Hebrew Bible scholar and founder of the discipline of historical geography. Alt was born in Stübach, near Neustadt/Aisch, in Bavaria. After finishing the gymnasium in Ansbach, he studied theology in Erlangen and in Leipzig. In 1909 he received a doctorate of theology for his thesis “Israel und Ägypten.” In that same year, he received a promotion to lecturer at the University of Greifswald, where he served as associate professor of Old Testament studies. He became a full professor at Basel In 1914 and at Halle In 1921. He held the Old Testament chair at Leipzig from 1923 until shortly before his death. Alt was a very gifted teacher, and many of the most important scholars in the field of Old Testament studies were his pupils: Martin Noth, Gerhard von Rad, Herbert Donner, and Siegfried Herrmann. He was also closely affiliated with the Evangelisches Institut für die Altertumswis-senschaft des Heiligen Landes. He made two long visits to Palestine In 1908 and 1912–1913 and directed the institute's scientific research and field trips there from 1924 until 1931. In 1925 he became president of the Deutscher Verein zur Erforschung Palästinas and In 1927 editor of the Palästina Jahrbuch.
Alt had a profound knowledge of the texts dealing with the history of Palestine in all periods, as well as an intimate knowledge of the country itself. He developed the history of its territories in the biblical period (Territorialgeschichte) as a special subject area in the discipline of the historical geography of the Holy Land, with far-reaching results. Although he never published a book summarizing his work, many of his papers became the focus of further research and advanced theories. His critical studies of the lists of the cities in the Hebrew Bible were used as primary sources for the many different periods of Israel's history. Developing the critical view of German scholarship toward the historicity of the Book of Joshua, Alt articulated a new theory of the conquest of the land by the tribes of Israel: the immigration, or infiltration, theory. Even though some of his ideas are no longer accepted, many others remain of fundamental importance to the fields of archaeology and biblical studies, especially in the areas of biblical law and social development. He influenced not only his own pupils, but scholars all over the world. His collected papers appeared In 1953 and 1959 in three volumes, the last one edited by Noth. A selection of his work in English translation appeared In 1966 under the title Essays on Old Testament History and Religion.
Alt has been praised by those who studied with him as a stimulating teacher who encouraged his pupils to do original work. His knowledge of topographical and historical details exceeded that of all his colleagues and enabled him to develop new views for certain regions and whole epochs. Although he never participated in an excavation, Alt closely followed the progress of archaeological fieldwork. In his own work, he used pottery as a key indicator for chronology, combining surface exploration with text interpretation in a unique way. This new approach to the material advanced specialized research into the territories and regions of ancient Palestine.
[See also Historical Geography; and the biography of Noth.]
- Bardtke, Hans. “Albrecht Alt: Leben und Werk.” Theologische Literaturzeitung 81 (1956): 513–522.
- Noth, Martin. “Albrecht Alt zum Gedächtnis.” Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins 72 (1956): 1–8.