About The Institute

History of The Institute

Founded in 1989, the Institute of Semitic Studies (ISS) is proud to be the first, and only, independent Institute dedicated to the study of ancient Semitic languages and cultures in the USA. These cultures are fundamental to current world religions, especially Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, and their contributions to civilization and their role in generating or solving conflicts. The Institute is a major scholarly and public forum for Semitic and Afroasiatic Studies recognized nationally and internationally. The mission of the Institute of Semitic Studies is to promote the knowledge of Semitic languages and civilizations to be able to better foster peace in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa where the knowledge of cultural commonalities can be effective bridges to that peace.

The Institute has library privilege arrangements for visiting scholars at Princeton University. It has had the use of lecture halls at the University and Princeton Theological Seminary. But its goal is to find its own home and to build a manuscript microfilm library in order to strengthen the Institute’s role as a center for scholars, like the Institute for Advanced Study.


Among the Institute’s great achievements to date is the sponsorship of the history-making 1989 symposium on the Dead Sea Scrolls, which brought together in Princeton for the first time the then Editor-in-Chief and other scholars responsible for publishing them. No history of the dispute over the access to the Dead Sea Scrolls can be written hence without reference to the historic symposium. It was editorialized in the Washington Post as a commendable peace-making effort among bitterly quarrelling scholars.

In June 1992, the Institute of Semitic Studies had another major feat. It sponsored the Second International Congress of Yemenite Jewish Studies. (The first was held at Bar Ilan University, Israel, in 1990 and was inaugurated by the then Prime Minister Shamir.)  The Congress brought together over two hundred scholars and many other interested individuals from Israel, Europe, the United States and the Middle East. Congratulatory messages came to the Congress from the future US President Bill Clinton, the then Prime Minster Shamir of Israel, Senator Bradley, Governor Florio, and many other dignitaries. The Proceeding of that important Congress is published in 1999 edited by Prof. Ephraim Isaac (Judaeo-Arabic Studies: Proceedings of the Second International Congress of Yemenite Jewish Studies co-editor Yosef Tobi, University of Haifa & Institute of Semitic Studies, 1999)

Dead Sea Scrolls

The Institute supports a Princeton Theological Seminary project to make the Dead Sea Scrolls publicly available in their original Hebrew and/or Aramaic, with new English translations. It supports the University of Pennsylvania Sumerian dictionary Project. In 1988, it co-sponsored with the Univ. of Pennsylvania the 35th International Congress of Assyriology. In 1991, it co-sponsored with Princeton University the Fifth Congress of Judaeo-Arabic Studies and another on Ancient Iraq. It has organized other major scholarly projects and frequent public and educational programs. Among these are those on the Nabataeans, religions of pre-Islamic Arabia, and Ethiopic Christian manuscripts.


The Institute of Semitic Studies publishes the only major international scholarly Journal of Afroasiatic Languages of which Semitic is the major branch linguistics, printed by the Princeton University Press and distributed by EJ Brill of Holland. The Journal, the only one of its kind in the United States, offers substantial articles and a flock of reviews by distinguished scholars on Hebrew, Arabic, Ethiopic, and related ancient languages of Africa such as Berber, Oromo, and Coptic.


The Institute has sponsored a major international symposium on Anti-Semitism and Racism to examine the historical roots of racial hatred as it affects people globally and to study attempts by wise people of all ages and cultures to promote tolerance. It was invited by the International Health Awareness Network, an affiliate of International Women’s Organization, to sponsor a symposium at the UN on Health Care and the Family in the Ancient Near East.

The Institute’s work emphasizes and highlights the contribution of Semitic and Afroasiatic cultures to world culture, in general, and Western civilization, in particular. It focuses on the positive heritage shared by all Afroasiatic and Semitic-speaking peoples: Jews, Arabs, and Ethiopians. This effort can contribute not only to understanding both among these peoples and the international community, particularly at a time when peace and stability in the Red Sea and Horn of Africa regions are of paramount importance, but also to strengthening the foundation of international higher learning.

It is a matter of record that the ISS had spectacular successes in its mission in its all its years of existence: television coverage, major articles in The New York Times, funding from such organizations as The National Endowment for the Humanities and the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, SYMPOSIA that drew attendees from among the world’s leading scholars and their students, and a JOURNAL that drew immediate laud for excellence in filling a yawning niche.  With secure endowment, the ISS could easily go on to even better and greater accomplishments.  Its past record should be more than sufficient to guarantee this.


Support for the work of the Institute has come from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the New Jersey Committee for the Humanities, the New York Committee for the Humanities, Bristol Myers Co, Blum Foundation, Lawrence Gelb Foundation, New York City Central Labor Council: AFL-CIO, State of Ben L. Burman, H. J. Stich Foundation, JDC, and many generous individuals all over the US.


Although it is an independent advanced research center, the Institute has collaborated with Princeton University, Princeton Theological Seminary, the University of Pennsylvania, the New York Bar Association, the Israeli Association for Society and Culture, as well as Pennsylvania Governor’s Cultural Affairs Department, the University of the Arts, Please Touch Museum, the Woodrow Wilson Institute, and many others.

Endowment - Naming Opportunity

The ISS possesses great likelihood of permanence, once endowed.  It has already proved highly attractive to media coverage.  Its domain of research and knowledge is right in the eye of present-day concerns.

Therefore, the ISS can achieve for the Namer an impact that is unavailable to many philanthropies.  This impact can be bought for money, but money itself could never open this opportunity. Now a window of opportunity exists for the Namer to have his/her name and reputation conjoined with the ISS in perpetuity.  There is no other opportunity that can come for any donor or is likely to come that equals this one, in the magnification of philanthropy in the world.