Cyrus H. Gordon

Cyrus H. Gordon

Cyrus Herzl Gordon (1908 - March 30, 2001), was an American scholar of Near Eastern cultures and ancient languages.



Gordon was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Lithuanian emigrant and physician Benjamin Gordon. He was raised in an upper class Jewish family with a particular emphasis on devotion to Jewish learning, rational thinking, and an openness to secular learning. Gordon began studying Hebrew at age five and became interested in both Greek and Latin as a young child.[citation needed]

Gordon took his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania, and also took courses at both nearby Gratz College and Dropsie College. These three institutions had specialized programs in the Bible, classics, and ancient Near East. At these universities, Gordon studied both Old Persian and Sanskrit.[citation needed]

Gordon spent the first half of the 1930s in the Near East as an American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) fellow, working out of both the Baghdad and Jerusalem centers. Gordon dug with Leonard Woolley at Ur, and worked with Flinders Petrie at Tell el-'Ajjul. He worked with W. F. Albright at Tell Beit Mirsim, and accompanied Nelson Glueck on his explorations in Transjordan. He was involved in the examination and translation of the Egyptian Tell el-Amarna tablets while with the J.D.S. Pendlebury expedition.[citation needed]

When Gordon returned to the U.S. in 1935, he was unable to find a permanent academic position, primarily due to the Depression. Gordon took a series of temporary positions at Johns Hopkins University, at Smith College, and at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.[citation needed]

World War II

During World War II, Gordon served in the U.S. military, volunteering for the Army in 1942, at the age of 33. As the head of a new cryptanalysis team, Gordon and other linguists used their collective skills in deciphering and analyzing coded languages. The Nazis and the Japanese sent coded messages, not just in German and Japanese, but also in such languages as Arabic, Turkish, and Persian. Gordon later remarked that his cryptography work for the U.S. Army provided him with the tools he later used in his work with the Minoan script designated Minoan Linear A. Later in the war, Lieutenant Gordon was assigned to the Middle East, serving in the Mediterranean, Egypt, Palestine, Iraq, and eventually in Iran. There he learned to speak Modern Persian. He had various duties in Iran, including serving as interpreter or intermediary with local officials and rulers. He also found the time to engage in scholarship. He visited major archaeological sites of ancient Persia, and published a treatise on a number of Aramaic Incantation bowls from the collection of the Teheran Museum.[citation needed]

Academic career

After the war, Gordon took a full tenured position at Philadelphia’s Dropsie College in 1946. He taught at Dropsie through 1956, then at Brandeis for eighteen years. He came to New York University (NYU) in 1973, and served as director of the Center for Ebla Research, spearheading work on that ancient Syrian city. During his career, he taught classes and seminars and published work in a wide range of fields. These include: field archaeology, glyphic art, cuneiform law, the Amarna letters, the Bible, Hebrew language, Ugaritic, Aramaic magic bowls, Nuzi tablets, Minoan Linear A, Homer, Egyptology, Coptic, Hittite, Hurrian, Sumerian, and Classical Arabic. He retired from NYU in 1989.[citation needed]

Gordon is well known for his books on Ugaritic, the ancient language of 14th century (BC/BCE) coastal Syria, publishing the first in 1940. He asserted that Syrian literature reflects frequent contact between ancient Syrians and speakers of Hebrew in the eastern Mediterranean.[citation needed]

Gordon's autobiography, A Scholar's Odyssey, won a 2000 award from the Jewish Book Council. His work has been carried forward in part by his student Gary A. Rendsburg.[citation needed]

Non-traditional viewpoints

Not afraid of scholarly controversy, Gordon challenged traditional theories about Greek and Hebrew cultures. In the 1960s, he declared his examination of Minoan (Cretan) texts corroborated his long-held theory that Greek and Hebrew cultures stemmed from a common Semitic heritage. He asserted that this culture spanned the eastern Mediterranean from Greece to Palestine during the Minoan era.[citation needed]

Gordon also held that Jews, Phoenicians, and others crossed the Atlantic in antiquity, ultimately arriving in both North and South America. This opinion was based on his own work on the Bat Creek inscription[1][2][3][4] found in Tennessee and on the Paraiba inscription[5] from Brazil, as well as his assessment of the Los Lunas Decalogue Stone[6].

Gordon was a friend of John Philip Cohane and wrote a preface to Cohane's book The Key, Gordon was supportive of many of Cohane's theories.[7][8]

Gordon's diffusionist claims have been criticized by traditional archaeologists. [9].[4] [10]


  • Ugaritic Grammar, 1940, Pontificium Institutum Biblicum, Rome.
  • The Living Past, 1941, John Day, Van Rees Press, New York.
  • Ugaritic Literature, 1949, Pontificium Institutum Biblicum, Rome.
  • Ugaritic Manual, 1955, Pontificium Institutum Biblicum, Rome.
  • "Homer and Bible," 1955, Hebrew Union College Annual 26, pp. 43–108.
  • The Common Background of Greek and Hebrew Civilizations, 1962/1965, Norton Library, New York (previously published as Before the Bible, Harper & Row, New York).
  • "The Accidental Invention of the Phonemic Alphabet," 1970, Journal Of Near Eastern Studies Vol. 29 #3, pp. 193–197
  • Before Columbus, 1971, Crown, New York.
  • "Vergil and the Bible World," 1971, The Gratz College Anniversary Volume, Philadelphia: Gratz College.
  • "Poetic Legends and Myths from Ugarit," 1977, Berytus #25, pp. 5–133.
  • Forgotten Scripts, 1982, Basic Books, New York (revised and enlarged version, previously published 1968, now containing Gordon's work on Minoan and Eteocretan).

A comprehensive bibliography of Prof. Cyrus H. Gordon,can be found in The Bible World: Essays in Honor of Cyrus H. Gordon, edited by G. Rendsburg, R. Adler, Milton Arfa, and N. H. Winter, 1980, KTAV Publishing House Inc. and The Institute of Hebrew Culture and Education of New York University, New York.

See also


  1. ^ Robert C. Mainfort, Jr., and Mary L. Kwas, "The Bat Creek Stone: Judeans In Tennessee?" Tennessee Anthropologist Vol. XVI, No. 1, Spring 1991
  2. ^ Robert C. Mainfort, Jr., and Mary L. Kwas"The Bat Creek Fraud: A Final Statement" Tennessee Anthropologist Vol. XVIII, No. 2, Fall 1993
  3. ^ Bat Creek Inscription
  4. ^ a b ["Canaanites in America: A New Scripture in Stone?" Marshall McKusick The Biblical Archaeologist, Vol. 42, No. 3, (Summer, 1979), pp. 137-140]
  5. ^ ["East and West" by Eugene J. Fisher and Marshall McKusick The Biblical Archaeologist, Vol. 43, No. 2, (Spring, 1980), pp. 71-73]
  6. ^ Gordon, Cyrus, "Diffusion of Near East Culture in Antiquity and in Byzantine Times," Orient 30-31 (1995), 69-81.
  7. ^ Osbert Guy Stanhope Crawford, Antiquity: a quarterly review of archaeology, Volumes 51-53, Antiquity Publications, 1977
  8. ^ The Reprint bulletin, Volumes 23-24, American Library Association, Oceana Publications, 1978, p. 14
  9. ^ Cross, F. 1968 "The Phoenician Inscription from Brazil, A Nineteenth- Century Forgery." Orientalia 37: 437-60.
  10. ^ ["East and West" by Eugene J. Fisher and Marshall McKusick The Biblical Archaeologist, Vol. 43, No. 2, (Spring, 1980), pp. 71-73]


  • Gordon, Cyrus H. "A Scholar's Odyssey (Biblical Scholarship in North America)". Society of Biblical Literature, 2000. ISBN 0-88414-016-4.

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