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Aharoni, Yohanan

The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East What is This? Provides comprehensive coverage of the history and scope of archaeology in the Near East.

Aharoni, Yohanan

(1919–1976), Israeli biblical

archaeologist and

historical geographer.

Born in Germany, Aharoni went to Palestine as a young man. His character and his desire to explore Israel were formed in the Zionist youth movement and the kibbutz. He earned his Ph.D. In 1957 at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he studied under Benjamin Mazar. Aharoni's doctoral dissertation, almost unknown outside of Israel, outlined an important direction for biblical archaeology, which had been foreseen by the German biblical scholar Albrecht Alt In 1925: regional research combined with biblical-historical data in a critical synthesis. This was the first archaeological challenge to the “Albright-Glueck-Yadin school” of biblical archaeology. [See the biographies of Mazar; Albright, Alt, Glueck, and Yadin.] Aharoni's untimely death left his regional research in the Negev desert unfinished. His emphasis on a regional approach was developed by his students, however—mainly by Moshe Kochavi and his students in turn—in projects in the Galilee, the Golan, Manasseh, Ephraim, and Judah. These projects have had a major impact on biblical history and the archaeology of Israel. Better-known outside Israel are Aharoni's syntheses (1962–1964) of the historical geography of the biblical period. These works are still among the main handbooks for this field. They combine a wide range of archaeological and historical data for the ancient Near East, with a semicritical use of biblical materials.

Aharoni excavated at Ramat Rahel, Lachish, Arad, and Tel Beersheba. He developed an Israeli method of excavation that emphasizes the importance of digging large areas, in addition to recording sections, for a better understanding of a site. This strategy was a response to the Wheeler-Ken-yon method. [See the biographies of Kenyon and Wheeler]. Aharoni published the Arad inscriptions, an important contribution to the history and paleography of late Iron Age Judah. Noteworthy also is his participation in the exploration of the caves in the Judean Desert and of Masada, his work at Hazor, and his study of Iron Age Megiddo.

In 1968 Aharoni founded the Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University. He gathered scholars in archaeology, ancient Near East studies, and related disciplines, ensuring progress toward current interdisciplinary research. Along with Yigael Yadin, his everlasting adversary, Aharoni shaped the character of Israeli biblical archaeology.

[See also Arad Inscriptions; Beersheba; Biblical Archaeology; Historical Geography; Judah; and Ramat Rahel.]


  • Aharoni, Yohanan. The Settlement of the Israelite Tribes in the Upper Galilee (in Hebrew). Jerusalem, 1957. Aharoni's first regional research, based on his Ph.D. dissertation. Most of his conclusions are no longer valid, but this study is a methodological turning point in the archaeology of Israel and in biblical history.
  • Aharoni, Yohanan. Excavations at Ramat Rahel. 2 vols. Rome, 1962–1964. Covers the 1959–1960 and 1961–1962 excavation seasons.
  • Aharoni, Yohanan. The Land of the Bible: A Historical Geography (1967). 2d ed. Philadelphia, 1979. Still the most comprehensive description and primary handbook for the historical geography of biblical Israel and Judah. Much of what was out of date was replaced in the posthumous editions, edited by Anson F. Rainey.
  • Aharoni, Yohanan, ed. Beer-Sheba I: Excavations at Tel Beer-Sheba, 1969–1971 Seasons. Tel Aviv, 1973.
  • Aharoni, Yohanan. Investigations at Lachish: The Sanctuary and the Residency (Lachish V). Tel Aviv, 1975.
  • Aharoni, Yohanan, with contributions by Joseph Naveh. Arad Inscriptions. Translated by Judith Ben-Or. Jerusalem, 1981.
  • Aharoni, Yohanan, and Michael Avi-Yonah. The Macmillan Bible Atlas. 3d ed., completely revised by Anson F. Rainey and Zeev Safrai. New York, 1993. Detailed maps of the biblical and Roman-Byzantine periods. The material by Aharoni, up to the Persian period, is a useful supplement to his Historical Geography (see above).
  • Bachi, Gabriella, comp. “Bibliography of Y. Aharoni.” Tel Aviv 3 (1976): 161–184.
  • Kochavi, Moshe. “Professor Yohanan Aharoni, 1919–1976: In Memoriam.” Tel Aviv 3 (1976): 2–4.

Avi Ofer

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