William Matthew Flinders Petrie [1853-1942] -- By: Milton C. Fisher

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 04:2 (Spring 1991)
Article: William Matthew Flinders Petrie [1853-1942]
Author: Milton C. Fisher


William Matthew Flinders Petrie [1853-1942]

Milton C. Fisher

“This stele will be better known in the world than anything else I have found, “1 Petrie announced to his surprised team. They were seated at dinner the evening of the discovery at Luxor (ancient Thebes) of the now-famous Merenptah Stele in the mortuary temple of the pharaoh of that name. The year was 1896, and Petrie was just one-quarter into his amazingly long career. He saw at once the significance of this inscription for Biblical history.

Merenptah was pharaoh of Egypt from about 1213 to 1203 B.C., and his naming on this stone of Israel (“YSRL”) as a national entity in the land of Canaan (though his boast, “laid waste without seed” proved a gross exaggeration!) is of real significance for the dating of the Exodus-Conquest. This contemporary Egyptian record provides compelling evidence that the Israelite conquest of Canaan occurred early in the Late Bronze Age, in keeping with the ca. 1400 B.C. date one arrives at from Biblical chronology.

Flinders Petrie had begun his career as an Egyptologist in 1880, at age 27, urged on by his father, who funded his early investigations and measurements of the great pyramids at Giza. He labored slowly and methodically, because he realized how the gold-rush mentality of most explorers seriously threatened all hope of accurate historical analysis. His own cautious and meticulous approach dated back to his boyhood, which justifies the “Seventy Years” in the title of his 1932 book,

published at age 79. Petrie had, in fact, expressed a mature archaeological opinion at age eight, upon hearing grownups talking about the frantic digging out of a Roman villa on the Isle of Wight, off the southern coast of England. The lad protested that the earth should be “pared away, inch by inch, to see all that was in it and how it lay.”2

Though this great patriarch of archaeologists, as some call him, spent the bulk of his active career in Egypt, it was a four-month foray into Palestine in 1890 under the auspices of the Egypt Exploration Fund (allowing time for a feud with the EEF to clear) that led Petrie to some conclusions which were indeed to establish him as the father of Palestinian archaeology. He had long championed the importance of commonplace artifacts, especially pottery, even broken sherds, as the key or “alphabet” of archaeological dating. Now he hit upon an observation which triggered application of his theory.

Satisfied that little was to be accomplis...

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