Avi-Yonah, Michael

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AVI-YONAH, MICHAEL (1904–1974), Israeli classical historian, historical geographer, and archaeologist; remembered for his extraordinary breadth of knowledge and didactic approach to scholarship. A native of Galicia from the Polish city of Lemberg, then in Austria, Avi-Yonah came from a very creative family. He wrote: "My father, who was a lawyer by profession, played the violin to orchestral standards, would enthusiastically attend operas and concerts, and became one of the founders of the local Jewish Society of Music. Both he and my mother appreciated paintings and sculpture, and, whenever possible, they would commission pictures from young Jewish painters who came to our house.…" Avi-Yonah left for Palestine in 1921 and worked as Records Officer of the Palestine Department of Antiquities from 1931 to 1948. In 1931 he assisted L.A. *Mayer, the librarian of the pda, with the task of editing the Quarterly of the Department of Antiquities of Palestine (qdap). Eventually he took over the editing of qdap between 1933 to 1950 and some of his most important articles were published within its pages: on mosaic pavements, on lead coffins, and on the map of Roman Palestine. Avi-Yonah became the scientific secretary of the Israel Department of Antiquities, serving from 1948 to 1953, at which point he was appointed professor of classical archaeology and the history of art at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Avi-Yonah later received a doctorate from the University of London in recognition of his major contribution to scholarship. He participated in numerous archaeological excavations at Avdat, Ḥusifa, Beth-Shean, Nahariyyah, Bet Yeraḥ, and Caesarea and was a member of the Masada Survey (1955). There were many scholarly subjects that Avi-Yonah had an interest in, but one subject in particular that always fascinated him was the study of the history and archaeology of Jerusalem, and one result of his endeavors in this field was undoubtedly the Holy Land Model of Second-Temple Period Jerusalem, which was built under his supervision (and later relocated to the grounds of the Israel Museum). He was a very prolific writer and among his works (some in Hebrew) may be counted In the Days of Rome and Byzantium (1946, 19623), The Madaba Mosaic Map (1954), The Antiquities of Israel (1955, with S. Yeivin and M. Stekelis), Oriental Art in Roman Palestine (1961), Our Living Bible (1962, with E. Kraeling), The Holy Land From the Persian to the Arab Conquests (536 b.c. to a.d. 640). A Historical Geography (1966), Carta's Atlas of the Period of the Second Temple, the Mishna and the Talmud (1966), and Gazetteer of Roman Palestine (1976). For many decades Avi-Yonah served as the editor of the leading scholarly journal Israel Exploration Journal and participated in the editing of a number of books and encyclopedias, including Sefer Yerushalayim (The Book on Jerusalem, vol. 1, 1956) and the Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land. He also contributed numerous entries on archaeological and historical-geographical subjects to editions of the Encyclopedia Hebraica, the Encyclopaedia Judaica, and the Atlas of Israel. His Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Classical World (edited with Israel Shatzman) appeared not long after his death.


M. Avi-Yonah, "Things Professor Avi-Yonah Said About Himself," in: Qadmoniot, 7:25–26 (1974), 67–68 (Hebrew); M.C. Salzmann, "Bibliography of M. Avi-Yonah," in: Israel Exploration Journal, 24 (1974), 287–311; B. Mazar, D. Barag, and Y. Tsafrir, "In Memoriam Michael Avi-Yonah," in: Qadmoniot, 7:25–26 (1974), 65–67 (Hebrew).

[Shimon Gibson (2nd ed.)]