Search Finding Aids
Nathaniel Julius Reich Collection
ARC MS 20
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in our reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
- University of Pennsylvania: Library at the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies
- Nathaniel Julius Reich Collection
- Date [bulk]:
- Date [inclusive]:
- Call Number:
- ARC MS 20
- 8.75 Linear feet (16 boxes)
- Multiple languages
- Language of Materials note:
- Primary languages: English, German. Other languages: Arabic, Coptic, Demotic and other Egyptian hieroglyphics, French, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Latin.
- Finding Aid's Permanent URL:
Early Life and Education
Dr. Nathaniel Julius Reich was born in Sarvar, Austria-Hungary, on April 29, 1876. He was the son of Rabbi Wilhelm Reich and his first wife. His father was oberrabbiner (chief rabbi) of Baden bei Wien (Baden-near-Vienna, also known as Baden), Austria for fifty years, until his death in 1929. For more information about Dr. Reich's family, see "Family History," below. For more biographical information about his father, see the finding aid to the Wilhelm Reich Collection.
A member of a family of distinguished rabbis, it was expected that Nathaniel Reich would also join the Rabbinate. His father gave him "a complete Rabbinical training in Bible, Talmud, and other Rabbinical literature," and taught him "from childhood, Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic and Syriac." He also studied piano, violin and cello, as well as drawing, sketching and painting. His formal education included attending the Volksshule and Gymnasium of Baden. He also studied architecture and higher mathematics at the Technische Hochshule (Institute of Technology) in Vienna for one year. (1)
He received his Ph.D. degree in 1904 from the Lehranstalt fur Orientalische Sprachen in Vienna, where his major subjects of study were "Semitics, Paleography, Papyrology, Oriental History and Egyptology, with a minor in Philosophy." (1) His dissertation was entitled: "Prolegomena zu einer vergleichenden und praehistorischen Grammatik mit besonderer Berucksichtigung des Aegyptischen und seiner Dialekte" (Prolegomena to a comparative and prehistoric Grammar with special attention to the Egyptian language and its Dialects.) He also pursued post-graduate training at the Universities of Vienna, Berlin, Munich, Strasbourg and Oxford, where his studies included librarianship, museology, chemistry and preservation techniques. (1)
Choice of Career
In his curriculum vitae, he explains his decision to pursue an academic career: "I had resolved to make my life work a collection of data wherever found in Oriental records (manuscripts, potsherds, inscriptions, etc.) concerning the Jews.... to write a complete history of the Jews in the Ancient Orient, North Africa, Greece and Rome. The work when completed should form a 'living commentary' on the Bible and Talmud." (1)
Although this ambitious plan was never fully carried out, his linguistic and antiquarian expertise enabled him to study the entire field which he set out to chronicle. The focus of his career became Egyptology, but he was perhaps best known as a linguist. He is reputed to have mastered 50 languages (2), among them, in addition to ancient Greek, Latin, and those already noted, "Persian, Turkish.... Sumerian, Assyrian, Hittite cuneiform, Phoenician, Meroitic and.... South Arabian dialects," (1) including the Mahri, Sokotri, Skhauri, and Sabaic dialects. He also learned the Hamitic languages of North Africa, including Libyan, Berber, Shilhish, and Taureg, as well as Somali, Nubian, and Ethiopian. (2)
Dr. Reich spoke several modern languages as well, including German (his native tongue), English, French, Italian and Spanish; it is likely that he also knew some Hungarian. Among others, he studied the Indian language, Tamil, and some Native American languages of the North and Central Americas. When asked about his unusual linguistic facility, he is reported to have said, "It just comes to you, almost without effort." (2)
He specialized in Egyptian language forms (hieroglyphs), particularly the Hieratic, abnormal Hieratic, Coptic and Demotic; he was one of only a handful of persons in the world able to decipher and translate Demotic inscriptions. To explain the level of erudition this requires, one news article suggested that an Egyptologist's "knowledge of hieroglyphics is comparable to.... one's A B C's, while knowing Demotic or abnormal Hieratic is like being able to read and understand.... an income tax regulation." (2)
His interest in Demotic was closely linked with his early goal to compile a complete history of ancient Jewry. He states in his vitae that "the Demotic material is very important.... because it is of the period when the Jews had the greatest political power and developed the Jewish Alexandrian culture." (2) At the height of his career Dr. Reich was recognized as the leading Demotist in the world. In another news article about his work with Demotic papyri, he is quoted as saying: "Think now, how well rewarded I am by my persistence.... at the end of every hard task lies romance.... and the satisfaction of knowing that you have mastered an age old mystery." (3)
An obituary of Dr. Reich printed in The New York Times states that he "also was a rabbi," but this has not been substantiated. The statement may have been based on Dr. Reich's early rabbinical training. (4)
His early work included cataloging and editing publications of the collections of ancient inscriptions held by various museums and libraries. These institutions include the Innsbruck Landesmueum, the Munich Library, the British Museum, the National Library of Vienna, and the Museo di Antichita of Turin. In addition, he held teaching (docent) positions at the University of Prague and the University of Vienna.
It was probably at these institutions that he lectured on a wide array of subjects, from the grammar of individual languages to comparative Semitic grammar, and from the cultural history of the Near East to the smallest details of daily life in ancient Egypt. (1) In later years, he expressed some frustration that his position as Professor of Egyptology at Dropsie College did not allow him the scope to teach a much wider range of subjects, as he felt qualified to do.
World War I
The "Great War" came at a critical point in Dr. Reich's career. He had held a number of academic appointments, had published widely, worked by invitation with several prestigious collections, and made himself known to the leaders in his field. He published in the German language as early as 1918 or 1919, and began publishing in English in 1923. He was ready to find a permanent position on the faculty of a major University. But to his dismay, he never reached this goal. In the economic debacle following World War I, the secure academic milieu in which he was at home also collapsed. As one news article dramatically phrased it, "With the falling of the kroner his modest fortune, quite sufficient for a scholar's needs, was swept away. Austria was dismembered and the hand of science stayed." (2) It seemed that only those who were most preeminent in the field of oriental studies could now be assured of a position.
In the years following World War I, Dr. Reich searched for such a position, with increasing desperation, in both Europe and the United States. Several items of correspondence reveal his sense of incredulity that there should be no prominent place for him in academia.
He first came to the United States in January 1922 and soon was appointed Assistant Curator of the Egyptian Section at the University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania. He was also appointed by the New York Historical Society to publish their collection of Demotic papyri (1), and served for a brief time as librarian (prior to Penn) of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. (4) He applied for United States citizenship in 1927, and held a U.S. passport by the summer of 1929.
In 1924, at the urging of James Breasted, the philanthropist Julius Rosenwald provided the funds necessary to create a position in Egyptology specifically for Dr. Reich at the Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Learning in Philadelphia. (5) Dr. Reich held this position (with various alterations in title) from 1925 until his death in 1943, after which the position was never filled again. For the rest of his life, Dr. Reich remained deeply grateful to the Rosenwald family and to Dr. Cyrus Adler, President of the College, for their sponsorship.
In his review of Abraham Neuman's book, Cyrus Adler, A Biographical Sketch, Dr. Reich took the opportunity to speak about his own relationship with Dr. Adler, and the state of his own chosen profession:
Here in the United States.... where the well-endowed universities.... are not few in number, there are very few chairs of Egyptology (and cognate subjects). Some of these have been occupied by men who lost no love for Jews or Judaism.... Yet Egyptology still remains a prime requisite in the basic study of the Semitic languages.... and in the study of the Bible, scriptural history and the history of Palestine.... Moreover, many of the Jewish customs are without satisfactory explanation without Egyptology; I mean customs especially and not religion...
.... no Jew ventured to redeem this.... neglected field of learning either in this country or abroad. Thus it happened that great Jewish Egyptologists were compelled to tend other vineyards.... until the eminent philanthropists, the late Julius Rosenwald and his son Lessing J. Rosenwald, established under the guidance of Dr. Cyrus Adler the chair of Egyptology .... at Dropsie College. (6)
From time to time Dr. Reich supplemented his income through special projects for various institutions holding collections of Egyptian inscriptions, both in the U. S. and abroad, very much as he had done in the years before World War I. His notes suggest that one such project was the examination and inventory of the Pierpont Morgan Library collection. In 1926 he lectured on Egyptology and historical law at Johns Hopkins University.
Throughout his career, Dr. Reich was a prolific author of books and scholarly articles. Many of his works are held by the Library at the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1933 he established the short-lived periodical, Mizraim, which he edited and to which he was a frequent contributor. The publication ran to nine volumes, the last of which was issued in 1938. Feature articles included translations of various papyri and ostraca, often by leading scholars throughout the world.
Dr. Reich belonged to a number of professional organizations, including the American Oriental Society, Archaeological Institute of America, Egypt Exploration Society of Great Britain, Linguistic Society of America, Society of Biblical Literature, and the Society of Oriental Research. His social memberships included the Arts Society, the Classical Club and Oriental Club of Philadelphia, and the Jewish Historical Society of America. He was also affiliated with Congregation Mikveh Israel and the Joshua Lodge in Philadelphia, as well as local chapters of B'nai Brith.
That Nathaniel Reich was a man of strong personality and deep emotions is amply demonstrated by this collection. Much of his social correspondence shows that his charm made him a welcome guest in homes across the country. Likewise, much of his professional correspondence is most complimentary. While some of this may simply have been a return in kind, as his own style could be highly effusive, the collection reveals many lasting friendships.
On the other hand, a great proportion of his correspondence shows that Dr. Reich could also be demanding and quick-tempered. He frequently broke with his friends, family and peers. Just as often, however, such a breach was repaired and the friendship went on as warmly as before. In some instances (notably those with his brother Albert, and his former students Henry Gehman and Baruch Weitzel) the relationship endured a series of fallings-out and reconciliations over a period of years. He never married, although his correspondence does suggest a romance.
His health was not robust. He had frequent colds and other illnesses which kept him from work, and suffered particularly (and predictably) from eye strain. He also had a number of breakdowns, from emotional stress and overwork. Several of his letters refer to orders from his doctors to rest. The Holocaust of World War II, which he clearly foresaw, placed a tremendous burden on him.
Nathaniel Reich died at the age of 67 on October 5, 1943. The cause of his final illness is not documented, but one letter in the Abraham Neuman Presidential Papers refers to his having had high blood pressure. He is buried in the Beth El Emet cemetery in Philadelphia, where, in 1945, his tombstone was erected by Dropsie College.
Dr. Reich's father was Wilhelm Reich, a member of a distinguished rabbinical family. Rabbi Reich's uncle Koppel, his father's eldest brother, was the most well-known member of the family. Biographical sketches of Rabbi Koppel Reich state that he was born in Verbo, Hungary in 1838, and that his father was Abraham Ezekiel Reich, rabbi of Bannewitz and possibly also of Verbo. (7, 8) During the 1870s, Rabbi Wilhelm Reich served the community of Sarvar, Hungary, where his first three children, Emma, Nathaniel and Albert were born. Then, from 1880 until his death in 1929, he served as oberrabbi (chief rabbi) of Baden bei Wien (Baden-near-Vienna), Austria. For more information about both Wilhelm and Koppel Reich, see the finding aid to the Wilhelm Reich Collection.
Little is known about Nathaniel Reich's mother. His stepmother's maiden name was Sidonie Sommer; she died circa 1898. Nathaniel Reich was the second of his father's seven children. He had a full (elder) sister named Emma, and a full brother named Albert. He also had three step-siblings through his father's second marriage: Ernst (also called Ernest), Sidonie and Sigmund.
His full brother, Albert married Louise ("Lolly") Braun, and lived in Vienna, Austria before World War II. A letter from Albert in the Abraham Neuman Presidential Papers (also in the Library of the Herbert D. Katz Center) is dated 1945, at which time he was living in France. Dr. Reich's full sister Emma's married name was Rosenzweig. She had a son, Albert, and a daughter. Before World War II, they lived in Budapest, Hungary.
In a letter to Cyrus Adler in 1929, Dr. Reich also spoke of his "brother's family in Haifa". (10) In 1944, Dr. Sigmund Reich wrote to Dropsie College from his home in Palestine to request information about his brother's death. His step-sister Sidonie married Bertold Sternfeld of Lubeck, Germany, and had a son named Heinrich. His stepbrother Ernest was living in Strasbourg, France before World War II. (11)
Dr. Reich sponsored the immigration to the United States of his cousins Otto Berdach and Rabbi Isidore Reich in 1939. There is also some correspondence in the collection from various cousins in the Sommer and Wolf families who were living in Philadelphia and New York.
Scope and Contents
The collection ranges in date from 1888 to 1942, with the bulk of the correspondence dating from the years 1920 to 1942. Much of the collection is undated. By far the most accessible and widely useful material will be found in the Correspondence Series, which comprises just under half of the collection. There are some items of ephemera in this Series, including invoices from a variety of European booksellers. While the Series is arranged in chronological order, its subject content is briefly described below.
Dr. Reich's career made him the friend or acquaintance of many of the leading personalities in the fields of oriental studies and Egyptology, and his correspondence with these individuals may be of interest to researchers. It should be noted, however, that much of this correspondence was brief and formal in content. He began keeping carbon copies of his own letters prior to 1927, and apparently used various typists.
He frequently exchanged letters with his father in Baden, Austria, his brother Albert and sister-in-law Lolly in Vienna, and his sister Emma and her children in Budapest, Hungary. These letters more than any others may prove to be of particular interest to those studying Jewish life in Europe during the years between the two World Wars, and during the early years of World War II. Most of this correspondence is in German. There may also be some letters (as yet unidentified) with other members of his family.
Also of note for those studying the rise of anti-Semitism in pre-war Germany are a number of letters received by Dr. Reich during the mid-to-late 1930s. These letters were written by Jewish individuals who hoped for his assistance in their attempts to immigrate to the United States.
The collection reveals relatively little of Dr. Reich's work as professor of Egyptology at Dropsie College. However, there are numerous items of correspondence with his students and former students. Some photocopies of letters written by Dr. Reich to Cyrus Adler, President of the College, have been inserted into this collection, to fill important gaps. Additional items have been copied from the files of Abraham Neuman, Dr. Adler successor as President of the College. The researcher is referred to both the Adler and Neuman Presidential Papers, in the Library of the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, for a more complete picture of Dr. Reich's career at the College.
In addition to the correspondence, the collection contains many literary productions by Dr. Reich and some of his colleagues. Among the more significant items in the collection are a manuscript copy of a Demotic dictionary compiled by Dr. Reich's teacher, Dr. Leo Reinisch, and what appears to be the draft of another such dictionary compiled by Dr. Reich himself. Copies of Dr. Reich's published works were removed from this collection and added to the Archives Ephemera Collection.
There is also a Series of miscellaneous notes and transcriptions of ancient inscriptions made by Dr. Reich at various points in his career. Related to this material is the Series of notebooks, many of which appear to have been created during his years of study. There are also a number of documents in German which appear to be either academic papers or articles written for publication.
The Series of materials relating to his journal, Mizraim, includes a complete set of the journal's nine volumes, as well as supplementary manuscript and typescript files. Many of the documents in the Literary Productions Series and, to a lesser extent, the Notes and Transcriptions Series may have been written for publication in this journal.
Supplementing all of these Series is another, consisting of photographic facsimiles of various papyri, ostraca and other inscriptions with which Dr. Reich worked, or which were published in Mizraim. The collection also contains a small grouping of photographs of Dr. Reich, his family, and friends.
Finally, there is a small Series of news-clippings about Dr. Reich and about the discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb, most of which were found among the correspondence. More detailed information about the scope and content of the collection is given in the Series Descriptions.
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Judith Robins
This collection has been processed twice, and may require a third "round" before it can be considered completely accessible. The collection was first organized in 1988-1989 by Jonathan Weiser, Library Assistant. He first segregated the material into two distinct collections: the papers of Dr. Nathaniel Reich and those of his father, Rabbi Wilhelm Reich.
He then combined all of Dr. Reich's correspondence and ephemera, and arranged these in chronological order. It is not known whether this reflects the order in which the material was received after Dr. Reich's death in 1943.
The collection was processed again in 1992-93 by Judith Robins, Archivist, who elected to retain Mr. Weiser's chronological arrangement of the correspondence, but reorganized the other materials. She would like to acknowledge her debt to her predecessor for his extensive and useful work.
It is more than possible that many related items, such as pages of a single letter, were inadvertently separated during some stage of the physical processing. An additional hindrance, during the second phase at least, has been the processor's lamentable ignorance of German, Hebrew, and any number of other languages, including ancient Greek and Egyptian hieroglyphics. Of them all, the processor's lack of German has imposed the greatest limitations on the accessibility of this collection's contents.
A third phase of processing, conducted by persons fluent in German and the other relevant languages, may well yield far more valuable results than have been achieved to date. Until such time as this may be done, the researcher will be obliged to search carefully for integral materials in these languages. This is particularly true of the Notes and Transcriptions, Mizraim, and Facsimiles Series, which contain many reproductions of ancient documents and inscriptions.
A first step towards this end was accomplished in 1995 when Dr. Robert A. Kraft of the University of Pennsylvania made extensive use of the collection. His research yielded much additional information, particularly in regard to Dr. Reich's Literary Productions, Notes and Transcriptions, as well as the Facsimile series. Much of this information has been incorporated into the revised finding aid.
The processor wishes to thank Arthur Kiron, Manuscripts Curator and Assistant Archivist of the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, for translating various materials in German and Yiddish. Thanks are also due to the Archives of the University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania, and to Temple University's Urban Archives, for supplying numerous biographical source materials.
The researcher should note that important correspondence to and from Dr. Reich can be found in the Dropsie College Archives, specifically in the records of past Presidents Cyrus Adler and Abraham Neuman. The file in President Neuman's records also contains information about the settlement of Dr. Reich's estate, as well as letters of condolence from many of his friends and colleagues. Relevant correspondence might also exist in the personal papers of Dr. Reich's father, the Wilhelm Reich Collection (CJS ARC MS 19).
Those who have an interest in the reproductions of ancient manuscripts and inscriptions in this Collection should also consult the Katz Center's Facsimile Manuscript Collection, where related materials might be found.
Published works by Dr. Reich and his contemporaries have been removed from his papers and placed as appropriate in the Library's other collections. Many pamphlets and offprints of his own works can be found in the Katz Center's Ephemera Collection.
Two sets of unidentified glass-plate negatives have been removed from the Facsimile Series and placed in the Katz Center's Photographic Collection.
1. Curriculum vitae of Nathaniel Reich (circa 1923). Nathaniel Reich Collection, CJS ARC MS 20, Box 7, FF 26, Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.
2. "Able to Understand Everybody's Talk," The Philadelphia Record, 1924 May 18, page 10.
3. "Age Old Records Deciphered Here," The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, 1924 March 27.
4. Obituary printed in The New York Times, 1943 October 6.
5. Minutes of the Board of Governors, Dropsie College Archives, Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.
6. Reich, Nathaniel. Review of Abraham Neuman's book Cyrus Adler, A Biographical Sketch. Journal of Jewish Bibliography, 1943 January-April, pp. 51-52.
7. Encyclopedia Judaica. Jerusalem, Keter Publishing House Ltd. 1971, Vol. 14, page 46.
8. Universal Jewish Encyclopedia. New York, The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, Inc., 1939, Vol. 9, page 114.
9. Letter from N. J. Reich to Cyrus Adler, 1933 November 15. Cyrus Adler Papers, CJS ARC MS 26, Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.
10. Letter from N. J. Reich to Cyrus Adler, 1929 October 28. Cyrus Adler Papers, CJS ARC MS 26, Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.
11. Letter from N. J. Reich to Cyrus Adler, 1933 June 15. Cyrus Adler Papers, CJS ARC MS 26, Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.
12. Reich, Nathaniel J. "Editorial Foreward." Mizraim, Volume I, 1933, page 2.