William F. Albright

William Foxwell Albright (1891–1971) was an American archaeologist, biblical scholar, philologist, and expert on ceramics.

William F. Albright
William Albright 1957.jpg
Albright in 1957
Born(1891-05-24)May 24, 1891
Coquimbo, Chile
DiedSeptember 19, 1971(1971-09-19) (aged 80)
Academic background
Alma mater
ThesisThe Assyrian Deluge Epic[1] (1916)
Doctoral advisorPaul Haupt[2]
InfluencesLouis-Hugues Vincent[3]
Academic work
Sub-disciplineBiblical archaeology
School or traditionBiblical archaeology
Doctoral students
Notable studentsHarry Orlinsky[12]


Albright was born on May 24, 1891, in Coquimbo, Chile,[17] the eldest of six children of the American evangelical Methodist missionaries Wilbur Finley Albright and Cornish-American Zephine Viola Foxwell.[18] Albright was an alumnus of Upper Iowa University.[19] He married Ruth Norton (1892–1979)[citation needed] in 1921[20] and had four sons. He received his Doctor of Philosophy degree from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1916 and took a professorship there in 1927, remaining as W. W. Spence Professor of Semitic Languages from 1930 to his retirement in 1958. He was also the Director of the American School of Oriental Research in Jerusalem, 1922–1929, 1933–1936, and did important archaeological work at sites in Israel such as Gibeah (Tell el-Fûl, 1922) and Tell Beit Mirsim (1926, 1928, 1930, and 1932).[21]

Tumulus 2 (Jerusalem), excavated by Albright in 1923. His excavation trench is still visible at the top of the structure.

Albright became known to the public for his role in the authentication of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1948,[22] but made his scholarly reputation as the leading theorist and practitioner of biblical archaeology, "that branch of archaeology that sheds light upon 'the social and political structure, the religious concepts and practices and other human activities and relationships that are found in the Bible or pertain to peoples mentioned in the Bible."[23] Albright was not, however, a biblical literalist; his Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan, for example, putting forward the view that the religion of the Israelites had evolved from polytheism to a monotheism that saw God acting in history—a view fully in accordance with the documentary hypothesis and the mainstream opinions of the preceding two centuries of biblical criticism.[24]

Although primarily a biblical archaeologist, Albright was a polymath who made contributions in almost every field of Near Eastern studies: an example of his range is a BASOR 130 (1953) paper titled "New Light from Egypt on the Chronology and History of Israel and Judah", in which he established that Shoshenq I—the Biblical Shishaq—came to power somewhere between 945 and 940 BC.

A prolific author, his major works include Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan, The Archaeology of Palestine: From the Stone Age to Christianity, and The Biblical Period from Abraham to Ezra. He also edited the Anchor Bible volumes on Jeremiah, Matthew, and Revelation.

Throughout his life Albright was honored with numerous awards, honorary doctorates, and medals, and was given the title "Yakir Yerushalayim" (Worthy Citizen of Jerusalem)—the first time the award had been given to a non-Jew.[25][26] He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1956.[27] After his death on September 19, 1971, his legacy continued as a large number of scholars, inspired by his work, became specialists in the areas Albright had pioneered. The American School of Oriental Research, Jerusalem, is now known as the Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, in honor of Albright's exceptional contributions to the field.[28]

Historical research and hypothesesEdit

From the early twentieth century until his death, he was the dean of biblical archaeologists and the acknowledged founder of the biblical archaeology movement. Most notably, coming from his own background in radical German historical criticism of the historicity of the biblical accounts, Albright, through his seminal work in archaeology (and most notably his development of the standard pottery typology for Palestine and the Holy Land) arrived at the conclusion that the biblical accounts of Israelite history were, contrary to the dominant German literary criticism of the day, largely accurate. This area is still widely contested among scholars. His student George Ernest Wright followed in his footsteps as the leader of the biblical archaeology movement, contributing definitive work at Shechem and Gezer. Albright also inspired, trained and worked with the first generation of world-class Israeli archaeologists, who have carried on his work, and maintained his perspective.

Other students, notably Joseph Fitzmyer, Frank Moore Cross, Raymond E. Brown, and David Noel Freedman, became international leaders in the study of the Bible and the ancient Near East, including Northwest Semitic epigraphy and paleography. John Bright, Cyrus H. McCormick Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament Interpretation at Union Seminary in Richmond (PhD, Johns Hopkins, 1940), went on to become "the first distinguished American historian of the Old Testament" and "arguably the most influential scholar of the Albright school", owing to his "distinctly American commonsense flavor, similar to that of W[illiam] James".[29] Thus Albright and his students achieved a very wide reach and were highly influential in American higher education from the 1940s through the 1970s, after which revisionist scholars of merit such as T. L. Thompson, John Van Seters, Niels Peter Lemche, and Philip R. Davies developed and advanced their own minimalist critique of Albright's view that archaeology supports the broad outlines of the history of Israel as presented in the Bible. Like other academic polymaths (Edmund Huesserl in phenomenology and Max Weber in sociology and the sociology of religion), Albright created, advanced and soundly established the new discipline of biblical archaeology, which is taught now at major and even elite universities on a worldwide basis and has exponents across national, cultural, and religious lines.[citation needed]

Influence and legacyEdit

Albright's publication in the Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research, 1932, of his excavations of Tell Beit Mirsim, and further descriptions of the Bronze Age and Iron Age layers of the site in 1938 and 1943, marked a major contribution to the professional dating of sites based on ceramic typologies, one which is still in use today with only minor changes. "With this work, Albright made Israeli archaeology into a science, instead of what it had formerly been: a digging in which the details are more or less well-described in an indifferent chronological framework which is as general as possible and often wildly wrong".[30]

As editor of the Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research between 1931 and 1968, Albright influenced both biblical scholarship and Palestinian archaeology.[28] Albright used this influence to advocate "biblical archaeology", in which the archaeologist's task, according to fellow biblical archaeologist William Dever, is seen as being "to illuminate, to understand, and, in their greatest excesses, to 'prove' the Bible."[31] In this Albright's American evangelical upbringing was clearly apparent. He insisted, for example, that "as a whole, the picture in Genesis is historical, and there is no reason to doubt the general accuracy of the biographical details" (i.e., of figures such as Abraham). Similarly he claimed that archaeology had proved the essential historicity of the Book of Exodus, and the conquest of Canaan as described in the Book of Joshua and the Book of Judges.

In the years since his death, Albright's methods and conclusions have been increasingly questioned. William Dever claims that "[Albright's] central theses have all been overturned, partly by further advances in Biblical criticism, but mostly by the continuing archaeological research of younger Americans and Israelis to whom he himself gave encouragement and momentum. ... The irony is that, in the long run, it will have been the newer 'secular' archaeology that contributed the most to Biblical studies, not 'Biblical archaeology.'"[32] The biblical scholar Thomas L. Thompson contends that the methods of "biblical archaeology" have also become outmoded:

[Wright and Albright's] historical interpretation can make no claim to be objective, proceeding as it does from a methodology which distorts its data by selectivity which is hardly representative, which ignores the enormous lack of data for the history of the early second millennium, and which wilfully establishes hypotheses on the basis of unexamined biblical texts, to be proven by such (for this period) meaningless mathematical criteria as the "balance of probability" ...[33]

Published worksEdit

  • The Archaeology of Palestine: From the Stone Age to Christianity (1940[34]/rev.1960)
  • From the Stone Age to Christianity: Monotheism and the Historical Process, Johns Hopkins Press, 1946
  • Views of the Biblical World. Jerusalem: International Publishing Company J-m Ltd, 1959.
  • Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan: An Historical Analysis of Two Contrasting Faiths (1968)
  • The Biblical Period from Abraham to Ezra
  • Albright, William F. (1923). "Interesting finds in tumuli near Jerusalem". Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research. 10 (April): 1–3. doi:10.2307/1354763. JSTOR 1354763.
  • Albright, William F. (1953). "New Light from Egypt on the Chronology and History of Israel and Judah". Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research. 130 (130): 4–11. doi:10.2307/3219011. JSTOR 3219011.

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ Levy & Freedman 2009, p. 7.
  2. ^ Sherrard 2011, p. 42.
  3. ^ Albright 1961, p. 3.
  4. ^ Running & Freedman 1975, p. 195; Sherrard 2011, p. 178.
  5. ^ Sherrard 2011, p. 79.
  6. ^ a b Shanks, Hershel (October 18, 2012). "The End of an Era". Bible History Daily. Washington: Biblical Archaeology Society. Retrieved June 2, 2020.
  7. ^ Sherrard 2011, p. 68.
  8. ^ Sherrard 2011, p. 36.
  9. ^ Sherrard 2011, p. 64.
  10. ^ Lieberman 1991, p. 148.
  11. ^ Sherrard 2011, p. 8.
  12. ^ Long 1997, p. 72.
  13. ^ Sherrard 2011, p. 65.
  14. ^ Prag 1973, p. vii; Sherrard 2011, p. 7.
  15. ^ Sherrard 2011, p. 159.
  16. ^ Heim 1973, p. xii.
  17. ^ Running & Freedman 1975, p. 5.
  18. ^ Rowse 1969.
  19. ^ Running 2007, p. 103.
  20. ^ Running & Freedman 1975, pp. 91–92, 96.
  21. ^ Albright 1932.
  22. ^ Keiger, Dale (April 2000). "The Great Authenticator". Johns Hopkins Magazine. Vol. 52 no. 2. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University. Retrieved June 2, 2020.
  23. ^ Bradshaw, Robert I. (1992). "Archaeology and the Patriarchs". BiblicalStudies.org.uk. Retrieved June 2, 2020.
  24. ^ Sanders 2004.
  25. ^ Meyers 1997, p. 61.
  26. ^ Blatt, Benjamin (May 24, 2016). "Digging with the Bible". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved June 2, 2020.
  27. ^ "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter A" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 14 April 2011.
  28. ^ a b UXL Newsmakers, at Findarticles.com[dead link]
  29. ^ Hayes 1999, pp. 139–140.
  30. ^ G.E. Wright, quoted in UXL Newsmakers, at Findarticles.com[dead link]
  31. ^ Tatum 1995, p. 464.
  32. ^ Dever 1993, p. 34.
  33. ^ Thompson 2002, p. 7.
  34. ^ Thiollet 2005, p. 249.


Albright, W. F. (1932). "The Fourth Joint Campaign of Excavation at Tell Beit Mirsim". Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research (47): 3–17. doi:10.2307/1354857. ISSN 2161-8062. JSTOR 1354857.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
 ———  (1961). "In Memory of Louis Hugues Vincent". Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research (164): 1–4. doi:10.1086/BASOR1355747. ISSN 2161-8062. JSTOR 1355747.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Dever, William G. (1993). "What Remains of the House that Albright Built?". The Biblical Archaeologist. 56 (1): 25–35. doi:10.2307/3210358. ISSN 0006-0895. JSTOR 3210358.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Hayes, John H., ed. (1999). "Bright, John". Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation. 1. Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Heim, Ralph D. (1973). "Jacob Martin Myers" (PDF). In Bream, Howard N.; Heim, Ralph D.; Moore, Carey A. (eds.). A Light Unto My Path: Old Testament Studies in Honor of Jacob M. Myers. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. pp. xi–xiii. ISBN 978-0-87722-026-8.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Levy, Thomas E.; Freedman, David Noel (2009). "William Foxwell Albright". Biographical Memoirs. 91. Washington: National Academy of Sciences. pp. 2–29. ISBN 978-0-309-14560-2. Retrieved June 2, 2020 – via The Bible and Interpretation.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Lieberman, Stephen J. (1991). "Review of A Scientific Humanist: Studies in Memory of Abraham Sachs, Edited by Erle Leichty, Maria deJ. Ellis, and Pamela Gerardi". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 111 (1): 148–150. doi:10.2307/603771. ISSN 0003-0279.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Long, Burke O. (1997). Planting and Reaping Albright: Politics, Ideology, and Interpreting the Bible. University Park, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press. ISBN 978-0-271-01576-7.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Meyers, Eric M., ed. (1997). The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East. 1. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acref/9780195065121.001.0001.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Prag, Kay (1973). "Nelson Glueck (1900–1971): An Appreciation". Levant. 5: vii–ix. doi:10.1179/lev.1973.5.1.v. ISSN 1756-3801.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Rowse, A. L. (1969). The Cousin Jacks: The Cornish in America. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Running, Leona G. (2007). "Albright, William Foxwell (1891–1971)". In McKim, Donald K. (ed.). Dictionary of Major Biblical Interpreters. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press. pp. 103–107. ISBN 978-0-8308-2927-9.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Running, Leona G.; Freedman, David Noel (1975). William Foxwell Albright: A Twentieth-Century Genius. New York: Morgan Press. ISBN 978-0-8467-0071-5. Retrieved June 2, 2020.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Sanders, Seth (2004). "Review of The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel (2nd ed.), by Mark S. Smith". Journal of Hebrew Scriptures. 4. ISSN 1203-1542. Retrieved June 2, 2020.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Sherrard, Brooke (2011). American Biblical Archaeologists and Zionism: The Politics of Historical Ethnography (PhD dissertation). Tallahassee, Florida: Florida State University. Retrieved June 2, 2020.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Tatum, Lynn (1995). "Review of Recent Archaeological Discoveries and Biblical Research, by William G. Dever". The Jewish Quarterly Review. 85 (3/4): 464–466. doi:10.2307/1454746. ISSN 1553-0604. JSTOR 1454746.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Thiollet, Jean-Pierre (2005). "William Foxwell Albright". Je m'appelle Byblos (in French). Éditions H & D.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Thompson, Thomas L. (2002). The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives: The Quest for the Historical Abraham. Valley Forge, Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International. ISBN 978-1-56338-389-2.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)

Further readingEdit

Davis, Thomas W. (2004). Shifting Sands: The Rise and Fall of Biblical Archaeology. New York: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/0195167104.001.0001. ISBN 978-0-19-516710-8.
Elliott, Mark (2002). Biblical Interpretation Using Archeological Evidence, 1900–1930. Lewiston, New York: E. Mellen Press. ISBN 978-0-7734-7146-7.
Finkelstein, Israel; Silberman, Neil Asher (2001). The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts. New York: Free Press. ISBN 978-0-684-86912-4.
Grena, G. M. (2004). LMLK: A Mystery Belonging to the King. 1. Redondo Beach, California: 4000 Years of Writing History. ISBN 978-0-9748786-0-7.
Feinman, Peter D. (2004). William Foxwell Albright and the Origins of Biblical Archaeology. Berrien Springs, Michigan: Andrews University Press. ISBN 978-1-883925-40-6.
Freedman, David Noel; MacDonald, Robert B.; Mattson, Daniel L. (1975). The Published Works of William Foxwell Albright: A Comprehensive Bibliography. Cambridge, Massachusetts: American Schools of Oriental Research. OCLC 1283778.
Van Beek, Gus W., ed. (1989). The Scholarship of William Foxwell Albright: An Appraisal. Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press. doi:10.1163/9789004369504. ISBN 978-1-55540-314-0.

External linksEdit

Professional and academic associations
Preceded by
William Hatch
President of the Society of Biblical
Literature and Exegesis

Succeeded by
Chester C. McCown
Preceded by
Hetty Goldman
Gold Medal Award for Distinguished
Archaeological Achievement

Succeeded by
Gisela Richter