History of the School

Ben Gurion attending the opening of the HUC in 1963The Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology was established in 1963 by Nelson Glueck, an ordained rabbi and respected field archaeologist and president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion at the time. The campus was initially called Hebrew Union College Biblical and Archaeological School, founded to provide a base for American scholars and researchers engaged in Near Eastern studies. Until the 1948 war the research center for such scholarship had been the American School of Oriental Research (now the Albright Institute) in east Jerusalem. When, following the war, it became difficult for scholars to move between east and west Jerusalem and between Israel and Arab countries, Glueck decided to create an alternative center in Israeli west Jerusalem. 

In the beginning an American scholar was appointed director annually, but in 1968 William G. Dever became its first permanent director; he was followed by Joe E. Seger in 1971. 
At a time when Reform Judaism was not exactly welcomed by the orthodox establishment of Israel, archaeology was seen as a foundation for the realization of reform Judaism’s spiritual connection with the Land of Israel. Archaeological research was considered almost sacrosanct by Israel’s secular establishment, and it didn’t hurt that Glueck was well connected.

 Gezer 1965 - Uncovering the casemate wall of the Iron AgeThe School began a long-term archaeological project at Gezer in 1964 under the direction of G. Ernest Wright. The enterprise contributed to the School’s rapid development into a major archaeological center. In addition to introducing new excavation methods, the Gezer project inaugurated the use of student volunteers in the field. The School also undertook excavations at Jebel Qa’aqir and Khirbet el-Qom. Final reports of the Gezer excavations appear in the School’s Annual Series. A Manual of Field Excavation was published in 1978 (now out of print).

Avraham Biran in front of the Middle Bronze Age Gate at Tel DanFollowing Glueck’s death in 1971 and the election of Alfred Gottschalk as president of HUC-JIR, the name of the School was changed to the Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology. In 1974 Avraham Biran, just retired as director of the Israel Department of Antiquities and Museums, was appointed director and the school took over the Tel Dan excavations, which became its major project and the longest on-going excavation in Israel. Other excavations were carried out at ‘Aro’er, Yesud HaMa’alah, Ras el-Kharrubeh, Deir es-Sid, Tel Ira, Shiqmim, Gilat and Nahal Tillah (the last three directed by then-assistant director Thomas E. Levy).

David Ilan, Dan 2006In 2003 Avraham Biran retired and David Ilan, then at the Department of Archaeology and Near Eastern Civilizations at Tel Aviv University, was appointed director. The NGSBA is now focusing on publication of previously excavated material and the development of programs that are socially aware and community oriented.

An integral part of the School is its Skirball Museum, which exhibits the artifacts from the School’s archaeological projects. The exhibits are topical with an emphasis on archaeological objects as works of art and as expressions of the cultural and historical processes that affected the biblical world.