About Rachel Hallote

Rachel Hallote

Rachel Hallote is an archaeologist and Professor of History at Purchase College SUNY. She is the author of several books and numerous articles about biblical archaeology, and the history of archaeology, including Bible, Map and Spade: The American Palestine Exploration Society, Frederick Jones Bliss and the Forgotten Story of Early American Biblical Archaeology (2006), and The Photographs of the American Palestine Exploration Society (2012). Her research revolves around the history of the discipline, especially focusing on the British and American archaeologists who excavated in Ottoman-controlled Palestine in the 19th century. In 2014, she received the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activities, and in 2017 she received the ASOR Membership Service Award for her continued involvement in ASOR. She has worked at numerous archaeological sites in Israel, including Tell Miqne and Megiddo.

Presenter at

St. Olaf College Summer Seminar, July 19 – 25, 2020

From Treasure Hunting to Excavation: Why Dig up the Land of the Bible?
There was never a time that westerners weren’t interested in the land of the Bible. Long before archaeology was born, western artists would paint biblical scenes with the known ruins of Classical Greece and Rome as their imagined backdrops. But once religious pilgrims, intrepid travelers, and artists all began to pass through Ottoman Palestine in the 19th century, the western perspective on the Holy Land changed. No such large scale and glorious ruins existed there, and would-be archaeologists were disappointed. This is why biblical archaeology was born slowly, and in a less-than-scholarly fashion. The discipline began with actual treasure hunting, as the eccentric Lady Hester Stanhope attempted to dig for gold amid the ruins of ancient Ashkelon, and the French explorer Louis Félicien de Saulcy insisted that everything he found was from the time of the Old Testament, even Byzantine period tombs. This finally changed with the work of Captain Charles Wilson of the British Royal Corps of Engineers, who measured out every inch of Jerusalem and recorded all its antiquities, and the founding of the British Palestine Exploration society and its initial work in the 1860’s and 1870’s. This talk will also explore the missteps that happened along the path from treasure-hunting to true archaeology, such as how French scholar Charles Clermont-Ganneau’s lack of understanding of archaeology led to the destruction of some of the most important finds of the 19th century including the Moabite Stone and the earliest known scrolls.

The Not-So-Innocents abroad: How American Scholars Shaped the Discipline of Biblical Archaeology
In the 19th century England and France both had very clear political stakes in the Ottoman Empire, stakes which helped both western countries to establish an archaeological presence in Ottoman Palestine from an early date. In contrast, the United States had no such political involvement in the Near East in these years, as their international concerns were contained within the Americas. And yet, American explorers and scholars became extremely influential in early biblical archaeology, so that by the early 20th century, their importance couldn’t be denied. This talk will delve into the reasons for American interest in the land of the Bible, as well as early American expeditions to explore this land, such as that of Navy captain William F. Lynch’s trip to the Dead Sea, the seminal geography of Edward Robinson which is still used by archaeologists today, the creation of the American Palestine Exploration Society, the career of American archaeologist Fredrick Jones Bliss, the creation of the American Schools of Oriental Research, and more.

Politics and Archaeology: An Introduction.
This talk will describe the fascinating yet frustrating relationship between politics and archaeology. More and more, archaeology has become a pawn in various political agendas. Often this involves misuse and misinterpretation of archaeological remains. While examples of political uses and abuses of archaeology can be seen in the news almost every day, this is not a new development, as the discipline of archaeology was born in tandem with politics, at the moment when Napoleon marched his troops into Egypt in the late 18th century. Napoleon’s troops included a large contingent of scholars, as Napoleon saw himself as a modern-day pharaoh, and wanted the evidence to back this up. This talk will look at Napoleon’s relationship to ancient and modern Egypt and will then turn to what is sometimes considered the prime example of politics and archaeology, the case of Masada in Israel.

Digging in Jerusalem: Why is it so Controversial?
Archaeology is something of a national pastime in Israel, and archaeological sites are among the most popular tourist attractions in the country. But archaeological discoveries—or lack of discoveries—can become contentious. This talk will explore problems that stem from excavating near holy sites, and will also look at how recent excavations in Jerusalem—including those of Elat Mazar in the City of David—as well as illegal excavations on the Temple Mount—shed light on the biblical kingdom of David and Solomon and the problematic 10th century BC. Excavations in other parts of the country, such as the small site of Khirbet Summeily in the northern Negev desert similarly can help solve the problem of just how big (or small) Solomon’s kingdom really was.

Did the Exodus Really Happen?
The Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is one of the best known yet most contested narratives of the Bible. For almost a century, scholarship has picked apart every aspect of it, from its possible date, to the possible name of the pharaoh that Moses encountered, to whether the Ten Plagues can be explained scientifically. Each one of these examinations pointed to the same thing—that there is no evidence for this event in Egyptian historical texts or in the archaeology of Egypt or Canaan. For many scholars this meant that the Exodus narrative is a mere literary construct made up in the Iron Age by the authors of the Bible. But this view is wrong. This talk (and the following one) will outline the main historical and archaeological problems with the Exodus, but will then move beyond them, to show that the core of the Exodus narrative reflects accurate history, even though the biblical authors changed some details and exaggerated others. We will look at the travel route between Egypt and Canaan, at details of Egyptian court practices that are recorded in the biblical narrative, and also at the tantalizing parallels between the Joseph cycle of stories in the Bible and Canaanite history and archaeology from 2000-1550 Bc. All this will help uncover the kernels of truth contained within the biblical Exodus narrative.

From Egypt to Israel (Location, Location, Location!)
Building on the previous lecture, this talk will continue to discuss the historicity of the Exodus narrative, by reexamining issues that have either been dismissed or neglected by modern scholarship. We will consider the biblical phrase “mixed multitude” used to describe the Hebrews who exited Egypt, and will also explore the pharaoh Merneptah’s relationship to the peoples who lived in Canaan. Finally, we will look at the origins and identity of the one God that the Israelites started to worship and discuss the question of whether they emigrated from Egypt as the Bible describes, or whether they emerged in Canaan in another manner altogether.

Was King Ahab really so bad? The 9th Century in History and Archaeology
The 9th century BC is the first period from which archaeologists have a significant number of non-biblical inscriptions that discuss the very same events mentioned in the Bible. These events are also illuminated by archaeological evidence. But do the archaeological materials and the inscriptions confirm the biblical narratives or do they tell a different story altogether? This talk will look at three 9th century inscriptions—the Kurkh Stele, the Mesha Stele and the Tel Dan Stele—and will compare the history they describe to the history that the Bible recounts about the reigns of Omri and Ahab—and to the archaeology of 9th century Israel.

Women in the Biblical World
There are at least two ways of learning about women’s role in society in the biblical world—by looking at what the biblical texts say about women, and by looking at the archaeological evidence of the Israelite household. Do these two sources give us the same story? This talk will demonstrate that in spite of an overlay of limitations placed on women in biblical narratives and laws, women’s roles in society were pivotal to in the world of ancient Israel, in fact, women’s participation in communal life helped shape Israelite and Judahite society as a whole.

Between Israel and Mesopotamia: Archaeology, Art and Myth
Ever since the decipherment of a particular cuneiform tablet in the 19th century, scholars as well as the public have been aware of the cultural connections between Mesopotamia and Israel. That tablet contained a story of a “great flood” that destroyed all of mankind except for one person, and the parallels to the biblical story of Noah were direct and undeniable. This shook the western world to its core, especially when it became clear that the Mesopotamian flood story, the most famous version of which is part of the Epic of Gilgamesh, was written well before the biblical story. Soon enough, the great archaeological finds of Mesopotamia, including great works of ancient art, seemed to eclipse the accomplishments of the world of ancient Israel. For a long time, scholarship put ancient Israel second and Mesopotamia first in terms culture, both literary and artistic. This talk will discuss the relationship of Mesopotamia and the biblical world in terms of similarities but especially in terms of differences, and will demonstrate how after almost two hundred years of scholarship, biblical Israel can once again take its rightful place of importance within the ancient Near East.

Where’d That Artifact Come From?
Where do museums get their artifacts? While this was never something that museum-goers worried about, today it has become an issue. In our post-colonial world, various countries in the Middle East and elsewhere have asked Western museums to repatriate artifacts back to their countries of origin. Perhaps the best-known example of this is Greece asking the British Museum to return the Parthenon Marbles (still sometimes called the Elgin Marbles). When an artifact is repatriated, what is lost and what is gained? This talk will examine five examples of artifacts that have not been repatriated, but might be in the future. Two of these come from Egypt, one from Iran, and one from biblical Israel.