Avigad (Formerly Reiss), Naḥman

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AVIGAD (formerly Reiss), NAḤMAN

AVIGAD (formerly Reiss ), NAḤMAN (1905–1992), Israeli archaeologist. Avigad was born in Zawalow in the Ukraine (then Austria) and studied architecture at the University of Brno, Czechoslovakia, before immigrating to Palestine in 1925. In 1928 he joined the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and over the years participated in numerous excavations, some conducted by E.L. *Sukenik, including the Ophel, Beth Alpha, Hammath Gader, Samaria (joint expedition), Tel Jerishe, Afulah, and others, as well as participating in hikes, as part of a youth group, to historical sites around the country. As a result of his earlier architectural training, Avigad had become an accomplished draftsman and graphic artist, and many excavation drawings in publications of the 1930s to 1940s were his work. Avigad's first article in English, on a seal of a slave-girl, was published in the Palestine Exploration Quarterly in 1946. Avigad began his formal studies in archaeology in 1941 and in 1952 completed his Ph.D. and his thesis, Ancient Monuments in the Kidron Valley, was published in 1954. It was at this point that he was appointed lecturer in archaeology in the Department (later Institute) of Archaeology at the Hebrew University. Throughout his subsequent career, Avigad divided his scholarly interests between archaeology and Hebrew and Aramaic epigraphy. Avigad was the coauthor (with Yigael *Yadin) of A Genesis Apocryphon. A Scroll from the Wilderness of Judea (1956). From 1953 to 1958 he directed the excavations at Bet She'arim, where he uncovered a subterranean necropolis of the second and third centuries c.e. He also participated in the 1955 survey of Masada and in two expeditions to the Judean Desert caves (1960–61). A specialist in Hebrew epigraphy, he deciphered a number of important inscriptions, notably the "Epitaph of a Royal Steward" at Silwan in the Kidron Valley (see *Shebna), inscriptions on the synagogue lintel at *Kefar Neburaya, and additional inscriptions in Jason's tomb, Jerusalem. He was awarded the Israel Prize for Jewish studies in 1977. Between 1969 and 1982 Avigad conducted a series of important excavations in the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem. Hillel Geva, his assistant on the excavations, wrote that "despite his advanced age, Avigad spent many hours at the excavations every day during the hot summer months and showed no signs of tiring as the years passed. He did not neglect the opportunity to excavate in any area in which excavation was possible and would climb down into the deep pits to personally examine details of the architectural remains and stratigraphy. It is no exaggeration to say that the excavations in the Jewish Quarter rejuvenated him." Among his many archaeological achievements, Avigad will always be remembered for the three very important archaeological discoveries he made in Jerusalem: the finding of the Israelite "broad wall" of the city, the fire-blackened "burnt house" dating from the time of the Roman destruction of the city in 70 c.e., and the uncovering of the main street (cardo) of the Byzantine city. His popular account of these excavations appeared in a book entitled Discovering Jerusalem (1983).


H. Geva, (ed.), Jewish Quarter Excavations in the Old City of Jerusalem. Conducted by Nahman Avigad, 1969–1982 (2000); "Professor Nahman Avigad, 1905–1992: In Memoriam," in: Israel Exploration Journal, 42 (1992), 1–3; S. Gibson, "Obituary: Nahman Avigad, 1905–1992," in: Bulletin of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society (1992–93), 83.

[Shimon Gibson (2nd ed.)]