Posted in Obituaries

Cyrus H. Gordon, 1908-2001

Cyrus H. Gordon, 1908-2001 Posted on April 4, 2001

By Jeffrey H. Tigay, University of Pennsylvania


AAJR Fellow Cyrus Herzl Gordon died on Friday, March 30, 2001, in Brookline, MA at the age of 93. Born in Philadelphia in 1908, Gordon was a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania (B.A. 1927, M.A. 1928, Ph.D. 1930) and Gratz College (1926), and also studied at Dropsie College, the predecessor of Penn’s center for Advanced Judaic Studies. A consummate linguist, Gordon specialized in Biblical and ancient Near Eastern studies. He was an archaeologist in Palestine and Iraq in the 1930s and taught at Penn, Johns Hopkins, Smith, Princeton, Dropsie, Brandeis, and NYU, from which he retired in 1990. During World War II he spent time as a cryptanalyst deciphering Arabic, Turkish, and Persian codes. He published over 600 scholarly books, monographs and journal articles on a wide range of subjects. One of his most lasting achievements was his grammar of the Ugaritic language, a close cognate of Biblical Hebrew first discovered in 1929. In recent years he had worked on the interpretation of the Semitic dialect of ancient Ebla, Syria, which was first unearthed in the 1970s. Among his more controversial works were his proposed decipherment of the Linear A script from Crete as Semitic and his studies arguing for the common background of Greek and Hebrew civilizations. Just last year he published his autobiography, A Scholar’s Odyssey, describing the people he knew, the ideas that shaped his interpretations and his “philosophy of the interconnectedness of cultures that has been so significant, and sometimes controversial, in his career.” The entire book, including Gordon’s bibliography, can be accessed on-line by members of the Society of Biblical Literature at