Gordon, Cyrus Herzl

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GORDON, CYRUS HERZL (1908–2001), U.S. Semitic scholar. Gordon was born into a Zionist family in Philadelphia, hence the middle name Herzl. He worked as a field-archaeologist in Jerusalem and Baghdad from 1931 to 1935, after which he taught Semitics at Johns Hopkins University (1935–38), Bible at Smith College (1938–41), at Princeton (1939–42) Assyriology and Egyptology at Dropsie College (1946–56). From 1956 to 1973 Gordon was at Brandeis, where he taught Mediterranean Studies, an area that reflected his conception that the Aeagean had to be included in the study of the ancient Near East. His final academic appointment was at New York University where he taught biblical and Semitic studies from 1973 to 1990.

His Ugaritic Grammar (1940) and Ugaritic Handbook (1947) which revised the grammar and provided transliterated texts and glossaries were pioneer works in the field, as were his Ugaritic Literature (1949) and later his Ugaritic Manual (1955; revised as Ugaritic Textbook, 1965). Other significant contributions to Semitics were his work on the Akkadian of Nuzi, the Aramaic magic bowls, and the language of *Ebla in Syria first recovered in the 1970s.

Gordon's other major contribution was in "Helleno-Semitics," the comparison of Eastern and Western civilizations, mainly through the study of early Greece and the ancient Near East. His works on this subject include Before the Bible (1962; revised as The Common Background of Greek and Hebrew Civilizations, 1965), in which Gordon examined ancient Greek mythology in comparison to the biblical stories. In Homer and the Bible (1967) he tried to show the common background of all the East Mediterranean cultures.

These interests led him to regard the undeciphered Minoan tablets of Crete (Linear A) as possibly written in a language of Semitic origin. He suggested a translation of the Phaestos Disk of Crete and of Eteocretan inscriptions on the basis of Semitic linguistics. In 1966 he published these studies in Ugarit and Minoan Crete and Evidence for the Minoan Language. Other works on Semitics and archaeology include Nouns in the Nuzi Tablets (1936); Numerals in the Nuzi Tablets (1938); The Living Past (1941), a summary of his studies on important excavations in the Middle East; and Lands of the Cross and Crescent (1948). He also wrote The Relationship between Modern and Biblical Hebrew (1951); Smith College Tablets (1952), in which he published 110 cuneiform texts from the college collection; Introduction to the Old Testament Times (1953, revised as The World of the Old Testament, 1958); Hammurabi's Code (1957); Adventures in the Nearest East (1957), a popular description of important discoveries in the Middle East from the Dead Sea Scrolls to Ugaritic; New Horizons in Old Testament Literature (1960); Ancient Near East (1965); Mediterranean Literature (1967); and Forgotten Scripts (1968).

In 1968 Gordon declared that new knowledge about Phoenician word usage had made it likely that a previously rejected Phoenician tablet (found in 1872) was genuine and that the Phoenicians had gone to America from Ezion-Geber in the 19th year of Hiram, king of Tyre. Given the vastly broad nature of his interests it was inevitable that some of Gordon's work was considered overly speculative but could never be ignored.

add. bibliography:

W. Kaiser, Jr., in: dbi, 1:456–57; C. Gordon, in: M. Lubetski et al. (eds.), Boundaries of the Ancient Near Eastern World (1998), 533–54 (Gordon's publications classified); G. Rendsburg, in: jqr, 112 (2001), 137–43.