Cyrus H. Gordon

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Cyrus Herzl Gordon (June 29, 1908March 30, 2001), was an American author, teacher, linguist, field archaeologist, cryptanalyst and scholar of Near Eastern cultures and ancient languages. He challenged traditional theories about Greek and Hebrew cultures by claiming that these were derived from a common second millenium East Mediterranean foundation.

Quotes[edit]

Adventures in the Nearest East (1957)[edit]

  • That Homeric epic and the earliest Hebrew poetry were the results of long and rich developments should have been apparent to anyone who realizes that artistic perfection is never created ex nihilo.
    • Introduction
  • Prior to 1952, when M. Ventris first published his decipherment of the 'Linear B' tablets from Crete and Greece, showing that they were Greek, everyone assumed that Hebrew was recorded in writing before Greek. But now... we are reading Linear B Greek texts, written before the birth of Abraham (let alone before the date of any known Hebrew text).
    • Introduction
  • While Ugarit is revolutionizing the problem of Old Testament origins, the Dead Sea scrolls are doing the same for the New Testament. How fortunate is this generation to live at a time when the sources of our culture—sacred and profane—are illuminated in a brighter light of history than our forefathers imagined possible!
    • Introduction
  • Mesopotamian merchants spread their commercial institutions far and wide, into Western Asia, Egypt and Europe. The ancient inhabitants of Babylonia used the word qaqqadum, 'head', in the sense of 'principal'... our English word 'capital' (via Latin caput [head]) reflects ancient Mesoptamian usage. ...our financial system, that reckons with interest on principal, harks back to the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
    • Introduction
  • Traders (like the Phoenicians) carried their methods as well as their wares to Europe by ship.
    • Introduction
  • Babylonian mathematics and astronomy have left an indelible impression on our exact sciences. We still call some of the planets by their Babylonian names in translation.
    • Introduction
  • The Sabbath, perhaps the most important labour legislation next to the abolition of slavery, is a Hebrew institution.
    • Introduction
  • For every mound excavated in the Near East, a hundred remain untouched. ...most of the excavated mounds have been dug only in small part.
    • Introduction
  • I hope that the reader will not regard the contents of this book as an escape from the present world but rather as a key part of it.
    • Introduction
  • The competent archeologist can date pottery much as some of us can date cars or dresses of our own century.
    • Ch.1 Exploring Edom and Moab
  • Transjordan, or Palestine east of the Jordan Rift is not sufficiently known and has therefore been in need of archeological study. ...these nations in antiquity belonged to a group of people called the Canaanites. Culturally and linguistically they were practically identical with the Judean and Israelite 'Canaanites' west of the Rift.
    • Ch.1 Exploring Edom and Moab
  • It was Yawhism that distinguished the two Hebrew nations from the other Canaanites and it was the great Hebrew prophets who transformed their little 'Canaanite' people into one of the great factors of world history.
    • Ch.1 Exploring Edom and Moab
  • It has been said that the Bedouin Arab is a parasite that lives on the camel, and this to a great extent is true. It is the camel that carries him about; it is the camel's hair that supplies him with both his clothes and his tent; the camel's dung is the fuel of the desert; it is the camel's meat that supplies food for his banquets; the camel's milk is his beverage; and I could go on enumerating the basic gifts of the camel to his Arab master.
    • Ch.1 Exploring Edom and Moab
  • Solomon was a 'copper king', and all along that Araba, on both sides, we found many copper mines and smelting stations, all attributable to Solomon and his immediate successors.
    • Ch.1 Exploring Edom and Moab
  • At Aqaba we were received in the most hospitable manner of the Arabs. We were put up in the police station there. The prisoners, oddly enough, were walking about enjoying apparent freedom. They were used as waiters and servants instead of being shut up in cells. ...I could detect no trace of bullying of even of discourtesy to the prisoners.
    • Ch.1 Exploring Edom and Moab
  • By examining the pottery on any given site you can tell during which periods it has been occupied.
    • Ch.1 Exploring Edom and Moab
  • The excavators cleared out one of the ancient cisterns, and a few of the winter rains sufficed to fill the cistern with enough water to supply the expedition with water for the whole season. This illustrates the possibilities of almost any country, provided the right kind of people are there. With energetic people, the few, but heavy, winter rains and be stretched a long, long way.
    • Ch.1 Exploring Edom and Moab
  • The nomadic Semite... roves as a herdsman, partaking of Allah's hospitality.
    • Ch.1 Exploring Edom and Moab

The Common Background of Greek and Hebrew Civilizations (1965 [1962])[edit]

  • Archeological discoveries at sites like Ugarit prevent us from regarding Greece as the hermetically sealed Olympian miracle, or Israel as the vacuum-packed miracle from Sinai.
    • Introduction
  • The thesis of this book is simply that Greek and Hebrew civilisations are parallel structures built upon the same East Mediterranean foundation. ...the evidence is so abundant that our problem is one of selection and arrangement.
    • Introduction
  • Homer and Bible... towered above their predecessors and contemporaries.
    • Introduction
  • For centuries scholars have been forced to grapple with the problem of accounting for the parallels between Greek literature and the Bible. Did Greece borrow from Israel? Or did Israel borrow from Greece? Can the parallels be accidental, do they obliterate the uniqueness of both Israel and Greece?
    • Introduction
  • V. Bérard attributed the [Greece and Israel] links mainly to the role of the Phoenicians. P. Jensen explained matters through the diffusion of the Gilgamesh Epic. ...but their one-sidedness and exaggeration brought them, and indeed the problem itself, into disrepute among critical scholars. The history of the problem has been ably documented by W. Baumgartner...
    • Introduction
  • The prevailing attitude (which is gradually losing its grip) may be described as the tacit assumption that ancient Israel and Greece are two water-tight compartments... One is said to be sacred; the other, profane; one, Semitic; the other, Indo-European. One, Asiatic and Oriental; the other, European and Occidental. But the fact is that both flourished during the same centuries, in the same East Mediterranean corner of the globe, with both ethnic groups in contact with each other from the start.
    • Introduction
  • It seems strange that so many generations of Old Testament scholars, trained in Greek as well as Hebrew literature, have managed to keep their Greek and Hebrew studies rigidly compartmentalised.
    • Introduction
  • We absorb attitudes as well as subject matter in the learning process. ...the attitudes tend to determine what we see, and what we fail to see, in the subject matter. This is why attitude is just as important as content in the educational process.
    • Introduction
  • The Greeks viewed the Mediterranean not as a barrier but as a network of routes connecting people who dwelt along its shores. This is familiar to any student of Greece. ...the Hebrews express themselves similarly in passages like Psalm 8: 9 ("crossing the paths of the seas").
    • Introduction
  • The priestly guilds were highly mobile, with the result that cultic practices crossed ethnic lines over wide areas.
    • Introduction
  • Manslaughter was requited through blood revenge. Accordingly the offender, to escape the avenger, would be forced to flee, cut off from his land and people, at the mercy of strangers far from home. [Examples are] 2 Samuel (14: 5-7)... Iliad a6: 571-574... Odyssey (15: 271-278)... (Genesis 4: 14)... (Genesis 4: 15)
    • Introduction
  • The text of Homer about the Mycenaen Age with its memories of the Trojan War, and the Hebrew text covering from the Conquest through David's reign, cover ground with much in common geographically, chronologically and ethnically.
    • Introduction
  • Just as Mycenaean civilisation is a development of the Minoan, so too the Philistines who came to Palestine from Caphtor were an offshoot of the same general Aegean civilisation. ...until David's victories around 1000 B.C., the Philistines dominated the Hebrews, so that, militarily at least, the Davidic monarchy was the Hebrew response to the Philistine stimulus. ...the Achaeans, Trojans, Philistines and Hebrews during the closing centuries of the second millennium belonged to the same international complex of peoples, sharing many conventions and institutions, specifically in military matters.
    • Introduction
  • The customs of both the Greeks and Hebrews in that heroic age were often alien to their respective descendants in the classical periods. We shall have to bear in mind that the gulf separating classical Israel (of the great Prophets) from classical Greece (of the scientists and philosophers) must not be read back into the heroic age when both peoples formed part of the same international complex.
    • Introduction
  • It would be foolhardy to swell the pages of this book with an exhaustive list of Greco-Hebrew differences. Everyone knows that Homer is very different from the Bible.
    • Introduction
  • The parallels that form the core of this book fit into a historical framework in the wake of the Armana Age during the closing centuries of the second millenium. Prior to the Armana Age (i.e., before 1400 B.C.) Egyptian, Canaanite, Mesopotamian, Anatolian, Aegean and other influences met around the East Mediterranean to form an international order, by which each was in turn affected.
    • Introduction
  • Out of the Armana Age synthesis emerged the earliest traditions of Israel and Greece.
    • Introduction
  • That both the Gilgamesh Epic and the Odyssey deal with the episodic wanderings of a hero, would not be sufficiently specific to establish a genuine relation between them. But when both epics begin with the declaration that the hero gained experience from his wide wanderings, and end with his homecoming, a relationship dimly appears. ...when we note that whole episodes are in essential agreement, we are on firmer ground. For instance, both Gilgamesh and Odysseus reject a goddess's proposal for marriage; and each of the heroes interviews his dead companion in Hades.
    • Introduction
  • Historical, sociological, literary, linguistic, archeological and other techniques must be brought to bear when they are applicable to the material at hand.
    • Introduction
  • Homeric tradition has its own way of telling us that Minoan/Mycenaean civilisation was intertwined with the culture of the Semitic Phoenicians. Iliad 14: 321-322 makes Phoenix (named after the ancestor of the Phoenicians) the maternal grandfather of Minos. ...Archaeology bears out early cultural connections between the two.
    • Ch.VII Further Observations on Homer
  • Epic poetry is divinely inspired (Iliad I: I) and as such is just as true as oracles, and for the same reason. It is no accident that oracles (such as those at Delphi) were enunciated in the same dactylic hexameter as the epic.
    • Ch.VII Further Observations on Homer
  • Music was an art fostered by the mightiest of heroes. Achilles is represented as entertaining himself with his lyre. (Iliad 9: 185-6). We compare David, the warrior skilled in poetry, singing and musical instruments.
    • Ch.VII Further Observations on Homer
  • When Zeus' son Sarpedon meets his fate, Zeus expresses grief for his dead son by causing blood to rain (Iliad 16: 459-461). In Egypt, the function of rain is replaced by the Nile which fructifies the soil. Accordingly, the Biblical Plague of Blood (Exodus 7: 19-25) is the Egyptian equivalent of the bloody rainfall in the Iliad.
    • Ch.VII Further Observations on Homer
  • Despite the polytheism of the East Mediterranean nations, monotheistic trends were always present even in such crass polytheisms such as we find in Homer and in Egyptian literature.
    • Ch.VII Further Observations on Homer
  • When the characters of epic and heroic saga are on significant missions, they are led divinely.
    • Ch.VII Further Observations on Homer
  • The notion of a language of the gods appears in Sanskrit, Greek, Old Norse and Hittite cultures.
    • Ch.VII Further Observations on Homer
  • The warriors who constituted the aristocracy were awarded land grants to recompense them for their share in conquering the country. Both in Greece and in Israel, the theory of society was basically the same. The conquerors were the fighting and ruling stratum; the conquered natives were degraded to the labouring class. In Sparta the latter were called Helots. In Israel the Canaanites were the "hewers of wood and the drawers of water."
    • Ch.VII Further Observations on Homer
  • The fitness (physical and moral) of kings were serious matters, for they were believed to bring on a corresponding state of land and people.
    • Ch.VII Further Observations on Homer
  • The ancient theory of heroic genealogy... reflects paternity at two levels: human and divine. A man's inheritance comes from his human father, but his qualitative superiority among mortals comes from his divine father. When Odysseus is called Zeus-born (diognēs) this does not mean that the poet has forgotten... that he is the son of human Laertes. ...Zeus is often described as impregnating noble ladies, not so much to gratify his lust for women, but because divine parentage was a necessity among the claims of the aristocracy. Odysseus is a superhuman because he is diogenēs; but he is king of Ithaca because of his human father Laertes. Jesus is divine because of his heavenly Father; but he derives his kingship of the Jews from the mortal Joseph, who was heir to the throne (Matthew I). While normative Judaism has has tried to strip the Old Testament of this phenomenon, vestiges have nevertheless remained in the text.
    • Ch.VII Further Observations on Homer
  • If the entire aristocracy is of divine descent, Zeus (or El) cannot save the human son without upsetting the order of things. ...Hera reminds Zeus that many sons of gods are fighting around Troy, and that if Zeus spares his son, other gods will do the same for their sons, so that the earthly system will cease (Iliad 16: 445-449)
    • Ch.VII Further Observations on Homer
  • When a new religion supplants an old religion, the gods of the old often survive as the demons of the new.
    • Ch.VII Further Observations on Homer
  • There is a large corpus of magical texts from Babylonia of the Sassanian Era, designed to exorcise demons. In these texts, which are mostly Jewish and Christian, the Indo-Iranian deities called daiva appear as demons. ...the demons of these texts are constantly appearing to women in the form of their husbands, and impregnating them. As a result, the names of the clients are always matronymic because no one could be sure of his paternity. ...both the Greeks and Iranians had such notions.
    • Ch.VII Further Observations on Homer
  • The ancients were not as denominationally minded as we in matters of their clergy. They were more concerned with obtaining services of a bona fide professional member of a priestley guild who was qualified to intercede between mortals and immortals, than with finding a religious leader whose sole qualification was like-mindedness.
    • Ch.VII Further Observations on Homer
  • The older cultures did not develop the concept of canonical writings. There is no Bible in Egypt or Mesopotamia. Neither country had a collection of sacred writings that excluded other writings from comparable status. ...there was never an official "Book of the Dead" in Egypt.
    • Ch.VIII Further Observations on the Bible
  • Only two people in East Mediterranean antiquity developed [parallel tendecies towards] "canonical" Scripture: the Greeks and the Jews. The Greeks treated Homer as their Scripture par excellence, much as the Jews regarded the Bible. ...Hebrew and pagan Greek scriptures were each considered the divinely inspired guide for life.
    • Footnote: Strictly speaking, "canonical" is not quite exact for the Greeks; and anachronistic even for the Jews...
    • Ch.VIII Further Observations on the Bible
  • Minos has rightly been compared with Moses. Both are greater-than-life-size figures who received the law from the supreme god on the sacred mountain (see Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities 2: 61 concerning Minos).
    • Ch.VIII Further Observations on the Bible
  • The Book [of Judges] as a whole gives a coherent picture of an era and propounds the thesis that the institutions of pre-monarchic Israel were so chaotic... that centralized, hereditary kingship was necessary.
    • Ch.VIII Further Observations on the Bible
  • The incorporation of... earlier sources does not mean that the Pentateuch or Former Prophets is the work of an editor who pasted together various docuements. Once we view the work as a whole, we see that it is a fresh creation though not a creatio ex nihilo. The same holds for Homeric Epic that has been subjected to the same kinds of modern literary criticism.
    • Ch.VIII Further Observations on the Bible
  • Heroic epic and saga (Indic as well as Greek and Hebrew, etc.) combine action with genealogy. This is necessary because the action is performed by aristocrats who require genealogies.
    • Ch.VIII Further Observations on the Bible
  • The most important document at Ugarit for both Biblical and Homeric studies is the Epic of Kret. It anticipates the Helen-of-Troy motif in the Iliad and Genesis, thus bridging the gap between the two literatures.
    • Ch.VIII Further Observations on the Bible
  • Once we recognize the factor of royal epic in Genesis, we see that the Helen-of-Troy motif permeates the Patriarchal Narratives. ...Like Helen and Hurrai, Sarah and Dinah are heroines according to the standards of royal epic.
    • Ch.VIII Further Observations on the Bible
  • Like Helen, Sarah is wonderously fair and ageless. ...Like Helen, Sarah's name means "princess" in normal Hebrew, and "queen" in Akkadian. It is conceivable that (like David afterwards, whose name dāvîd means "leader, chief") her title came to be used as her name.
    • Footnote: Some scholars, however, now interpret his [David's] name as meaning "victory."
    • Ch.VIII Further Observations on the Bible
  • The [Judaic] Patriarchs are depicted as Arameans as long as they remained in their native lands.
    • Ch.VIII Further Observations on the Bible
  • Scripture makes it clear that unlike the conceptions of Abraham and of Jacob, Isaac was conceived through divine agency. Like the Mycenaean Greek heroes, Isaac could claim paternity at two levels; the human and the divine. ...Normative Judaism has divested itself of this approach to the paternity of heroes, in spite of the tell-tale text in Genesis. Midrash does not hesitate to call Moses half-god and half-man. ...The Church tradition that connects the sacrifice of Isaac with the sacrifice of Christ apparently rests on a sound exegesis, for the sacrifice of Isaac would have meant not only the sacrifice of Abraham's son but of God's.
    • Ch.VIII Further Observations on the Bible
  • The Samaritans (whose beginnings were pre-Josianic) have a Pentateuch quite similar to the familiar Jewish Pentateuch. ...our Pentateuchal text was fairly well established before the rift between the Samaritans and Judeans.
    • Ch.VIII Further Observations on the Bible
  • The function of reciting (actually chanting—for Scripture and national epic were sung, not read) Pentateuch and Homer at national reunions is the same in both cases. The narrative knits the segments of the nation together telling how they achieved their place in history in the course of a great event (The Exodus or the Trojan War). All of the tribes and their leaders are heroic. The text brings in each tribe by name. ...there must be an honoured place for all.
    • Ch.VIII Further Observations on the Bible
  • The Conquest of Joshua could not have been a primitive assault, because a civilized land like Canaan with well-fortified cities could easily have repulsed an attack that was militarily naïve. ...Spies were sent to search out the land and lay the groundwork.
    • Ch.VIII Further Observations on the Bible
  • Battles ended with sunset or dusk; so heroes, on special occasions when they needed more time, were vouchsafed victory by the stoppage of the sun in Greek as well as Hebrew saga.
    • Footnote Iliad 18: 239-242 (cf: 2: 412-18); Joshua 10: 13-14
    • Ch.VIII Further Observations on the Bible
  • The central problem of the Greek tragedies is why we suffer so at the hands of God. The movement that evoked Greek tragedy in the fifth century B.C. was spread over the East Mediterranean evoking a parallel response in Israel. ...And as in Greek tragedy, Job deals with the problem of why man suffers so at the had of God.
    • Ch.VIII Further Observations on the Bible
  • Aristocrats (among Hebrews and Greeks) often had harems that included women of common or even servile origin, as well as well-born aristocratic ladies. Normally, the successors would be chosen from the sons born by ladies; but on occasion those born by servile or common wives achieved the ascendency. In the latter case, tradition could dwell on the phenomenon as "worthy of saga."
    • Ch.VIII Further Observations on the Bible
  • The prevailing view is simply that the Judges were inspired, not hereditary leaders. But this misses the point; the Judges were normally from the ruling aristocracy, quite like the kings in Homer. ...The kings did not necessarily inherit rulership from their fathers but sometimes did, like Odysseus from Laertes, or Abimelech from Gideon. ...the kings came from the fighting and landed aristocracy...
    • Ch.VIII Further Observations on the Bible
  • If archeology had yielded only the Epic of Kret, we would have enough to bridge the gap between the Iliad and Genesis. But... our new sources are so rich that we have only begun... The years ahead bid fair to be the most fruitful in the annals of Classical and Biblical scholarship. Our debt to the Bible and Classics is so great that this type of research will deepen our understanding of our culture and of ourselves.
    • Ch.VIII Further Observations on the Bible

Quotes about Gordon[edit]

  • Dr. Gordon... contended that Hebrew inscriptions many centuries old had been found at two sites in the southeastern United States. Frank Moore Cross said... that Dr. Gordon was "in many ways a great scholar" but that this belief "simply did not make sense."
    • Eric Pace, New York Times "Cyrus Gordon, Scholar of Ancient Languages, Dies at 92" (April 9, 2001)
  • In 1894 Cyrus Thomas, a Smithsonian Institution archeologist, identified the Bat Creek site as a Cherokee burial ground. That identification has been challenged in the twentieth century by various writers including the irrepressible Cyrus Gordon, professor of Semitic languages. They claim that the Bat Creek inscription is Hebrew and related to the Bar Kochba rebellion that took place during AD 135 in Roman Judea. Gordon attempted to bolster the theory by pointing out that the Bat Creek inscription ties in quite nicely with various finds of Roman and Bar Kochba coins in the Kentucky and Tennessee area. Unfortunately, experts consider these finds to be fakes. Gordon's willingness to consider the possibility that these inscriptions were made by refugees from the defeat of the Jewish Revolt in AD 70 does not help his case because the arguments against it are almost as strong as those against the Bar Kochba rebellion.
    • Ronald H. Fritze, Invented Knowledge: False History, Fake Science and Pseudo-religions (2009)
  • During the 1960's Cyrus Gordon, a respected professor of the Semitic languages and an ardent diffusionist, revived the Paraíba Stone's claims to authenticity. Basically Gordon asserted that the Paraíba inscription contained Phoenician grammatical constructions unknown in 1872. These same constructions were originally used in the 1870's to argue against the stone's authenticity. Subsequent research during the twentieth century, Gordon said, revealed that the anomalous grammatical usages in the Paraíba Stone were genuine. Other equally qualified specialists disagree with his conclusions and continue to declare the Paraíba Stone a hoax. That opinion remains the judgement of archeologists and historians in general.
    • Ronald H. Fritze, Invented Knowledge: False History, Fake Science and Pseudo-religions (2009)
  • Professor Gordon has made himself at home in both the Semitic and Indo-European compartments of philology. This makes it possible for him to do things and to see things that are beyond a single compartment scholar's horizon.
    • Arnold Toynbee, The [London] Observer as quoted on the back cover of The Common Backgrounds of Greek and Hebrew Civizations (1965)

External links[edit]