The Department of Near Eastern Studies was one of the original departments when the Johns Hopkins University was founded. The department was originally modeled after the German system with Paul Haupt, a renowned Sumerologist and Assyriologist from Leipzig and Göttingen, holding the W. W. Spence Chair in Semitic Languages.

The Spence Chair was next held by Haupt’s student, William Foxwell Albright, who was one of the most influential scholars of the 20th century. Albright taught at Hopkins for three decades (1929-1958). For a dozen years he was also the director of the American Schools of Oriental Research in Jerusalem. Founded in 1900, it is the oldest American research center in the Middle East and in 1970 was renamed The W. F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in his honor.

Albright was known for his encyclopedic knowledge of the entire ancient Near East. Albright helped authenticate the Dead Sea Scrolls along with his student and later colleague at Hopkins, Samuel Iwry. Albright was a leading authority in the fields of epigraphy, the Hebrew Bible, the Dead Sea Scrolls, newly discovered alphabetic-cuneiform texts from Syria (written in the language of Ugaritic), and especially material culture where he was acknowledged to be the Dean of Biblical Archaeology. His masterful command of the entire ancient Near East resulted in more than 1,000 publications and 29 honorary degrees. Three generations of Albright’s students would go on to hold professorships at the most prestigious universities in America and abroad.

Since Albright’s time, the department has grown in its areas of expertise and is considered one of the leading institutions for the study of the ancient Near East.

Notable Alumni

Graduates of our doctoral program hold positions at leading universities around the world.

  • Our very first graduate in 1887, Cyrus Adler, went on to become the president of the Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Learning and Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
  • Avraham Biran, who passed away at the age of 98, received his doctorate in 1935. In addition to being the director of the famous excavations at Tel Dan in northern Israel for more than 30 years, Biran wore many hats. Between 1949 and 1955, Biran was the District Commissioner of Jerusalem as well as Senior Member of the Israel delegation to the Mixed Armistice Commission of Jordan. He served as the Israeli consul in Los Angeles from 1955–1958. As Director of the Israel Department of Antiquities and Museums (appointed in 1961), Biran oversaw excavations and in the 1970s helped negotiate publication of parts of the Dead Sea Scrolls, then held in the Palestine Archaeological Museum in East Jerusalem. In addition to being a world-renowned archaeologist, Biran was also the Director of the Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Israel since 1974. In 2002, Biran was presented with State of Israel’s greatest honor, the Israel Prize, in recognition of his enormous contributions to archaeological excavation, research, and publication.
  • Four of our alumni have held professorships at Harvard University (Frank Moore CrossThomas LambdinWilliam Moran, and G. Ernest Wright). Each of these individuals was the leading scholar in his area of Near Eastern studies: Cross—Hebrew Bible-Northwest Semitics; Lambdin—Comparative Semitic Linguistics; Moran—Assyriology; Wright—Archaeology.
  • Frank Moore Cross held Harvard’s second oldest chair (the Hancock Professor of Hebrew and Other Oriental Languages in the Department of Near East Languages and Civilizations) from 1958–1992, and was the curator of the Harvard Semitic Museum. As one of the leading scholars of the Dead Sea Scrolls, he was a Fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies (1971–1972), a Fellow of the Institute for Advanced Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1978–1979), a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a Member of the American Philosophical Society.
  • Raymond Brown was regarded as the Dean of New Testament scholars, having written more than 35 books. In addition to being elected a Fellow of the British Academy and American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he was appointed by two popes as the sole American on the Pontifical Biblical Commission. Like Albright, he also received some 30 honorary degrees from universities around the world.