1945 onwards Spain was trying hard to improve its relations with the Allied nations by stressing its neutrality during the war conflict. In this context the academia was regarded as a useful tool to enhance international ties with the Allied nations as proof the increase, even if discreet in a post‐war period, of funding available for Spanish researchers for stays abroad and the increment of the presence of these scholars in international conferences. In this communication we concentrate on the latter, that is, on the participation of Spanish scholars in international conferences from 1945 to 1983 (the year when the journal Aula Orientalis was launched), putting the focus on the situation of ancient Near Eastern studies at that time. To do so we will pay special attention to the participation of Spanish scholars at both the Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, a meeting conceived and created immediately after the end of Second World War, and the Congrès Internationale des Orientalistes, which may be considered as forerunner of the Rencontre. To pursue this analysis in this communication we will use two main sources. On the one hand the proceedings and the “compte rendu” of the Orientalistes conference and of the Rencontre respectively which were published in academic journals at that time. On the other hand we use some archival documents which help us to complement and to better understand the previously mentioned reports. In doing so we aim not only to be able to give the clues to partially reconstruct a page of the history of Assyriology, but also to proof the value and relevance of secondary literature and archival documents as sources to approach the intellectual reception of ancient Near Eastern traditions in the modern world.

Yaakov Peremen and the Notarikon: a Case of Anti-Sumerist Revival in Mid-Twentieth Century Palestine
Netanel Anor (Freie Universität Berlin)

This presentation will focus on the person of Yaakov Peremen, a poet and patron of the arts, who was also active as a self-taught Assyriologist in Tel Aviv of the 1940’s and 1950’s. Peremen dedicated most of his scholarly efforts to promote his ideas concerning the cuneiform script and its origins. To his understanding, the sources, accepted at that time by the scientific community as Sumerian, were not written in a language other than Akkadian but were rather an alternative cryptic system to write the same language, a system he associated with the Kabalic Notarikon. In this respect Peremen saw himself as following Joseph Halevy’s approach, namely that Sumerian was never a spoken or “natural” language. Like Halevy, whom he saw as “the great Paris professor”, Peremen understood the Sumerian sources to represent a priests’ code, which like hieratic in Egypt, was used by a distinct class of scholars in temples. Peremen, however, took this theory one step further by describing these sources as the origin of the Notarikon, an esoteric method to approach Jewish writings, mainly for magical purposes.
Peremen’s figure, however, was not at all esoteric in the cultural and political scene of the Hebrew society in its formative phase. His ideas echoed in the heart of the young Zionist establishment, as his work was acknowledged and even celebrated by influential figures of the time, such as Joseph Klausner, Philip Korngruen, Yom-tov Levinsky and Avigdor Hameiri. Peremen ideas can therefore be seen as an interesting case of mediation and then deviation of the achievements in Assyriology in a more local context, as most of Peremen’s publications were published in the Hebrew language and were directed to the cultural milieus of the Hebrew Renaissance. This presentation will hence offer an outline of Peremen’s Notarikon and will seek to investigate the ideological and historical background enabling his unusual ideas. Special attention will also be given to the implication of these ideas on questions of identity of the Hebrew speaking community in contemporary Palestine.

Altorientalistik in der DDR im Spannungsfeld von Kontinuität und Wandel
Hans Neumann (Universität Münster)

Ausgehend von den Nachkriegsverhältnissen in der Sowjetischen Besatzungszone (1945-1949) wird unter Berücksichtigung der jeweiligen spezifischen institutionellen und wissenschaftspolitischen Rahmenbedingungen, unter denen in der DDR Altorientalistik im Hochschulbereich und außeruniversitär betrieben worden ist, ausschnittsweise versucht, die Entwicklung der DDR-Altorientalistik insbesondere an den Universitäten und an der Akademie der Wissenschaften von 1949 bis 1989 sowohl unter dem Gesichtspunkt der Weiterführung bestehender Traditionen als auch mit Blick auf gesellschaftshistorisch wie auch personell begründete Kontinuitätsbrüche vor allem in den 1960/70er Jahren nachzuzeichnen und wissenschaftsgeschichtlich zu analysieren.

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