The Contributions of Nelson Glueck to Biblical Archaeology

c027HarHahor001thumb_aboutBiblical Archaeology is a great field of study which has served the world with a better understanding of the world that surrounded the events of the Bible. While archaeology cannot affirm anything in the Bible aside from the location of purported events, it certainly helps to make a case for the events themselves. In this field, there have been many outstanding archaeologists who have contributed many successful excavations and studies to advance the cause of Biblical archaeology. One such archaeologist is Nelson Glueck. Glueck believed that, while the Hebrew Bible may contain historical fact, it cannot be proven[1]. In the following blog, his life and contributions will be examined as a great man is honored. As will be seen, Glueck’s work would also benefit other areas beyond archaeology itself.

Nelson Glueck was born in Ohio in the year 1900 and is considered a leader in Reform Judaism and biblical archaeology[2]. When he was just twenty three years old, he was ordained as a Reform rabbi by the Hebrew Union College and went on to get a PhD at Jena in Germany[3]. Up until World War II, Glueck worked with William Albright at the American School of Oriental Research (now known as the Albright Institute) and would later serve as the director at the Albright Institute in conjunction with his faculty position at the Hebrew Union College[4].

During World War II, Glueck would serve in the Office of Strategic Services (later becoming the CIA) with the task of finding escape routes for the allies in the desert as they were threatened by the German army attempting to reach Palestine which ultimately led to the Germans being stopped in Egypt[5]. After WWII, Glueck became the president of the Hebrew Union College and continued to serve in that capacity when it became the HUC-Jewish Institute of Religion and until he died in 1971[6]. In 1963, he created HUC Biblical and Archaeological School in Jerusalem and was on the cover of Time Magazine that same year[7]. The institute he served was named the Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology in 1972[8].

The Bible was his map for excavations and, in turn, the excavations shed a bit of light on the Bible[9]. Sheldon H. Blank and H. Ginsberg note: “A scientist he was, yet a fragment of a wall or a potsherd could evoke an emotional as well as an intellectual response. He had a love affair with the Land (the “heartland”); he uncovered not the history but the drama of a People.”[10] This makes sense seeing Glueck’s service as a rabbi and studies of the Old Testament.

It is important to take a look at the American School of Oriental Research (ASOR) which Glueck served. The school was founded in 1900 and had its initial headquarters in a hotel room in Jerusalem[11]. William Albright took over as director in 1919 following a hiatus forced by the Ottoman Empire’s entry into WWI and it was also here when the ASOR would publish their first Bulletin of the American School of Oriental Research[12]. The ASOR started publishing a newsletter in 1948 based on Nelson Glueck’s private newsletters and this was also the year the Dead Sea Scrolls were brought to the ASOR and the first few were published by 1950[13]. The ASOR states of itself today: “we continue to build on more than a century of work and follow our historic mission of promoting scholarship on and understanding of the eastern Mediterranean and Near East.”[14]

Now let’s take a look at some of the archaeological work which Glueck conducted. Glueck spent a deal of time working to define a history for the Negev and wrote: “The Archaeological Hisroty of Negev” based on his findings. Glueck notes that there were a series of civilizations there and that Negev is situated between Canaan, Arabia, and Egypt which made it a strategic location[15]. He indicates that the different civilizations experienced no significant changes in the climate and that no climatic changes have occurred within the last ten thousand years at least[16].

Chalcolothic pottery has been located in Negev which indicates that a civilization existed there during that period[17]. After this civilization disappeared, the land was unused for almost a thousand years until the Middle Bronze I period (between 21st and 19th centuries BC)[18]. This civilization was agricultural as evidenced by “beehive” stone houses that are located in slopes of hills located above land useable for farming[19]. “Cup holes” carved in limestone were found that indicate they were used for grinding grain and this evidence has been placed in MB I in accordance with the stories of Abraham in the Old Testament[20]

Ernest Writes notes that Glueck “For Glueck, Middle Bronze I is ‘The Age of Abraham.’ He argues that the biblical associations of Abraham with the ‘cities of the plain’ (Gen. 14) and with inhabited areas in the Negeb are only meaningful in Middle Bronze I.”[21] Glueck holds the position that Moses could not have led the Israelites across the Transjordan before the 13th Century BC[22].

Solomon would come to make abundant use of the Negev. He oversaw the explosion of trade, travel, and industrial growth[23]. Glueck says of Negev, “The length and width of the Negev were crisscrossed with roads marked by fortresses, villages, way stations and watertight cisterns”[24]. The erecting of fortresses over Negev served as a great source of protection and saw villages flourish and agriculture grow and watertight cisterns surrounded Negev which made possible the emergence of villages and flocks in areas where they would otherwise not be present[25].

Archaeology discovered by Glueck indicates a range of civilizations such as the Nabateans who left a substantial amount of pottery behind[26]. Nabateans were known for their worship of multiple deities and are traditionally identified as being pagan which makes the discovery of Khierbet Et-Tannur (a temple) significant[27]. Glueck notes that while the entire site had not been excavated at the time of his writing, “A whole pantheon of hitherto unknown Nabataean deities was found in the temple that had become their grave.”[28] This temple sits on top of a hill with evidences of staircases leading up steep areas and leading Glueck to believe that goddesses were honored at the peak of this hill and those like it[29].

Jebel et-Tannur is the mountain Khierbet Et-Tannur sits upon and Khierbet Et-Tannur contains a column and pilaster that indicate original Nabatean cities which are along the east wall[30]. Busts of Helios, Hadad, and Atargatis decorate various columns surrounding the temple[31]. The temple also has busts of Atargatis, the “grain goddess” as evidenced by the grain that appears over her head[32]. This seems to fit perfectly with the fact that Negev was a great region of agriculture. Glueck makes sure to emphasize the point that the gods worshipped by Nabateans were Syrian in nature was a way of highlighting their eclectic culture and “call to mind the gods of Hierapolis-Bambyke, of Heliopolis-Baalbek, of Palmyra, Dura-Europos, and also, however, of Ascalon, among other places.”[33]

Once Byzantine took over Negev, Christianity would flourish over the pagan religion of Negev as evidenced by the discovery of hundreds of Christian churches throughout Negev (two definitively identified are one in Khalasah and Umm es-Sedeir near Eilat) which indicate that Nabataeans were converted with Jews being the only inhabitants remaining of an opposing faith[34].

Glueck also led substantial excavations in Ezion-Geber which is where it is believed that Solomon’s naval base was located. Excavations began in March 1998 and it took three months to uncover one-third of the site[35]. Pottery was found at this site along with the findings to be outlined shortly, but important to note is that the pottery varied. A piece of Edomite pottery was discovered carrying the name “Qos” which could reference a king of a god[36]. This indicates several periods of occupation.

An article published in The Biblical Archaeologist in 1965 entitled “Ezion-Geber” finds Glueck arguing that Tell el- Kheleifeh is Ezion-Geber[37]. He indicates that Tell el-Kheleifeh is represented by a low small mound that “is located approximately in the center of the north shore of the Gulf of Aqabah, midway between Jordanian Aqabah at its east end and Israeli Eilat at its west end.”[38] Today, it sits five hundred yards from the shore and is estimated to have been at least three hundred yards away many millennia ago during its first occupation in 10th century BC[39]. The location itself seems to be on par with the description in I Kings 9:26 of “beside Eloth, on the shore of the Red Sea, in the land of Edom.”[40] Glueck states:

“The conviction that there has been comparatively little change in the northern shoreline derives partly from our discovery of a copper smelting site on a low shoreline foothill at Mrashrash, now incorporated into Eilat, immediately overlooking the northwest end of the Gulf of Aqabah.”[41]

 

Excavations on this site have indicated several periods of occupation[42]. In 1938, Glueck focused a portion of excavation on the northern third of this site finding the location of forty five rooms[43]. Two horizontal rows of wooden beams were found and identified as a means of strengthening the walls, the remnants of which only semicircular holes remained as the result of a fire[44]. This way of construction with support beams is referenced in I Kings 6:36 which reads: “He (Solomon) built the inner court with three courses of hewn stone and one course of cedar beams.”[45]

Slag was also found at this site which Glueck believes indicates that Tell el-Kheleifeh was used to remelt globules of copper ore retrieved through metallurgical processes in the Wadi Arabah smelting sites to shape them into easily salable ingots or pour the molten metal into molds[46]. Ezion-Geber was also a marketplace from Arabia to Palestine[47]. Support for this fact came when pottery was found that had horn handles and mat bases which is associated with the Calebites, Kenites, Rechabites, Yerahmeelites, and was dated to Iron Age I-II[48]. The building excavated has been identified as a stone house granary after examining the various means of smelting and the fire damage present[49]. Glueck notes, “The strong winds which blow constantly from the north in the Arabah furnished the draft necessary for the proper functioning of the furnaces.”[50] The building was protected by a fortified outer wall, and while Ezion-Geber I was probably destroyed by Shishak, it was rebuilt with a gateway reminiscent of Jehosophat of Judah (871-849 BC)[51].

The scope of Glueck’s excavations echo through the sands of time. This archaeologist certainly paved the way for Biblical archaeology to enter the mainstream and gave believers more to study outside of the Bible. For this, Glueck is nothing short of a hero. He both served the CIA and God in his lifetime and shed much needed light on the past and the civilizations which were once present. While archaeology cannot be used to prove a Biblical account, it certainly should be employed to assert the existence of a certain nation at the same time in history. Through work such as the excavations done by Glueck, believers are reminded that there is a deep and rich history to explore. To say Glueck paved the way in archaeology is an understatement, he took the helm and led the world to greater knowledge and understanding about themselves. Through archaeologists like Nelson Glueck, archaeology is emerging through the sands of time. The infamous works of Glueck continue to ring true and set a precedent for research: “Every area on the face of the earth, be it seemingly ever so waste and empty, has a story behind it which the inquisitive sooner or later will attempt to obtain.”[52]

[1] The Nelson Glueck School of Archaeology, “Our founder: Nelson Glueck (1900-1971)”, The Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology (2010), Cited: 8 December 2013. Online: http://ngsba.org/en/nelson-glueck.

[2] The Nelson Glueck School of Archaeology, “Our founder: Nelson Glueck (1900-1971)”.

[3] The Nelson Glueck School of Archaeology, “Our founder: Nelson Glueck (1900-1971)”.

[4] The Nelson Glueck School of Archaeology, “Our founder: Nelson Glueck (1900-1971)”.

[5] The Nelson Glueck School of Archaeology, “Our founder: Nelson Glueck (1900-1971)”.

[6] The Nelson Glueck School of Archaeology, “Our founder: Nelson Glueck (1900-1971)”, The Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology (2010), Cited: 8 December 2013. Online: http://ngsba.org/en/nelson-glueck.

[7] The Nelson Glueck School of Archaeology, “Our founder: Nelson Glueck (1900-1971)”.

[8] The Nelson Glueck School of Archaeology, “Our founder: Nelson Glueck (1900-1971)”.

[9] Sheldon H. Blank and H. L. Ginsberg, “Nelson Glueck (1900-1971)”, Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research 40, (1972):. p. xx. Cited: 8 December 2013. Online: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3622417.

[10] Sheldon H. Blank and H. L. Ginsberg, “Nelson Glueck (1900-1971)”.

[11]The American Schools of Oriental Research, “History”, The American Schools of Oriental Research (2012). Cited: 9 December 2013. Online: http://www.asor.org/about/history.html.

[12] The American Schools of Oriental Research, “History”.

[13] The American Schools of Oriental Research, “History”.

[14] The American Schools of Oriental Research, “History”, The American Schools of Oriental Research (2012). Cited: 9 December 2013. Online: http://www.asor.org/about/history.html.

[15] Glueck, Nelson. “The archaeological history of the Negev” Hebrew Union College Annual 32, (1961): p. 11. Cited 9 December 2013. Online: http://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a6h&AN=ATLA0000669083&site=ehost-live&scope=site.

[16] Glueck, Nelson. “The archaeological history of the Negev”: p. 11.

[17] Glueck, Nelson. “The archaeological history of the Negev”: p. 12.

[18] Glueck, Nelson. “The archaeological history of the Negev”: p. 12.

[19] Glueck, Nelson. “The archaeological history of the Negev”: p. 12.

[20] Glueck, Nelson. “The archaeological history of the Negev”: p. 12.

[21] The Achievement of Nelson Glueck. p. 99.

[22] Ibid. p. 100.

[23] THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL HISTORY OF THE NEGEV. p. 12.

[24] THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL HISTORY OF THE NEGEV. p. 12.

[25] Ibid. p. 13.

[26] Ibid. p. 16.

[27] THE NABATAEAN TEMPLE OF KHIRBET ET-TANNUR. p.. 6-7.

[28] Ibid. 7.

[29] Ibid. p. 8.

[30] Ibid. p. 9.

[31] Ibid. p. 10.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid. p. 16.

[34] THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL HISTORY OF THE NEGEV. p. 17.

[35] Ezion-Geber: Solomon’s Naval Base on the Red Sea. p. 14.

[36] Ibid. p. 16.

[37] Ezion-Geber. pp. 69-87.

[38] Ibid. p. 70.

[39] Ibid. pp. 70-71.

[40] Ibid. p. 71.

[41] Ibid. p. 71.

[42] Nelson Glueck’s 1938-1940 Excavations at Tell el-Kheleifeh: A Reappraisal. p. 1

[43] Nelson Glueck’s 1938-1940 Excavations at Tell el-Kheleifeh: A Reappraisal. p. 2.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ezion-Geber. p. 74.

[46] Ibid. 75.

[47] Ezion-Geber: Solomon’s Naval Base on the Red Sea. p. 15.

[48] Ibid. p, 76.

[49] Ibid. pp. 80-81.

[50] Ezion-Geber: Solomon’s Naval Base on the Red Sea. p. 15.

[51] Ibid. pp. 82-84.

[52] the Stones Cry Out by Randall Price. p. 51.

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charlestinsley

My name is Charlie Tinsley and I blog about The Bible. In particular, I post my thoughts, commentaries, and Bible Study teachings I have done. I hold a Bachelors Degree in Science in Religion Summa Cum Laude with a Biblical Studies Minor. I am currently studying for a Masters In Divinity at Eastern Mennonite Seminary with PhD ambitions in the study of Theology. I am married and have been for several years and I currently reside in Virginia.

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