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UNIVERSITY HISTORY

Arabic Studies at Penn:
A Brief History

Dr. Morris Jastrow, Jr.

The history of the teaching of Arabic is tied to the history of program of Semitic Languages in the Department of Philosophy (after 1906 called the Graduate School) and the career of Morris Jastrow at University of Pennsylvania.  The Semitic Languages program was established in 1886.  The suggestion of establishing “one or more professorships in Semitic languages” was brought before the University’s Board of Trustees on 6 July 1886 who referred it to a committee.  At the next meeting, on 7 September, “The Committee on the Department of Arts reported on the question of Professorships in the Semitic Languages, and at its request the whole question, together with a memoir on the Department of Philosophy presented by Dr. M. Jastrow, Jr. was referred to the Joint Committee on the Arts and on Science, with request for speedy consideration and action.”  Agreeing to the Committee’s report, the Trustees at this meeting created a Chair of the Hebrew Language in the College Department (i.e. College of Arts and Sciences) and nominated Rev. John P. Peters (who was a teaching Hebrew at the Philadelphia Divinity School in West Philadelphia) to the post.  Peters' nomination was voted on and passed at the next Trustees’ meeting on 5 October.  At that same meeting the Trustees also created two additional chairs in the Semitic Language and nominated Morris Jastrow and Herman V. Hilprecht for the positions which they planned to vote on at the 2 November meeting.  Hilprecht was given the title of Lecturer on Egyptology and Jastrow Lecturer on Arabic and Assyrian.  Both appointments for were for one year but this did not last that long.  The Department’s 1887 catalogue defined Semitic Languages as “Hebrew -- Classical and Rabbinical, Aramæan, Assyrian and Babylonian (Sumerian and Akkadian), Ethiopic, Arabic, Other dialects like Phenician and Himajaritic known only from a few inscriptions.”


Rev. John P. Peters

Jastrow, who clearly had some influence in this process, did not care for the parsing of the disciplines created by the Trustees’ appointments.  He suggested to Provost Pepper that there should be a Chair of Assyriology and a Chair of Arabic and Rabbinical Literature, either of which he would be glad to be appointed to.  Following through on Jastrow’s suggestion, the Trustees’ appointed Hilprecht as a Professor of Assyrian in the Dept. of Philosophy (without salary) at its 7 December meeting and Jastrow as Professor of Arabic and Rabbinical Literature at its 4 January 1887 meeting.  During these same months the Trustee’s also appointed Daniel G. Brinton to be the first Professor of Archaeology and American Languages.  Jastrow’s title was shorted to Professor of Arabic in 1890 when he was appointed Assistant Librarian of the University.

Though the official entrance of Arabic into Penn’s curriculum was in 1887, it is likely that lectures on Arabic may have been given a year before.  In the fall of 1885, Morris Jastrow returned to Philadelphia after spending four years studying in Europe and acquiring his PhD from the University of Leipzig.  Though the Philadelphia Inquirer reported in July 1885 that Jastrow was “preparing himself rigidly for admission into the Jewish pulpit,” it was clear he was more interested in an academic career. 

Advertisement for Jastrow's lectures on December 17 and 22, 1885, in the Pennsylvanian (Dec. 15, 1885)

By September 1885, the Inquirer proclaimed that Jastrow had “been selected to fill an important position, namely, that of instructor in the department of languages in the University of Pennsylvania.”  His appointment as an instructor, not a lecturer, was informal and not presented to the Trustees.  He did, however, begin giving lectures at Penn in the fall of 1885, as part of a program at that time of having visiting professors give public lectures.  The University Magazine reported on 20 October 1885 that “Dr. Morris Jastrow, lately appointed Lecturer on the Semitic Languages at the University, will open courses on Hebrew, Arabic, and Assyrian, at the University, on Monday, Nov. 2nd . . . .”  The Inquirer reported on 3 November 1885 that among the topics to be covered in Jastrow’s lectures were “courses in Hebrew and Arabic . . . arranged for beginners, who wish to acquire a knowledge of these languages.”

Whether Jastrow actually taught Arabic in these lectures (which Penn students could and did attend), is not certain.  The following outline lists the subject matter covered based on what appeared in the Pennsylvanian (which did not begin publishing until December 1885):

 

29 October 1885

Introductory lecture

2 November 1885

Lecture series begins

3 to 21 December 1885

Topics covered unknown

22 December 1885 to 9 February 1886

“Decipherment of Assyrian Cuneiform Inscriptions”

February 1886 to 11 May

“Semitic Lectures,” “Hebrew Class” (16 February to 8 April 1886), “Semitic Languages” (13 April to 11 May 1886)

16 February 1886 to 23 March 1886

“Assyrian Literature”

Religious, again 9 March
Grammatical, 23 February
Commercial and Astronomical, 2 March

 

Once the Semitic Languages program got going there was clearly interest in it.  The faculty of the College allowed undergraduates to take Hebrews classes in their senior year beginning in the fall of 1886.  There was also an interest in learning in Arabic because the 1887-88 University catalog lists two students in the course of study in Arabic in the Dept. of Philosophy/Graduate School.  One of these students was James Alan Montgomery who is the first person listed in the Graduate School’s matriculation register with “Semitic Languages” as his major in October 1887.  The first person listed as having Arabic as minor is Ernest Theodore Kretschmann, who matriculated in June 1889 (and was the Pastor of Augustus Lutheran Church at Trappe, Pennsylvania, Henry Melchior Mühlenberg’s church). There was a sizable number of “Special Students” in the Graduate School who took Arabic from 1888 onwards.  The first ones listed in 1888-89 as taking just Arabic classes were: Dr. Marcus Mordecai Jastrow (Morris’ father and Rabbi at Rodelph Shalom), Edwin Francis Keever (Lutheran clergyman), and Robert U. Rogers (from Haverford College).

The requirements for majoring in Semitic Languages in 1887 included Arabic as an additional language requirement for almost all students in the program. The outline of Arabic courses offered from the beginning up to 1900, are as follows:

 

February 1887

“Courses in Sanskrit and Comparative Philology and in the Semitic and American Languages”
      1, Arabic.  Course for beginners Grammar with easy readings, translations, and exercises.

1887-88

“Courses in Semitic Languages” -- Arabic
      1, Course for beginners.  Grammar, with exercises and easy readings
      2, Selected Suras from the Koran, with constant reference to the Arabic commentators
      3, Abu-’L-Feda’s History of Arabia before the days of Islam
      4, Arabic Seminary
      5, A Public Course of Six Lectures on Mahommed [sic] and Mahommedism [sic] during the second term.

1888-89

“Courses in Semitic Languages” -- Arabic
      1, Beginner’s course
      2, Selected Suras from the Koran, with constant reference to the Arabic commentators
      3, The Moallakât Kasidâ of Imru-l-Kais

1889-90

University Catalogue -- Arabic
      1, Elements of the Grammar, with exercises and readings
      2, Selected Suras from the Koran, with constant reference to the Arabic commentators.
      3, The Moallakat Kasîdê of Imru’l-Kais [listed in Provost’s Report]

1890-91

University Catalogue -- Arabic
      1, Elements of the Grammar, with exercises and readings
      2, Selected Suras from the Koran.
      3, Prose and Poetical Pieces from the Beirut Chrestomathy
      4, Public course of three lectures on Arabic poetry

1891-92

University Catalogue -- Arabic
      1, Elements of the Grammar, with exercises and readings
      2, Selected Suras from the Koran.
      3, Prose and Poetical Pieces from the Beirut Chrestomathy

1892-93, 1893-94

University Catalogues -- Arabic
      1, Elements of the Grammar, with exercises and readings.  Selected Suras from the Koran.
      2, Prose and Poetical Pieces from the Beirut Chrestomathy
      3, Abd el Malik Ibn Hischam's Life of Mohammed (Second Term)

1894-95

University Catalogue -- Arabic
      1, Elements of the Grammar, with exercises and readings.  Selected Suras from the Koran.
      2, Prose and Poetical Selections from the Beirut Chrestomathy (Second Term)
      3, The Thousand and One Nights
      4, The Arabic Translation of the New Testament

1895-96, 1896-97

University Catalogues -- Arabic
      1, Socin's Arabic Grammar, with exercises and readings
      2, Selected Suras from the Koran
      3, Selections from Brünnow's Arabic Chrestomathy
      4, Selections from Ibn Hischam, Tabari, Masudi and Abulfeda bearing on the life of Mohammed (Second Term)
      5, The Thousand and One Nights (Bulak edition)

1897-98

University Catalogue -- Arabic
      1, Socin's Arabic Grammar, with exercises and readings
      2, Selected Suras from the Koran
      3, Selections from Brünnow's Arabic Chrestomathy
      4, Selections from El-Bokhâri's Collection of traditions, bearing on the life of Mohammed (Second Term)
      5, Abu-l-Fedâ, Historia Ante Islamica (Edition Fleisher) (First Term)
      6, Introduction to the Study of Semetic Epigraphy (First Term)
      7, The South Arabic Inscriptions

1898-99, 1899-1900

University Catalogues -- Arabic
      1, Socin's Arabic Grammar, with exercises and readings
      2, Selected Suras from the Koran [dropped from 1899-1900 catalog]
      3, Selections from Brünnow's Arabic Chrestomathy
      4, El-Bokhâri's Collection of traditions, bearing on the life of Mohammed (Edition Krehl), Part I (First Term)
      5, Selections from the Annals of Tabari (Second Term)
      [A new category called Semitic Epigraphy was created for the courses six and seven from the previous academic year]

 

The instructor for all of these classes was Morris Jastrow, Jr. 

 

Semitic Languages and Literatures courses listed in 1892-1893 Catalogue

 

 

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University Catalogs

Faculty appointed to the College, 1749-1900