Avraham Biran ( he|אברהם בירן, born 23 October 1909 – 16 September 2008) was an Israeli archaeologist
, best known for heading excavations at Tel Dan
in northern Israel. He headed the Institute of Archaeology at Hebrew Union College
for many years.
Avraham Bergman (later Biran) was born in 1909 in Petah Tikva
, then part of the Ottoman Empire
. He liked to refer to himself as a ''Mayflower
Israeli'', since his ancestors were among the founders of the settlement of Rosh Pina
. During his youth his family moved to Egypt
, where his father managed a farm in a small village. His Romania
n-born great-grandfather came to Palestine decades before Theodor Herzl
launched political Zionism
in 1897. After his father's death the family returned to Palestine and he grew up in his grandparents house until the age of 13. He studied at the Hebrew Reali School of Haifa
which he says left a lifelong impression on him. He said:
My initial interest in archaeology began when I was a student at the Reali school in Haifa, under the influence of the principal Dr. Arthur Biram, who taught us Bible combined with ancient history. During those days we went on many hikes, and we loved to hike with the Bible in hand. Among other places, we visited ancient Samaria and the archaeological digs of the American expedition; we visited Jerusalem, the Western Wall, Hebron and the Cave of the Patriarchs. I think that these were the seeds that later sprouted when Professor Albright, one of the great archaeologists, invited me to come study with him.
Afterwards, he continued his studies in the David Yellin Teachers College
. From 1928–1930 he taught in the Reali school in Haifa. In 1930 he began his studies at the University of Pennsylvania
and in 1931 he enrolled as a student in the department of Near Eastern Studies under Prof. William F. Albright
at Johns Hopkins University
. He received his M.A. in 1934 and his PhD
He died in 2008, a month before his 99th birthday, in Jerusalem. Biran was married to Ruth née Frankel. The couple had 3 children.
Biran returned to Jerusalem in 1935, serving as a Fellow in the American Schools of Oriental Research
until 1937, participating in a number of archaeological digs, including Tel Halifa
, digs near the cities of Mosul
and Ras El Haruba
outside Jerusalem. At the request of Yitzhak Ben-Zvi
, the head of the Jewish National Council
(and later the President of Israel), Biran wrote a response to an anti-Zionist tract authored by Dr. Tawfik Canaan
. In 1961, Biran was appointed head of the Department of Antiquities and Museums under the Ministry of Education and Culture, a post he held until 1974. He initiated the publication of the journal "Archaeology News" in Hebrew and English. After Israel's capture of the West Bank
in 1967, Biran initiated archaeological surveys in the area. He also served as the Israeli representative at the Hague Convention
. At UNESCO
seminars he encouraged the commencement of archaeological digs at the Western Wall
and in the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem. He was instrumental in the founding of the Israel Museum
in Jerusalem and he was active in the refurbishment of the Rockefeller Museum
and the Shrine of the Book
that contains the Qumran
From 1974 Biran headed thNelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology
at Hebrew Union College
in Jerusalem . In 1977 he organized an international conference on the subject of ''Temples and High Places in Biblical Times'', publishing the results of the conference in a book with the same name in 1981. He served as a member of the organizing committee of the International Conference of Biblical Archaeology in 1984 and 1990.
In 1966, Biran began the project with which he has been most famously identified: the excavations at Tel Dan
in northern Israel
, where he dug for more than 30 years. The 5,000-year-old "Tel" is a mound formed by layer-upon-layer of remnants from civilizations that once occupied the site. In the Tel, Biran discovered the largest religious site ever found that dates from the Israelite period. The excavations revealed fragments from the period when the Cannanite
settlement of Laish
was re-settled by the Israelite tribe of Dan, although this point is based on the Bible and no evidence has proven this. Dating from the earlier period of the patriarchs, Biran excavated an arched gate, as well as a tremendous dirt wall that surrounded the city. Biran also found artifacts from the period of the Jewish monarchy – the city's defenses, walls and gates as well as the ''High Places of the Gate'' mentioned in the Bible. Biran's most important discovery at the Tel was an inscription on a slab of basalt, known as the Tel Dan Stele
, that consists of 13 lines in ancient Canaanite script that mention ''The House of David''. Regarding the significance of this inscription Hebrew University
archaeologist Professor Amnon Ben-Tor
In this inscription, which dates to around 800 BCE, Biran believe that a king from the House of David is mentioned as being struck down in the battle with the Arameans. This is the only extra-Biblical source ever found to date that mentions the existence of the Davidic dynasty and it indeed is an extra-Biblical source that confirms the existence of David as a real historical figure. During the last few years a number of English and Scandinavian researchers have published works suggesting that the kingdoms (and figures) of David and Solomon are literary inventions rather than historical facts.
The Moore College
archaeologist George Athas writes:
With regards to the Biblical texts, the Tel Dan Inscription demonstrates that there are definite historical kernels in the Bible that cannot readily be dismissed ... The Tel Dan inscription has brought us a definite step closer to finding a historical David.
Civil service career
In 1937, Biran took an extended break from academia and archeology, taking up an appointment as District Officer for the Afula
district and the Jezreel Valley
settlements. Referring to this sudden career change Biran wrote:
In 1937, in response to the events (of the time) the Jewish settlers demanded that the British Mandate authorities appoint Jewish district officers to deal with their settlements so that they would not have to enter heavily populated Arab cities (to deal with bureaucratic affairs). The Jewish Agency offered me the position. I responded in surprise: what does an archaeologist have to do with Mandatory affairs?. To which they responded: But this is the (Jezreel) Valley! so I could not refuse.
In 1938, Biran began an archaeological survey in the Beit She'an
valley in conjunction with Ruth Berndstadter-Amiran. He was miraculously saved after his jeep tripped a land mine on the way to Kibbutz Tirat Zvi
. In 1946, Biran was appointed District Officer for the Jerusalem district; he also served as a member of the city council of Jerusalem until the Israel's Declaration of Israel's Independence
in 1948. During the waning days of the British Mandate in 1948, Biran packed up Jewish property deeds so the owners could reclaim their lands and houses following the anticipated war. He saw this act as paralleling with the experiences of another Jew who hid property titles in the Judean Hills to protect them from Roman legion
naires almost two thousand years ago.
After Israeli independence, Biran was appointed as the assistant to the cabinet secretary, also serving as the assistant military governor of Jerusalem. During this time he changed his name from Bergman to Biran. Until 1955 he served as a member of the committee overseeing the cease-fire agreement with Jordan. In 1955 Biran was appointed consul-general of Israel in Los Angeles, California
Views and opinions
Biran's opinion that Dan (ancient city)
and the surrounding area were occupied by Israelites in the reigns of kings David and Solomon appears to have been confirmed.
Biran explained his own view of the importance of archaeology, particularly for Jews in modern-day Israel:
Israeli archaeology is important to enable us to understand the nations who lived here from prehistoric times onwards. Since the stories of the Bible are connected to this specific land, every archaeological discovery (in Israel) has significance for understanding the Bible. We wish to identify and recognize the places we heard of growing up studying the Bible in school.
Biran remained unapologetic for Israel's control of the West Bank and Jerusalem. He said:
In times of war, the victor takes over the possession of the vanquished. That's what the Jordanians did in the Old City and in the areas which they held and that is what the Israelites did after 1967.
* In 1984, Biran was awarded the Schimmel Prize for Archaeology
* In 1996, he was awarded the prize Yakir Yerushalayim
(Worthy Citizen of Jerusalem).
[ City of Jerusalem official website]
* In 2002, he was awarded the Israel Prize
, for archaeology.
* ''Dan: 25 Years of Excavation'' (Hebrew), Kibbutz Hameuhad Press and the Society for the Exploration of Israel and its Antiques, 1992
* ''Temples and High Places in Biblical Times'', Hebrew Union College Press, 1977
* ''Biblical Dan'', Hebrew Union College, 1994
* ''Detailed Report on the Excavation at Tel Dan'', (5 parts
[Only part 1 was published in Biran's lifetime.]), Hebrew Union College Press
*Tel Dan Stele
*Near Eastern archaeology
*Dating the Bible
*Biran's life and wor
*Tribute to Biran in the Biblical Archaeology Revie
BAR Interview: Avraham Biran—Twenty Years of Digging at Tel Dan, Hershel Shanks, BAR 13:04, Jul/Aug 1987.
Biran's biography on the Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology website
* Obituary of Biran by David Ilan in th
Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research
* a partia
of list of Biran's scholarly articles
*List of Israel Prize recipients
Category:Hebrew Union College faculty
Category:Jews in Mandatory Palestine
Category:Israeli people of Romanian-Jewish descent
Category:Israel Prize in archaeology recipients
Category:Johns Hopkins University alumni
Category:University of Pennsylvania alumni