Avraham Biran (1909–2008)

Avraham Biran

An extraordinary career in archaeology came to an end in September 2008 with the passing of Avraham Biran. He died in his beloved Jerusalem just a month shy of his 99th birthday.

Biran’s life and work was a mirror of Israel’s history and of Israeli archaeology. He was born in 1909, almost four decades before the establishment of the State of Israel, and he liked to refer to himself as a “Mayflower Israeli.” Biran knew Sir William Flinders Petrie, the father of modern Near Eastern archaeology, and studied under William F. Albright, the legendary dean of Near Eastern studies at Johns Hopkins.

During the British Mandate era, Biran was a district officer in Beth-Shean and in Jerusalem. After the establishment of Israel in 1948, Biran held a number of government posts, most notably the directorship of the Israel Department of Antiquities and Museums from 1961 to 1974. 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. He also served for more than a quarter century as the director of the Institute of Archaeology at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem.

We present here a longer version of the obituary written for BAR by Thomas E. Levy, a former student of Biran’s and two articles that capture some of this extraordinary man’s life and work: a wide-ranging interview with Biran by BAR editor Hershel Shanks to mark Biran’s 90th birthday and a report by Web editor Steven Feldman on a visit he made with Biran to Tel Aroer in the Negev, just one of the many sites that Biran excavated over the decades. Additionally, we present a link to Biran‘s New York Times obituary. We hope these articles will give you a glimpse into the life and works of this remarkable man.

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