Avraham Biran, the excavator of Tel Dan and other important sites, the Director of the Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Israel since 1974, died on September 16, 2008 in Jerusalem. Here is a well-written obituary. (HT: Jim West)
Together with a group of students from the University of Wisconsin-Madison under the leadership of Prof. Keith Schoville, I remember well participating in excavations at Tel Dan with Biran as director in the summer of 1976. I was nothing more than a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed teenager, but Biran took me by the arm, shared anecdotes about what it was like to be a student of William Foxwell Albright, and communicated his passion for the land of Israel and the Bible.
Biran arranged for us to tour the nearby hills with a kibbutznik paleontologist. We were thereby introduced to the depth dimension of archaeology extending back into Paleolithic and Neolithic times. It was an unforgettable lesson. Thanks to Biran’s easy way with everyone, the excavation team was an amicable composite of Jews and Gentiles, Americans and Israelis. Our work drew visitors from all around and camera crews from Israeli national television. I remember making the acquaintance of fighter pilots from Kfar Giladi. A boisterous couple who had immigrated from Yemen, part of the excavation staff, took me along with them all the way to Jerusalem on a weekend. One of the HUC students I excavated with told me that he didn’t believe in God even though he was studying to be a rabbi. Through the friendship that ensued, and many others since, I began to understand a way of believing that describes itself as non-believing.
Participation in an archaeological excavation is a life-experience of the first order. Those of us who had the privilege of working under Avraham Biran remember him with affection.