Frederick Jones Bliss [1859-1937] -- By: Milton C. Fisher

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 04:3 (Summer 1991)
Article: Frederick Jones Bliss [1859-1937]
Author: Milton C. Fisher

Frederick Jones Bliss [1859-1937]

Milton C. Fisher

Shades of Melchizedek! For a while it seemed this digger had a beginning to his life but no ending. References to his contributions to Palestinian archaeology are frequent, yet his story is not so dramatic as to rate fullscale treatment in the usual sources for our biographical sketches. The ponderous National Union Catalog of the library of Congress, list of authors compiled for 1967 to 1972, supplied the missing information.

Frederick Jones Bliss and his trademark, the pie-shaped Tell el-Hesi.

The point is that Bliss did not excavate extensively, except for two major projects during the closing decade of the 19th Century, but those two locations — Tell el-Hesi and Jerusalem — are important in themselves. His claim to fame, really, lies primarily in his follow-up link to his more famous predecessors, Sir Flinders Petrie at the former site and British army engineers Wilson and Warren at the latter.

The Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF) engaged Petrie’s American assistant, Bliss, to work two more years following the amazingly productive six-week expedition of that exceptional Englishman. Bliss’ most significant contribution to the progress of Palestianian archaeology was his public support for Petrie’s suggestion that even fragments of pottery from various ages or periods of human occupation were of crucial value for the dating of ruins. Most

others scoffed at Petrie’s method, even as qualified as he was by his acquaintance with datable Egyptian scarabs and pottery found at Palestinian sites.

“Nothing was left for me to do,” testifies Bliss, “but to cut down the mound itself layer by layer, in order to ascertain the number of occupations and the character of each” (M. Pearlman, Digging Up the Bible, p. 61). W. F. Albright faults Bliss, however, for short-sightedness in failing to follow through on the very technique he had commended. For while he had praised the brilliant campaign of his mentor, Petrie, as enabling him to frame an outline history of the city, Bliss failed to publish a correlation of Petrie’s detailed treatment of the sherds with his own stratigraphic results. Albright reasoned, a full generation later, that had he done so, the essentials of Palestinian pottery dating might have been established at the very beginning of the 20th Century.

Another mistake, shared equally by Sir Flinders Petrie and his successor at Tell el-Hesi, was their identification of the ruins as those of the prominent Judaean city, Lachish. Discovery there of the very first Akkadian...

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