Happy anniversary Israel Exploration Society!

The Israel Exploration Society recently observed its centennial, which hundred years ago dedicated itself to promote and safeguard the Holy Land’s archeological research for the Jewish people.

Archeologists at the Shikhin village in the Galilee 370 (photo credit: Courtesy Shikhin Expedition)
Archeologists at the Shikhin village in the Galilee 370
(photo credit: Courtesy Shikhin Expedition)
The Israel Exploration Society recently observed its centennial. It was certainly a memorable event for this unique organization which hundred years ago dedicated itself to promote and safeguard the Holy Land’s archeological research for the Jewish people.
The IES was established in the spring of 1913, under Ottoman rule, as the Palestine Exploration Society, inspired by the archeological societies already active in Palestine and Egypt: the French Ecole Biblique (founded in 1890), the British Palestine Exploration Fund (founded in 1865), the German Deutsche Palestina Verain (founded in 1877) and the American School of Oriental Research (founded in 1900).
The initiative to create a local scientific society was shared by the Jewish settlers of Jaffa and Jerusalem, many of whom participated in various archeological excavations themselves and some of whom witnessed how precious artifacts found here were taken to various universities and museums abroad. The seat of the Jewish Palestine Exploration Society was established in Jerusalem, and its board consisted of six members.
The president was David Yellin, (1864-1941) an erudite scholar and teacher, the founder of the Hebrew Teachers’ Seminary in Jerusalem. The secretary was Abraham Jacob Brawer, a geographer and ethnographer.
However, in August 1914, World War I broke out and the Jewish elite of Palestine, including Yellin and his family, wer deported by the Turkish regime.
The Society was revived by Yellin in 1920, under the British administration and under a new Hebrew name: “The Hebrew Society for the Exploration of Eretz Israel and its Antiquities.”
Lexicographer Eliezer Ben-Yehuda , the indefatigable reviver of the Hebrew language, served as the Society’s vice-president, under Yellin. The first archeological excavation, directed by Nahum Slouschz, was launched in 1921-22 at the synagogue of Hammath Tiberias. Slouschz, though not an archeologist, had academic training, and in 1924 excavated Absalom’s Tomb in Jerusalem.
The excavations of the Third Wall in Jerusalem by Eleazar Lipa Sukenik and Leo Arie Meyer (1925-1927 and 1940); at Ramat Rachel by Benjamin Maisler (Mazar) and Moshe Stekelis (1931); at Beth Shearim by Moshe Schwabe and Mazar (1936-1940); and at Beth Yerah by Mazar, Stekelis, Dunayevsky and Avi-Yonah (1944-1945) and later by Pessah Bar-Adon (1949- 1955), put the Yishuv’s and Israeli archeology on the world map and were duly recorded in serious scientific publications.
In 1950 , B. Mazar, then chairman of IES, changed the Society’s name to “Israel Exploration Society.” He was advised to do so by prime minister David Ben- Gurion, who held that now that the state had been established, a new name would better reflect the importance of archeological research which restores our past and binds it with our future.
And indeed, since the 1950s the IES carried out a long list of joint excavations projects, mainly with the Hebrew University’s Institute of Archeology. The whole country held its breath and wondered when Yigal Yadin excavated at Hazor, and in the early 1960s Judean Desert. IES played a major role these excavations.
Only recently the IES published the fifth volume of Hasmonean and Herodian Palaces in Jericho, directed by Ehud Netzer and written by Rachel Ben-Nathan and Judith Gartner, and four volumes of excavations at Beit Shean, edited by Amihai Mzar and reviewed in The Jerusalem Post on August 9, 2013.
The Society’s 46 volumes of Qadmoniot – A Journal for the Antiquities of Eretz Yisrael and Bible Lands, (published in Hebrew, twice a year), the 63 volumes of Israel Exploration Journal (in English, twice a year), and a vast archeological library describing in detail all the major excavations of particular sites in Israel (in both Hebrew and English) are a treasure for scholars, historians and general public. They testify best to the extent of the devotion of the staff and members of this magnificent society which for a hundred years patiently noted every step of the country’s archeological research.
The IES participates in excavations and considers its main purpose to be the dissemination of the knowledge gained from the archeological, historical and geographical exploration of Israel to the general public here and abroad. It holds annual conferences which are popular with the public. Two international conferences on “Biblical Archeology Today,” held in 1884 and 1990, attracted wide international and Israeli audiences and the proceedings were published in English. The “New Encyclopedia of Archelogical Excavations in the Holy Land” was first published in Hebrew in 1992, and then in English in 1993, with a supplementary volume in 2008.
The Society’s excavations reports on sites like Hazor, Masada, Arad, Ein Gedi, Tel Beth Shean, Jericho and the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem are of the highest editorial and professional standard.
Extreme care is taken of the quality of paper, printing and binding, many of the reports being printed in full color. The dedicated staff today includes Joseph Aviram, the president, Ephraim Stern, its current chairman, Hillel Geva, the director and Alan Paris, the deputy director. The Society won the Israel Prize in 1989, and remained true to its promise to share the treasures of the past as an inspiration for the country’s future.