Eulogy for Avigdor (Victor) Hurowitz*
Delivered on January 21, 2013
by Prof. Shalom M. Paul, The Hebrew University
Victor, my dear friend, a great sorrow has fallen upon all of us. We bitterly lament and are distraught – the loss is overwhelming to us all: “Woe, my brother!” (1 Kings 13:30).You have gone to the next world before your time. Your sun should not have set so quickly.
In the invitation that was sent for the day of your simchah (on the publication of your commentary on Proverbs), that has now sadly turned into a day of mourning, I was invited to say some words in your honor. The title was to be, “From Apprentice, to Neighbor, to Colleague.” To this triple-cord that cannot swiftly be severed I must add – upon the literary model “on three and four” – the most important of them all: “Friend.”
That which came first – “Apprentice”: During my first year of instruction at the Hebrew University more than four decades ago, I was aided by your diverse and multitudinous talents as my teaching assistant. As is written in your beloved language, Akkadian, in which we used to converse with each other, kabtu mali bēli imaṣṣi, “An important man shall be equal to his master”; and šamallu ummân imaṣṣi, “An apprentice shall be equal to the scholar.” How these sayings become you! Yet you far surpassed them – from a teaching assistant you rose to become one of the world’s most distinguished scholars of Bible and the Ancient Near East.
“Colleague”: Victor, you have an extraordinary memory (lit. , “a lime-plastered pit that loses not a drop” – Mishnah Avot 2:8) and you have left our academic community bereft (lit., “a bottomless pit”). You are an erudite and prolific writer who has enriched us all by your enlightened and wisdom-imparting scholarly articles. Your wealth of knowledge in the hidden treasures of the past flows like a mighty stream that both refreshes and invigorates. The scent of the Tigris and Euphrates combined with the pleasing fragrance of the Bible permeate all your studies.
You never relinquished the writer’s pen or, better yet, the writer’s stylus. You may be likened to what was said of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal, ša nēmeqi Ea… kullat ṭupšarrūti iḫrusu karassu, “His mind understands the wisdom of Ea (the god of wisdom), the perfection of scribal instruction.” You are the personification of knowledge, at once profound and innovative, a discerning scholar whose insights illuminate us all.
How you impressed us all by the photo in which you held, with justifiable pride, the two volumes of your recently published Hebrew commentary to Proverbs! You entitled the picture, “This is the day for which we had hoped – Father and Twins.” Permit me to add, as it is written in Akkadian, tū’imi tulīd, “You have given birth to twins.” The lengthy birth-pangs (known to many of us present here) resulted in two newborns – twins of beauty. I want you all to know that Victor was a summa cum laude graduate of the “University of Mesopotamia.” In your writings, the worlds of the Bible and Mesopotamia come alive. In accord with the term that you so aptly invented, you are a “cuneobiblicist” par excellence.
“Neighbor and Friend”: First, I shall read a poem you composed at an Assyriological Rencontre that testifies to your mischievous wit:
Sumerian Sirens, Babylonian Beauties
The summer Rencontre had come to an end
And assyriologists all had drunk a fine blend
Of Enkidu Beer  and karān-šikaru 
And their minds filled with visions of sinniš-zikaru 
They couldn’t decide on a closing event,
So back to the lecture hall all of them went
And convened in emergency ukkin  and puḫru 
And decided by ḫé.am  the one thing to do
Wilfred and Sasson and Andrew and Van [Soldt] 
Were appointed the envy of every fine man
They were chosen to judge the “Kuzbītu  Fourh
Pamela, Chessie, Eva and Eleanor 
Who would stroll down the catwalk in melammu  so bright
Wearing nothing much else on that glorious night
But it was not for their beauty they’d win an agû 
But for the eme  they spoke and what each of them knew
And their talent to wow every young or old scholar
Who had chosen a field where one can’t make a dollar
So ask them some questions, and give each a chance
To speak in Akkadian or in Sumerian dance
Ask them of society, astronomy, history
And check out which one has cuneiform literacy
And at the end of the pageant, the one still in situ
Will be granted the title of this year’s Kuzbītu!
Yet another anecdote: We were accustomed to emailing each other practically everyday, or to conversing by telephone on scholarly and unscholarly matters. Allow me to read before those who are gathered here today one of these conversations: When you received the news this past May that my English commentary on Isaiah 40–66 was published, you wrote to me, “Mazal Tov,” along with a wish that my writings would continue to increase.
– I replied, “Thank you so much. The book just arrived.”
– You answered, “Then I won’t disturb you.”
– “No disturbance,” I said. “How can I read over 700 (!) pages all at once? I’ll save you a copy when the others arrive.”
– You wrote back, “Thanks. I look forward to it. In the meantime, I’m swamped with work, as usual. I still await final page proofs of Proverbs, and even as I wait I have six lectures scheduled for May–July. One will be given tomorrow in absentia in Japan.”
– “Only six? Are you slowing down, my friend?” I wrote.
– You replied, “Oops. Miscounted. I meant nine. Must have stood the digit on its head.”
Victor, you assisted me in matters both large and small. In large, in the comprehensive bibliographical material filed away in your mind; in small, in the diacritical signs of Akkadian verbs.
You are an erudite scholar of Torah and an exemplary Torah-reader, who prepared my son for his Bar-Mitzvah. As written in the Bavli, tractates ‘Eruvin (32a) and Pesaḥim (9a): “It is a legal presumption that a Fellow would not allow any unprepared thing to pass out of his hand.” We shall be constantly and continually nourished by your “prepared things.” Allow me to slightly alter the last verse in Jeremiah 52:34: “Your wisdom is permanently wise. It has been granted to us as a daily allotment, all the days of your life, until the day of your death.”
Last but not least: As a parting gift, know that as of today we hold in our hands 53 articles comprising more than 950 pages, written by some of the foremost scholars of Bible and the ancient Near East. These contributions were to be published in your jubilee volume, which, in our overwhelming grief and distress, will now be your memorial volume. You will be sorely missed.
May your soul be bound in the bond of eternal life.
May your soul find rest in Eden.
Avigdor (Victor) Hurowitz: In Memoriam
Avigdor (Victor) Hurowitz: In Memoriam
*Translated from Hebrew by Jeremiah Unterman and slightly adapted from the original by the author.
1 A beer brewed specially for the Helsinki Rencontre, 2001.
2 Akkadian, wine, beer.
3 Akkadian, female, male.
4 Sumerian, assembly.
5 Akkadian, assembly.
6 Sumerian, “so be it.”
7 Four prominent Assyriologists, leaders of the International Association for Assyriology.
8 Akkadian, sexually appealing.
9 Four stunning (and brilliant) Assyriologists.
10 Akkadian, divine radiance.
11 Akkadian, crown.
12 Sumerian tongue, language.