Harry Hoffner, Editor of the Chicago Hittite Dictionary (1934-2015)

On March 10, 2015, our colleague Harry Hoffner passed away, completely unexpectedly, in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Retired in 2000, he and his wife Wini used to spend in recent years the harshest months of the Chicago winter there. His death is an enormous blow to our project: together with Hans Güterbock, Harry Hoffner was the founder of the Chicago Hittite Dictionary and was still active as Senior Editor. Just the week before his death he had still exchanged emails with Theo van den Hout on Dictionary matters.

Hoffner did his BA at Princeton, received an MA in theology from the Dallas Theological Seminary, and finally got his PhD at Brandeis with a dissertation on “The Laws of the Hittites,” a topic he would return to later on in his career. He taught at Wheaton College in Illinois, Brandeis, and Yale before coming to Chicago as full professor in 1975 where Güterbock was to retire not long after. Several years earlier, Güterbock had been asked by the German publisher of the thus far only Hittite dictionary, Johannes Friedrich’s Hethitisches Wörterbuch, if he could do a fully revised edition. He had collected all kinds of words and word usages but felt he had to decline since he didn’t have a really systematic card file of the then published Hittite corpus. This all changed when Hoffner joined the faculty of the Oriental Institute. Since his earliest days studying Hittite Hoffner had compiled systematic and comprehensive files, and the combination of the two scholars was ideal. The German publisher had meanwhile already contracted Annelies Kammenhuber and she started publishing in installments a completely renewed Hittite-German lexicon in 1975. However, Güterbock and Hoffner were not to be deterred: they obtained their first of many grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1976, hired two research associates and students, and started the Hittite-English CHD. The first fascicle, as they called it, appeared in 1979. The only concession they made was to start in the middle of the alphabet, with the letter L, so as not to duplicate immediately the work of the Munich project that had begun with A.

Hoffner was an extremely accomplished and wide-ranging scholar. Through his MA he had a strong biblical basis and besides Hittite he had studied Akkadian and Egyptian at Brandeis. As his many publications show, he had a wide interest in history, archaeology, lexicography, grammar, and realia. To the latter category belongs his book Alimenta Hethaeorum (1974) (partly founded by the Coca-Cola Company!) on foodstuffs in Hittite Anatolia, collecting everything there was to know on nutrition and food production with wonderful illustrations from the entire ancient Near Eastern world. Later monographs concerned the now standard edition of the Hittite Laws (1997) and two volumes in the SBL series Writings from the Ancient World on Hittite Myths (1990, 19982) and Letters from the Hittite Kingdom (2009). Together with H. Craig Melchert he wrote the Grammar of the Hittite Language (2008), which is likely to be the standard for many decades to come.

Hoffner had an enormously sharp mind that benefited the CHD greatly. His experience in Hittite lexicography and grammar was immense and comes through in every entry of the Dictionary. We will miss him but carry on his spirit!