Published on November 25, 2019

People are always fascinated by archaeology and the work archaeologists are doing, regardless of how much they know about the subject. Many people realize the importance of archaeology and recognize that it has been effective in helping to enhance our understanding of biblical texts. Yet most people cannot name a single archaeologist. So, in this article, we are going to look at seven archaeologists that you should know and briefly discuss their contributions to the field of biblical archaeology. 

1. Edward Robinson – The Father of Biblical Archaeology        

Robinson was born in Connecticut in 1794. He was a student at Andover Theological Seminary in Andover, Massachusetts. During his studies, he was encouraged by his professors to study in Europe so he went to Germany to study under scholars such as Wilhelm Gesenius, Emil Roediger, and renowned geographer Karl Ritter. Upon completion of his studies, he returned to the US and formulated a plan to produce a systematic description of the geography and topography of the biblical lands.

While there were some maps produced before Robinson, his systematic approach to the Levant produced much more detailed and scholarly references. He conducted the first scientific survey of the Siloam tunnel in Jerusalem, and the Robinson’s Arch is named after him.

2. William Foxwell Albright – The Dean of Biblical Archaeology

While Robinson may be called the ‘father of biblical archaeology,’ the ‘dean of biblical archaeology’ is William Foxwell Albright. Albright is responsible for training an entire generation of archaeologists in the Ancient Near East and laid the scholarly groundwork for biblical archaeology. He came into provenance in the 1920s as a professor at John Hopkins University. Importantly, he applied the three-age system of chronological classification (Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age) to the field of biblical archaeology and instituted subcategories such as Early Bronze Age, Middle Bronze Age, Late Bronze Age, which are still in use and debated among scholars today. Albright became the President of the American School of Oriental Research, and the center in Jerusalem has been renamed the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research.

3. Nelson Glueck

Perhaps one of the coolest figures of all time in biblical archaeology, Nelson Glueck began his career as an ordained rabbi who decided that biblical archaeology was important for understanding and validating the biblical texts. Glueck was a student of Albright and became an expert in pottery and stratigraphy. He identified hundreds of ancient sites which corresponded to the biblical kingdoms of Ammon, Edom, and Moab. Additionally, he served as the next president of the American School of Oriental Research, and in 1947, he became the president of Hebrew Union College where he served until his death in 1971. In addition to being a rabbi, archaeologist, and college president, the coolest aspect of Glueck’s career is that he also worked as a spy for the Office of Strategic Services, which is today known as the CIA.

4. Lady Kathleen Kenyon

Although the British Mandate began in the 1920s, it wasn’t until the Joint Expedition of ancient Samaria from 1931 to 1935 that Kathleen Kenyon first arrived in the Levant. Prior to her arrival Kenyon had worked in South Africa. Kenyon is best known for her excavations in Jerusalem and Jericho, and while there are those who still debate some of her conclusions, Kenyon introduced a methodology which had been developed by Mortimer Wheeler. Known as the Kenyon-Wheeler method, excavators pay close attention to the differences in color, texture, and variations of the soil in which they are digging and sort material remains based upon the soil type in which they were found. These excavations are done in five by five square meters with one meter wide balks between them. This is the most commonly accepted method in biblical archaeology today. In 1951, Kenyon was appointed the director of the British School of Archaeology which has since been renamed in her honor.

5. Yagael Yadin

Considering that his father Eliezer Sukenik, a professor at Hebrew University, purchased the first three Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947, you could say that Yagael Yadin was destined to become an archaeologist. Still Yadin had three careers in his life time: a military leader, a politician, and an archaeologist.  As an archaeologist, Yadin had the support of Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, who supported Yadin’s work during a time when Israel was trying to establish a national identity and ancient evidence of Jewish presence in the land. Among his many accomplishments, Yadin associated archaeological evidence to the activities of Solomon found in 1 Kings. He also conducted excavations at Masada which verified the writings of Josephus. This expedition sparked much interest from the public and created a national narrative. For many years after, the Israeli army recruits were sworn in on top of Masada with the declaration that Masada would “never again” fall.

6. William G. Dever

Biblical archaeology has faced its critics––typically biblical minimalists who reject the validity of the historical claims found within the scriptures. But biblical archaeologists have also faced criticism from among their own ranks. After the Six Day War, William G. Dever became one of the most prominent voices in the field. Since 1972, Dever, a professor at the University of Arizona, has tried to get rid of the title “biblical archaeology” and replacing it with “Syro-Palestinian archaeology.” His reasoning centered on the fact that archaeologists today are not concerned with proving or disproving the Bible and instead focusing on uncovering information about the people and places in the Ancient Near East. While this position has drawn fans and critics alike, Dever is still a highly respected scholar in the field.

7. Israel Finkelstein

Since the 1980s Israel Finkelstein has been one of the most published and notable archaeologists in Israel. A professor at Tel Aviv University, he is probably best known for his excavations at Magiddo. He has been a major scholar in the dating of artifacts and the proposal of a low chronology. However, his influence goes beyond just his excavations and publications. As a dynamic speaker and presenter, it could be easily argued that Finkelstein has sparked interest and excitement in biblical archaeology over the past several decades.

These seven figures have helped shape biblical archaeology into what it is today. Yet there are still many more that could have been mentioned because of the major contributions they have made to the study of biblical archaeology. Archaeology is an incredibly exciting discipline that sheds light on the culture and environment of the biblical lands. Thanks to the hard work of these men and women on the excavation fields, we continue to gain insight and understand more about the land of the Bible.


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