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Abraham Sachs

Abraham Sachs

(1915-1983)

American assyriologist

He received his PhD in Assyriology in 1939 from John Hopkins University and at the time of his death was Professor Emeritus of the History of Mathematics at Brown University. Sachs was regarded as a brilliant assyriologist. He spent his life giving careful attention to all late Babylonian astronomical texts, particularly the nonACT class.

Abraham Sachs met Otto Neugebauer by chance in 1941 when the latter visited the Oriental Institute in Chicago to give a lecture. Sachs was then working on the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary project. Neugebauer quickly concluded that Sachs was the person to assist him in his plan, announced in the 1930s, to publish all available classes of astronomical cuneiform texts (i.e., a "corpus"). Sachs accepted the invitation that Neugebauer extended to him to come to Brown University to collaborate with him on the publication of Babylonian astronomical texts.

In 1941 Neugebauer arranged for Sachs to initially come to Brown University as a Rockefeller Foundation fellow. When the Department of Mathematics at Brown University showed reluctance to promote an assyriologist to a professional rank Henry Wilson, the University President, created, in 1947, the Department of the History of Mathematics. Sachs joined such, becoming associate professor in 1949 and professor in 1953. This new department was created for Otto Neugebauer and Abraham Sachs primarily as a research unit - but it was also given the responsibility to train highly qualified graduate students.

In 1948 Sachs, still with the title of research assistant, was offered, and declined, the Chair in Assyriology at John Hopkins University in succession to the eminent Near Eastern scholar William Albright. Both Sachs and Neugebauer had become both close colleagues and close friends. In 1949, through the recommendation of the assyriologist Anton Deimel SJ, in Rome, Otto Neugebauer was given full access to all of Johann Strassmaier's relevant notebooks. (Following Strassmaier's death in 1920 these notebooks had been sent to Rome and were in the care of Anton Deimel at the Pontificio Istituto Biblico. (It is not clear whether Deimel obtained all or most of Strassmaier's notebooks.) In the early 1900s Deimel had studied assyriology in London under Strassmaier and on Strassmaier's death had arranged for his notebooks to be sent to Rome.)

In 1949 Sachs worked through Strassmaier's notebooks at the Pontificio Instituto Biblico and identified 100 new ACT class fragments. (It cannot be established whether the large number of Strassmaier's drawings that Anton Deimel loaned to Schaumberger at Gars am Inn in 1923 ever came to the notice of Otto Neugebauer and Abraham Sachs. Some of these drawings were lost in 1955 and the rest were never returned to Rome until 1981.)

In 1952 Sachs received a Rockefeller Foundation travel grant to study astronomical cuneiform tablets in the British Museum. This work was carried out during 1953 and 1954. His work there assisted Otto Neugebauer to complete his protracted project Astronomical Cuneiform Texts (3 Volumes, 1955). The masterly copies of cuneiform astronomical and astrological texts that the pioneer British assyriologist Theophilus Pinches had made during his employment there between 1895 and 1900, and which had been kept locked in a cupboard for some 50 years, were made available to Sachs. Approximately 60 new ACT class fragments were included in Pinches' drawings. Sachs published Pinches' drawings, comprising approximately 1350 sheets (approximately 1600 texts), (including, in cooperation with Johann Schaumberger, some texts copied by Johann Strassmaier), in Late Babylonian Astronomical and Related Texts (1955).

These included both mathematical, observational, and omen, texts. However, no translations were published. Until 1955 very few late Babylonian astronomical tablets had been published. Extensive translations of texts in Late Babylonian Astronomical and Related Texts have only become available since circa the mid-1980s. The last major project begun by Sachs was the editing and translation of the "astronomical diaries" and related texts. However, due to declining health, he only managed to focus on the material for Volume 1 of the "astronomical diaries" prior to his death. The material for this volume was completed by Hermann Hunger and published in 1988.

Sachs' death at a relatively young age was due to cancer. His wish that the Austrian assyriologist Hermann Hunger continue the completion of the "astronomical diaries" project has been realised. Relevant key publications: Late Babylonian Astronomical and Related Texts (1955).

 

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