Ephraim Avigdor Speiser

Ephraim Avigdor Speiser
Born (1902-01-24)January 24, 1902
Skalat, Galicia
Died June 15, 1965(1965-06-15) (aged 63)
Elkins Park, Pennsylvania
Nationality American
Occupation Harrison Research Fellow in Semitics at the University of Pennsylvania
Known for discovery of the ancient site of Tepe Gawra
Academic background
Alma mater Dropsie College (Ph.D.)
Academic work
Discipline Assyriologist
Sub discipline Archaeology, Biblical commentator
Institutions University of Pennsylvania
Notable students Moshe Greenberg
Notable works Genesis (AYB)

Ephraim Avigdor Speiser (January 24, 1902 June 15, 1965) was a Jewish Polish-born American Assyriologist. He discovered the ancient site of Tepe Gawra in 1927 and supervised its excavation between 1931 and 1938.

Pre-war career

He was born in Skalat, Galicia, (then in Austrian Poland, now Ukraine) and went to school in Lwow. In 1920, at the age of 18, he emigrated to the United States, eventually becoming a US citizen in 1926. He studied at the University of Pennsylvania, from which he received his M.A. in 1923, before earning his Ph.D. from Dropsie College in Philadelphia in 1924.[1] From 1924 to 1926 he was Harrison Research Fellow in Semitics at the University of Pennsylvania.[2]

In 1926, Speiser won a Guggenheim Fellowship to study remains of the ancient Mitanni and Hurrians in northern Mesopotamia. While there in 1927 he discovered the Tepe Gawra (or "Great Mound"), one of the world's earliest cradles of civilization. In 1928 he was appointed assistant professor of Semitics at the University of Pennsylvania, and full professor in 1931. He was field director of the Joint Excavation of the ASOR and the University Museum, 1930–1932, 1936–1937, undertaking excavations in Tepe Gawra and Tell Billa. He also translated the Hurrian legal texts found at Nuzi.

During World War II, Speiser left academia to become chief of the Office of Strategic Services' Near East Section of the Research and Analysis Branch in Washington. He established a long tradition of American students and scholars of Orientalistik entering and serving in the intelligence services.


After the war he returned to the University of Pennsylvania, where he was Chairman of the Department of Oriental Studies from 1947 until his death in 1965. He was also appointed Ellis Professor of Hebrew and Semitic Languages and Literatures there in 1954.

He translated and wrote extensive commentary for the volume on Genesis in the Anchor Bible Series and was one of the editors of the Torah in the New Jewish Publication Society of America Version of the Old Testament.

A noted student of his, (future professor) Moshe Greenberg, became an Israel Prize laureate in Bible studies.

Selected works


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