Nahman Avigad – Excavator of the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem

Ha’aretz reports that today, September 25th, is the birthday of the late Prof. Nahman Avigad:

September 25, 1905, is the birthdate of Nahman Avigad, one of the leading members of the first generation of biblical archaeologists in modern Israel. Avigad’s excavations in Jerusalem following the Six-Day War revealed much of the history of the Jewish Quarter of the Second Temple and Byzantine periods; he also interpreted one of the Dead Sea Scrolls and dug at Masada and Beit She’arim, among other places.

It has been a privilege to have worked with Avigad for over ten years in the Jewish Quarter Excavations of the Old City of Jerusalem, from 1987-1987. He was a very fine scholar having the distinct advantage of being trained in both architecture and archaeology. He let me help him supervise the reconstruction of the Cardo:

It is for his work in the Old City of Jerusalem, where he excavated between 1969 and 1983, that Avigad is best remembered. When the task of finding the Herodian “Upper City” was offered to him, two years after East Jerusalem came under Israeli sovereignty, Avigad was already contemplating retirement. He dug up the Cardo, the Byzantine-era road that linked the Church of the Holy Sepulchre with the Nea Church, and that was previously known by its depiction in the Madaba Map mosaic; the “Broad Wall,” constructed after the return from the Babylonian Exile; and the Iron Age (prior to the 6th century B.C.E.) Israelite Tower. Avigad also found and dug up the so-called Burnt House.

Reconstruction of the Byzantine Cardo. © Leen Ritmeyer

Later on, he put me in charge of the restoration of six magnificent Herodian villas, now located below the Yeshivat Hakotel, the largest of which may have been the palace of Annas the High priest:

Archaeological work proceeded at the same time that the commercial and residential development of the Jewish Quarter was under way, and dictated the pace of that development. As a consequence, however, today there is an archaeological museum underneath Yeshivat Hakotel, which serves as an excellent introduction to life in Second Temple-era Jewish Jerusalem, and a number of other historical sites that can be visited, and that are integrated into the Quarter, among its shops and homes.

The Palatial Mansion – Palace of Annas the High Priest. © Leen Ritmeyer

Avigad came twice a week to inspect the work:

David Simon (right) shows the restoration stucco work to Prof. Avigad (middle) and myself.

Avigad will be fondly remembered by many.

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