Wilhelm Max Müller

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Wilhelm Max Müller
Born Wilhelm Max Müller
15 May 1862(1862-05-15)
Gleißenberg, Kingdom of Bavaria, German Confederation
Died 12 July 1919
Wildwood Beach, New Jersey, USA
Nationality German
Citizenship German
Alma mater Leipzig University (Doctor of Philosophy)
Occupation Orientalist, writer, scholar
Religion Lutheranism[1]

Wilhelm Max Müller (in the US sometimes Muller; 15 May 1862 – July 1919) was a German American Orientalist, anthropologist, archaeologist, lexicographer, author and professor for Egyptology. He was not a son of Friedrich Max Müller, as wrongly claimed in some Internet articles (as of 2022).


"Müller, W. Max", in Who's Who. Vol. 59. 1907. p. 1273
Die Spuren der babylonischen Weltschrift in Ägypten. Von W. Max Müller.jpg

Müller accomplished his Abitur at the Gymnasium in Nürnberg. Afterwards, he studied at the universities of Erlangen, Leipzig, Berlin and Munich, obtaining the degree Ph.D. at Leipzig in 1885. He was one of the last students of the renowned German Egyptologist Prof. Dr. phil. habil. Georg Moritz Ebers (1837–1898). Since 1888 he has been a resident of the United States and worked as a German language teacher at a Berlitz language school in New York, where he met his future wife.

Arranged by German Assyriologist Hermann Volrath Hilprecht (1859 –1925), he became Professor of Bible Exegesis (Hebrew, Greek and Latin; German: Biblische Exegese und hebräische Lexikographie) in the Reformed Episcopal Seminary at Philadelphia from 1890 until his death and was appointed some years later as assistant professor of Egyptology at the University of Pennsylvania. He had undertaken researches repeatedly in Epypt (1904, 1906 and 1910) under the auspices of the Carnegie Institution. He purchased papyri in Egypt for the University Museum.

As a result of the support received by Prof. Ebers and German Egyptologist and lexicographer Prof. Dr. phil. Johann Peter Adolf Erman (1854–1937), Müller became one of the first contributors to the "Orientalische Literaturzeitung" in 1898. He wrote articles for the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica. Articles attributed to this author are designated in EB1911 by the initials "W. M. M". He was also a contributor to the Encyclopædia Biblica and the Jewish Encyclopædia. After 1905 he served as joint editor of the Gesenius Hebrew Dictionary. He wrote on the identification of Keftiu and concluded that it could not be Phoenicia. He was member of the 1842 founded "American Oriental Society" (AOS), of the 1888 founded "Oriental Club of Philadelphia", one of the oldest continuously-active academic clubs in the United States, and of the "Vorderasiatische Gesellschaft zum Zweck der Förderung der vorderasiatischen Studien auf Grund der Denkmäler" in Berlin. He loved all kinds of sport, espeially swimming and fishing, he was also a true lover of music.

Papyri collection

The first shipment of Greek papyri was received late in February 1901.\13/ The Museum staff quickly organized an exhibition of several pieces, including the fragment of Matthew.\14/ Subsequently, three more shipments were made to the Museum prior to World War One, although the available records do not reveal exactly when each was received. In all, 84 papyri from Oxyrhynchus and other sites were "awarded" by the British Fund. Most of these pieces came from Oxyrhynchus (E 2746-66, E 2793-2823, E 3074-79), but a few derive from the Fayu^m towns (E 2767-74, E 2776-92) and Hibeh necropolis (E 2824-25, E 3068-73). All the papyri were catalogued by Grenfell and Hunt and their team. They were recatalogued twice by the Museum staff, in 1901-1910 and in 1948-1949. Full or partial publications of these pieces appear in the volumes of Oxyrhynchus Papyri I-IV, Fayu^m Towns and Their Papyri, and Hibeh I. The donations of the British fund were one of the two major sources for the acquisition of papyri and related written materials in the Museum's earliest collection. The second source was the untiring efforts of Wilhelm Max Müller, noted Egyptologist, who was associated with the Museum for more than three decades. In the 1890's Müller performed special tasks for Mrs. Stevenson such as cataloguing part of the Egyptian collection, translating inscriptions, identifying artifacts, and organizing the various materials received. Müller, in fact, catalogued the first papyrus acquisition, the Theban Hieroglyphic roll mentioned above (n.4; E 03334 = 02775). Fortunately, many of his notes have been preserved in the Museum's archives regarding not only the papyri collection but also other parts of the Museum's Egyptian collection. But Müller's primary contribution to the papyri collection was as a buyer on the antiquities market. In 1900 Müller traveled to Egypt with a mandate to purchase Egyptian artifacts for the Museum's collection. Mrs. Stevenson must have given him specific instructions on what to acquire, because in one letter Müller tries to convince her of the desirability of purchasing papyri and of his special ability as the buyer. Müller's argument proved persuasive for he made several purchases in that year. He bought numerous Arabic, Coptic, Demotic, and Greek fragments from a peasant at Luxor. Müller described this purchase as two cigar boxes full of insignificant fragments (E 16749?- 16772?) from different manuscripts. He considered them to be of limited value except for one Coptic letter written by a woman. Müller's second Luxor purchase was a box containing four rolls. When Müller later examined these pieces, he concluded that the documents, three complete Demotic contracts (E 16725?-16745? see further below), fragments of other Demotic contracts, and a small Hieratic magical papyrus (E 16724?), were from the necropolis of Gebelen. Müller's major acquisition in 1900-1901 consisted of eleven large Demotic rolls purchased from a "well-known" Gizeh dealer. The merchant was originally reluctant to sell the rolls at Müller's price; in fact, the dealer wanted double that amount. Either Dr. Kern, the representative of the American Exploration Society who assisted Müller, or Müller himself decided to break off negotiations. Later in 1900 or early in 1901 after Müller had returned to America, he wrote to Kern to follow up on the Gizeh material, since Mrs. Stevenson was again interested in establishing a papyri collection. Kern discovered that the merchant was now willing to sell the collection for a more reasonable figure. Kern purchased the documents and later shipped them to the Museum. In a preliminary analysis conducted late in 1901 or early in 1902, Müller revealed the value of the material. According to Müller, the rolls (E 16728-16743) were temple ledgers for tax payments and receipts. They provided detailed information about the administration and tax base of a Ptolemic temple. Müller futher speculated that the provenance of the pieces was Fayum or Sokorapaui Nesos. Max Müller's next acquisitions, which constitute more than half of the Museum's present collection, came some nine years later. During the interim Müller participated in the Carnegie Institute's Philae project (1904,1906,1910) and continued his teaching duties at the Reformed Episcopal Seminary in Philadelphia. Müller was still associated with the Museum, though at no time was he on the staff; nevertheless, Müller was always willing to aid the Museum in some capacity. In July 1910, he wrote to George Byron Gordon, the Museum Director, that a dealer desperately in need of money would sell a "good-sized" box of about 100 fragmentary Greek papyri (E 16537- 16542). Müller received permission and purchased those pieces which he eventually brought back from Egypt in his steamer trunk. A few days after Müller wrote his first letter to Gordon, he wrote again to Charles Custis Harrison, the current Museum Board Chairman and former University Provost. He informed Harrison that a substantial private collection could be acquired for a reasonable sum. The Museum quickly agreed to this purchase and attempted to raise the requested amount for the cost of acquisition, shipment, and restoration. Unfortunatly, only a lesser sum was procured and then sent to Müller. When the lower amount arrived, Muller was embarrassed, because he had given his word to Bernard Moritz, the owner and respected paleographer residing in Cairo, that no attempt would be made to haggle for a lower price. Moritz was insulted by the Museum's actions, as he perceived them, but agreed to sell 90 percent of his collection for the lower figure. The Moritz purchase today is divided into two collections, the Ellen Waln Harrison (E 16235-16546) and the John F. Lewis (E 16561- 16702), named after the financial patrons who sponsored the purchase and establishment of the collections. Each collection contains numerous Arabic, Coptic, and Greek fragments. In addition, several Demotic (E 16322-16341, 16482), Hebrew (E 16504-16527, 16250, 16527), Pahlavi (E 16483-16502), along with one Hieratic (E 16248[??]) and one Hieroglyphic (E 16532) pieces are also part of the Harrison collection; the Lewis collection has one Demotic (E 16698) and one Hieratic (E 16699) piece besides the numerous Arabic, Coptic, and Greek fragments from the Moritz materials. Müller began cataloguing and preserving the Moritz and earlier purchases, but was unable to complete the task for several reasons. Müller could only devote part of his time to the Museum's collection given his heavy teaching and publishing schedule. He encountered some difficulties in organizaing the collection, especially in the requisition of glass. At one point, Müller even threatened -- hopefully a bold bluff -- to fit one large piece to the available glass by cutting off a section of papyrus if he did not receive the correct sized glass. Müller also was involved in a controversy during World War One that must have kept him from devoting as much time as he might have liked to the collection. Another faculty member charged him with being a German sympathizer; Müller, thus, became subject to a government intelligence investigation. Müller's untimely death in 1919 put an end to this period of collection and organization of the papyri collection. The Moritz and earlier Müller purchases remained largely as Müller had left them until Battiscombe Gunn, Curator of the Egyptian Section from 1931-1934, catalogued the collection. Gunn abandoned Müller's numeric and alphabetic notations that still appear on many pieces in favor of the newly established Museum inventory system. In the few months he worked on the collection (April-June, 1932), Gunn recatalogued all Müller's purchases. Most of this cataloguing was accomplished without detailed study of individual pieces; the system apparently followed the sequence of boxes, divider sheets, and envelopes in which pieces had originally been stored by Müller or Moritz. Occasionally Gunn did examine a specific piece and made pertinent notes on the catalogue cards or on the glass mounting label; however, Gunn seems to have had little opportunity to study the various pieces or reorganize the entire collection into a more logical format. Gunn also failed to study in detail Müller's correspondence about the purchases. Gunn, for example, catalogued all the purchases made in 1900-1901 as if they came from Dr. Kern. This clearly is not the case since Müller made two earlier purchases without Kern's assistance. Gunn's error renders it difficult today to identify materials from the Gurna and Luxor purchases; hence, the question marks appearing above after the catalogue numbers of pieces suspected of having been part of those two purchases. In the last sixty years, scholars have examined, studied, or published few documents from the Müller purchases. Müller perhaps hoped to publish at least the Demotic Temple ledgers, but this ambition was never realized.[2]


Prof. Dr. phil. died 1919 during one of his long swims in the North Atlantic along the shore of Wildwood.

It was common for the Egyptian noblemen in ancient times to live 110 years, but it has remained until now for the real secret of their longevity to be revealed by Professor W. Max Muller, of the University of Pennsylvania. Professor Muller says that papyrus scripts discovered along the Nile and hieroglyphic inscriptions on the walls of chambers in the pyramids show that it was the custom of the noblemen of Egypt’s palmy days to have their numerous wives tickle their feet and to drink one hundred jars of beer a day. The professor adds that the joyous sensation of having his feet tickled by a lot of wives may have been an important factor in lengthening a nobleman’s life. He fails to give specific credit to the consumption of one hundred jars of beer a day, perhaps because the size of the Egyptian beer jar is not announced, nor the proportion of froth to real beer in its contents. Editor’s Note: I checked to see whether Professor Muller took this advice to heart and had his feet tickled by “a lot of wives” and therefore lived a long life. Sadly, that did not occur, as the July 13, 1919 New York Times headline told the tale of his untimely demise at age 57:
Noted Egyptologist Is Seized with Cramps While Bathing at Wildwood, N.J.
Author and Professor at University of Pennsylvania
Was Sent to Egypt by Carnegie Institute[3]


Max was the son of Friedrich Justus Müller (1830–1893) from Brunnau, Volksschule[4] teacher in Gleißenberg, Mühlhof and Nürnberg. His mother was Pauline, née Barthel (1837–1917). His younger brother was Dr. jur. Ernst Müller (1866–1944),[5][6] since 1898 Müller-Meiningen, who would become Bavarian Minister of Justice, President of the Senate at the Bavarian Supreme Court and member of the Reichstag.


Müller married on 13 April 1889 his German-American fiancée Bettie Graßel (Graßl) from New York City. They had two children: Max Ernest and Pauline, who was named after his mother.


  • Asien und Europa nach altägyptischen Denkmälern, Leipzig 1893
    • 19 editions published between 1893 and 2017 in German and held by 177 WorldCat member libraries worldwide; when Müller died, he left complete notes for a revised edition in English, which was never published.
  • Die Liebespoesie der alten Ägypter, J. C. Hinrichs'sche Buchhandlung, Leipzig 1899
  • Wilhelm Gesenius' hebräisches und aramäisches Handwörterbuch über das Alte Testament (together with others)
    • 26 editions published between 1901 and 1962 in German and Hebrew and held by 244 WorldCat member libraries worldwide
  • Der Bündnisvertrag Ramses' II. und des Chetiterkönigs im Originaltext neu herausgegeben und übersetzt (translation), in "Mitteilungen der Vorderasiatischen Gesellschaft", Peiser, Berlin 1902
  • Die alten Ägypter als Krieger und Eroberer in Asien, J. C. Hinrichs'sche Buchhandlung, Leipzig 1903
    • 14 editions published between 1903 and 1989 in German and held by 128 WorldCat member libraries worldwide
  • Äthiopien, J. C. Hinrichs'sche Buchhandlung, Leipzig 1904
  • Neue Darstellungen „mykenischer“ Gesandter und phönizischer Schiffe in altägyptischen Wandgemälden, in "Mitteilungen der Vorderasiatischen Gesellschaft", Peiser, Berlin 1904
  • Egyptological Researches, 1906 ([in "Mitteilungen der Vorderasiatischen Gesellschaft", Peiser, Berlin 1904 edition 1920])
  • Die Palästinaliste Thutmosis III., in "Mitteilungen der Vorderasiatischen Gesellschaft", Peiser, Berlin 1907
  • Hamitic Races and Languages, in Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed., 1911) (II. Languages)
  • Die Spuren der babylonischen Weltschrift in Ägypten, in "Mitteilungen der Vorderasiatischen Gesellschaft", J. C. Hinrichs'sche Buchhandlung, Leipzig 1912
  • Egyptian Mythology, in The Mythology of all Races, 13 Volumes, 1916
    • 11 further editions published between 1918 and 1964 in English and held by 192 WorldCat member libraries worldwide
  • Noah and His Family, in "The Monist", Volume 29, Issue 2, 1 April 1919, Pages 259–292 (with Mario Milman)


  1. Muller, Wilhelm Max. In: The National Cyclopædia of American Biography. Band 21. White & Company, New York NY, p. 413
  2. A History of the Acquisition of Papyri and Related Written Material in the University Museum by John R. Abercrombie (about 1980, published only electronically, with minimal updating by RAK in 2010)
  3. Source: Coverage Pointers - Volume XIV, No. 16, Thursday, January 31st, 2013
  4. In Germany and Switzerland, the Volksschule is equivalent to a combined primary (Grundschule and Primarschule, respectively) and lower secondary education (Hauptschule or Sekundarschule), usually comprising mandatory attendance of nine years. In medieval times, church schools were established in the Holy Roman Empire to educate the future members of the clergy, as stipulated by the 1215 Fourth Council of the Lateran, later adopted by the sunday schools of the Protestant Reformation. First secular schools followed during the pietism movement from the late 17th century onwards and were further promoted by the advocates of the Enlightenment. In 1717, King Frederick William I of Prussia (de) decreed the compulsory education of children from the age of five to twelve. They had to be able to read and write and were obliged to memorise the Protestant catechism. In 1763, Prussian King Frederick the Great enacted a first Prussian general school law, elaborated by the theologian Johann Julius Hecker. Similar Volksschulen were established in the Electorate of Saxony and in the German-speaking parts of the Habsburg monarchy, backed by Johann Ignaz von Felbiger, through a system of state-supported primary one-room schools. Attendance was supposedly compulsory, but a 1781 census reveals that only one fourth of school-age children attended. At the time, this was one of the few examples of state-supported schooling. Sending one's children to school was binding by law only from 1840 in the Austrian Empire.
  5. Dr. jur. Ernst Mueller
  6. Müller-Meiningen (bis 1898 Müller), Ernst