He was born at Braunschweig, and educated at Göttingen under Ewald. In 1858 he won a university prize for a treatise on the Ethiopian languages, and in 1863 became professor of theology at the University of Zürich. Subsequently he occupied chairs at Giessen (1870) and Jena (1873), and finally became professor of Oriental languages at the Friedrich Wilhelm University, Berlin in 1878. Though he turned first to biblical research, his chief achievements were in the field of Assyriology, in which he was a pioneer in Germany and acquired an international reputation. He died in Berlin.
His publications include:
- Studien zur Kritik und Erklärung der biblischen Urgeschichte (1863).
- Wilhelm Martin Leberecht de Wette's Einleitung in das Alte Testament, 8th edition (1869).
- Die assyrisch-babylonischen keilinschriften (1872).
- Die keilinschriften und das Alte Testament (1872; 3rd edition by Heinrich Zimmern and Hugo Winckler, 1901–02).
- Keilinschriften und Geschichtsforschung (1878).
- Die Höllenfahrt der Istar (text, trans., notes, 1874).
- Zur Frage nach dem Ursprung der altbabylonischen Kultur (1884).
- Keilinschriftliche Bibliothek, in conjunction with other scholars (1877).
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