A. Leo Oppenheim

Adolf Leo Oppenheim (7 June 1904 21 July 1974), one of the most distinguished Assyriologists of his generation was editor-in-charge of the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary of the Oriental Institute from 1955 to 1974 and John A. Wilson Professor of Oriental Studies at the University of Chicago.

Oppenheim was born in Vienna, where he received his Ph.D. at the University of Vienna in 1933. His parents died in the Holocaust, and his wife, Elizabeth, barely escaped. Oppenheim and his wife emigrated to the United States. After a couple of lean years, he became a research associate at the University of Chicago in 1947, and he was made a faculty member in 1950. He became an associate editor of the university's Chicago Assyrian Dictionary in 1952. The dictionary had been planned since 1921, and it would eventually stretch to more than twenty published volumes. Assisted by Erica Reiner, Oppenheim remained editor-in-charge until his sudden death, still at the height of his intellectual powers.

E. A. Speiser once said that Oppenheim had read more cuneiform than any other living person;[1] his deep knowledge of Akkadian informed his discerning view of Mesopotamian daily life and culture.

A. Leo Oppenheim's most famous work is Ancient Mesopotamia: Portrait of a Dead Civilization.[2] His attempt to reform the field, embodied in Assyriology— Why and How?, was taken personally by some other Assyriologists. Its tone of pessimism at the impossible prospect of reviving a living understanding of Mesopotamian culture belied his personal optimism and sociability.[1]



  1. 1 2 Quoted in obituary by Erle Leichty, Journal of the American Oriental Society 95.3 (July 1975, pp. 369–370), p. 369.
  2. Ancient Mesopotamia: Portrait of a Dead Civilization. (1964), revised edition 1976. (ISBN 0-226-63187-7).

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