Campus & Community

William L. Moran, 79, was Mellon Professor of Humanities

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William Lambert Moran, esteemed Assyriologist and Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities Emeritus, died on Dec. 19, 2000. He was 79.

Moran was born in Chicago on Aug. 11, 1921, the only child of Charles and Julia (Cordesman) Moran. The family moved to Columbus, Ohio, in 1935, where as a schoolboy he fell in love with languages. In 1939, Moran entered the Jesuit order. He received his B.A. from Loyola University in 1944, and in 1946-47, he taught Latin and Greek in high school in Cincinnati.

Encouraged by his order to pursue biblical studies, Moran enrolled in a doctoral program under W.F. Albright at Johns Hopkins University in 1947, and received the Ph.D. in 1950. After several additional years of study, including ancient Near Eastern languages at the University of Chicago, and Jesuit training in theology, Moran worked on the “Chicago Assyrian Dictionary” during the 1955-56 academic year. Thereafter, he was called to Rome to teach biblical studies at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, where he also served on the editorial boards of academic journals.

In 1966, Moran accepted a position as professor of Assyriology at Harvard University. In recognition of his scholarship, Harvard appointed him the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities in 1985. In 1996, he was made a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His publications include the standard translation and commentary of “The Amarna Letters,” nearly 400 texts written in Babylonian cuneiform that document the international and imperial correspondence of the Egyptian pharaohs around the time of the kings Akhenaton and Tutankhamon. He also published many other studies of these texts, as well as major articles on ancient Mesopotamian literature, on biblical texts, and on the early history of the Hebrew language, and he wrote nearly 100 book reviews. He was a respected and beloved teacher of many students, themselves now professors of Mesopotamian and biblical studies around the world.

Moran married Suzanne Drinker in 1970. After his retirement from Harvard in 1990, they moved to Brunswick, Maine, where he continued his work on the literature of ancient Mesopotamia; he also returned eagerly to the study of the classics and of English literature and indulged his lifelong passion for basketball and football.

He is survived by his wife and by five stepchildren and their families: Susan Mickel; Catherine Garlid; Christopher Funkhouser; Ann McMahon; and John Funkhouser.