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Arthur Jeffery (1892-1959)

​​​​​​​Australian Methodist minister and renowned scholar of Middle Eastern languages and manuscripts.

Arthur Jeffery
Arthur Jeffery (photo copyright owned by his niece Joan Mitchell)

Born in Melbourne in 1892, Arthur Jeffery began teaching at the Madras Christian College in India during the First World War, after being rejected for military service.

He completed a BA (1918) and MA (1920), and ultimately a BTh (1926), all at the University of Melbourne, and in 1921 he was appointed to the School of Oriental Studies at the American University in Cairo.


In 1929 he completed his PhD at the University of Edinburgh and was later awarded a D.Litt from the University in 1938.

Jeffery’s interest in textual criticism of the Qur’an and his virtuosity as a linguist were a feature of his PhD dissertation, which traced the origin of some 300 non-Arabic words in the Qur’an, as well as of his later work. The dissertation, subsequently published in 1938 as a monograph titled The Foreign Vocabulary of the Qu’ran, became a classic in the field and has been republished as recently as 2007.

Later life

In 1938 Jeffery left Cairo to take up the post of Professor of Semitic Languages at Columbia University and became the first chair of its department of Near and Middle Eastern Languages in 1954. He was also deeply involved with Columbia’s Religious Studies curricula.

A Methodist minister throughout, he also taught for a time at the Union Theological Seminary in New York.

Jeffery died in Nova Scotia, Canada, in 1959. His private papers are held at Columbia University, while he is remembered in the name of the Arthur Jeffery Centre, part of the Melbourne School of Theology.

Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at Edinburgh

The Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the University is celebrating 40 years since its establishment. This biography is part of a new project being undertaken by the department to mark this milestone. The project involves uncovering the biographies of those alumni who completed a PhD after 1920 that dealt with topics concerning Islam and the Middle East. You can follow its progress on the department's Twitter feed:

Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies - Twitter


The Muslim World Volume 50 (1960) – pp230-247

Columbia University: Islamic Books blog