was a German Jesuit astronomer and Assyriologist.
His parents died while he was very young, and he owed his early education to relations. After completing the usual Gymnasium
A gymnasium is a type of school providing secondary education in some parts of Europe, comparable to English grammar schools or sixth form colleges and U.S. college preparatory high schools. The word γυμνάσιον was used in Ancient Greece, meaning a locality for both physical and intellectual...
at Rheine and at Münster
Münster is an independent city in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. It is located in the northern part of the state and is considered to be the cultural centre of the Westphalia region. It is also capital of the local government region Münsterland...
, he matriculated at the academy in Münster, where he devoted himself particularly to mathematics.
In 1859 he entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus
The Society of Jesus is a Catholic male religious order that follows the teachings of the Catholic Church. The members are called Jesuits, and are also known colloquially as "God's Army" and as "The Company," these being references to founder Ignatius of Loyola's military background and a...
in Münster and after his philosophical studies was appointed professor of mathematics and astronomy at Maria-Laach. He spent the years from 1867 to 1871 in the study of theology and was ordained priest in 1870.
Gabriel García Moreno
Gabriel Gregorio Fernando José María García y Moreno y Morán de Buitrón was an Ecuadorian statesman who twice served as President of Ecuador and was assassinated during his second term, after being elected to a third term...
, President of Ecuador, had petitioned the General of the Jesuits in the early seventies for members of the Society to form the faculty of the Polytechicum in Quito
San Francisco de Quito, most often called Quito , is the capital city of Ecuador in northwestern South America. It is located in north-central Ecuador in the Guayllabamba river basin, on the eastern slopes of Pichincha, an active stratovolcano in the Andes mountains...
, which he had recently founded. A number of German Jesuits responded to the call, among them Epping, who set out in June, 1872, for Quito to become professor of mathematics. He learned Spanish and wrote a textbook of geometry.
The political disturbances which followed the assassination of Moreno (6 August, 1875) made it necessary for the Jesuits to return to Europe, and Epping arrived in the Netherlands in the fall of 1876. He spent the remaining years of his life at Blijenbeck, and later at Exaeten, teaching astronomy and mathematics, devoting his leisure to research and literary work.
Epping's first published volume, Der Kreislauf im Kosmos
, appeared in 1882. It was an exposition and critique of the Kant-Laplace nebular hypothesis; and a refutation of the pantheistic and materialistic conclusions which had been drawn from it.
His most important work, however, was begun in collaboration with Father Johann Nepomuk Strassmaier who, in connection with his own studies in Assyriology, had induced him to undertake a mathematical investigation of the Babylonian astronomical observations and tables. After considerable labour the key was found. He discovered the table of differences for the new moon
In astronomical terminology, the new moon is the lunar phase that occurs when the Moon, in its monthly orbital motion around Earth, lies between Earth and the Sun, and is therefore in conjunction with the Sun as seen from Earth...
in one of the tablets, and identified Guttu with Mars
Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun in the Solar System. The planet is named after the Roman god of war, Mars. It is often described as the "Red Planet", as the iron oxide prevalent on its surface gives it a reddish appearance...
, Sakku with Saturn
Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun and the second largest planet in the Solar System, after Jupiter. Saturn is named after the Roman god Saturn, equated to the Greek Cronus , the Babylonian Ninurta and the Hindu Shani. Saturn's astronomical symbol represents the Roman god's sickle.Saturn,...
, and Te-ut with Jupiter
Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun and the largest planet within the Solar System. It is a gas giant with mass one-thousandth that of the Sun but is two and a half times the mass of all the other planets in our Solar System combined. Jupiter is classified as a gas giant along with Saturn,...
(Epping and Strassmaier in Stimmen aus Maria-Laach
, vol. 21, pp. 277-292).
Eight years later he published Astronomisches aus Babylon oder das Wissen der Chaldäer über den gestirnten Himmel
(Freiburg im Breisgau, 1889). This work was of importance both from the standpoint of astronomy and chronology. It contains an exposition of the astronomy of the ancient Babylonians, worked out from their Ephemerides of the moon and the planets. This was supplemented by Die babylonische Berechnung des Neumondes
(Stimmen aus Maria-Laach, Vol. XXXIX, pp. 229-240). He was also the author of a number of articles in the Zeitschrift für Assyriologie