By 1876 the need for a scientific society to coordinate and support the efforts of German scholars exploring Palestine—Arabists, archaeologists, geographers, historians, Orientalists, theologians—became urgent. In addition the religious and scientific interests of scholars and scientific societies in Palestine were in competition. The initiative to establish the Deutscher Palästina-Verein (German Palestine Society) finally came from the Basel rector Carl Ferdinand Zimmermann (d. 1889). He met at Bâle with the biblical scholar Emil Kautzsch and the Arabist Albert Socin, who was at Tübingen in summer 1876 to discuss founding a Palestine society. Their recommendation was then sent to fifteen distinguished scholars who might serve as its governing committee. The three men presented their plans to the members of the Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft (German Oriental Society) that same year. The conceptualization of the future society was refined and a new proposal was sent to about seventy scholars in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Russia requesting support. In 1877 Kautzsch, Socin, and Zimmermann distributed a proposal to the general public bearing the signatures of fifty-two respected individuals. Within a short time about fifty members enrolled in the new society. The three initiators held a meeting of the constituents at Wiesbaden, on 28 September 1877, the Deutscher Verein zur Erforschung Palästinas (German Society for the Exploration of Palestine) was formally founded; rules for the society were adopted and a committee of nineteen and an executive committee of five established.

The society's goals are to advance all aspects of the scientific exploration of Palestine and to make those activities accessible to a wide audience. Their aims were to be achieved through the publication of a journal and by scientific research in Palestine, be carried out by a German field expedition. To that end, a portion of the membership fees and other monies would contribute to an expedition fund. The legal seat of the society was to be at Leipzig. From 1877 to 1903 the society's affairs were managed by the first members of the executive committee: Hermann Guthe, Kautzsch, Otto Kersten, Socin, and Zimmermann. Beginning In 1903, one member of the committee served as chair: Kautzsch (1903–1910); Guthe, (1911–1925); Albrecht Alt (1925–1950); Martin Noth (1952–1964); Otto Plöger (1964–1974); Herbert Donner (1975–1992); and Helga Weippert (since 1993). Membership remains relatively constant: In 1879 it was 268; from 1911 onward it was more than 400; In 1920 it dwindled to 273 but reached a new peak In 1929 of 391; it fell again to 255 In 1942 and to 114 In 1964. Since then membership has climbed to 360 (1995).

The founders of the society planned a journal, the Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palästina Vereins (ZDPV), to report on topographic, ethnographic, historical, numismatic, epigraphic, and archaeological problems as well as on subjects in the natural sciences (e.g., geology, climatology) relevant to the study of Palestine and its neighboring countries—articles that would advance knowledge of the Bible. It was also to contain critical summaries of relevant foreign scholarly literature and statistical and political news about the conditions of life in modern Palestine. The first issue appeared in April 1878; volume 110 appeared In 1994. The editors were Guthe (1878–1896); Immanuel Benzinger (1897–1902); Carl Steuernagel (1903–1928); Noth (1929–1964); and Arnulf Kuschke (1965–1974). Since 1974 Siegfried Mittmann and Manfred Weippert have been co-editors; Weippert was succeeded by Dieter Vieweger In 1994.

News about the society and reports on different general subjects were published separately from 1895 to 1912 as Mitteilungen und Nachrichten des Deutschen Vereins zur Erforschung Palästinas (edited by Guthe until 1901 and then by Gustav Hölscher). In addition, from 1914 to 1927 the society published Das Land der Bibel: gemeinverständliche Hefte zur Palästinakunde, a more popular series (edited by Hölscher and then by Peter Thomsen). To supplement the ZDPV, a new series, Abhandlungen des deutschen Palästina-Vereins, was established In 1969 to publish longer monographs.

Another prominent institution, the German Protestant Institute of Archaeology of the Holy Land, directed from 1902 to 1917 by Gustav Dalman, is organized and financed by the German Protestant Churches; it is completely independent of the German Palestine Society, but a close cooperation exists between them and they share a roster of prominent members, mostly biblical scholars and theologians. [See Deutches Evangelisches Institut für Altertumswissenschaft des Heiligen Landes.]

The history of the German Palestine Society can be divided into four periods, with the activities of major figures often belonging to more than one of them.

1877–1918. As documented in the ZDPV and other publications, the society shaped the various aspects of the new discipline of Palästinakunde (the historical geography and archaeology of Palestine). Research on the architecture and topography of Jerusalem and its surroundings was carried out by such pioneers at Conrad Schick (1822–1902) who, In 1880, discovered the Siloam Tunnel inscription (ZDPV 3, 1880): Schick published about fifty articles in the ZDPV. [See Siloam Tunnel Inscription; and the biography of Schick.] In 1881 Guthe conducted the first excavations on behalf of the society. His work on Jerusalem's southeastern hill (the Ophel) was carried out on a small scale, before systematic excavation methods had been developed (ZDPV 5, 1882). [See Jerusalem.] Gottlieb Schumacher (1857–1925), the architect and cartographer, began surveying parts of Transjordan In 1884 on behalf of the society; between 1906 and 1924 he published the maps the work produced. From 1903 to 1905 Schumacher directed the society's first (and last) large-scale excavation at Megiddo, except the fall season of 1903, which was led by Benzinger (Silberman, 1982, p. 169). [See Megiddo; and the biographies of Schumacher and Benzinger.] Max Blanckenhorn, a geologist, investigated the geology of Palestine; beginning In 1894 he installed a series of weather bureaus for the society and published the results of his observations (e.g., temperature, rainfall, wind) in the ZDPV annually. In 1901 the society underwrote the drawing of the mosaic map of Madaba discovered In 1884. [See Madaba.] This was completed by the Jerusalem architect Paul Palmer and was subsequently published In 1906 by him and Guthe. The excavations of Ernst Sellin (1902–1904) at Ta῾anach, with Schumacher's temporary assistance, and at Jericho (1907–1909) with Carl Watzinger, as well as his preliminary work at Shechem (1913–1914), belong to this pioneering period. In particular, the exactness of the descriptions in the report on Jericho (1913) makes it still useful. [See Ta῾anach; Jericho; Shechem; and the biography of Sellin.] The research of Heinrich Kohl and Watzinger on synagogues in Galilee (published In 1916) represent another aspect of the discipline, now also covering the New Testament period. Gustaf Dalman's research on topography and ethnology was intensive during this period as well. Already In 1908, 1913, and 1915–1917 Albrecht Alt worked in Jerusalem. [See the biographies of Watzinger, Dalman, and Alt.]

1919–1932. In spite of Germany's political and economic difficulties after World War I, the interdisciplinary, inter-religious, and international cooperation of the society and its foreign members grew constantly. A new generation came into office: Alt was elected to the society's executive committee In 1923 and became chairman In 1925; Noth became editor of the ZDPV In 1929 (see above). Whereas the society's only project in Palestine was its series of weather bureaus, the Deutsches Evangelisches Institut in Jerusalem (see above), directed by Alt from 1921 to 1923, gained new importance: German scholars assembled there to continue their research. From 1924 to 1931, Alt conducted an annual lehrkurs (seminar) for a period of three or four months. He placed more emphasis on the history of Palestine than on ethnology, as Dalman had done. During field trips, reconnaissance of small areas was carried out by thorough surveys and ceramic sherds at settlement sites were collected and read as basic sources for the history and patterns of those settlements. The stress Alt placed on the close connection between research on the land (archaeology through survey and excavation) and critical readings of the biblical text (exegesis) in reconstructing a history of Palestine was the main contribution he (and his generation) made to the discipline of biblical archaeology.

Other major figures working in Palestine during this period include Sellin at Shechem (1926–1927, 1932 and 1934); Kurt Galling at Shechem with Sellin (1926) and at Tell Beit Mirsim with William Foxwell Albright (1930). Joachim Jeremias a New Testament scholar did research in Jerusalem (1931, 1932); and Noth, scholarship student at the institute In 1925, was a guest there of the lehrkurs (1931, 1933). This group of distinguished scholars subsequently published important books or articles based on the research they developed during their respective stays in Palestine.

1933–1964. Hitler's rise to power In 1933 was very soon felt by Alt and others as a danger to the work of the society (and the institute) at home and in Palestine. Because the Nazi authorities did not make sufficient foreign exchange available to the institute and because of the political disturbances in Palestine, Alt was no longer able to offer the lehrkurs. In addition, he and a few other scholars could travel to Palestine only sporadically and work there for only some months respectively doing their research: Alt was there In 1933 and 1935, also taking some field trips. From July to September 1935 Galling continued Dalman's research on the necropolis in Jerusalem and finished it (Palästina Jahrbuch 32 [1936]: 73–101); he took some short field trips In 1937 and 1938. His Biblisches Reallexikon was published 1937. In it, for the first time, mainly archaeological findings were used to describe the subjects of the entries, a first attempt to develop within the discipline of biblical archaeology the topic of “systematic archaeology.” [See the biography of Galling.] The beginning of World War II put a stop to research in Palestine, only the ZDPV was still published, from volume 62 (1939) to volume 67 (1944). In 1943 the society lost its entire archive in Leipzig: all its files and stock of publications from 1877 onward, its library, and its ethnological and archaeological collections. From 1945 to 1952 the society's activities were—out of political and even legal reasons—completely suspended and therefore the ZDPV could not be published. Instead from 1946 onward Noth edited three issues of Beiträge zur biblischen Landes- und Alterumskunde, 1951, which was counted as volume 68 of the ZDPV. By 1950 the society, whose legal seat was still at Leipzig, was liquidated by the East German authorities, but on 31 July 1952, it was reestablished in West Germany, in Bonn. Noth, still editor of the ZDPV, also became its chairman. [See the biography of Noth.] After that the ZDPV has been published again continuously from volume 69 (1953) onward. Slowly, studies in Palästinakunde, mainly by the above-named scholars, began again. The lehrkurs at the institute, then located in the Old City of Jerusalem (Jordan), was resumed In 1953, the first conducted by Galling.

Since 1965.

The ZDPV, again a journal of international repute, is publishing more articles by foreign scholars. In 1964 Noth was nominated director of the institute in Jerusalem. However, expectations for furthering Palästinakunde were destroyed by his early death In 1968. Since 1970 young German scholars have begun taking part in excavations: Kuschke, Mittmann, Martin Metzger, Ute Lux, and August Strobel in Lebanon and Jordan; and Volkman Fritz and Diethelm Conrad in Israel. The society now organizes symposia, the first two of which took place In 1977 and 1982. Since 1988 they have been held every two years. It is through these activities that the German Palestine Society and its members hope to make a special contribution to Palästinakunde, or biblical archaeology, further developing the best traditions of Alt and Noth.

[See also Biblical Archaeology.]


  • Alt, Albrecht. “Protokoll der 24. Generalversammlung des Deutschen Vereins zur Erforschung Palästinas (23. August 1928 in Bonn).” Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins 51 (1928): 302. Remarks on the fifty-year-old society.
  • Kautzsch, E. “Vorwort.” Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins 1 (1878): 1–9. Preface to the first volume of ZDPV, containing details about the founding of the society.
  • Silberman, Neil Asher. Digging for God and Country: Exploration, Archaeology, and the Secret Struggle for the Holy Land, 1799–1917. New York, 1982. Explores the connections between religiously motivated scientific exploration of Palestine in the nineteenth century and the political struggles among rival European powers for dominance in the region.
  • Steuernagel, Carl. “Ein Rückblick auf 50 Jahre der ZDPV.” Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins 51 (1928): 1–4. Review of the main stages of the then fifty-year-old journal.
  • Zobel, H.-J. “Geschichte des Deutschen Evangelischen Instituts für Altertumswissenschaft des Heiligen Landes von den Anfangen bis zum Zweiten Weltkrieg.” Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins 97 (1981): 1–11. The first short history of the German Protestant Institute of Archaeology, from its founding to World War II, with comparative assessments of Dalman and Alt.

To date, no comprehensive history of the society has been published. Because the archive of the society was destroyed In 1943, all facts had to be extracted from the society's publications: Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins, vols. 1–67 (Leipzig, 1878–1944/45), and vols. 69/110 (Wiesbaden, 1953–1994); Mitteilungen und Nachrichten (Leipzig, 1895–1912); and from Palästinajahrbuch des Deutschen Evangelischen Instituts für Altertumswissenschaft des Heiligen Landes zu Jerusalem (Leipzig, 1905–1941). The latter is the organ of the institute, with news on its activities and important articles on results of research. The reader may also consult the following:

Diethelm Conrad