Past director: Avraham Biran (1909-2008)

Biran with Avraham Biran (Bergman) was born in 1909 in Petah Tikvah, grew up in Rosh Pina and was educated at the Reali School in Haifa, where he also taught for a short while. In 1930 he moved to the United States where he received his MA at the University of Pennsylvania and his Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Between 1935 and 1937 he was a research fellow at the American School of Oriental Research in Jerusalem (now called the Albright Institute). During this time he participated in the excavations of Tell Jerisheh and Ras el-Kharrubeh in Palestine, at Irbid and Tell el- Khleifeh in Transjordan and at Tepe Gawra and Khafajeh in Iraq.

Facing economic realities, Biran left the field of archaeology in 1937, when offered the post of District Officer in the Jezreel Valley by the British Mandatory Government, which he held until 1945. He managed to carry out an archaeological survey with Ruth Amiran (then Bransteter) in those years (published in 1941) but had no real time for archaeology until many years later. In 1945 Biran became District officer of Jerusalem, a post he held until 1955, during which time he was also a member of the Mixed Armistice Commission with Jordan.

Avraham Biran (Bergman) and Ruth Amiran (Brandsteter) with Arab notables in the the Jezreel Valley circa 1939 In 1955 Biran moved to the Foreign Ministry and became Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles until 1958. During this time he cultivated friendships with a number of the leading Jewish families of the western United States, many of whom became faithful supporters of Biran’s work. Following his stint in Los Angeles, Biran was appointed Head of the Armistice Committees Department in the Foreign Office until 1961.

Past director: Avraham Biran (1909-2008)Avraham Biran returned to archaeology, as director of the Israel Department of Antiquities and Museums in the years 1961-1974. While director he directed or co-directed the department’s excavations at En-Gev, Tel Amal, Tel Zippor, Lahav, Ruqeish and Yesud Hama’ala. In 1966 he embarked upon the most important project of his lifetime, the excavation of Tel Dan.


Biran at Tel Dan circa 1984In 1974 Biran retired as director of the Israel Department of Antiquities and Museums and became director of the Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Jerusalem until 2002. He continued the Tel Dan excavations, which became the longest ongoing expedition –33 years – in Israel. He also carried out excavations at Aroer and Tel Ira in the Beersheba basin, and limited excavations at Ras el-Kharrubeh, Deir es-Sid and Yesud Hama’ala.

Biran served for many years as the chairman of the Israel Exploration Society (IES), chairman of the Israel Government Names Committee, president of the Israel chapter of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and a member of the Government Coins Committee.

In 1984 he received the Percia Schimmel Award from the Israel Museum for distinguished contribution to archaeology in the Land of the Bible. In 2002 he received the Israel Prize, Israel’s highest honor.

Apart from numerous articles published, he authored Biblical Dan and coauthored and edited Dan I: A Chronicle of the Excavations, the Pottery Neolithic, the Early Bronze Age, and the Middle Bronze Age Tombs (with D. Ilan, and R. Greenberg), Dan II: A Chronicle of the Excavations and the Late Bronze Age "Mycenaean Tomb", (with R. Ben-Dov), and edited Temples and High Places in Biblical Times.

Avraham Biran retired as director of the Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology at the age of 93! He is remembered as one of the most interesting and entertaining archaeological lecturers ever. He was often a keynote speaker at the annual meetings of the American Schools of Oriental Research; while most lectures attracted an audience of twenty to sixty people, Biran’s talks would fill a hall of hundreds, and this was true of universities, churches and synagogues throughout the world. He spent hours preparing these public appearances, something more archaeologists would be wise to emulate. The public was immensely important to him, perhaps even the most important. We continue to maintain these values and to consolidate and enhance Avraham Biran’s honored legacy.

For further information on the life and times of Avraham Biran see the Biblical Archaeology Society’s publication Celebrating Avraham (Washington D.C. 1999). For an account similar to the above and some personal recollections see the memorial article that appeared in the Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research No. 353 (2008)

--David Ilan