This volume resurrects the forgotten history of early American involvement in biblical archaeology. Frederick Jones Bliss, an American from a prominent missionary family, is central to the story as he was the first of any nationality to scientifically excavate the tells of Palestine.
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In the usual retelling of the story of biblical archaeology in the nineteenth century, American achievements are rarely discussed. A common assumption is that between the 1850s and 1900, there was no American archaeological presence in Palestine. The narrative generally begins in the 1840s with the explorations of biblical scholar Edward Robinson, and then jumps directly to the founding of the American Schools of Oriental Research in 1900. The intervening half century is generally left blank, as British and European scholarship seemingly dominated the field.
Yet, American involvement, although forgotten, was actually quite significant in those years and was the product of a unique fusion of America’s religious and scientific sensibilities. Individual Americans played indispensable roles.
This volume uncovers the neglected American presence in nineteenth-century biblical archaeology by focusing on a forgotten institution, the American Palestine Exploration Society, and a little-studied scholar, Frederick Jones Bliss. Based in New York, the American Palestine Exploration Society was strongly connected to the well known Syrian Protestant College (now the American University of Beirut). This vital connection launched the archaeological career of Frederick Jones Bliss, a lone American working for the British Palestine Exploration Fund.
Because Bliss worked for the British for a decade, many later scholars downplayed his American nationality and sensibilities, as well as his scientific achievements. This volume brings Bliss and his American compatriots back to the forefront of the story, and explains why they have been so often left out. It also reinserts the presence of American religious agendas into nineteenth century biblical and archaeological studies.
Rachel Hallote is an associate professor of History and director of the Jewish Studies Program at Purchase College SUNY. Educated at Byrn Mawr and the University of Chicago, she has participated in many archaeological excavations in Israel. Her previous book, Death, Burial and Afterlife in the Biblical World, was published in 2001.