Directed Israel’s leading biblical archaeology organization
Joseph Aviram, long-time Director and President of the Israel Exploration Society (IES) and a key figure in the development and popularization of the field of biblical archaeology, passed away in Jerusalem on July 27. He was 107 years old.
Born in Poland in 1915, Joseph (or Yosef as he liked to be called) immigrated to Mandatory Palestine in 1936. A few years later, in 1940, he became the secretary of the IES (then known as the Jewish Palestine Exploration Society), an organization dedicated to supporting archaeological work in the land of Israel and disseminating knowledge of archaeological finds to the broader public. He was appointed IES Director in 1983 and then served as the organization’s President from 2009 until his death.
Both as IES Director and as co-founder (with renowned Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin) of the Hebrew University’s Institute of Archaeology, which he directed from 1969 to 1983, Joseph initiated and organized numerous archaeological projects throughout Israel, including excavations at the major biblical and historical sites of Hazor and Masada. His efforts earned the IES the Israel Prize in 1989 for the society’s many contributions to advancing the study of Israel’s past.
Joseph was also instrumental in the beginnings of Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR) and the Biblical Archaeology Society (BAS), and he remained a consistent supporter of BAR throughout his life. For more than four decades, Joseph was a cherished friend and colleague of BAR’s founder and late editor, Hershel Shanks. The two first met during Hershel’s sabbatical year in Israel in 1972. On a family outing to Hazor, Hershel’s young daughter picked up a random sherd incised with an ancient male deity. With support from both Joseph and Hazor excavator Yigael Yadin, Hershel wrote his first article on archaeology, which was published in the IES’s Israel Exploration Journal in 1973. A year later, Hershel decided to start BAR.
Later, during Hershel’s annual trips to Israel, his first meeting was always with Joseph to hear about the latest archaeological discoveries, debates, and controversies. Together, the two organized international congresses on biblical archaeology, published several academic volumes—most notably the fifth supplementary volume of The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land (2008)—and produced a series of popular reports on major excavations in Israel, including the City of David, Hazor, Lachish, Masada, and Megiddo.
A quiet, soft-spoken man, Joseph was critical to biblical archaeology becoming the discipline it is today. His support for BAR never wavered, and he was always one of BAS’s closest and most trusted friends. May his memory be for a blessing.
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