A Jewish Archaeologist’s Finest Hours -- By: Yigael Yadin

Journal: Bible and Spade (First Run)
Volume: BSP 04:1 (Winter 1975)
Article: A Jewish Archaeologist’s Finest Hours
Author: Yigael Yadin

A Jewish Archaeologist’s Finest Hours

Yigael Yadin

[Yigael Yadin is Professor of Archaeology at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. In addition to his career in archaeology, he has been an active military leader as well. During 1947–49 and 1949–52 he was Chief of Operations and Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces. His publications include The War Between the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness, A Genesis Apocryphon, The Message of the Scrolls, Masada, Warfare in Biblical Lands in the Light of Archaeology, and Finds from the Cave of Letters, as well as numerous articles in scholarly journals.]

After the War of Independence, I was often asked what part the Bible had played in the success of Zahal, Israel’s Defense Force. When a distinguished English general put that question to me, I replied”. “You know, the great commanders of the Second World War generally included quotes from the Bible in their directives, to inspire their troops — but they could have searched every page of the Bible and still wouldn’t have found any reference to the battlefields of Normandy or Belgium.”

In our case, with the Bible a part of every soldier’s gear, a commander doesn’t have to search. He can easily find a chapter that tells of a battle our fathers fought, thousands of years ago, in the very place where his soldiers are about to fight, and read it to them. The very name of the operation against the Egyptians — “The Ten Plagues” — stirred the soldiers’ feelings, and was more effective in bringing the object of the war home to them than any order of the day, no matter how eloquent.

In the same way, the Bible and other historical writings of our people contribute to a Jewish archaeologist’s work in the Land of Israel — adding a compelling, exciting and stimulating factor, not found normally in the work of archaeologists in other countries.

Even as a child I was an admirer of Schliemann, who, with the books of Homer in one hand, and a shovel in the other, managed to discover and excavate Troy and Mycenae, believed by many to be no more than legends.

But even in my dreams I couldn’t foresee that happy day when, together with other Jewish archaeologists, I would take the Bible as a faithful guide to instruct me in the work of excavation, or that the Mishna and Talmud would be my interpreters for the findings and writings of Masada and the Bar Kokhba period.

True, as an archaeologist, I’m interested in the remains of prehistoric man discovered in Kenya, and as one bent on investigating my country’s past, every find, even from the Early Bronze Age that preceded Abraham and the Hebrews, be...

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