Oppert, Jules Julius

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OPPERT, JULES JULIUS (1825–1905), French philologist, Orientalist, and archaeologist. Born in Hamburg, he studied law but changed to Oriental languages. He migrated to France where he continued his research on Old Persian and Assyrian and became a recognized authority in his field. In 1851 he was invited to join a sponsored expedition to explore Mesopotamia. The results of this expedition contained Opper's definite identification of the site of ancient Babylon, and appeared in a two-volume report, Expédition Scientifique en Mesopotamie (1859–63), which received a prize for the most significant discovery of the year. In 1869 Oppert joined the Collège de France, first as instructor in Assyriology, and then in 1874 as professor of Assyrian philology and archaeology.

His studies in various branches of Oriental learning included Indo-Iranian, Sumerian, Elamitic, and Assyriology, in which he became a founder and preeminent authority. He discovered and deciphered numerous historical, astronomical and religious inscriptions, juridical documents, contract tablets, and collected material for his history of the Chaldean and Assyrian civilizations.

He made decisive contributions to the decipherment of cuneiform inscriptions and together with E. Hinds, H. Rawlinson, and F. Talbot was one of the pioneers in the recovery of Babylonian cuneiform. His profound knowledge of Assyriology was signified by his participation together with the scholars mentioned above in the historic experiment arranged by the Royal Asiatic Society in 1857 when a separate decipherment made by them of one identical Assyrian Royal Inscription proved the sound basis of Assyriology. Oppert continued to be most active in the field and participated in the lively dispute on the origins of the Sumerian language (see also *Mesopotamia, Assyriology). He also interpreted Assyrian, Median, and Persian history and mythology. He was one of the founders and an editor of the Revue d'Assyriologie et d'Archéologie Orientale (1884– ) and one of the contributing editors of the Zeitschrift fuer Assyriologie on its establishment in 1886. Among the honors that came to him was election to the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres in 1881, and later to the presidency of this body.

Both he and his younger brother Gustav Salomon *Oppert, philologist and Indologist, had a strong interest in Jewish affairs. Jules *Oppert was a member of the administrative executive committee of the Société des Etudes Juives and contributed to its journal, the Revue des Etudes Juives. He was also involved in the activities of the *Alliance Israélite Universelle and the Jewish Central Consistory. He was interested in biblical scholarship and wrote studies on the Book of Esther and Judith and the chronology of Genesis (1877).


Muss-Arnolt, in: Beitraege zur Assyriologie und semitischen Sprachwissenschaft, 2 (1894), 523–56, incl. bibl. to 1891; K. Bezold, in: za, 19 (1905), 169–73.

[Ephraim Fischoff]