By Adele Berlin, University of Maryland
William W. Hallo was The William M. Laffan Professor Emeritus of Assyriology and Babylonian Literature at Yale University, where he taught for forty years. He also served as curator of Babylonian Collection at the Yale Library and as Master of Morse College (1982-1987). A world-famous scholar of Sumerian and Babylonian literature and culture, he maintained a deep interest in Biblical studies, Semitic studies, and Jewish studies. He remained professionally active throughout his retirement, continuing to publish and to mentor students and young colleagues.
A prolific scholar, Hallo is best known for The Context of Scripture, 3 vols. (1997-2002; paperback, 2003), which he long envisioned and then edited with K. L. Younger. This extensive collection of ancient Near Eastern texts provides a broad context for the study of the Hebrew Bible. Hallo authored or co-authored a dozen books, among them The Ancient Near East: a History (second edition, 1998), The Exaltation of Inanna (1968), Sumerian Archival Texts (1973). A specialist in Sumerian literature, he wrote close to 200 articles, a selection of them collected in The World’s Oldest Literature: Studies in Sumerian Belles-Lettres (2011). He also published The Star of Redemption (1990), a translation of Franz Rosenzweig’s Der Stern der Erlösung. He brought his learning to a wider audience by editing, along with David Ruderman and Michael Stanislawski, Heritage: Civilization and the Jews: Source Reader (1984), a companion for a PBS telecourse; and through his contributions to the Torah Commentaries published by the Reform movement.
Hallo was born in Kassel, Germany on March 9, 1928, into a prominent Jewish family. His father Rudolf Hallo was one of the founders of the discipline of Jewish art history, and successor to Franz Rosenzweig at the Frankfurt Lehrhaus. His mother was Dr. Gertrude Rubensohn Hallo. William Hallo and his sisters were among the Jewish children sent to England in 1939 as part of the Kindertransport program. Rejoined by their mother (his father had died in 1933), they came to the United States in 1940. Hallo completed his elementary and secondary education in New York City. He earned his B.A. at Harvard in 1950 and held a Fulbright scholarship in 1950–51 at Leiden University, Netherlands, where he studied the languages of ancient Mesopotamia. While in Leiden he met and married Edith Pinto, a Dutch student and Holocaust survivor. They later had two children. Hallo earned his Ph.D. at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago in 1955. From 1956 to 1962, Hallo taught Hebrew, Aramaic, and Sumerian languages and literatures at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. He moved to Yale in 1962 where he remained until his retirement in 2002.
Hallo’s wife Edith pre-deceased him in 1994. He is survived by his second wife, Nanette Stahl, curator of Judaica at Yale University Library, and by his two children and six grandchildren.
(This obituary draws on the biography of Hallo written by David Sperling for the 2nd edition of the Encyclopedia Judaica.)