The Netherlands Institute for the Near East

Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten  -  Institut néerlandais du Proche-Orient

9 Jan 2024 General

In Memoriam Ben van Gessel (1935-2023)

We regret to share the news that Hittitologist Ben van Gessel has passed away.

BHL van Gessel-Onomasticon1_highlight

Bernardus Hendrikus Leonardus (Ben) van Gessel, 1935-2023

After a brief illness, Ben van Gessel peacefully passed away at the age of 88 on December 23, 2023, in Wilnis, the Netherlands. Ben was the author of the three-volume Onomasticon of the Hittite Pantheon (Leiden-Boston-Köln 1998, 2001; Brill).

Ben was born in Bussum in 1935 and studied Classics and ancient Near Eastern languages (Akkadian, Hittite, Sumerian) at the University of Amsterdam. His cuneiform teachers there were M.A. Beek, P. van der Meer, and Ph.H.J. Houwink ten Cate. In 1968, within a single week he received an offer of a fellowship to write a PhD on Sumerian or to become principal of a, then, all-girls high school where he had been teaching Latin and Greek already. He decided for the latter but never gave up on cuneiform studies. He was an active member of the informal gathering of Dutch Hittitologists called the ‘Hettietenconvent’ and kept up with every new volume of Hittite texts.

Ben was a collector at heart: he was, among many other things, an avid philatelist, and whenever a new installment of the KBo- or KUB-series was published, he would go through it and collect (again, among many other things) all names, whether geographical, personal, or divine. In doing so he would not depend on the onomastic indices normally included in each volume but carefully read all fragments himself collecting them in notebooks in his characteristically beautiful and meticulous handwriting. Upon retirement in 1996, he taught himself how to use computers and, because fairly recently published collections of Hittite personal and geographical names already existed, he started entering all his hand-written attestations of divine names into his laptop. Upon publication in 1998, his Onomasticon soon became one of the most used and cited tools in the field of Hittitology. With this, he performed an invaluable service to our fields.

Marie-Paul, Ben’s wife of 48 years, passed away in 2014. He is survived by his two sons, a daughter, and two grandchildren. He was buried on January 2, 2024, next to his beloved wife in Abcoude, where he had lived since 1973.

Theo van den Hout (University of Chicago) related this sad news via the Agade mailing list.