>Obituary: Avraham Biran

The New York Times has published an obituary of Avraham Biran, the archaeologist who excavated Tel Dan and discovered the fragment of a monument containing a reference to the house of David. Biran died on September 16 at the age of 98.

Speaking of Biran’s work at Tel Dan, the article says:

In 1993, after nearly three decades of digging at Dan, which is on the Syrian border and near the headwaters of the Jordan River, Dr. Biran and his colleagues discovered a foot-long piece of stone with a partial inscription in Early Aramaic.

The archaeologists were able to decipher text on what was possibly a monument to commemorate victory in battle by a king of Aram over Israel. The inscription – which contained the words House of David – was dated to the ninth century B.C. and was hailed by biblical scholars as a unique find and evidence of the antiquity of King David’s lineage. Some scholars, however, have questioned the interpretation of the discovery and even the existence of King David.

It was already known that the Bible, in the Book of Kings, refers to Dan as the city of the Golden Calf. The Israelite king Jeroboam placed a gilded idol in a shrine for his subjects to worship there, probably in the ninth century B.C.

Although Dr. Biran and his collaborators never found the calf, they did discover the remains of a mud-brick city gate of the Middle Bronze Age and tombs from the Late Bronze Age. After sifting through layers that contained pottery shards from Roman times, they also established that Israelite tribes probably arrived in the 12th century B.C. and later used the site as a fortress for defending against raids by Syrian tribes. He peeled away Dan’s complex historical passage in a book, “Biblical Dan.”

Israel has produced great archaeologists, and Avraham Biran was one of them.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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