The University of Michigan, an encyclopedic survey ... Wilfred B. Shaw, editor.
University of Michigan.


THE University of Michigan very early sensed the importance of Oriental studies. In the meeting of the Board of Regents of June, 1864, the committee on classical courses and the president were requested to report "whether in their opinion it is not expedient to appoint a professor of the German and Hebrew languages," and on March 31, 1869, the Regents asked the committee on classical courses to consider and report upon the propriety of providing for instruction in Hebrew or the Oriental languages.

The "propriety" was not denied, but "provisions for instruction" in the broad, and, at the time, somewhat indefinite, field of Oriental languages required extended consideration. It is not surprising, therefore, that it was not until twenty years later that the provision for instruction finally materialized. During that interval Sanskrit was still the romantic and remote Oriental study that lay beyond Greek and Latin.* Hebrew was studied by theologians, who sometimes dipped into Biblical Aramaic and Syriac also, but for purely exegetical reasons. Arabic was losing its place as the key to Semitic languages and was not yet of sufficient interest in itself to overcome its reputation for difficulty. Ethiopic and the remoter Semitic languages were below the horizon. Egyptian and Coptic — not really Semitic languages — became the concern of another group of scholars. Assyrian appeared as the Sanskrit of Semitic studies and as the key to most important records relating to the Page  664Bible. William Rainey Harper attempted to popularize Hebrew studies among the laity by organizing the nation-wide American Institute of Hebrew. Latin and Greek were required for the bachelor of arts degree in the University of Michigan. A great deal of effort went into documentary (the so-called "higher") criticism of the text of the Old Testament. A sufficient number of theological students flowed through the colleges into the seminaries. Faculty members taught many hours, and often in several unrelated subjects, with little time for research and publication, yet, nevertheless, found time for Bible classes. Under such circumstances Carl William Belser ('82, Ph.D. Leipzig '89) in a sense became the founder of the Department of Oriental Languages and Literatures, although at that time, when several of the larger academic units — in medicine, law, and literature, science, and the arts — were known as departments, the subordinate departments for the separate subjects or subject-groups were rarely spoken of as such.

Belser was the son of a clergyman of Ann Arbor, a graduate of the Ann Arbor High School and of the University. After obtaining his bachelor's and master's degrees in Ann Arbor he taught Latin in Mount Morris College and Carthage College, in Illinois. From 1887 to 1889 he studied with the great ones in Leipzig, and received his doctor's degree under Friedrich Delitzsch. He was called in 1889 as Instructor in German and French. The next year he was Instructor in German and Hebrew, and the third, Assistant Professor of Oriental Languages. In his second year he taught twenty hours of German, twelve of Hebrew, and four of Assyrian; in his third year, ten hours of Sanskrit, four hours of Hellenistic Greek, nine hours of Hebrew, and four hours of Assyrian. That, at least, is what he offered to do (Cal., 1889-92). That his classes were well attended we may well doubt, but we may be sure that they were attended by none but students who were willing to study languages, for he imparted his great learning entirely through his interpretation of texts, in the manner of German orientalists. Reliable reports indicate that some of these students were lacking in both ability and proper scientific interest. He gave no lecture courses. The awkward term "Semitics" does not occur in connection with his title or his work. As Assistant Professor of Oriental Languages he had to give Sanskrit, and as a Biblical scholar he had to give Hellenistic Greek — at that time pretty much confined to the New Testament, for the study of the Greek of the Graeco-Roman period as brought to light by the papyri of Egypt had hardly begun, though Belser was well aware of its potentialities.

His fourth year, and unfortunately his last in the University, found him released from Sanskrit and giving an ambitious program, purely linguistic and, with the exception of Hellenistic Greek, purely semitistic. He offered fourteen hours of Hebrew, four of Assyrian, four of Arabic, and one hour each in Semitic palaeography and epigraphy, besides his nine hours of Greek. At the end of the first semester his failing health compelled him to remove to a better climate, and he went to the University of Colorado as head of its department of Latin. He died on January 28, 1898, of tuberculosis. Among the well-known pupils of this truly remarkable man may be mentioned the Librarian Emeritus of the University, William W. Bishop, and the late senior Professor of Astronomy, Heber D. Curtis.

For the second semester only, Belser was succeeded by a distinguished Assyriologist as Acting Assistant Professor of Oriental Languages, Professor Wilhelm Muss-Arnolt (B.D. Divinity School Page  665[New Brunswick, N.J.] '83, Ph.D. Johns Hopkins '88), a German of prodigious bibliographic knowledge and great lexicographical profundity, author of the Concise Dictionary of the Assyrian Language (1905). That he was called at all indicates the serious scientific purpose and spirit of the administration and the times. That he did not please, or was not pleased, must be laid to personal considerations.

James Alexander Craig (McGill '80, Ph.D. Leipzig '86) came to the University in the fall of 1893 with the title of Professor of Oriental Languages. Craig also was a pupil of Delitzsch and an Assyriologist. He differed from Belser in being more concerned with the "higher criticism," and more enamoured of the inductive method, as expressed in the Hebrew textbooks of William Rainey Harper. He appears to have come from an atmosphere of controversy. The Calendar of that year contains the new caption Semitic Languages, prominent mention of the inductive method, and an appeal to the interest of theological students. The inductive method, in the opinion of some who learned Hebrew under him, was a method less profitable to the student than it was interesting to the instructor. However, it must be recorded with gratitude that he was an inspiring teacher who, with George Hempl (see Part III: Department of English Language and Literature), gave some students their first glimpse of German scholarship. He taught at a time when this scholarship was beginning to be secretly opposed, rather than sharply challenged; at a time when the classics were declining and when students were beginning to show the effect of the decline in their preparation and in their tastes.

Craig offered a small selection of courses at first: Hebrew and Assyrian. Hellenistic Greek he gave as a theologian and as Belser's successor; Sanskrit also, as Professor of Oriental Languages, although Belser had got rid of this. Significant is the introduction of a lecture course requiring no knowledge of Semitic or other languages, a one-hour course of general introduction to the study of Semitic peoples. In 1894 his title was changed to Professor of Semitic Languages and Literatures and Hellenistic Greek. The courses in Hellenistic Greek were transferred from the list of other Greek courses and placed among the courses in Semitic languages. He dropped the Sanskrit. The effect of these two changes was to make him appear more of a Biblical and Semitic scholar. Nevertheless, the heading Semitic Languages disappeared from the Calendar, and also the general lecture course. His continued interest in languages is shown by the addition of Arabic to the program (1894-95), the increase of Arabic (1896-97), and the introduction of Aramaic, Syriac, and Ethiopic (1900-1901). Arabic and Aramaic were undoubtedly given, the other two almost certainly not. Again (1897-98) a lecture course with no language requirements, Semitic History, appeared. These two-hour, nontechnical courses were increased to four in 1901-2, to eight in 1904-5, to nine in 1905-6, and in 1909-10 to thirteen, nine of which were to be given personally by Professor Craig.

In 1908-9 Craig was on sabbatical leave, and most of his courses were marked as omitted. Some Hebrew and Greek and four of the lecture courses were carried by William Hoyt Worrell ('03, B.D. Hartford '06, Ph.D. Strassburg '09), the Reverend Carl Safford Patton (Oberlin '88, D.D. ibid. '03, Ph.D. Michigan '13), pastor of the Congregational Church, and the Reverend James Leslie French ('99, B.D. Hartford '02, Ph.D. ibid. '05), student pastor of the Presbyterian Church. Upon Craig's return Page  666a new heading appeared — Semitics and Hellenistic Greek and Studies in the English Bible. This is the first appearance of the term Semitics, a pompous and pretentious title, patterned no doubt on physics, but reminding the students of nothing but "athletics," for it was invariably spelled and pronounced "Semetics." Craig was assisted this year by Worrell and French. The following year Craig was alone in the department, and the descriptive matter in course announcements noticeably increased. In the fall of 1912 Craig left the University, for entirely personal and nonacademic reasons, first engaging in business in Canada, but later returning to the teaching of Oriental languages at McGill University and the University of Toronto. The latter part of his life he spent in Paris. He died in Toronto, May 16, 1932. Most of Craig's courses in 1912 were without a teacher, but Dr. French, as Acting Assistant Professor, taught Hebrew and Greek and remained two years with varying titles. Gilbert Hawthorne Taylor (DePauw '09, Ph.D. Michigan '14) was Instructor in Semitics in 1914-15.

Leroy Waterman (Hillsdale '98, B.D. Hillsdale Divinity School '00, Ph.D. Chicago '12) took charge of the department in 1915-16 and remains its Chairman. His title appeared as Professor of Semitics. Hellenistic Greek disappeared from the announcement of the department, being returned to the list of courses offered by the Department of Greek. Under his administration graduate work, with technical requirements, in Assyrian and Hebrew has been carried on and developed. Also the program of nonlinguistic instruction — in history, Oriental civilization, and the Bible and comparative religion — dictated by the age and time in which we live, has been much enlarged and intensified.

In 1925 Worrell returned to the Department of Semitics and assumed the Arabic and Coptic studies, which were stimulated by the papyrus purchases and finds of the late Professor Francis W. Kelsey.

In 1927-28 Waterman was granted a leave of absence to serve as annual professor of the American School of Oriental Research at Baghdad, Iraq. The incumbency involved research rather than teaching, and the year was spent in the Near East, first in the study of and participation in archaeological field work in Egypt, Palestine, and Iraq, and secondly in independent topographical study of the region of the Nahr Malcha (Royal Canal) between the Tigris and Euphrates, at their nearest approach to each other. This investigation resulted in the identification of the site of the city of Seleucia on the Tigris, and led to two months of preliminary excavation and soundings made on the site under the auspices of the Baghdad School, supported by funds contributed by the Museum of Art of Toledo, Ohio. The results gave welcome confirmatory evidence of the city of Seleucia and its late Parthian occupation. (For more complete information regarding the papyri and the University archaeological excavations, see Part VIII: Art and Archaeological Collections.)

The work of the department during the academic year 1927-28 was greatly stimulated and enhanced by the addition to the staff of Caroline Louise Ransom Williams (Mt. Holyoke '96, Ph.D. Chicago '05) as resident lecturer on Egyptian. The courses offered in Egyptian hieroglyphics (Old Egyptian) and in Egyptian art and archaeology met with an enthusiastic response. As a result of the preliminary work done at Seleucia a joint archaeological expedition with a planned five-year program was organized by the University, acting jointly with the Toledo Museum of Art. The Toledo Museum supplied the funds and Page  667the University took the responsibility for the field work and the publication of results. Under this arrangement the University granted Waterman leave of absence for the first semester each year from 1928 to 1932 to direct the work of the expedition at Seleucia. During the four semesters of his absences, his regular courses were very acceptably conducted by Miss Ellen Whitley Moore ('12, Ph.D. '32), a former student of the department who obtained the doctor of philosophy degree in Oriental languages and literatures in 1932.

The department discarded from its name the term Semitics in 1930 and since has been known as the Department of Oriental Languages and Literatures, in consonance with Professor Belser's title and the original purpose of the undertaking. In conjunction with the Linguistic Institute the department in the summer of 1936 offered Hittite, Chinese, and Japanese, and in the summer of 1937 Sumerian was added and Chinese and Japanese were continued and further extended.

Special research activities by members of the department have resulted in the publication of thirteen volumes.

The University collections of original documents belonging within the province of the Department of Oriental Languages and Literatures consist of the following:

  • 1. Babylonian. Embracing (a) over five hundred cuneiform tablets ranging from Old Akkadian to Neo-Babylonian. A volume of Neo-Babylonian texts by Dr. E. W. Moore was published in 1939; (b) over fifty seal cylinders, button seals, and seal stamps from Jemdet Nasr, Sumerian, Akkadian, Neo-Babylonian, and Persian times.
  • 2. Aramaic. A group of three complete incantation bowls and fragments from the excavations at Seleucia.
  • 3. Coptic. Manuscripts, papyri, and ostraca, obtained chiefly through the efforts of Professor Kelsey and the University of Michigan expedition in Egypt. These consist of fifty-four manuscripts, of which twenty are Biblical, thirty-two are ecclesiastical, and one is magical. Forty-six leaves are from the White Monastery, and are related to the Morgan collection. Some thirty-three of the papyri are Biblical, thirty-two are ecclesiastical, and thirty are magical. There are 112 epistolary or documentary papyri, and 181 of some other sort or unidentified. Of special interest are three early letters in Sahidic, a very old Boheiric letter, a husbandman's calendar, an Old Coptic horoscope(?) of the second century, and twenty-two items of Fayumic (of which fourteen are Biblical, six are documentary, and one is ecclesiastical). Some of the ostraca belong to the "etmoulon" group.
  • 4. Arabic and Islamic. Three collections of Islamic manuscripts were acquired by Professor Kelsey. The so-called Abd ul-Hamid collection has artistic and calligraphic value. The Tiflis collection is mostly juridical. The Yahuda collection contains some nine interesting items. Some 438 of these are Arabic, though many are Persian and Turkish. In Arabic papyri we possess about thirty-four documents, in fine condition and of great interest.
  • 5. Ethiopic. In Ethiopic we have eight manuscripts, Biblical and magical.

The University Library possesses a nearly complete set of photographs of the Coptic manuscripts in the Morgan collection.

In addition to original documents the department possesses a large number of casts of original monuments in the British Museum and the Louvre, from Mesopotamia. These include bas-reliefs of lion hunting and of military operations, a pastoral scene from the palace of Ashurbanipal of Assyria, two boundary stones from the Kassite period, the black obelisk of Shalmaneser, and the East India house inscription of Nebuchadnezzar II.

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The Choice of a Field of Concentration. Ann Arbor: Univ. Mich. (College of Literature, Science, and the Arts), 1939. Pp. 33-35.
Craig, J. A."The Study of Semitics, a Part of a Liberal Culture."Inlander, 8 (1895): 281-90.
General Register Issue, Univ. Mich., 1927-40.
Hall, Robert B."The University's Oriental Curriculum."Univ. Mich. Bur. Alum. Rel., Gen. Bull., No. 20 (1937): 14-15.
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