Although most of us at one time or another have seen a mummy, have marveled at the dimensions of the Great Pyramid, or possibly even have wandered through the Egyptian halls of a great museum, by and large the broad significance of Egypt, most ancient of the great Mediterranean civilizations, remains to us a closed book. The past eighty years have witnessed gigantic forward strides in an understanding of the people of that land described by the Greek geographer, Hecataeus, as “the gift of the Nile,” but those of us in possession of popular knowledge only are still in the dark, or at least the dusk, about their economic and social fortune, their unsystematic yet nonetheless remarkable intellectual achievement, and their advanced cultural projection. We have assumed a civilization that based its culture and art upon an abject worship of death could bequeath no living heritage of philosophy and thought as have the Greeks and ancient Hebrews. Consequently our curriculums begin with the Greeks, and we perpetrate uncritically the classical tradition that a handful of Athenian intellectuals invented drama, art, and philosophy almost overnight quite as Athena sprang full-grown from the forehead of Zeus. More to the point for ministers is our belief that prophecy (in the Biblical sense) originated with Moses as a new conception, to say nothing of the origin of the sacraments.
Perkins School of Theology is uncommonly fortunate in have as a recent accession the means of dispelling these prejudices which are so irritating to professional Egyptologists. For an amateur to rummage leisurely through the Steindorff Library, which safely may be designated one of the most famous private collections of books in the field of Egyptology in the world, is to doubt that, compared to Biblical and classical studies, Egyptology is still a young field of research. Nevertheless, only two generations ago it emerged from its disorganized youth as a branch of ancient history into a distinct intellectual maturity.
The present generation looks back on those two generations and affirms, as perhaps every generation does, “There were giants in those days.” The field having been split by intensive specialization, present Egyptologists look with nostalgia upon the ranks of the old masters – Meyer, Erman, Breasted, and Steindorff – who seemed somehow to stride, like giants, the vast expanses of the ancient world. The sad enumeration of those who have died within a brief span of years, Maspero, Erman, Sethe, Spiegelberg, Hall, Peet, Griffith, Gardener, Breasted, and the last of them all, Georg Steindorff, marks the end of what might be called, in future time, Egyptology’s most brilliant era.
Regarded as facile princeps among Egyptologists in his command of the entire vast field, Dr. Steindorff was one of the few ever, and perhaps the last, who could pretend to encyclopedic competence. In an age of specialization it is refreshing to recall that Dr. Steindorff has made significant contributions to every major division of Egyptology. He has written authoritatively on Egyptian Art (Die Kunst der Ägypter); he has excavated brilliantly (Das Grab des Ti, the Aniba volumes); his work in Coptic phonology made it possible for others to reconstruct the vocalization of ancient Egyptian; his research in Egyptian religion was both profuse and profound (Religion der Ägypter); and his practical knowledge of the land is sufficiently attested by the successive editions of Baedeker’s Egypt and Sudan, which he wrote, and which is one of the very best volumes in that justly famous series. Beyond this amazing competence, Professor Steindorff possessed the scholarly sixth sense; his grasp of the ancient world, his synoptic view, like that of James Henry Breasted, is reminiscent of Eduard Meyer.
Born November 12, 1861, Georg Steindorff outlived all other students of Adolph Erman, with whom he and Kurt Sethe co-founded the famous Berlin University School of Egyptology. In 1893 Steindorff who previously had been assistant to the Director of the State Museum (Berlin) and lecturer (Privatdozent) in the University of Berlin, was appointed Professor of Egyptology in the University of Leipzig. There he founded the famous Ägyptologische Institut, in which he undertook an ambitious program of education, chiefly along three lines: 1) basic philological instruction through lecture and seminar; 2) orientation of the student in the broadest possible knowledge of the ancient orient, especially its history, theology, and languages, as these may [be] drawn from the history, art, and culture of ancient Egypt; 3) alongside Egyptological and oriental studies per se, study of classical archaeology is mandatory for insight into ancient Egyptian and hitherasiatic culture. To this end, the institute assembled at first a great collection of photographs of the major Egyptian antiquities (many hundreds of these reproductions are included in the Steindorff collection acquired by Bridwell Library). It became obvious, however, that it was insufficient to portray only Egyptian art; what was needed was a representation of the entire Egyptian Kulturentwicklung. Steindorff proposed to fill the Institute from his own excavations. This was accomplished by many expeditions originating at Leipzig, directed by Dr. Steindorff, and financed by popular subscription, imperial support, Leipzig businessmen, and a staggering amount of popular writing by Steindorff. Six major expeditions, 1895-1908, established Leipzig’s as one of the major Egyptian Collections of the world.
Dr. Steindorff held is professorship in the University of Leipzig for forty-two years. In 1935, after the publication of the Nuremberg Laws, he was refused admittance to his beloved Egyptian Museum and Institute, and in 1939 the internal political situation plus the difficulties attending his Jewish birth drove him to seek refuge in America, the only consolation being that he managed to escape with his entire library. At the age of seventy-eight, though constantly plagued with the necessity of making a living, he set to work anew in North Hollywood, California. After he was eighty years old he produced three major works: When Egypt Ruled the East (actually a revision of a work he had written before the turn of the century (!), Die Blütezeit des Pharoanenreiches). This book, co-authored with Keith Seele, was the first book in America to attempt a summary of ancient Egyptian culture. In addition he wrote the Beginnings of Coptic Language and Literature, forming part of his revision for the third edition of his standard Koptische Grammatik. As Egyptological Research Adviser to the Waters Art Gallery, Baltimore, he produced a Catalogue of Egyptian Sculptures in possession of that institution; and for the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Arts he wrote the text of their publication Egypt, which is a collection of their Egyptian antiquities photographed by Hoymingen-Huene. At the time of his death in January of 1952, aged 91, Dr. Steindorff was actively engaged in the pursuance of several life-long studies, one of the most notable being the preparation of a Coptic-Egyptian Etymological Dictionary.
Perhaps Dr. Steindorff’s most efficient contribution to worldwide Egyptology was as editor. His employment as editor for journals and major publications may be ascribed to his unfailing sense of organization, clarity, and feeling for what is significant, as well as his superhuman linguistic ability. For over four decades he edited what was until recently the leading Egyptological scientific journal of the world, Zeitschrift für Ägyptische Sprache und Altertumskunde. The mantle of Brugsch, Lepsius, and Erman fell on his shoulders in 1894, which he relinquished to Walter Wolf in 1935 when he was forced to abdicate his Institute. (His library contains a full set of bound volumes of this journal dating from its origin in 1863; and these some 40 volumes, at market price, are worth more than half what the entire Steindorff collection cost Bridwell Library!) Furthermore, Professor Steindorff was editor of the Journal of the German Oriental Society from 1922-33, and was editor of the publication of the Ernst von Sieglin Expeditions in Egypt from 1912-1936. His skill as Herausgeber will be seen particularly in the Aniba volumes, of which has been written that so far from being the barren report of an excavation, they have been transformed by his touch into a textbook of all we know of Nubian antiquity.
Perhaps a break-down of the Collection will indicate something of Dr.
Steindorff’s immense literary productivity. His first publication appeared in
1803, and his subsequent contributions cover a span of nearly seventy years! So
far as we have been able to check bibliographies, we know that in this time he
published at least two hundred fifty-six articles and books. Exclusive of
lectures, books, and popular writings, we have eighty-five of these publications
in the Collection.
Not less interesting than the number is the range of subject matter, even in his scholarly articles. In a political journal he writes of the political problems associated with the Suez Canal; he heals with Scarabs, philological problems, “The Bishop of Jesus of Sai,” Egyptian Oracle Temples, Christian Monuments in Nubia, Medicine in Ancient Egypt, The Egyptian Alphabet and its Transliteration, Religion and Cultus in Ancient Egypt.
We have previously noted that in order to raise money for his excavations, Dr. Steindorff resorted to popular writing. It might be said, parenthetically, that in capturing popular imagination, Steindorff did for continental Egyptology what Breasted and Carter did for American and British Egyptology. Steindorff’s Populäre Aufsätze appeared in twenty leading German newspapers and magazine supplements, including the Berliner Tageblatt, Berliner Lokal-Anzeiger, Der Tag, Leipziger Neuesten Nachrichten, Hamburgischer Correspondent, Hannoverschen Anzeiger, and others. Time covered by these popular articles ranges from 1889-1932. The subject matter is as varied as the coverage; a sampling: Concerning American Higher Education, A Religious Reformer in Ancient Egypt, Riddle of the Sphinx, An Egyptian Spring, A Coptic Report Concerning Diphtheria, Science in Ancient Egypt, Drugs and Dyes, etc. Nor were these articles hidden in the last column of page 27. In one instance, Steindorff has an article on the front page of the Berliner Tageblatt, next to a banner headline story entitled, “The Fruitless French Offensive.” (1918)
We have as yet not ascertained the number of lectures, unpublished manuscripts, and notes in the Steindorff Collection, though this group in itself promises formidable.
In the Library proper there are approximately 1521 books, which wait proper cataloging and classification for the purpose of Bridwell Library. During the past academic year, through the far-sighted generosity of the administration, a research grant was made to cover the initial task of working over the great store of pamphlets, reprints, articles, manuscripts, notes, and correspondence. In this a beginning has been made.
Filed under forty-four headings and ranging the gamut of ancient Egyptian civilization are some 2000 scholarly journals, articles, and manuscripts, most of which are personally inscribed by their authors to Dr. Steindorff. In addition there are some 800 pieces ranging through field excavation journals, inscriptions, motes, maps, and drawings. Notwithstanding the major difficulties attending several reshufflings which the collection underwent prior to reaching us and the multiplicity of languages, apart from the ancient tongues, predominantly German and French, in the past academic year we have worked over some 966 pieces. This has involved translating titles and scanning subject matter so as to permit topical filing and/or the final preparation of a complete compendium to the entire Steindorff Collection. The task has not been made easier by so much of the material being in longhand, and particularly in German script.
One of the most interesting preservation is Dr. Steindorff’s personal correspondence. We have found and chronologized 479 personal letters, dating from November 21, 1896 to June 11, 1951. To list the writers of these letters would be to give a roll-call of the great Egyptologists of the past half-century, and to indicate their content would be to unfold the major developments of antiquarian studies in that era.
The real significance of the Steindorff Collection for our seminary community
cannot be presently assessed; it will depend in large measure on the
continuation of the assimilation, which has barely begun. Dr. Steindorff,
relying on the truth expressed by Friedrich Schiller, “He who satisfies the best
of his own day has lived for all days to come,” has sought to retrieve the best
of Egypt’s ‘finest hour;’ and it is now our pleasant prospect, by entering into
his labors, to understand afresh our place in history, to see, as it were, the
‘ever present’ through the eyes of the ‘new past.’
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