Walter Farber got his education and Ph.D in Germany, where he studied Assyriology (Akkadian and Sumerian), Hittitology (Hittite and Hurrian), Egyptology, and Comparative Linguistics. He came to Chicago in 1980. He has published on Akkadian, Sumerian, Hurrian and Elamite texts spanning three millennia and a large geographic area. In his research and teaching, he has covered all major dialects and text genres of Akkadian. Many of his contributions, including several books, have been devoted to the study of the Akkadian magico-medical corpus and its relationship to literary genres (poetry, prayers, incantations), oral traditions, archaeological artifacts, and the history of science. He considers himself a textual philologist whose task is the elucidation of the exact wording and meaning of a text through strict grammatical, lexical and contextual analysis, with the ultimate goal of a better understanding of idiomatic and technical expressions in a long dead language.
His works include the publication of many cuneiform texts of different genres, as well as lexical, grammatical and bibliographical studies. His contributions have covered such diverse topics as morpheme order in Hurrian; the Akkadian notion of, and terms for "blindness"; elements of oral poetry in Babylonian lullabies; drugs and drug use in Ancient Mesopotamia; the deification of an Old Akkadian king; observations on plays on words in royal rituals of the first millennium B.C.; the use of apotropaic amulets, as reflected in texts and artifacts; or the trade in vegetable plants in the Old Assyrian period.
For many years, an evil Babylonian demon called Lamashtu has played a central role in his research, and in 2014, he finally published his new edition of all texts relating to her and her obnoxious activities which mainly afflict babies and their mothers. His 1988 book on rituals for the magical protection of babies (in German, "Schlaf, Kindchen, schlaf!") also sprang from this long-term project. An earlier monograph ("Beschwörungsrituale an Ißtar und Dumuzi", Wiesbaden 1977) explored the development of an elaborate magical composition during several centuries, when it adjusted to changes in popular religion and official cultic practices.
Walter Farber was a member of the editorial board of the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary until its completion in 2010, and he is a co-editor of the series "Mesopotamian Civilizations." Since his retirement in 2013, he has continued his scholarly writing, and also still acts as curator of the Oriental Institute’s Tablet Collection, but can now allot more time to other facets of life, like hiking, music, and philately.