The Wright Stuff

Leonard Greenspoon

Leonard Greenspoon

Not long ago I received an email that read: “The American Schools of Oriental Research awarded Oded Lipschits and David Vanderhooft the 2012 G. Ernest Write Award for the book The Yehud Stamp Impressions: A Corpus of Inscribed Impressions from the Persian and Hellenistic Periods in Judah (Winona Lake, Eisenbrauns,2011).

This award is given to the author(s) of the most substantial volume dealing with archaeological material, excavation reports and material culture from the ancient Near East and eastern Mediterranean.” There is something terribly wrong with this announcement, and I don’t mean the award-winners, who I am sure are well-deserving. Rather, it is the title of the award itself: As I am sure many BAS members know, “G. Ernest Write” never existed, at least to my knowledge, as a major figure in biblical archaeology and biblical theology. His name was G. Ernest Wright.

The wrong spelling of his name is more, I fear, than the result of inattentiveness. It seems, to me at least, that we—all of us who care about Biblical Studies—are in danger of losing our individual and collective memories about major figures in our field. I had the honor and pleasure of studying with Wright during his final years of teaching at Harvard University (he died in August 1974), and I can tell you that he was never more alive or animated than when he held an archaeological artifact in his hands.

Wright was a student of William Foxwell Albright’s at the Johns Hopkins University, and he taught at McCormick Theological Seminary until 1958 when he moved to the Harvard Divinity School and Harvard’s Semitic Museum. As a field archaeologist, he led storied excavations at Shechem and Tel Gezer in Israel, in addition to his work at Idalion on Cyprus. As a theologian, he staunchly defended the mutual value of archaeology and Christian faith.

He published widely, with over two dozen books, many aimed at a popular audience, to his credit from the 1930s to the 70s. I read one of his books, The Old Testament Against Its Environment, in my first Bible class, shortly after it was published in 1962. I later discovered that almost every undergraduate student also read this book during this and the following decade. In addition, he was founder of The Biblical Archaeologist (now titled Near Eastern Archaeology), to which he contributed numerous articles and notes.

Moreover, Wright was a fully engaged colleague, who worked tirelessly to promote better relations between Christians and Jews. And he was, as I remember him, an inspiring classroom teacher who authentically cared about his students.

Okay, maybe I’m wrong to insist that “Wright” be given the right (that is, correct) spelling, especially when his name adorns a major prize. But I don’t think so. Nor do I have any doubts that his works, even those that are out of scholarly favor these days, ought to be widely read today. When we ignore the giants of our field, we don’t diminish their stature, but we certainly do our own.

The author of BAR‘s popular “The Bible in the News” column, Leonard J. Greenspoon holds the Klutznick Chair in Jewish Civilization at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska.

Recent “The Bible in the News” columns by Leonard Greenspoon are available in Bible History Daily:

Give and Take with Gifts and Tackles” from the November/December 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Willing but Weak: Mind over Matter?” from the September/October 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Like the Birds and the Bees … and the Bunnies.” from the July/August 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

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