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Gelb, Ignace Jay


'Ignace Jay Gelb' (14 October 1907 - 22 December 1985) was a noted Assyriologist and philosopher on the nature of writing and language. Possibly most well known for his work, A Study of Writing in which he outlines four basic evolutionary stages of writing development, Gelb was a "Renaissance Man" in the field of Philology and Ancient Studies, making significant contributions to a diverse range of fields. Born in Tarnow, Poland in 1907, he attended the University of Chicago, where he began his studies in ancient civilizations. During his career, he was vital in the formation of comprehensive studies into many different writing systems and socio-economic structures of ancient civilization, including his two works on Hittite Hieroglyphs, his glossaries, dictionaries, and other instructional books on Akkadian writing and grammar, and in-depth study of the socio-economic systems of Akkadia and Babylonia. However, among his most important achievments was his role as editor of the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary, the culmination of decades of study by the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute. Furthermore, his statement, "Writing is a system capable of transcribing linguistic statements while other forms of graphic notation allow for human interconnection through a stable or conventionalized set of marks or signs" (from Gelb's Study of Writing) still stands as the discretionary criteria between writing and pictographs.

Praised not only for his significant contributions to studies of social history and linguistic research, Gelb is also highly regarded for his active interest in the continuing education of a new generation of Assyriologists and Ancient Near East Scholars. According to Giorgio Buccellati's introduction where he pays tribute to Gelb's scholarly diversity, it is remarkable "how effective he has been in transmitting the concerns of his research through his teaching, from the very initial stages of the sequence of courses he offers, and from the closeness with which he follows his graduate students in their progress toward independent research, to the unfailing readiness with which he gives of himself to his younger colleagues as they go to him for advice and direction" (From the 1972 Festschrift to Gelb on the occasion of his sixtieth birthday).

He was married to Hester Gelb, who was equally praised for her warmth and hospitality to the scholars who frequented Gelb's home. He died on December 22, 1985.

Major works

Hittite Hieroglyphs 1-3, Chicago (1931-1942) Inscriptions from Alishar and Vicinity, Chicago 1935 Nuzi Personal Names, Chicago 1943 Hurrians and Subarians, Chicago 1944 Sargonic Texts from the Diyala Region, Chicago 1952 Old Akkadian Writing and Grammar, Chicago 1952 A Study of Writing, London 1952 Old Akkadian Inscriptions in Chicago Natural History Museum: Texts of Legal and Business Interest, Chicago 1955 Glossary of Old Akkadian, Chicago 1957 Sequential Reconstruction of Proto-Akkadian, Chicago 1969 Thoughts about Ibla, Malibu 1977 Computer-Aided Analysis of Amorite, Chicago 1980 (with P. Steinkeller and R.M. Whiting), Earliest Land Tenure Systems in the Near East: Ancient Kudurrus (OIP 104), Chicago 1989-1991


Assistant Professor, University of Chicago, 1941-1943 Associate Professor, University of Chicago, 1943-1947 Professor, University of Chicago, 1947-1980 Editor in chief, Chicago Assyrian Dictionary, 1947-1954 Biography in American National Biography 8 (1999) 835-837 (B.R. Foster)


AfO 34 (1987) 249-251 (R. Whiting)


G. Buccellati (Ed.): Approaches to the Study of the Ancient Near East: A Volume of Studies Offered to Ignace Jay Gelb on the Occasion of His Sixtieth [sic] Birthday, October 14 1972 (Or 42/1-2, 1973), Rome/Los Angeles 1973 (pp.1-8: Bibliography)

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